By Tammy Scileppi
Earlier this week, 75th Avenue off Austin Street in Forest Hills served as the backdrop for a new movie called “37” that focuses on murder victim Kitty Genovese’s neighbors. Some scenes were shot down that tree-lined block, where an assortment of 1950s and ‘60s vintage cars were parked.
Mention Kitty Genovese to any New Yorker of a certain age and they’d probably conjure up an image of 37 witnesses who just stood by and did nothing as she lay dying. But the truth is, it didn’t really happen that way.
Genovese, 28, was arriving home from her job as night manager of Ev’s 11th Hour Club in Hollis when she was stabbed repeatedly as she walked toward her apartment house at 82-62 Austin St. in Kew Gardens at 3:20 a.m. on March 13, 1964.
Writer/director Puk Grasten was fascinated with the case. The Copenhagen native has been living in the city for several years, and the idea that so many people could live side by side and somehow remain strangers always interested her. After she came across The New York Times article, “’37 Who Saw Murder, Didn’t Call the Police” (March 27, 1964), she decided to make a short film about those witnesses called “37.” Recently, she developed it into a feature using the main cast and crew from the short. The movie is slated for release this fall or sometime next year, according to sources, and the film company is aptly named Bystanders LLC.
Instead of focusing on the actual crime, Grasten decided to take a totally different approach by honing in on the residents in six Queens apartments that all witnessed Kitty Genovese’s murder…in different ways. “37” examines the occupants’ interactions with each other and what their mindset was like back then.
How did Kitty’s neighbors perceive what they saw or heard during the wee hours of that cold March morning back in 1964? How could they know that a spirited, hardworking single girl was fighting for her life beneath their windows on a dark, deserted Kew Gardens street? Or, that a mild-mannered family man – with a secret penchant for violence against women – was stabbing her 17 times?
Witnesses could not fully explain why they had not interfered in some way. Did they just assume that others would do the right thing: call the police, get involved, help the girl? It was complicated. The psychology behind the so-called Bystander Effect and what really happened behind those neighbors’ apartment doors that night has stumped experts for decades.
New York-based actor Heather Lind (Kitty Genovese) appeared in HBO’s “Boardwalk Empire.”
Lynn Cohen (Kitty’s neighbor, Florel Bernstein) is known to New York theater audiences for her decades of memorable roles. She appeared in “Munich” (among others), as well as the HBO series and films, “Sex and The City.”
Broadway actor/comedian George S. Irving plays neighbor Jack Bernstein. New York-based actor Korey Jackson (Kitty’s murderer, Winston Moseley) has appeared on stage in the city, NYU Tisch films and popular TV shows.
In a recent statement, Grasten said, “The easy way out would be to say that people are evil: It’s in our nature, therefore we can’t help it. But could it also be that we fear the unknown? The embarrassment of helping someone who doesn’t want or need help, the fear of taking responsibility?”
She added, “It is so easy to judge, but how far would I really go out of my comfort zone to help a stranger if I knew that other people had seen or heard it, too? I see myself as a very conscientious person. I treat the people in my life with respect and care. But that is it. In my life, who am I to judge the 37 neighbors if I cannot know for sure that I would have done any differently?”