Saturday, April 28, 2007

Reading a B Movie

I picked this up at a used book sale. Let's just say that the history books I've read on Dillinger don't support the character of Dillinger portrayed in the book. Homer Van Meter is portrayed as a sniveling coward.

It' funny because the story of Dillinger and his associates is so interesting when you just stick to the facts. Yeah I can see where you would want to put words in his mouth, but it could be so much more believable. Read Handsome Harry by James Carlos Blake instead.

I guess I shouldn't be so critical; I get the feeling from talking to Spanish that if she ever does write her version of Pierpont and Dillinger; Pierpont is going to come out as a repressed homosexual that Claudy had the hots for. Yes I know...the thing about it is that Dillinger is a great story on his own with just the hard facts that can be verified. So when you throw in other stuff that can't be verified and doesn't ring true with historical writing and such it's just icky. Yes, icky.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Mad Dog Coll

Just got finished watching this video on Mad Dog Vincent Coll. While I don't think Coll was "the most notorious gangster during the Prohibition era" he is a name that people recognize. I think the video was a good introduction, but I'll have to get the biography to determine where he fits in the baby faced killer pantheon.

Let's face it; it's hard to really have some one's personality come through when they are this notorious bad ass. Let's face it I compare everyone to Panzram ! Coll seems just regular raised in the slums... fights his way through institutions and life... kills an innocent child in the crossfire... gunned down at 24. Maybe in Coll's case the book will be more interesting will see.

On a more upbeat note: the National Archives has located the FBI's Luer kidnapping files for me and are checking them for privacy violations. So I should be able to get a gander soon. Cool.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

You Can't Win: Jack Black

It was time for a re-reading of You Can't Win, Jack Black's autobiography. Maybe because I often wonder why intelligent people make bad choices in life. Why someone raised in a "decent" family will choose to go wrong. This book pretty much answers my questions and it's entertaining to boot. The timing of Black's adventures are the 1890's and early 20th century. A completely different time from Dillinger and Capone but I think with some of the same sensibilities. Thieves saw themselves as professionals. It's also easy see that many of the same social problems that abound now, homelessness and addiction, were much the same.

It's telling to admit that I had to buy another copy of this book. I had loaned my copy to someone who moved away and took the book with him. I usually wish that most of the characters that I read about had written an autobiography explaining the why they chose crime. I think as to the choice, if not the methodology and experience, they might say the same thing Jack Black says. The honest life the pay is too little and the demands too great; the criminal life excitement and "easy" money for the high life.

This book gives great descriptions of jails, penitentiaries, flop houses, hop houses, and other places in plain language that rivals any novel. Ah, to go on a binge with Salt Chunk Mary and to attend a "convention".

On the Spot Journal

Read the article on Dopey Benny Fein; so good. It had to be because it was written by Rose Keefe. Who as I said before is wonderful. It's funny how in a lot of history accounts Benny Fein is written off. But really he just became more involved with garment manufacturing and stealing. Funny how stealing doesn't get the respect from mafia historians that it should. They write Bugs Moran off for the same reason. A yegg is a yegg...

There's a great mug shot of James Clark, of the Michigan City prison break, in the story on handsome Jack Klutas. The Klutas story is good in substance, but really needs better editing. Youse no Ise caint stand lousy graimer!

Any way this journal is great because it gives the reader shorter articles about subjects that won't necessarily ever get books written about them. For the person interested in pre-WWII crime there isn't anything else like it that I've found.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

The Big Bankroll

David Pietrusza's biography of Arnold Rothstein is a good read. Pietrusza has a gift for story telling making this book more enjoyable than I anticipated.

For the layman, Rothstein is usually mentioned in a few sentences when reading an article about Lucky Luciano, et al or maybe a paragraph when discussing the "black sox". Well, I'm only a quarter of the way through this book and there is so much more to Rothstein's career. (Not that Luciano and the black sox are not important; I'm looking forward to reading about them.) Rothstein is perfect for the time he was born the quintessential fixer; a prolific gambler, and an unabashed cheat! In the first third of the book when Pietrusza is writing about Rothstein's early career he discusses the Becker affair (wonderful detail)Becker was executed because he was found guilty of ordering "Beansie" Rosenthal's murder. But did he? Or was a dishonest cop who had done so much damage the perfect fall guy for Tammany? I'd read much about how corrupt old New York was but Rothstein's life really makes me understand how corrupt it was! Imagine if all politicians were as corrupt as we believe them to be. Imagine if you could kill someone and have the police look the other way for the right price. Imagine if Reformers had to choose between the devil they knew and the devil they couldn't see. Ferocious class division, poverty and racism. If you think everyone cheats then this world is for you!

Evidently, Rothstein reveled in having people know he was smarter than they were and he wasn't adverse to cheating. What I didn't know before was that Rothstein founded American international drug trafficking. Evidently, Drugs were his last big endeavor before he was murdered. It's amazing how someone so smart could be so smarmy in his morals! I think Rothstein knew the Volstead Act's days were numbered by the late 1920's and he wanted something more viable. I don't agree with Pietrusza's assessment that bootlegging had too many variables for Rothstein. I do agree that the risks stopped being acceptable with so many players in the mix, but I think that Rothstein wanted something that would continue his income once America regained it's senses. That's my take anyway. All in all an enjoyable read.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Legs Diamond

While I can't say much for the cover of Gary Levine's Jack "Legs" Diamond Anatomy of a Gangster, it was a good read. I really didn't know much about Diamond other than he was a bootlegger in NYC so it was interesting to read about his exploits. He was Arnold Rothstein's bodyguard. Levine makes a brief statement that Diamond may have had something to do with Rothstein's death but he doesn't elaborate. One thing is clear fidelity was not one of Diamond's strong points. With the exception of his brother he pretty much cheated on everyone (wives, lovers, associates, gang members). People made much of Diamonds ability to take a bullet surviving 5 attempts on his life until fatally shot in a rooming house but I'm not so much surprised that he survived those 5 times I'm just surprised that with the number of people he cheated that there wasn't an attempt on his life every other day. Diamond comes off as probably the worse crime manager I've read about so far. He came close to being absolutely huge but the endeavor always fell through. I finally got Rothstein's biography so it will be interesting to compare Diamond's characterization.