Creepy history, Criminals

The life (and death) of John Dillinger’s Red Hamilton. Part II

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John “Red” Hamilton

Original publish date:  May 23, 2019

The Dillinger gang was speeding towards Chicago underworld “fixer”, Dr. Joseph Moran. During World War I, Moran served honorably as a pilot in the Army Signal Corps raising to the rank of lieutenant. His addiction to alcohol eventually gained him an unscrupulous reputation as the windy city’s best “pin artist” (someone who performed illegal abortions). In 1928 he was sentenced to 10 years in prison after one of his patients died. He lost his medical license and was released after serving only two years. He became well known for his plastic surgery skills, particularly for his ability to obliterate fingerprints, and was most often associated with the Ma Barker and Dillinger gangs. It was Moran who removed five bullets and stitched up Red Hamilton after a previous shootout, hitting Dillinger up for a cool $ 5,000 for his handiwork.
But now, the silver dollar sized wound in Red’s back was festering and oozing. The bullet had lodged in Red’s lung and was already stinking of gangrene. The shady Moran refused to treat Hamilton at any price, likely because he knew that Hamilton’s wound was mortal. Moran directed the gang to take their dying compadre to Elmer’s Tavern in Bensenville and let him die there. Before the year is out Doc Moran will mysteriously vanish from the face of the earth.

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Hamilton spent a few days at Elmer’s, every hour in excruciating pain, but he simply refused to die. Finally, Dillinger took him to a Barker-Karpis gang safe house in Aurora that was being rented by Dillinger / Barker gang associate Volney Davis and his girlfriend, Edna “Rabbits” Murray. For the next three days, Dillinger, Van Meter, Davis, and Doc Barker stood watch as Hamilton slowly died. Edna took care of Red as best she could, but, ravaged with gangrene, Hamilton finally died on Thursday, April 26. On Friday night, the men took the body to a gravel pit in Oswego, Illinois, for disposal. Laid in a shallow grave, to hinder identification by the authorities, Hamilton’s right hand is cut off (presumably discarded elsewhere) and ten cans of lye are poured over his face and body by Dillinger who reportedly said, “Red, old pal, I hate to do this, but I know you’d do the same for me” as he emptied each can of it’s contents. After the grave was filled in, a roll of rusted barb wire was placed over it as a makeshift marker. Red Hamilton was left there to rest in peace – but not for long.
On May 19th authorities, unaware that Hamilton had died almost three weeks prior, indicted him on charges of harboring fugitives. Hamilton’s sister was convicted of the same charge, and served a short prison stint. Since Hamilton had been reported killed on other occasions, the FBI continued searching, refusing to believe reports of Red’s demise until the body was found. When Red’s grave was discovered on August 28, 1935, there wasn’t much left of him. The corpse was missing a hand and was so damaged by the lye that it could only be identified by some strands of hair and a belt size. Ultimately, only Hamilton’s dental records from the Indiana state penitentiary confirmed the identity. The FBI claimed that a couple of molars with distinct fillings matched Red’s prison x-rays.

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Volney Davis

It was not until Volney Davis was arrested, escaped, and rearrested that FBI agents learned the fate of Red Hamilton. At least, Red’s demise from the outlaw perspective. However, legend tells many different tales about the fate of Red Hamilton. What was left of the body that was removed from the gravel pit and reburied in the Oswego cemetery. The funeral service was paid for by Hamilton’s sister from Michigan. Like many fellow outlaws (John Dillinger, Billy the Kid, John Wilkes Booth, Butch and Sundance) most of the rumors claimed that Red was not dead, while other rumors never questioned Red’s fate, but rather the disposition of his mortal remains. One rumor claimed that he had been buried in the sand of the Indiana dunes. Another that he had been dropped into an abandoned mine shaft in Wisconsin.
Red’s fate remained in question long after Dillinger’s death in an alley outside the Biograph theatre in Chicago on July 22. Even before the body was found, the FBI had been receiving reports from police and public claiming that Hamilton was still alive and hiding out in northern Indiana. When interrogated by the FBI, Dillinger’s girlfriend Polly Hamilton (no relation to Red) claimed that Anna Sage told her that Red was alive and being treated for a “badly infected wound” by Dr. Harold Cassidy.
Dr. Harold Bernard Cassidy was the plastic surgeon who had famously performed surgery on John Dillinger’s face. It was Cassidy who injected the overdose of anesthetic which nearly killed Dillinger, who swallowed his tongue. However, the surgery was a success and Dillinger gave him $500 for his troubles. In 1933 Cassidy was arrested and charged with harboring a fugitive. He was given a suspended sentence in exchange for testimony against Dillinger. He served as a physician on Indian reservations and during World War II rose to the rank of Major in the Pacific. After the war he came back to Chicago, suffered a nervous breakdown, and shot himself in the head in front of his sister and mother on July 30, 1946.

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THE NEW YORK TIMES, August 29, 1935

Over the years, the FBI received numerous tips from people claiming to have seen or heard from Hamilton. Red’s nephew Bruce swore that he had visited his uncle in Ontario, Canada (Red’s birthplace) long after Red’s reported death. Nevertheless, no hard evidence for Hamilton’s survival has ever been discovered. FBI director J. Edgar Hoover officially marked Red’s fate as “case closed” in 1935. In typical Hoover style, the Director trumpeted the belated discovery of the last member of the Dillinger gang to every newspaper in the country. However, underworld rumors persisted that Red had recovered from his wound and was alive and well and living north of border after retiring from a life of crime. Supposedly, Red outlived John Dillinger, Homer Van Meter, and Baby Face Nelson (all killed in violent shootouts) and lived out his life working as an electrician and handy man.

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 John “Red” Hamilton and his girlfriend Patricia Cherrington

Reports claiming that Hamilton was still alive continued flowing in to the FBI on the regular, but, by Hoover’s directive, they were disregarded. Most were written off as mistaken identity. However, one survives that sounds particularly convincing. The letter, found in the files of the FBI, is dated August 24, 1936, a year after Red’s body was found. It was sent by a former inmate known as “Happy” who knew some of the gang members, as well as Dillinger’s attorney, Louis Piquett. It is believed that “Happy” may have been an associate of Dillinger named Fred Meyers, from Chicago.
The letter read: “Dear Sir: Will you kindly advise how much you will guarantee in cash for secret and confidential information about the movements of John Hamilton? There are three people who know that he is still living and happen to know the details concerning him. If interested please make offer through personal column of Chicago Tribune as follows, HAP * Will buy ,000 bushels, meaning of course that many thousand dollars for this information and place ED after the word bushels. If this offer is OK you will be supplied with an amazing detail report on his present physical condition and movements. Money must be on deposit at your Chicago Office but will not have to be paid until this man is captured or killed or both. This information must be kept strictly confidential between you and I and must be kept out of the newspapers except code transmissions between you and I. I am a hardworking electrician and took considerable time and money to get this data and do not want to risk my life for the deal. Everything will be handled by correspondence and code in the Chicago Tribune. If your offer is accepted, I will make you proposals which must be guaranteed by you as a strictly gentlemen’s agreement.”

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THE NEW YORK TIMES, August 29, 1935

There is no evidence that J. Edgar Hoover ever saw it or whether there was ever a follow-up. By then, the FBI claimed that Hamilton’s dead body had been found and identified and that Hoover had won the national “War on Crime”, thereby securing his position as Director for the next four decades. But could the letter have been true? Red’s nephew, Bruce Hamilton certainly believed it was. Years later, he described a family trip to Michigan to visit his “dead” uncle Red in 1945. The trip took the family to Sault Sainte Marie on the Canadian border to the home of John Hamilton’s sister, Anna. Wilton and his wife, Harriet, their older son Douglas, their daughter, Jane Margaret, and 15-year-old Bruce, all met the man known as John “Red” Hamilton. Wilton told his wife and children not to discuss the trip with anyone.
The trip to the Upper P resulted in the collection of a large amount of money that had been stashed away by the Dillinger gang. The loot’s whereabouts were known only by the gang’s last surviving member: Red Hamilton. As evidence, crime buffs and conspiracy theorists note that the impoverished Hamilton family suddenly came into thousands of dollars in cash years after Red’s “death”. After that 1945 trip, Bruce’s father Wilton paid off the mortgage on the family home in South Bend, bought a new house, and purchased the family’s first new car. Around this same time, Hamilton’s brother, Foye, recently released from prison, also came into a great deal of money. He used it to build a machine shop in Rockford, Illinois, and he also purchased Turtle Island in the Great Lakes area near Sault Sainte Marie, as well as boats and a seaplane to get to and from the island. Bruce suspected that a large cabin on the island provided a hiding place for his uncle John. The family claimed that the outlaw survived into the 1970s, vacationing numerous times with his family over the years.
According to a March, 2007 article in the South Bend Tribune, Bruce (then living in Shiprock,N.M.) believed “the wounded Hamilton, after stopping in Aurora and then Chicago (where the FBI originally believed he had died), was patched up by Dr. Cassidy and then went into hiding with his brother, Sylvester, in East Gary, Indiana. Dillinger then returned to Aurora, while Sylvester took Red to the home of William Hamilton, Bruce’s grandfather, in South Bend. William helped get him to a hideout previously used by the Dillinger gang, a nearby place called Rum Village Woods. Hamilton recuperated well enough to go to work as an electrician at a family-owned bowling alley in South Bend in 1936 and 1937.” Bruce also said that over the years, his great-uncle Red occasionally slipped over the border to rob a bank or two until he “got tired of being shot at.” According to Bruce’s elderly aunt, Red later moved to Canada and died in the 1970s.
But if Red Hamilton didn’t die in Aurora in 1934, then whose body was found in that barbed wire covered grave in 1935? Rumor says it was Dr. Joseph Moran, who disappeared shortly after refusing to treat Red’s wound in Chicago. Hoover directed his agents to continue searching for Moran for months after he vanished. Hoover eventually declared that Moran had been killed and dumped in Lake Michigan. Alvin “Creepy” Karpis, of the Ma Barker gang admitted that Moran had been murdered and his body buried, but he never said where.

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Author Stephen King.

In 2001, Jack “Red” Hamilton rocketed to pop culture immortality when he became the subject of a short story by horror author Stephen King. “The Death of Jack Hamilton” was originally published in the 2001 Christmas issue of The New Yorker magazine. In 2002, it was published in King’s collection Everything’s Eventual. The true crime story is based on the death of Red Hamilton and is written as a first-person narrative, told by Homer Van Meter, who relays the slow, painful death of his fellow gangmember. In King’s story, Van Meter spares no detail in relating how Red lapsed into dementia before his agonizing, but merciful death.
Yet another account can be found that ties the mysterious Red Hamilton to Irvington while at the same time claiming John Dillinger survived as well. The anonymous writer relates, “I knew the remaining members of the White Cap Gang in Indianapolis. In the late fifties I was told the same story you have from his nephew. He recuperated in South Bend and went to his sister in Sault Sainte Marie. Later Red moved to a new place on the Canadian side. The fellows I knew had regular communication with him. Dillinger was still sending him letters and current photos of himself. As far as I know these are the only two members of the gang to have survived. I did see such a letter and photo that Tubby Toms brought to the house for verification after Dillinger had sent it to the Indianapolis Star. They told Toms that they weren’t sure of the ID of the man in the picture but laughed like crazy when he left. They knew both Dillinger and Hamilton where alive at that time and their respective location. Toms showed me the rabbits foot Dillinger gave him. It was small. Every one was so crooked that none of the official stories was true.” In June of 1933, John Dillinger and the White Cap gang robbed the Haag’s drug store / soda fountain on the Northwest corner of Washington and Audubon in Irvington. You can’t make this stuff up folks.

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Dufours restaurant site of former Haag’s drug store / soda fountain.
Music, Pop Culture

The Band. Woodstock Comes To Irvington.

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Original publish date:  April 11, 2019

You are cordially invited to come over to the Irving theatre this Saturday, April 13th from 2 PM to 4 PM and talk about music. This is the 50th anniversary year of Woodstock, the concert that changed both the culture and history of music while defining a generation. More importantly, this event will celebrate the 50th anniversary of the first live concert by The Band at the Winterland ballroom in San Francisco California. The Band (Levon Helm, Robbie Robertson, Rick Danko, Richard Manuel and Garth Hudson) not only change the face of rock ‘n roll, they almost single-handedly created the movement that became known as “Americana” music. Although known by many as Bob Dylan’s backup band, as we shall see this Saturday, there is more to the fellas than meets the eye.z big pink 3c
When these five self-described bearded “Cowboys” appeared on the January 12, 1970 cover of Time magazine (a first for an American band by the way) they were described as “The New Sound of Country Rock.” They came to epitomize Woodstock, the community and the concert, although they landed at both quite coincidentally. In an era when other bands were writing and performing songs about sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll, The Band were performing songs about reflection and history created in the basement of a little pink house in the Catskill Mountains. The songs dripped with sentiment, depth and meaning straight out of the pages of American history even though four out of the five members were Canadians.Woodstock-poster
This Saturday I will host an in depth discussion about The Band and its impact on American music. Joining me will be local radio legends Dave “the King” Wilson, Ed Wenck and Jay Baker. The program will start at 1:30 p.m. with live music in the Irving theatre performed by The Mud Creek Conservancy, the acoustic duo of Ed Wenck and Josh Gillespie. Occurring before the presentation this will be their first live performance. The duo will play and explain a couple of The Band’s best-known songs for us during the discussion as well. The program will also include a live podcast of “Firehouse Irvington” by Kevin Friedly and Jay Baker after the show. We invite you to come out, share thoughts, ask questions and even bring your guitar to play and sing along in what promises to be a show for the ages.The Band
Channel 13’s Nicole Misensik and Brandon Kline will be on hand to assist with questions from the audience and Dave Wilson will act as the official emcee. The program will feature film clips of The Band on stage, taped interviews and historic photographs that, combined with the discussion, will help form a more complete history of what many critics believe was the greatest band in the history of rock ‘n roll. The band’s iconic lyrics will be discussed as well as their motivation and meaning and songwriting process. Not to mention some interesting connections to pop culture events and personalities that lasted well before and long after their breakup in 1976.
bd triumphThe Band was born only after the near fatal motorcycle accident involving the world’s most famous electric folksinger changed their direction. And, although The Band’s first album “Music From Big Pink” debuted on July 1st, 1968, the band from West Saugerties, New York did not perform live until the spring of 1969 a continent away in San Francisco. The album was created start to finish in two weeks time with no overdubbing, unheard of for its day. What’s more, The Band very nearly didn’t take the stage at all; saved only after legendary promoter Bill Graham picked a hypnotist out of a bay area phonebook to right the ship. The little-known stories of these great incidents will be discussed this Saturday.
Most people forget that The Band even performed at Woodstock, let alone was a headliner. We will discuss how mismanagement not only kept The Band out of the film and off of the soundtrack, it kept Bob Dylan off of the stage. All but only the most devoted fans realize that The Band not only performed at Woodstock, but also at the largest concert in the history of music alongside the Grateful Dead and the Allman Brothers at Watkins Glen New York four years later. And then there was the 1970 Festival Express tour across Canada featuring Janis Joplin, the Grateful Dead and The Band. The Festival Express was a 14 car long train that stopped in three Canadian cities: Toronto, Winnipeg and Calgary, during the summer of 1970, that ultimately became one long non-stop jam session and never ending party fueled by drugs and alcohol.
2To understand The Band, one must also understand the era into which it was born. Big Pink’s 1968 debut was also the year of student protests against the Vietnam War, Martin Luther King and Robert F Kennedy’s assassination, riots at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago, Black Panther demonstrations, feminists protesting the Miss America pageant in Atlantic City, Apollo 7 and 8’s moon landing rehearsal flights, Charles Manson gathering his cult members at Spahn Ranch and Nixon’s nomination for president. To many, America was coming apart at the seams and the divide between generations had never seemed wider. This band, formed out of a classically trained musician, a teenaged alcoholic, a butche’rs apprentice, a Jewish Native American grifter and a veteran performer from the Mississippi Delta, stepped forward to bridge the gap.
The Band 19While considered the fathers of the history conscious “Americana” music movement, make no mistake about it, these guys were quintessential rock and rollers. Fast cars, fast women, and fast times punctuated the lives of each member of The Band. They started in the age of rockabilly, while Elvis Presley was still shaking things, up and finished at the dawn of hip-hop. They crossed paths with Hollywood movie stars, gangsters and presidents. Eric Clapton, Van Morrison, Dr. John, Sonny Boy Williamson, Muddy Waters, Conway Twitty, Tiny Tim, Jack Ruby, Martin Scorsese and Jimmy Carter all play a part in the story of these four Canadians and one self-described “cracker” from Arkansas to create a mystique that still surrounds them today, long after three out of the five band members have passed.
Not only is this Saturday’s event timed to coincide with an important anniversary in the history of The Band, it is also taking place on “National Record Store Day”. There will be live music outside the Irving theatre beginning early in the day and lasting long after this presentation concludes. The program will start at 2 PM, admission is free, but we ask that you please make a donation at the door to the weekly view newspaper to help support the Free Press of Indianapolis.

Creepy history, Hollywood, Pop Culture

Frankenstein comes to Irvington.

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Original publish date:  October 11, 2018

Matthew Weedman, Assistant Professor of Art at Wabash College will be presenting his talk “IT’S ALIVE! ELECTRICITY, CINEMA AND METAPHOR IN FRANKENSTEIN” at the Bona Thompson Memorial Center at 2 pm, Sunday, Oct.14. The subject seems a perfect fit for the upcoming Historic Irvington Halloween Festival. But how much do you really know about Victor Frankenstein’s monster? When you think of Frankenstein, do you envision Boris Karloff’s 1931 version? Mel Brooks’ 1974 version? Robert DeNiro’s 1994 version? How about TV’s Herman Munster? Or maybe even the Burger Chef knockoff Crankenburger commercial character from the 1970s? It seems that Frankenstein is in the eye of the beholder. However, with this monster, there is more than meets the eye.

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Eighteen Hundred and Froze To Death. That is the epithet given to the year 1816 by those who survived it. 1816 also became known as the year without a summer. In the spring and summer of 1816, the eastern United States was blanketed by a persistent blood red “dry fog” that often blotted out the sun. Neither wind nor rainfall could disperse this crimson fog. Temperatures dipped below freezing every day in May and snow was recorded regularly in June. July and August saw frost on the ground and ice on the rivers from the northwest territory to the eastern seaboard. Europe and the rest of the world was locked in a long cold volcanic winter caused by the eruption of Mount Tambora the year before. Located on Sumbawa Island in the East Indies, it was the greatest eruption in Earth’s recorded history up to that time. Crops failed universally and for three years following Tambora’s explosion, almost anywhere in the world, if you were alive you were hungry.
z frankenstein-dracula-fbWhat better time to introduce two of the world’s most popular monsters? Frankenstein and Dracula were born on the same night in the same weekend in 1816. They were brought to life by Mary Shelley and Lord Byron during a contest to see who could create the scariest monster. The weekend was wet and stormy and Lord Byron suggested the reading of ghost stories to pass away the dreary weather. Sitting around a log fire at the Villa Diodati on the shores of Lake Geneva, the company of friends amused themselves by reading German ghost stories translated into French from the book Fantasmagoriana. The members of the party were Lord Byron and his mistress Claire Claremont, his doctor John Polidori, Percy Bysshe and Mary Shelley. Lord Byron is known for his poetry, mostly Don Juan. After reading a few stories, Byron suggested that each member of their party write their own story of horror.
That weekend challenge changed the face of the literary world forever. Byron wrote a small novella about a nobleman who rises from the dead. Later on Dr Polidori would use Byron’s unfinished novella and not only would the nobleman rise from the dead, but he would also have to drink the blood of others to sustain himself. Byron named his creation of his nobleman that rose from the dead a vampyre.
Mary-Shelly-Featured-Image-LARGEUnable to think of a story, young Mary became anxious, in the introduction to her book she recalled: “Have you thought of a story? I was asked each morning, and each morning I was forced to reply with a mortifying negative.” During one evening in the middle of summer, the discussions turned to the nature of the principle of life. “Perhaps a corpse would be re-animated”, Mary noted, “galvanism had given token of such things”. It was after midnight before they retired, and unable to sleep, she became possessed by her imagination as she beheld the grim terrors of her “waking dream.” In September 2011, astronomer Donald Olson, after visiting the Lake Geneva villa and inspecting data about the motion of the moon and stars, concluded that her “waking dream” took place “between 2 a.m. and 3 a.m.” on June 16, 1816, several days after the initial idea by Lord Byron that they each write a ghost story.
Mary Shelley was just eighteen years old when she began writing “Frankenstein; or, the Modern Prometheus”. Shelley wrote the first four chapters in the weeks following the suicide of her half-sister Fanny. This was one of many personal tragedies that impacted Shelley’s work. The horror masterpiece came two years after she’d become pregnant with her first child, a baby she never named. On the eleventh day after her child’s birth, she wrote in her diary: “I awoke in the night to give it suck it appeared to be sleeping so quietly that I would not awake it.” The next diary entry, written the next morning, reads simply, “Find my baby dead.” Her grief at the loss can be seen in later diary entries, “Dream that my little baby came to life again; that it had only been cold, and that we rubbed it before the fire, and it lived.” and “Awake and find no baby.”
Pregnant again only weeks later, she was likely still nursing her second baby when she started writing “Frankenstein,” and pregnant with her third by the time she finished. She didn’t put her name on her book, preferring to publish her novel anonymously in 1818. The first theatrical production of “Frankenstein” was staged in London in 1823. By that time the author had given birth to four children, buried three, and lost another unnamed baby to a miscarriage so severe that she nearly died of bleeding that stopped only when her husband had her sit on ice.
In 1822, her husband drowned when his sailing boat sank during a storm. The last decade of her life was dogged by illness, probably caused by the brain tumor that was to kill her in 1851 at the age of 53. Although principally noted as the literary creator of Frankenstein, it should be noted that Shelley was one of the world’s first fighters for women’s rights. After her husband’s death, she continued to practice her feminist principles by extending aid to women whom society disapproved of. On the first anniversary of Mary Shelley’s death, her box-desk was opened. Inside was found locks of her dead children’s hair, a notebook she had shared with Percy Bysshe Shelley, and a copy of his poem Adonaïs with one page folded round a silk parcel containing some of his ashes and the remains of his heart.
In this his 200th anniversary year, Frankenstein is as popular today as ever. The book tells the story of Victor Frankenstein, a doctor who creates a grotesque, intelligent creature by piecing together cadavers collected by the young scientist. The seed for the horror classic can be found in a trip by author Shelley through Europe in 1814. Her journey traveled along the river Rhine in Germany not far from Frankenstein Castle, where, two centuries before, an alchemist was engaged in experiments. On another trip, she travelled in the region of Geneva (Switzerland) where much of the story takes place. The idea for the novel came to her in a dream about a scientist who created life and was horrified by what he had made; her dream later became her novel’s story.
Although the name “Frankenstein” is often used to refer to the monster itself, in the novel, the monster is identified by words such as “creature,” “monster,” “demon,” “wretch,” “abortion,” “fiend,” and “it.” About this apparent misnomer, Shelley, perhaps thinking back on the death of her own unnamed child years before, remarked “This nameless mode of naming the unnameable is rather good.”
Frankenstein - 1931When “Frankenstein” was published it became an immediate sensation. Mary Shelley crafted her book so that readers’ sympathies would lie not only with Frankenstein, whose suffering is dreadful, but also with the creature, whose suffering is worse. Shelley skillfully directs her readers’ sympathy, page by page, paragraph by paragraph, sometimes even line by line, from Frankenstein to the creature. Shelley deftly navigates the creature’s vicious murders, first of Frankenstein’s little brother, then of his best friend, and, finally, of his bride. In 1824, one critic wrote, “The justice is indisputably on his side and his sufferings are, to me, touching to the last degree.”
Shelley’s dialog is amazing. “It was on a dreary night of November, that I beheld the accomplishment of my toils,” relates Victor Frankenstein. The rain patters on the windowpane; a bleak light flickers from a dying candle. He looks at the “lifeless thing” at his feet, come to life: “I saw the dull yellow eye of the creature open; it breathed hard, and a convulsive motion agitated its limbs.” Having labored so long to bring the creature to life, he finds himself disgusted and horrified—“unable to endure the aspect of the being I had created”—and flees, abandoning his creation, unnamed.
“Hear my tale,” the creature insists, when he at last confronts his creator. “I was a poor, helpless, miserable wretch; I knew, and could distinguish, nothing…But, feeling pain invade me on all sides, I sat down and wept.” He learned to walk, and began to wander, still unable to speak—“the uncouth and inarticulate sounds which broke from me frightened me into silence again.” Eventually, while secretly observing the villagers talk, “I discovered the names that were given to some of the most familiar objects of discourse: I learned and applied the words fire, milk, bread, and wood.” In time, the creature acquired “a cursory knowledge of history…I heard of the division of property, of immense wealth and squalid poverty; of rank, descent, and noble blood.” He learned that the weak are routinely abused by the powerful, and the poor despised. “I, the miserable and the abandoned, am an abortion,” the creature says, before, in the book’s final scene, he disappears on a raft of ice.
Shelley’s novel offers many deeper moral and political ambiguities not often found in the versions that followed. Her novel questions whether Victor Frankenstein is to be blamed for creating the monster-usurping the power of God, and of women-or for failing to love, care for, and educate him. Mary Shelley was dead by then, her own chaotic origins already forgotten. Nearly everyone she loved died before she did, most of them when she was still very young. Of this mortal reality, Shelley, commented, “the last relic of a beloved race, my companions extinct before me.”
In his 1919 essay ‘The Uncanny’, Sigmund Freud says that “apparent death and reanimation of the dead have been represented as most uncanny themes”. This, of course, can be related to Frankenstein’s reanimation of a creature made from dead body parts, joined together. When Frankenstein looks upon his creation’s ‘yellow skin… watery eyes… shrivelled complexion and straight black lips,’ he is disgusted and realizes the monster symbolizes Frankenstein’s own death. With so much death and tragedy littering her wake, Shelley too was acutely reminded of her own mortality.
In Mary Shelley’s introduction to the 1831 edition of Frankenstein (written two decades before her death), the author states, “I saw-with shut eyes, but acute mental vision-I saw the pale student of unhallowed arts kneeling beside the thing he had put together. I saw the hideous phantasm of a man stretched out, and then, on the working of some powerful engine, show signs of life and stir with an uneasy, half-vital motion. Frightful must it be, for supremely frightful would be the effect of any human endeavor to mock the stupendous mechanism of the Creator of the world.”
z frankenstein_1931_stillA century later, a lurching, grunting Boris Karloff defined the most widely accepted version of the creature in Universal Pictures’s 1931 production of “Frankenstein.” Karloff’s monster-portrayed as prodigiously eloquent, learned, and persuasive in the novel-was no longer merely nameless but all but speechless, too. “Frankenstein” has spawned many different depictions in the two centuries since its publication. For its bicentennial, the original, 1818 edition has been reissued in paperback form by Penguin Classics as “The New Annotated Frankenstein.”
Matthew Weedman will address the Frankenstein topic indepth this Sunday afternoon (2 pm at the Bona Thompson Memorial Center) with his talk “IT’S ALIVE! ELECTRICITY, CINEMA AND METAPHOR IN FRANKENSTEIN”.

Hollywood, Indianapolis, Indy 500

Clark Gable at the Indianapolis 500.

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Original publish date:  May 25, 2010                                                                                 Reissue date: May 25, 2018

I originally wrote this article back in May of 2010 and in the years since, I have been informed by a longtime friend (and Irvingtonian) Bruce Gable that there is an Irvington connection, so I figured I’d update it and run it again. For the most part, here it is as it ran back then with a few appropriate updates.

It was 50 years ago that the “King of Hollywood”, Clark Gable died. They called him the king for good reason. Women swooned at his masculine screen presence and men viewed him as the ultimate man’s man. Best remembered as Rhett Butler in Gone with the Wind, most film critics agree that without Gable, GWTW would have blown away quietly. Yet, most Hoosiers don’t realize that Gable has several ties to our fair state.

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Clark Gable & Barbara Stanwyck at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

It is a little known fact that Gable was a devoted race fan who regularly attended races including the Indianapolis 500. In 1950 Gable starred in the movie “To Please a Lady”, filmed at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway,. Although not critically acclaimed, the movie is considered to be a motorsports classic. Most of the scenes were shot over a three-week period at the speedway. To make the racing scenes as authentic as possible, director Clarence Brown used a good deal of actual professional racing footage. Gable did some of his own driving for close-ups, while a stunt driver took the wheel for the more dangerous shots. The film’s climax was shot at the 1950 Indianapolis 500 won by Johnnie Parsons in a rain shortened race.

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Clark Gable & Barbara Stanwyck in Indianapolis.

In the film Gable stars as Mike Brannon, a thrill-seeking race car driver whose ruthless tactics cause a crash that results in another driver’s death. Barbara Stanwyck plays Regina Forbes, an influential newspaper columnist who is determined to get him permanently banned from the professional racing circuit. Gable’s Brannan character has a bad reputation and Stanwyck’s columnist Forbes character tries to interview him, but he refuses. Regina’s column suggests that Brannan caused the fatal accident deliberately, which leads to him losing his ride. Brannan begins driving in a stunt show, eventually earning enough money to buy a car of his own and enter the Indy 500 himself. The pair engages in an explosive battle of wills while fighting off an attraction to each other that threatens to spin out of control.
The film was director Clarence Brown’s eighth and final film with Clark Gable, who was also his good friend. Brown managed to pull off some of the most thrilling racing sequences ever filmed, capturing the raw excitement of the speedway by throwing viewers right into the middle of the action. Fans experience the energy of the pit crew in action, the zooming car engines, and the roar of the crowd. Cinematographer Hal Rosson used up to six camera crews at a time to capture action from actual races. The location shooting paid off in the film’s nail-biting climax where car speeds averaged 100 miles an hour.

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Clark Gable & Barbara Stanwyck.

Gable and Stanwyck are well matched as a romantic onscreen duo whose character’s intense chemistry is undeniable. This was the couple’s second film together. Their first, “Night Nurse”, was made nearly 20 years earlier at Warner Bros. In that movie Gable, not yet a major movie star played a small role as a nasty chauffeur who viciously slaps Barbara Stanwyck across the face. The moment was replicated in the speedway film when Stanwyck took another smack across the kisser from Gable.

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Ironically, “To Please a Lady” was not a major box office success due in part to the surge in household television sales, which by 1950 was rapidly taking business away from movie theaters. However, the film did win plenty of critical praise. The New York Times said of the film: “You can bet that Indianapolis never experienced a contest as hotly run as the race that Mr. Brown has staged.” Variety proclaimed that the movie “has excitement, thrills, with some of the greatest racing footage ever put on celluloid – It firmly returns Gable to the rugged lover, rugged character status.”
The film’s legacy among race fans is the chance to see authentic open-wheel midget and Indy-car racing footage from an often neglected time in auto racing. The montage featuring a racing engine being machined and assembled along with some nice race car close-ups and pit stop action make it a must see flick for gear heads. The film also captures a couple of minutes of authentic footage of Joie Chitwood’s famous stunt car show, a rare treat for vintage race fans.

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Clark Gable and Hoosier Carole Lombard.

Being in Indianapolis was difficult for Clark Gable personally. Married five times, Gable’s most glittering union was with Hoosier actress Carole Lombard. The city was the final stop of a 1942 war bond tour headlined by Lombard, before flying back home to Los Angeles. Tragically, Lombard’s plane never made it, crashing in Nevada killing everyone on board. Gable and Lombard honeymooned at Lake Barbee near Warsaw, Indiana. Their three-year marriage had been the ideal Tinseltown union, and Lombard’s death was a loss from which Gable never recovered.

At the time of “To Please a Lady” Gable had finally remarried, this time to Douglas Fairbanks’ widow, Lady Sylvia Ashley. During filming he seemed happier and healthier than he had been in years according to friends. Even so, Gable remembered his beloved late wife while in Indianapolis. He quietly made a point to visit the downtown locations where Lombard had made her final public appearances before her tragic death.

When Gable left Indianapolis, he had one last surprise waiting for him. Lady Sylvia’s teenage nephew, Timothy Bleck showed up on set with a group of friends and took over several rooms at the Marriott Hotel, where the Gables were staying, charging their bill to the Gable’s account. Many who knew Bleck felt that the youngster had developed a “crush” on Gable. For his part, Gable often complained to his new wife that Bleck and his friends were “eating me out of house and home and always pestering me for money.”

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Clark Gable & Barbara Stanwyck breaking bad at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Lady Sylvia, a British National famous for her temper tantrums. Later that same year, she demanded a spacious dressing room for her personal use during Clark’s next movie being filmed in Durango, Mexico, “The Wide Missouri.” (Gable’s first Technicolor film since Gone with the Wind.) Heretofore an exclusive luxury granted only to mega-movie stars like Greta Garbo, Marlene Dietrich, Joan Crawford and Bette Davis. The couple divorced within the year.

Gable’s list of film pairings includes many of the most beautiful women in Hollywood. Joan Crawford teamed with Gable eight times, more than any other actress. Jean Harlow starred with Gable in six films in a union that would have undoubtedly continued if not for her untimely death. Lana Turner shared the credits with him four times. Gable worked twice each with Loretta Young and Claudette Colbert. In his final film, “The Misfits” at almost sixty-years-old, Gable starred opposite 34-year-old Marilyn Monroe. Gable had been her childhood idol. The film also starred the tragically flawed fallen film idol Montgomery Clift.

The Misfits would take on a macabre life of its own, fostering whispers of a curse, when Gable suffered a heart attack two days after filming ended, He died ten days later. Monroe and Clift attended the premiere in New York in February 1961 while Monroe was on pass from a psychiatric hospital; she later said that she hated the film and could not watch herself in it. Within a year and a half, she was dead of an alleged drug overdose. The Misfits was the last completed film for both Monroe and Gable.

Montgomery Clift, previously known for his classic profile, had been badly injured in a 1956 car crash requiring reconstructive surgery on his face, evident in his close-ups for “The Misfits”. He died six years after the filming. The Misfits was on television on the night Clift died. His live-in personal secretary asked Clift if he wanted to watch it. “Absolutely not” was Clift’s reply, the last words that he spoke to anyone. He was found dead the next morning, having suffered a heart attack during the night.

Many feel that Clark Gable danced a tango with death and morbid curiosity throughout his career. Gable’s perceived death wish circled around the many dangerous, often violent, themed films he starred in, his early death and the unexpected deaths of his costars. Capped off with the tragic early demise of his wife Carole Lombard. Another eerie connection to Indiana by Clark Gable can be found in the last movie Hoosier outlaw John Dillinger ever saw. Moments before he was gunned down in an alley outside Chicago’s Biograph Theatre, Public Enemy #1 was watching an MGM film called “Manhattan Melodrama” starring…you guessed it, Clark Gable.

Update: Irvingtonians Bruce and Fred Gable have shared stories with me about their famous relative. Turns out, Clark Gable was a distant cousin. The Gable home was located at 5850 University Avenue across from the guardian home. Bruce & Fred researched the Gable family connection and discovered that their Great-grandfather and Clark Gable’s grandfather were 1st cousins. “They were wildcatters who migrated to Indiana from Pennsylvania in search of oil back in the 1880s,” Bruce states, “All they found was natural gas though and neither made any money on that.”

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Irvingtonian Bruce Gable

The Gable family lived for a time in the Audubon Court apartments and they can remember stories about the elder Gable visiting his cousin / their grandfather in Irvington. Gable’s Great-grandfather owned the Thompkins drugstore on South Audubon Road across from the Magic Candle. The brothers recall a time when telling neighborhood kids that they were related to Clark Gable was a big deal. “Later, when my kids told their friends that, no one knows who they’re talking about.” says Bruce. As for that I’ll quote Rhett Butler by saying, “Frankly my dear I don’t give a damn” because I’m just glad to hear that Irvington has a connection to one of the most admired leading men in Hollywood history.