Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Did Margaret Schroeder Have a Real-Life Counterpart?

In a word, sort of. A Margaret Schroeder-type appears in the Boardwalk Empire book's prologue as an anonymous,  housewife and boardinghouse maid who is upon hard times and requests to see Nucky Johnson. She had previously met Nucky just once, at her father's wake and this time explained how her husband, a part-time baker helper, has gambled away the family's food money. Nucky gives her money, arranges a ride home for her and promises her husband will be banned from local gambling halls. So, this part closely follows Margaret from the first episode.

Was she an Irish immigrant? Maybe. Did Nucky arrange to have her husband killed and later have relations? Almost definitely not.

In the book's source notes, this lady is revealed to be Mary Ill, a woman who was active in local politics and charitable organizations -- Temperance Union perhaps? She maintained a friendly relationship with Nucky and helped him remain influential within her circles.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Who are Leo and Ignacious D'Alessio's Real-Life Counterparts?

Leo and Ignacious are somewhat based on two of the six Lanzetta Brothers, 1920s Philadelphia gangsters. Leo was the leader of the family and Ignatius (spelling difference from Boardwalk Empire character) were heavily involved in the numbers racket, as well as bootlegging.

Their bootlegging was of a different variety than the typical Atlantic City method of bringing it in by sea. The Lanzetta brothers would provide people who lived in tenements with the raw materials to distill liquor and then buy the finished product. With this method, the brothers remained impervious to prosecution since the "Alky cooks" wouldn't rat on them if caught. Known for their ruthlessness, the threat of violence was enough to keep the brothers one step from the law in such instances.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

How Real is Chalky White?

In a word, not very. There may be some basis as Michael K. Williams (Omar from The Wire) alludes to the fact that the character is based on a boxer. One would have to think that was "Chalky" Wright, a boxer who fought 200+ matches in a long career that spanned through the 20s, 30s and 40s. However, Wright fought few matches in New Jersey and once fought a match as "Chalky White," probably due to a clerical error.

Wright fought out of California, primarily Los Angeles and San Bernadino in the 1920s, so the HBO character seems like a pretty loose interpretation if this is who it is based on. He fought often enough that his involvement in bootlegging was probably peripheral (hired muscle), if anything.

More on which characters are real in Boardwalk Empire

Monday, October 4, 2010

The Arnold Rothstein Poker Scene

This scene was really weak. Do the writers and directors really have no concept of poker? I guess the game was played differently back then, but some parts of it were the same, especially to an odds-man like Rothstein.

The first annoying part was the string raising. I guess that it was allowed back then, but it's hard to know. Now, you fold, call or raise. You don't "see" someone's bet (call), gauge his reaction and then decide to either stay with the call or throw in a raise. It's been that way for a while, but given this takes place  in between when Maverick was set and present-day, who knows what the table culture was like back then.

The worst part was the distributor's raise.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Is Jimmy Darmody Based on a Real Person?

Jimmy Darmody was based on the real-life Jimmy Boyd, who was almost definitely not the Commodore's son. Boyd, who may or may not have been a Princeton dropout and World War I veteran, emerged as an assistant to Nucky during the bootlegging period, though not as early as the show suggests (1920). Initially a bellhop at the Ritz, Nucky's residence, Boyd rose up the ranks, becoming the leader of the Fourth Ward and unofficial overseer of all of Atlantic City's political wards.

When Nucky was deposed of power, Boyd was insulated from any charges and was an important bridge between the old regime and the new: that of Frank "Hap" Farley. Boyd, in addition to the head of the Fourth Ward, was also the clerk of the Board of Freeholders, the equivalent of a County Board of Supervisors. When Farley came into power, Boyd took a more important role in the Republican Party.

Monday, September 27, 2010

The Rise of Enoch "Nucky" Johnson

Enoch Johnson was born in 1883. His father Smith Johnson was a powerful man in Atlantic County. He held the coveted position of County Sheriff. Each term was limited to 3 years and a sheriff could not succeed himself. Smith simply alternated between undersheriff and sheriff. From a young age Nucky took an interest in politics.

After a year in college, Nucky, as he became known, decided to return to Atlantic County and marry his high school sweetheart. Tragedy struck as she came down with tuberculosis (referred to as consumption in the show) and despite adequate medical care, she succumbed in 1913.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

The Reign of the Commodore: Louis Kuehnle

In the show, his name is the Commodore Louis Kaestner, but in real life it was Louis Kuehnle and as it's implied in the show, the Commodore was a prominent figure in Atlantic City politics. The Commodore appears to be a pretty close real life character match. Kuehnle's father was a New York chef who parlayed his restaurant success into owning an Atlantic City hotel. By the age of 18, Louis was managing the hotel.

How the Commodore Got His Name

The Commodore got his name as a result of his position as the chairman of a local yacht club. Further, he used his hotel to host the meetings of 3 Atlantic County power brokers, one of whom was Nucky's father. As one of the 3 passed away in 1900, the Commodore slid into his position, eventually taking control of the club. He extorted gambling rooms and whorehouses, as well as a variety of legit businesses in order to fund the Republican political machine. He even had government employees kick back 5 - 7% of their salaries to the Republican party, since they were in effect, all appointees.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Atlantic City Becomes a Haven For Vices

Though Atlantic City was founded with the idea of being a "health resort," its landowners were capitalists. They laid railroad from Camden (connected by ferry to Philadelphia) and the people of Philadelphia would dictate what they wanted from Atlantic City.

The wealthy, aristocratic Philadelphians were generally Quakers and espoused the moral philosophy. Maybe they went to Cape May, but the railroad was not built for them. Philadelphia had become a powerful industrial society by mid-1800s and spawned a large working class.

This working class were the cogs of the Industrial Revolution as Philadelphia became the nation's primary textile manufacturer, its factories powered by the abundant coal in Northeast Pennsylvania.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

The Building of the Atlantic City Boardwalk

As hotels and boardinghouses (rented out rooms in people's houses or giant no-frills hotels) sprung up in Atlantic City, the owners claimed about people trudging sand through their lobbies and rooms. Imagine having a carpet accumulate sand and not having a vacuum cleaner! Of course this has been a problem for full-time residents, but they would have incentive to brush the sand off outside, so as to not have to deal with sand inside later on. Further, train operators had the same problem of customers dragging sand into the rail cars.

The solution was to build a boardwalk, where people could walk on after the beach and the sand could fall off naturally. More importantly, a boardwalk would actually prevent visitors from walking on the beach, since people generally prefer being sand-free.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The Establishment of Atlantic City: From Marsh to Boomtown

Atlantic City is located on Absecon Island, a bit south of the Jersey Shore's midpoint. In 1850, the island was a land of sand dunes, with some cultivation by the descendants of Jeremiah Leeds who served in the Revolutionary War. A local Columbia-educated doctor, Jonathan Pitney, saw an opportunity to develop the land as a seaside "health" resort. Nobody else saw such an opportunity.

Realizing his limited means (rural doctors didn't earn much), Pitney formed an alliance with Samuel Richards, an industrial baron in the rural southern, central part of New Jersey. Richards used his clout to talk the politicians into cutting a railroad from Camden to Absecon Island. He could use it as a way to transport his factory goods into Camden, a large port city at the time, and Pitney could use it as a way to get passengers from Philadelphia and Camden to his planned health resort.