I looked up the word "semi-autobiographical" in the dictionary. It's not in there. So, I'll have to say "Just Looking" is "sort of a true story." The parts I invented were not so much to cover up the truth, but to make my summer as a 14-year-old more marketable than the real thing.
I grew up in a small industrial town called West New York, New Jersey. But in my heart I'm a New Yorker, so in the film, I put Lenny in my grandmother's old neighborhood, Davidson Avenue in the Bronx.
Lenny is banished to his aunt and uncle's house in Queens. In real life, I was rescued by my aunt and uncle, Pearl and Irwin Diamond, who delivered me from a sweltering concrete jungle to the wide open spaces and country fresh air of Queens (remember, it was 1955).
Pearl and Irwin became Norma and Phil DiLorenzo in the script. Irwin was Jewish. I made Phil Italian (another two points on my poetic license). But there is no exaggeration in the portrayal of an aunt and uncle who helped shape my values and who loved me like their own son. The summers I spent on 133rd Avenue were among the most treasured days of my life.
Sadly, Irwin passed away this July, but not before he and Aunt Pearl got to appear as extras and to see "their movie." After the screening, I apologized to Irwin for making his character so much of a ladies man. "Don't tell anyone the truth," he said, "at my age, it's great for my reputation."
Alice, Barbara, John and the Sex Club are all real. Many of the biggest laughs we heard in previews were to Lenny's incredulous reactions as Alice explains the basic Facts of Life to him. I was dumb enough to utter them in real life, but smart enough to include them in the script.
1955 was the dawn of the Rock era. In fact, the original title of the film was "Cherry Pink." Because on June 28, 1955, the day we first meet Lenny, the number one hit song was "Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom White" by Perez Prado. It had been on the charts 18 weeks. But this was the last day it would be number one. The next day a new song would take over, "Rock Around the Clock" by Bill Haley and the Comets. And that day became The Dividing Line between the Rock and Roll Era and all the music that came before it. Don't ask why we changed the title. Those of you who understand the business part of the film business can easily figure it out.
I write for a living. But this is a script I wrote from the heart. And I was fortunate enough to have a producer, director, and a cast and crew that had the same kind of heart for my story. I am grateful to them all for helping me to capture it on film.