the daring acts of a smiling bandit

Roy G. Gardner (1884 – 1940) was once America’s most infamous prison escapee.

image found here

He was the most dangerous inmate in the history of Atlanta Prison and was dubbed by newsmen the “Smiling Bandit”, the “Mail Train Bandit”, and the “King of the Escape Artists”. He was said to be attractive and charming, standing just under six feet tall, with short, curly auburn hair and blue eyes.

red haired David Wenham found here

Gardner began his criminal profession as a gunrunner around the time of the Mexican Revolution. He smuggled and traded arms to the Venustiano Carranza forces until he was captured by soldiers from Huerta’s army and was sentenced to death by firing squad, but, on March 29, 1909, he broke out of the Mexico City jail along with three other American prisoners after attacking the guards.

Mexican revolutionaries found here

Eventually, Gardner ended up in San Francisco, where he robbed a jewelry store. He was arrested, and spent some time in San Quentin, but was paroled after saving a prison guard’s life during a violent riot. Gardner landed a job as an acetylene welder at the Mare Island Navy Yard, married, fathered a daughter, and began his own welding company. 

San Quentin prisoners found here

Gardner then gambled all of his money away on a business trip in Tijuana at the racetracks. On the night of April 16, 1920, Gardner robbed a U. S. Mail truck of about $80,000 in cash and securities. The job went smoothly, but the outlaw was arrested three days later burying his loot.  He was sentenced to 25 years at McNeil Island Federal Penitentiary but vowed he would never serve the sentence. As he was transported on a train with Deputy U. S. Marshals Cavanaugh and Haig, Gardner peered out of the window and yelled, “Look at that deer!”. The lawmen looked, and Gardner grabbed Marshal Haig’s gun from his holster. He then disarmed Marshal Cavanaugh at gunpoint. The outlaw handcuffed the two humiliated lawmen together and stole $200. He jumped off the train, and made his way to Canada.

Muntjac deer found here

He slipped back into the United States the next year, and started robbing banks and mail trains across the country. Gardner tied up the mail clerk to Train No. 10 eastbound from Sacramento and robbed the express car of $187,000 on May 19, 1921. The next morning, Gardner told the mail clerk of Train No. 20 to throw up his hands or he would blow his head off. When the train reached the Overland Limited, the elusive bandit darted down the tracks with an armful of mail. 

image found here

Gardner was recognized at the Porter House Hotel and a convoy of police arrived in Roseville . Three federal agents captured him while he was playing a game of cards in a pool hall and he was sentenced to another 25 years at McNeil Island for armed robbery.

Trying to reduce his sentence he told Southern Pacific Railroad detectives that he would lead them to the spot where he buried his loot. The officers found nothing, and Gardner announced, “I guess I have forgotten where I buried it”. He was heavily shackled, with the addition of an “Oregon Boot”, and was once again transported on a train to McNeil Island, this time by U. S. Marshals Mulhall and Rinkell, both fast shooting veterans. During the journey, Gardner asked to use the bathroom, in which an associate had earlier hidden a .32 caliber pistol. Gardner came out of the bathroom, pointed the gun at Mulhall’s protruding pouch, and ordered another prisoner to handcuff the two humiliated lawmen to the seat. He relieved the officers of their weapons and cash before hopping onto another moving train.

Oregon boot found here

He arrived in Centralia, Washington, where he plastered his face with bandages to hide his identity, leaving one eye slit. Gardner told the Oxford Hotel staff that he had been severely burned in an industrial accident near Tacoma. Officer Louis Sonney became suspicious of the bandaged man, and when he saw a firearm in Gardner’s hotel room, he accused him of being the “Smiling Bandit”. Gardner fought back, but was arrested and a doctor removed the bandages to show that he was indeed the notorious train robber. This time Gardner, who was sentenced to another 25 years, was heavily ironed, and finally brought to McNeil Island.

Bandaged Berlusconi found here

After six weeks at the penitentiary, Gardner had convinced two other prisoners, Lawardus Bogart and Everett Impyn, that he had “paid off” the guards in the towers. On Labor Day, 1921, at a prison baseball game, they ran 300 yards to the high barbed wire fence where Gardner cut a hole, and the three men made it to the pasture as bullets whirled about their heads. Gardner was wounded in his left leg, but hid behind a herd of cattle. About the same time, he saw Bogart fall, badly wounded. Impyn was shot dead; his dying words were, “Gardner told us those fellows in the towers couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn“.

image found here

Guards scoured the beaches and confiscated every boat on the shoreline, but no trace of the dangerous outlaw could be found. Gardner lived in the prison barn, getting nutrition from cow’s milk, and then swam the choppy waters to Fox Island where he lived off fruit in the orchards. Roy Gardner was now the “Most Wanted” criminal, and committed several crimes in Arizona before he was captured by a mail clerk during a train robbery in Phoenix in 1921. He was sentenced to an additional 25 years, this time at Leavenworth Federal Penitentiary. Headlines screamed, “Gangster Gardner brags, ‘Leavenworth will never hold me'”.

image found here

In 1926, he tried to tunnel under the wall and saw through the bars in the shoe shop. The following year, he led a prison break and attempted an armed escape with two revolvers holding the Captain and two guards hostage, but the escape failed. In 1934 he was transferred to Alcatraz. While at Alcatraz, his wife divorced him. Gardner was paroled and released in 1938 after his appeal for clemency was approved.

On the evening of January 10, 1940, Garder wrote four notes at his hotel room in San Francisco, one of which was attached to the door warning: “Do not open door. Poison gas. Call police.” He sealed the door from the inside, then killed himself by dropping cyanide gas into a glass of acid and inhaling the poison fumes. 

“Please let me down as light as possible, boys,” Gardner wrote in a letter to newsmen. “I have played ball with you all the way, and now you should pitch me a slow one and let me hit it.”

Published in: on February 11, 2012 at 8:48 am  Comments (49)  
Tags: , , ,

break a leg – twice

Émile Buisson (1902 – 1956), a French gangster, was proclaimed French Public Enemy No. 1 for 1950. One of nine children, he and his brother Jean-Baptiste, both turned to crime at an early age.

image found here

Emile served his first term in jail at the age of sixteen in a penal battalion in North Africa. The brutality of these battalions was unspeakable, however Emile managed to distinguish himself and earn the Croix de Guerre. But back in France, he again turned to crime and served many short terms in jail.

image found here

In 1932 he helped to rescue his brother from jail with a bold plan. Jean-Baptiste had himself transferred to Strasbourg model prison at Ensisheim by confessing to a crime in Strasbourg and getting three years added to an eight year sentence. Once there he broke his leg by smashing it with a table leg. He was transferred to hospital, and that same night he jumped from a first floor window, breaking it again. But with the help of Emile, he made a clean getaway.

image found here

Emile committed his first big robbery in 1937, earning himself the nickname “Crazy Mimile”. He was arrested one month later but escaped while awaiting trial. In 1941 he robbed the Credit Lyonnais bank, killing two employees in cold blood. Shortly after this he was caught by the Gestapo and sent to a military prison. This time he escaped by simulating lunacy until he was transferred to an asylum. 

image found here

Over the next few years he took part in many holdups, always using sten-guns and Citroen ‘traction’ front wheel drives. Following the war, Paris was considered a dangerous city where gang killings were commonplace. The police were armed with sub-machine guns but after accidentally shooting an old drunk gentleman and a bus full of passengers they were forced to be a little more cautious with their firearms.

image found here

He was finally arrested in 1950 by Roger Borniche, a French detective of the Sûreté Nationale and author of a number of books.

more dogs here

Borniche had started out as a singer, but his fledgling musical career was interrupted by the German invasion. In 1943, he joined the Sûreté Nationale as an inspector to avoid being shipped to a forced labor detail.

image found here

In 1947, he was assigned to capture the escaped murderer, Emile Buisson. Borniche kept critical investigative files in his office, forcing the other investigators to bargain with him for their contents. He also competed with the other agencies for informants, who tried to play the investigators against each other for more rewards. He was sometimes shadowed by other investigators and would have to lose his “tail” to meet with an informant.

He was able to bargain with informants by offering them a signed permit to remain in Paris (despite being banned from the city by other police forces) and by delaying distribution of official warrants, keeping the notices locked in his desk. Borniche forced an informant to lead Buisson into a trap where he was captured eating lunch in a restaurant. Borniche was rewarded with a promotion and a 30,000 franc bonus. He retired in 1956 and  formed his own detective agency in Paris. His first set of memoirs, Flic Story, became the basis of a 1975 film featuring Alain Delon as Borniche and Jean-Louis Trintignant as Buisson.

image found here

Albert takes a bubble bath

In 1989, Albert Spaggiari, a photographer who confessed to being the mastermind of an elaborate 1976 bank robbery on the Riviera, was found dead outside his mother’s house.

image found here

He was 57 years old and had reportedly suffered from lung cancer. Before his death, Mr. Spaggiari had evaded and taunted law enforcement officials for 12 years, since his escape through a window in a magistrate’s office. His picture periodically turned up in newspapers and magazines, above captions such as ”Hello from Albert.”

image found here

The robbery took place in Nice in 1976. A team of 20 men, led by Mr. Spaggiari, burst into the vault of the Societe Generale bank from a 25-foot tunnel they had carved over the previous several weeks between the bank and a branch of the city sewer system. They worked from Friday to Sunday, emptying safe-deposit boxes and seizing most of the bank’s cash reserves. The group, which became known as the ”sewer gang,” escaped with $8 – $10 million in gold, cash, jewelry and gems. During their stay in the vault, they cooked meals, drank wine and used antique silver tureens as toilets.

image from the movie found here

When officials discovered the scene on Monday, July 19, they found a message from the gang, ”Without Guns, Without Violence, Without Hate,” scrawled on one wall of the vault. 

image found here

After a lengthy investigation, detectives closed in on Spaggiari in Nice and pried his confession from him. He was jailed shortly thereafter but escaped on March 10, 1977, from a magistrate’s office. He complained of the heat, got up and opened a window, and leaped out of it, landing on a car nine feet below. He was whisked away on the back of a motorcycle. The driver, Gerard Rang, was later arrested, and Mr. Spaggiari was sentenced in absentia to life in prison.

Six other men were arrested with Mr. Spaggiari in the robbery, which inspired a film, ”The Sewers of Paradise.” Three of them were acquitted and the others were given prison sentences of five to seven years.

image found here

In his book Mr. Spaggiari complained of the messy conditions under which he worked to bring off the Nice heist. He also mourned that he was unable to open 3,500 safe-deposit boxes because he lacked the proper equipment, and described using massive quantities of bubble bath to help scrub off the sewer slime.

scrubbing off in the bath found here

Published in: on January 16, 2012 at 7:39 am  Comments (47)  
Tags: , , ,

Gentleman Gerry and the upright jerker

Gerald Chapman (1887 – 1926), called the “Count of Gramercy Park”, and “The Gentleman Bandit” was an American criminal who spoke with a near impeccable English accent.

image found here

After being convicted on a bank robbery charge and transferred from Sing Sing, he first became acquainted with ‘Dutch’ Anderson, a swindler and ‘gentleman’ crook, while imprisoned in Auburn State Prison in 1908. Following both men’s paroles in 1919, they conducted successful bootlegging operations in Toledo, Miami and New York City.

image found here

They also managed to amass $100,000 through confidence trickery. Chapman rented an apartment in exclusive Gramercy Park and acquired a pretty English “wife” named Betty, who was as much a born lady as he was a born gentleman.

more photos of old New York here

In 1921, along with another former Auburn inmate, Charles Loeber, Chapman and Anderson began committing armed robberies. On October 24, the three men forced a U.S. Mail truck to stop at gunpoint on Leonard St, successfully taking $2.4 million in cash, bonds and jewelry. 

mail truck found here

While the police were searching frantically for leads, Chapman was back at 12 Gramercy Park, throwing dinner parties for his wealthy neighbours. In another robbery at an American Express office, the gang added a further $70,000 to their capital.

Eluding capture for more than eight months, Chapman and Anderson were eventually arrested after being betrayed by Loeber. While Chapman sat with a detective in the Federal Building on Broadway, he feigned some kind of attack, slumping in his chair and gasping for water. As the detective left the room, Chapman, with hands shackled, rushed out a window and ran along a narrow cornice. He was recaptured but the escape attempt made headlines and he was described as a modern day Robin Hood.

image found here

In an Atlanta penitentiary, faced with a 25 year sentence, Chapman swore he would escape. He stole small pieces of cord from the workshops and braided them into a rope. From stolen cutlery he made a file and a crude hook. When he complained of stomach pains he was admitted to hospital for observation. There he persuaded a “trusty” in the same room to join him in an escape attempt.

more prison weapons found here

They filed through the bars, severed an electric cable (plunging the prison into darkness) then used a rope of bed sheets to get to the ground and over the wall. Two days later they were tracked by bloodhounds and recaptured. Chapman was shot twice as he tried to run away and was transferred to a civilian hospital. While he was there Betty came to visit him and managed to smuggle in a gun. He used it to force an intern to hand over his white coat and walked out of the hospital to freedom once more.

NOT this Betty (found here)

Chapman and Anderson joined forces again and drove east in a stolen car, committing burglaries as they went. They were foiled in an attempt to rob a department store when police arrived and blocked their exit. Shots were fired and Chapman managed to escape once more.

On 17 January 1925, Chapman’s luck ran out and he was arrested leaving the house of a doctor friend and extradited to Connecticut. During the six-day murder trial in Hartford, crowds gathered due to his status as one of the “top 10” criminals in America. The jury deliberated for 11 hours, after which Chapman was found guilty and eventually sentenced to hang. He proclaimed his innocence to the end, asking in his final appeal for “justice, not mercy”. Chapman was executed by the upright jerker** on April 6, 1926.

**The upright jerker was an execution method and device intermittently used in the United States during the 19th and early 20th century. Intended to replace hangings, the upright jerker did not see widespread use.

As in a hanging, a cord would be wrapped around the neck of the condemned. However, rather than dropping down through a trapdoor, the condemned would be violently jerked into the air by means of a system of weights and pulleys. The objective of this execution method was to provide a swift death by breaking the condemned’s neck.

Published in: on January 4, 2012 at 8:38 pm  Comments (48)  
Tags: , , , , , ,

gangsters are romantics too

Phyllis McGuire was one of the famous singing trio, the McGuire Sisters.

image found here

She was also well known for her affair with Sam Giancana, whom she met in Las Vegas in 1960. Giancana, the notorious crime figure who shared one of his mistresses, Judith Exner, with President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Chicago in 1975.

Judith Exner found here

“Phyllis had taken a liking to the gaming tables and had run up a hefty marker. Sam spotted her and liked what he saw, so he asked Moe Dalitz, who ran the Desert Inn, how much she owed. Moe told him “$10,000” to which Sam is alleged to have replied “Eat it”, meaning erase the debt, a gesture not without charm and romantic appeal, especially since Sam followed it up with a suiteful of flowers.

image found here

In 2005, Dominick Dunne visited Phyllis at her extraordinary residence in the swankiest part of Las Vegas.

From the outside, the place looked like a suburban ranch style house, but all resemblance to ranch style living stopped at the front door, which was opened by a man wearing a gun in a holster under his open suit jacket. There is a 44-foot-tall replica of the Eiffel Tower in her living room, as well as 55 Bergère chairs. She has a lake with black swans in it, five gardeners, a putting green, and waterfalls that you can turn on and off. She also possesses one of the world’s great collections of serious jewels and once told me that maybe a few Saudis were better customers of Harry Winston’s than she was.

image found here

Downstairs she has a nightclub with a neon sign. The carpet rolls up and there’s a dance floor in the shape of a piano underneath. There is a beauty salon in the house, next door to a health club with three massage tables and three masseuses on call. 

image found here

Although Phyllis did not mention him in her list of suitors, there has been another romantic involvement since Sam, a larger-than-life character named Mike Davis, the owner of Tiger Oil. “Tiger Mike” was once the chauffeur of Phyllis’s great friend Helen Bonfils, and married Bonfils upon the death of her husband in 1956. Helen Bonfils was reportedly in her late sixties at the time and Davis was in his late twenties. 

Perhaps she has a weakness for chauffeurs. They’ve certainly played a significant part in her life

Singer Phyllis McGuire, 68, performed 40 hours of charity work at the Nathan Adelson Hospice in Las Vegas, and made a donation of $5,000 to the Injured Police Officers Fund. With proof presented to the Las Vegas Justice of the Peace, a misdemeanor criminal charge of obstructing an officer was dismissed.

image found here

The lead singer for the McGuire Sisters did not attend the court hearing. Her lawyer had struck a deal for McGuire, who was arrested on March 24 after she screamed, cursed, hit and head butted a police officer. She was riding in her limo when the vehicle was stopped by police who wanted to speak to the driver. The driver had been seen conferring with an individual, who was under police surveillance……

Published in: on August 8, 2011 at 9:58 pm  Comments (38)  
Tags: , , , , , ,

fool for love

Yesterday I saw “I Love You Phillip Morris” starring Jim Carrey and Ewen McGregor. I’m not a fan of Carrey’s work nor did I like the script but I was intrigued enough to investigate the true story it was based on…..

image found here

Nine years into a 144-year jail sentence for assorted charges, including felony escape and embezzlement, Russell is one of the Michael Unit’s most notorious and closely guarded inmates. Ask him why he is here, incarcerated and alone, and he will answer without missing a beat that it is because he was a fool for love.

Bryan Ferry was also once a Fool for Love

Steven Jay Russell has many other names. As well as the 14 known aliases he used while fabricating bogus credentials and passing himself off variously as a judge, a doctor, an FBI agent and a bar student, he has been nicknamed “Houdini” and “King Con” for his remarkable ability to escape from prison. From 1992, when he was imprisoned for the relatively minor charge of insurance fraud, Russell managed to escape four times from several different Texan jails over a five-year period.

Houdini image found here

Russell’s shenanigans were driven by his obsessive love for a fellow inmate called Phillip Morris whom he met in jail. Russell and Morris, who was serving a sentence for failing to return a rental car, were both released on parole in 1995. Setting up home together in Houston, Russell went in search of money to lavish on his lover. He persuaded a medical insurance company to hire him as their chief financial officer on the basis of a greatly exaggerated CV with all references directed back to him. In five months, he embezzled $800,000 from dormant accounts to fund the couple’s glamorous lifestyle of Mercedes-Benz cars, jet-skis and matching Rolex watches. Russell even had his teeth capped and plastic surgery on his eyes.

Steven Russell found here

Eventually, he was found out and sent back to jail, but not before impersonating a judge over the telephone and demanding his own bail money be lowered from $900,000 to $45,000 (he paid with a cheque that later bounced). Despite managing repeatedly to outwit the federal authorities, Russell was always caught because, each time he escaped, he would end up beating a path to Morris’s door.

Phillip Morris found here

Russell’s escapes were never violent but they were ingenious. Twice, he simply walked through the front gates. In 1993, while languishing in the Harris County Jail in Houston for making a false insurance claim about an injured back, Russell disguised himself as a workman with a walkie-talkie and a pair of women’s black trousers stolen from the infirmary. “I tapped on the security gate with my walkie-talkie and the guy let me through,” he explains, nonchalantly.

Jim Carrey as Steven Russell found here

Three years later, he stockpiled green felt-tip pens from prison art classes, squeezing the ink from the cartridges into a sink of water and dying his overalls the colour of surgical scrubs. “You have to be very careful because if you wring them out, you get streaks in the material,” he says matter-of-factly. Underneath the makeshift medical clothes, Russell taped plastic bags tightly to his body so that police dogs would not be able to follow his scent once he was on the run.

Surgeon’s scrubs USB keys found here

He was out but not for long. Within the year, he was back in jail, this time plotting his most daring escape ever. Over a 10-month period in 1998, Russell began to feign the symptoms of Aids. He ate almost nothing and took laxatives in order to look as emaciated as possible. He wrote up fraudulent health records on the prison library typewriter and sent them to the relevant department in the internal mail system for inclusion in his medical file. Astonishingly, Russell was so persuasive that the Texas authorities never ran their own tests and he was transferred to a nursing home. From there, he posed as his own doctor over the telephone and received permission from parole officers to take part in a non-existent treatment programme. A few weeks later, the bogus doctor called the prison to let them know that, sadly, Russell had died.

In reality, Russell was very much alive and on his way, once again, to be with Phillip Morris. “That escape was the most difficult,” says Russell. “I had to completely discipline myself to lose the weight and did lots of reading up on the symptoms of Aids. But now he claims that he is resigned to a future behind bars – he says that planning all those escapes was “exhausting”

dainty dulcie and donald duck

In the 30s, 40s and 50s Dulcie Markham was the prettiest and most notorious woman in Australia’s underworld. Nearly all of her criminal lovers died violently after jousting with the jinx.

image

In 1934 she married hoodlum Frank Bowen. The marriage only lasted a couple of years but they remained friends until he was shot dead in Kings Cross in 1940. She left Bowen to move in with underworld figure Alfred Dillon but was soon having an affair with 21 year old Scotty McCormack. Dillon stabbed him to death and was sentenced to 13 years for manslaughter. As he was led from the dock he shouted out to Dulcie that he would always love her.

image

Her next lover, Arthur Taplin was shot dead at the Cosmopolitan in 1937. After that she took up with mobster Guido Calleti who was shot at a Kings Cross party in 1939. No one was ever convicted and he was given the most spectacular gangster funeral in Sydney’s history. Dulcie did not attend although she had been there to weep over the body as it lay in a Darlinghurst funeral parlour.

Calleti

In 1940 she took up with Melbourne criminal John Abrahams who was shot dead outside a twoup school that same year. She promptly moved in with another well known gangster who was arrested a month later for Abraham’s murder.

twoup

The war years meant big earnings for prostitutes and Dulcie was no exception. Unlike others in her trade, her name was well known to the public as she was constantly in trouble such as the time she was arrested on a Melbourne Street clad only in panties and brandishing an axe at a client who argued about her fee.

image

Her reputation grew through the 1940s when two of her former admirers Donald “the Duck” Day and Leslie “Scotland Yard” Walkerden were murdered.

In 1951 she was drinking with friends when gunmen burst through the door and shot dead one of her companions and left Dulcie with a bullet in her hip. Below is an excerpt from an article by Brian Matthews detailing what happened next

Fawkner Street 1909

The most famous resident of Fawkner Street was ‘Pretty Dulcie’ Markham, a gangster’s moll who married one Leonard ‘Redda’ Lewis in her Fawkner Street house. This was a doubly significant date for ‘Redda’. Not only was it the day of his delight, it was also the last of the seven days the local police had given him to get out of St Kilda. The occasion was attended by numbers of uniformed and plain-clothes state functionaries who, sensitive to the holiness of the proceedings, remained shadowy in their cars while thoughtfully blocking off both ends of the road.

About a month earlier, Pretty Dulcie’s Fawkner Street residence had been the scene of a very different ceremony during which ex-boxer, Gavan Walsh, was shot dead, his brother, Desmond, was injured and Pretty Dulcie herself copped a bullet in the hip. The matrimonial legacy of this was that the bride was able to set off her outfit with a white cast on one leg. She and ‘Redda’ were married in the very room where Gavan Walsh got his, which prompted a Truth reporter to ask, with the refined punctilio for which that paper was known, if she had any qualms about mixing marriage and violent death.

image

‘Not a fuckin’ one,’ said the bride.

Pretty Dulcie was not one for the niceties either of language or behaviour. My Aunt Tilly, walking out behind Dulcie from the ladies’ toilet of the Middle Park Hotel one afternoon and having no idea at the time who she was dealing with, noticed that Dulcie’s dress was accidentally hooked up at the back. Helpfully, my aunt flicked the offending bit down for her, whereupon, before a word of explanation could be offered, Pretty Dulcie turned and intimated her gratitude by saying, ‘You lay a finger on me again and I’ll have the boys break your fuckin’ arms.’ To which she added a number of other recommendations very difficult to carry out, even if Tilly had had the slightest idea what they meant.”

image

Yet again the union didn’t last, her new husband was shot on two different occasions by unknown assailants and they split up after 18 months. In 1955, after an argument with a visitor, Dulcie was thrown from the top floor of a block of flats in Bondi. Hospitalised with fractured ribs and internal injuries, she maintained she had ‘fallen down some stairs’.

Eventually Dulcie married again, living happily with her third husband until she died in 1976 in a fire caused by smoking in bed. Her husband told reporters “I loved her deeply, she was a wonderful housewife”.

housewife tarot

no opium in the elevators

Wilson Mizner (1876-1933) was a well rounded scoundrel.

“In 1897, Wilson and his brothers Addison, William and Edgar, travelled north to the Klondike Gold Rush, where they bilked miners rather than looked for gold. Wilson operated badger games, managed fighters and robbed a restaurant to get chocolate for his girlfriend “Nellie the Pig” (saying “Your chocolates or your life!”)

NOT this Nellie the Pig

In 1905, Wilson showed up at a horse show where his brother Addison was ensconced in a pricey box with wealthy widow Mary Adelaide Yerkes. Addison pretended not to see Wilson, but the younger brother charmed his way into the box. He spent the night with Mrs. Yerkes, reportedly borrowing $10,000 the next morning.

Mary’s first husband, Charles Yerkes would NOT have been happy

Within a short time the 29-year-old, penniless Wilson and the 47-year-old Mrs. Yerkes were fodder for New York’s tabloids, the two having quickly married and just as hastily divorced. Wilson’s rakish lifestyle, however, soon made him a New York celebrity. He managed the Rand Hotel, one of the city’s most notorious canvasaries. “Guests must carry out their own dead” and “No opium smoking in the elevators” exhorted signs prominently posted by Wilson.

Japanese robot found here

After his career as a hotel manager ended, the snappily dressed, witty Runyonesque Wilson managed boxers, working in cahoots with New York underworld to fix the outcome of prize fights. He managed the then famous Stanley Ketchel, whose violent death occasioned one of Wilson’s more memorable quips: “Tell ’em to start counting ten over him, and he’ll get up.”

image of Ketchel found here

Perhaps Wilson’s greatest achievements in New York were the co-writing of his Broadway plays including The Deep Purple which opened in 1910 and was lauded by a Chicago critic as ‘the greatest melodrama since Sweeney Todd’. But his career as a playwright was doomed by laziness and an increasingly severe addiction to opium.

Backed by movie mogul Jack Warner and actress Gloria Swanson, Wilson opened the Brown Derby restaurant, a hangout for moviedom’s most glamorous names. Wilson regularly held court from one of the Brown Derby’s booths, where his coterie included writer Anita Loos, who described Wilson as “America’s most fascinating outlaw“.

image found here (Wilson second from right)

Whilst writing a screenplay in early 1933, Wilson learned that the destitute Addison was gravely ill. “STOP DYING,” Wilson cabled. “AM TRYING TO WRITE A COMEDY.” Shortly after Addison died, Wilson had a heart attack at the Warner studio. Asked if he wanted a priest, Wilson delivered another of his memorable lines. “I want a priest, a rabbi, and Protestant clergyman. I want to hedge my bets.” As an oxygen tent was placed over Wilson’s bed, he said “It looks like the main event.” A priest reminded Mizner that death could come at any moment. Wilson’s classic response: “What? No two weeks’ notice?

cartoon found here

Published in: on March 9, 2010 at 7:39 am  Comments (40)  
Tags: , ,

shades of shame

My father was a plasterer by trade and he built the home I grew up in. He actually made the cement blocks himself, and he and my mother laid them together, on weekends and after work. It took two years to build and another ten before they adopted first my brother and then me. My mother had plenty of time to decorate.

image found here

All rooms were wallpapered in patterns that would induce a migraine if I were to still live there. The lounge had four walls of embossed yellow daisies and one feature wall of black paper with penny farthing bicycles racing across the top of the piece de resistance – a pale blue and white fireplace shaped like a cloud and sprinkled with micadust.

image found here

The summer I turned 13 I begged to be allowed to paint my bedroom wall. Long nights were spent discussing this preposterous idea, my mother objected strongly, my father not so much but in the end I gained a hollow victory. Hollow because my father chose the paint, I believe it was called shocking pink.

image found here

I can’t recall how long I endured those walls but I think it was 1974 when I defied my mother and covered them with posters. My favourite was from a movie I’d never seen starring a dark and brooding boy called Mark Frechette

image found here

“Mark Frechette, the actor who seemed to carry into his private life much of the tortured soul he portrayed in Michaelangelo Antonioni’s 1970 film, Zabriskie Point, is dead at age 27. He was the apparent victim of a bizarre accident in a recreation room at the Massachusetts Correctional Institution, where he had been serving a sentence for a 1973 Boston bank robbery.

image of Daria and Mark found here

Frechette’s body was discovered by a fellow inmate early on the morning of September 27th pinned beneath a 150-pound set of weights, the bar resting on his throat. An autopsy revealed he had died of asphyxiation and the official explanation is that the weights slipped from his hands while he was trying to bench press them, killing him instantly. A source in the county DA’s office, which is investigating the incident, termed the circumstances “a little strange,” especially since the bar left no mark on Frechette’s neck.”

The video is a little long but it’s an interesting glimpse into the past. Daria Halprin lived on, married and divorced Dennis Hopper, and now involves herself in creative arts therapy. I still haven’t seen Zabriskie Point.

What happened to your teenage pinup crushes…..?

Published in: on January 30, 2010 at 7:54 am  Comments (50)  
Tags: , , ,

not such a capital idea

Lucha Loco found here

Silly me, I thought capital punishment was for serious offences like murder.  Not so in ancient times….

Gina Lollobrigida as the Queen of Sheba

Places Offenses Punishments
Hebrew transgressions affecting whole community stoning
mob beating
Babylon selling bad beer
adultery
sex with mother
accepting pawns from slaves, minors
perjury in murder trials*
unproveable murder claim
kidnapping a boy
helping slaves escape
looting
not capturing rebels in your bar
a non-temple priestess in a bar
poor house carpentry
father’s carpentry kills a boy**
stealing sacred property
inability to pay for stolen property
robbery of a free person
the usual
drowning
burning
Assyria being a bad barber the usual
Egpyt injuring a cat the usual
Greece transgressions affecting whole community stoning
mob beating
forced suicide
Rome singing unruly songs
Christianity
immorality in vestal virgins
the usual
beheading
feeding to lions
gladiator battles
crucifixion
India stealing a royal elephant the usual

* the penalty for perjury in a murder trial was for the perjurer to be executed by intravenous embalming while still alive.

**In Babylonia a punishment had to fit the crime, often in a bizarre parallel. If a poorly erected home collapsed on the owner, the architect was executed. If the home fell in the owner’s son, the architect’s son was put to death. If the homeowner’s wife or daughters were killed, the architect was only fined.

image of Rita Tushingham found here

Published in: on December 29, 2009 at 7:25 am  Comments (26)  
Tags: , ,