The bizarre true story that inspired ‘Dog Day Afternoon’ By Larry Getlen
In August 1972, John Wojtowicz, 27, a married Brooklyn man and Vietnam vet with a stream of gay lovers on the side, decided to rob a bank to pay for his boyfriend’s sex change.
In the aftermath of the crime, a 14-hour hostage ordeal that riveted the nation, a character based on Wojtowicz would be played by Al Pacino in the 1975 film “Dog Day Afternoon,” which earned six Oscar nominations (winning Best Screenplay).
While Wojtowicz’s tale on film became the stuff of legend, the man himself remained little heard from until now, with a posthumous documentary, “The Dog,” hitting theaters on Friday.
The success of Pacino’s portrayal sprang from the hero/villain dichotomy of the character. As in the real-life robbery, which took place on Aug. 22, 1972, at a Chase Manhattan branch in Gravesend, Brooklyn, Wojtowicz got both his hostages and the many onlookers on his side, positioning himself as the little guy fighting against tyranny.
“The Dog,” which shows interviews with Wojtowicz from 2002 until his death four years later, proves his reality was more outlandish than any movie.
The night before the robbery, Wojtowicz and his accomplices — 18-year-old Sal Naturale and 20-year-old Bobby Westenberg — stayed in a New Jersey hotel. Wojtowicz had agreed to pay Westenberg $50,000 for his assistance. For that money, Wojtowicz wanted more than just a partner in crime.
“I grabbed ahold of Bobby Westenberg and I wanted to f - - k him, ’cause he used to dress up as a girl,” Wojtowicz says in the film.
“He goes . . . ‘I don’t want you f - - king me.’ I said, ‘I’m giving you $50,000, and you’re gonna tell me I’m not getting a f - - k out of it?’ . . . So then I f - - ked him.”
The self-described “pervert” met his wife, Carmen, at a bank where they both worked in the mid-1960s. Wojtowicz was drafted soon after and had his first homosexual experience during basic training. After Vietnam, Wojtowicz (still married to Carmen) joined the Gay Activists Alliance (GAA), but was driven more by a desire for sex than politics.