Monday, June 14, 2004

Cornfed midwestern misfits.

My next book conquest? Public Enemies: America's Greatest Crime Wave and the Birth of the FBI, 1933-34, by Bryan Burrough. There's an excerpt from it in the August issue of Vanity Fair about John Dillinger's last stand. I mean, I am just a sucker for this stuff.

Interesting how Burrough cites the time period between 1933 and 1934. Interesting how the Federal Bureau of Investigation suddenly and forcefully came into play when Prohibition was on its way out. And when I say "came into play," I mean "grew a set of balls." According to Burrough, the FBI was pretty much worthless under J. Edgar Hoover from its inception, only investigating small crimes here and there. It didn't hold any real authority over anything. Agents couldn't even carry firearms, and if they needed assistance, they had to call the cops.

So what I'm interested in is, what sparked the need for the FBI to become what it is now? What kind of crimes, what kind of criminals?

Dillinger, Baby Face Nelson, Pretty Boy Floyd, Ma Barker. Midwestern gangsters, Chicago types, people who packed heat under their coats and had their faces plastered on wanted posters and under newspaper headlines. These are names I've only heard about, but never really read about. Time to see what they did to piss off the Feds so much.

On a side note, the end of Prohibition in December 1933 meant that alcohol was legal again. So that meant big city bootleggers became unemployed. Gangsters now needed other forms of income. This is when they turned mainly to gambling and drug running, and I'm not sure, but I think it's also when crime became more organized in order to survive the change.

Not gangster-related, but I've also recently bought Hirschfeld's New York. Al Hirschfeld is my hero in terms of the ability to capture the essence of a person's face or their movement in a but a few strokes of a pen. His lines are...immortal.