Winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award for the Best Biography of 2018
Photographer Arthur Fellig had a second sense as to where emergency services would be and arrived in such a timely fashion that he nicknamed himself “Weegee.” The Austrian immigrant had an unflinching eye for the gritty side of life. Weegee’s flare for the experimental paved the way for photographers of the future and his outlandish personality makes for a life lived on ones own terms. Bonanos shows us the manic man behind the lens.
Flash: The Making of Weegee the Famous is the story of a man born in what is now Ukraine who immigrated with his family to New York and rose from the bottom of the barrel to the top of the heap. Bonanos shows us a much mythologized man (often by himself – a master self-promoter), warts and all. Often, when writing the story of this sort of character, the narrative can come off at extremes – demeaning or deifying the character. In the case of Arthur Felig, there’s a clear picture of a man who always felt at odds with his world and sought to rise above those who might look down their noses at him. The author conveys an empathy to the reader for a life not easily lived. Continue reading Flash: The Making of Weegee the Famous by Christopher Bonanos
In 1937 Alice McDonell Parsons was allegedly picked up at her home by two people interested in seeing a property she had for rent and was never seen again. A note found on the floorboard of a car led police to think it was a kidnapping, which wasn’t so far fetched as kidnaping was a very popular crime at the time. The FBI became involved and Hoover assigned his best agents to the case. The complications that followed and secrets that were exposed complicated the case of the missing woman whose fate was never really known. Drielak takes a deep dive into declassified documents to fit the puzzle pieces of what happened to Alice McDonell Parsons.
Long Island’s Vanished Heiress: The Unsolved Alice Parsons Kidnapping is a fascinating read. The author spent 30 years in law enforcement and examines the historical evidence relaying it in a very readable way. There’s no whitewashing of the historical investigation. It was held up by clashes between law enforcement agencies and, in some cases, pedantic investigators. Readers start with the events of June 9, 1937 as relayed by Alice’s housekeeper/business partner, Anna Kupryanova, Continue reading Long Island’s Vanished Heiress: The Unsolved Alice Parsons Kidnapping by Steven C. Drielak
On November 6, 1920, in the midst of Ontario’s prohibition, Provincial liquor inspector, Reverend J.O.L “Leslie” Spracklin walked into the Chappell House Hotel in Windsor, Ontario and shot Beverly “Babe” Trumble at close range, killing him. What happened that day and how did Spracklin get away with murder?
Given the part that Ontario played in the US prohibition, which started in 1920, one would not assume that Ontario was dry at that time. The Ontario Temperance Act was passed in 1916 and while liquor could be produced and exported, it was not legal to consume. Brode begins Dying for a Drink: How a Prohibition Preacher Got Away with Murder outlining Ontario’s history with alcohol and its citizens lack of reverence for the newly established rules after prohibition passed. Windsor, which is across a river just south of Detroit, Michigan, was a special concern for the officials in Toronto as liquor seemed to flow freely back and forth across the water. There were speakeasys everywhere and hotels and social clubs would serve both locally produced and homemade products. There are stately homes now in the lovely Walkervile area of Windsor, built by people that got rich off of the illegal flow of alcohol. Continue reading Dying for a Drink: How a Prohibition Preacher Got Away with Murder by Patrick Brode
On November 29, 1990, two construction workers found the body of 17 year old Saulteaux First Nations tribe member, Neil Stonechild. His friend, Jason Roy, last saw him in the back of a police car on November 25, 1990. The initial inquiry into his death by the Saksatoon police ruled it to be accidental and not as a result of foul play. When a surviving victim of a Starlight Tour came forward, it led to the reopening of the case in 2000 and would shine a horrible and cruel light on the practices of certain Saskatoon Police Officers and the full coverage they received of the “Blue Curtain,” a practice in which a police officer doesn’t inform on his fellow officer.
In the wake of police brutality in the United States, I see a lot of people from other countries saying “We feel for you but we can’t relate.” In Canada, we sit atop the United States and look down our noses at our seemingly less evolved neighbors. What we completely ignore when doing that is the treatment of First Nations people in Canada which, frankly, is what allowed the Saskatoon Police to go unchecked as long as they did and, maybe still do. Our First Nations people don’t have potable drinking water and scores of women go missing without the authorities taking their disappearance seriously (Go to this website for information about Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls). Continue reading Human Rights Day 2020: Starlight Tour; the Last, Lonely Night of Neil Stonechild by Robert Renaud and Susanne Reber
The Burning: Massacre, Destruction, and the Tulsa Race Riot of 1921 by Tim Madigan takes place in 1921. On June 1, 1921, an estimated 10,000 white citizens of Tulsa, Oklahoma, destroyed the black Greenwood neighborhood known at the time as America’s Black Wall Street. The actual number of casualties is unknown, but the cruelty and indiscriminate horror of the attack lived in the minds of the survivors, who lived in a community whose only crime was a success.
I will never know what it is like to be Black in America. In history, it has always seemed like being one of Henry VIIIs’ wives. He would put up with them as long as they were pretty and docile without opinion, and if they in any way displeased or bored him, they might lose their head. That, it seems, is a trivialization and I am sorry for making that comparison. It seems in history and now, there is burning hate and dangerous unrest in the white community. This work shook this reader. The Burning: Massacre, Destruction, and the Tulsa Race Riot of 1921 should be required reading in every high-school history curriculum. I write this review with horror knowing there was no real recrimination for this vile event where the true number of casualties will never be known. Tim Madigan postulates the secrecy may be due to the fear of being very appropriately charged with murder. The least that can be done is for this horrible event to never again be an open secret. For it to be taught and treated with the same abhorrence of the awful, tragic and cruel events in history.
On November 8, 1965, 52-year-old investigative reporter and television personality, Dorothy Kilgallen, is found dead of an apparent overdose in her New York City home. Her files are missing and the air conditioning is running. She has been investigating the Kennedy assassination and has told people she is poised to crack it wide open. Was she the reporter who knew too much?
On January 26, 2020, sports legend Kobe Bryant and his oldest daughter, Gianna (13) died in a helicopter crash on the way to Gianna’s basketball game. Click here to read the Variety article. When Kobe retired he wrote The Mamba Mentality about his strategic view of the game and how it should be played combined with a score of intimate pictures of Kobe in the game. On this tragic day, The Mamba Mentality: How I Play is a look at one of the great minds of the game.
Honor Killing: How the Infamous Massie Affair Transformed Hawai’i by David E. Stannard takes place in 1931. Thalia Massie stumbled from the brush into a car when she accused six Hawaiian men of gang-raping her. When the accused went to trial and walked away due to a hung jury, Thalia’s mother and husband kidnapped and killed one of the subjects launching a highly contested trial. If aristocratic white folk exacting a revenge killing in a racially charged environment wasn’t enough to attract the attention of the world, Clarence Darrow for the defense in what would be in the last case, was certainly a draw.
Brooke Astor lived a rich and adventurous life. In Mrs. Astor Regrets by Meryl Gordon, her twilight years should have been comfortable and uneventful. Instead, as Alzheimer descended, the Centenarian was living under the guardianship of her son, Anthony Marshall, and living in squalor. Her worried grandson approached her dear friends, Annette de la Renta and David Rockefeller for advice and what transpired in the aftermath of that meeting was more than any of them could have imagined.
The Phantom of Fifth Avenue: The Mysterious Life and Scandalous Death of Heiress Huguette Clark by Meryl Gordon is a biography. Huguette Clark, born near the beginning of the twentieth century, was the daughter of the nation’s second richest man and grew up in luxury. She was a lively and social philanthropist who relatives one day realized, had become gradually more distant until she virtually disappeared. What happened to this once vibrant personality?
The Phantom of Fifth Avenue: The Mysterious Life and Scandalous Death of Heiress Huguette Clark is an infuriating read. It is a dispassionate account of the life of Huguette Clark, and what happened to her once she went into isolation. The biography was written by the journalist, Meryl Gordon. What is infuriating about the book is the connection that Gordon builds between her subject and the reader and then the revelation that she was basically a tool for gain in her later years outlined in an objective fashion that could not make clearer the motivations of the century-old woman’s carers. Continue reading The Phantom of Fifth Avenue: The Mysterious Life and Scandalous Death of Heiress Huguette Clark by Meryl Gordon
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