Rank #1: Case #002- Mickey Spillane: Writer
He was born on March 9, 1918 in Brooklyn, New York and raised in Elizabeth, NJ, in a neighborhood he called “grimy, industrial, and working class.” It was exactly the kind of neighborhood you would expect a tough-guy to grow up in.
Mickey Spillane was christened Frank Morrison Spillane by his Protestant mom, Catherine Ann. Apparently his Catholic father, John Joseph wasn’t having any of that. Whether he didn’t care for the name “Morison” or simply forgot his son’s middle name we’ll never know, but he was baptized as “Frank Michael Spillane.
Not that that either name mattered.
His father nicknamed his son “Mick” after his Irish heritage and the name stuck. Besides, as the man said later “women loved the name ‘Mickey.’
Rank #2: Case #33: The Black Sox-Baseball's Most Notorious Scandal
Case #33: The Black Sox
I'm forever blowing ballgames,
pretty ballgames in the air.
I come from Chi, I hardly try,
just go to bat and fade and die.
Fortune's coming my way,
that's why I don't care.
I'm forever blowing ballgames,
and the gamblers treat us fair.
You could say that it started with Charlie Comiskey, because a lot of things started with Charlie Comiskey in Chicago in 1919. Comiskey owned the Chicago White Sox, a serious contender in any year, and he enjoyed the reputation as a tightwad and a fierce negotiator.
I want to go on record by saying that although Comiskey fostered the reputation as a hard-guy and a tightwad, the payroll of the Chicago White Sox was one of the best in the league. The team was filled with solid players and had two bona fide stars on its roster; outfielder Joe Jackson and third baseman Buck Weaver. They each made over $6000 a year in 1919 and a lot of the other name players on the team made around half that. And that was about what they would have made on any other roster in the Bigs, so while money was a factor in the Black Sox Scandal, it wasn't the only factor.
Rank #3: Case #008: Alcatraz Island
Sitting about a mile and a half off San Francisco in the middle of a bitter, inhospitable California bay, Alcatraz Island is a lot like many other pieces of bay area real estate. Many have claimed ownership and many court battles were waged over ownership.
But unlike other prime pieces of San Francisco real estate, few have wanted to call it home. The Island, Alcatraz Island, is also known as “The Rock.” And those who did call it home didn’t care for the experience.
The island, one of a group of small islands sitting in the bay, was known to the Native American population of the area but was not inhabited by them.
In truth, there was nothing to lure them, or anyone else, to the rock. Vegetation was almost non-existent. The island was composed mostly of irregular, stratified sandstone. It was described by an American officer as “entirely without resources within itself and the soil scarcely perceptible being rocky and precipitous on all sides.”
The rock itself was 1700 feet long, 580 feet at its widest side, with two peaks of about 130 feet each. It measured a total of 22 acres.
There was nowhere on the island to land a boat, no beach or shore, and the rock was overwhelmed by birds. So much so that Juan Manuel DeAyala called it “La Isla De Los Alatraces,” or Island of the Pelicans.
So while the island had nothing really going for it, the real estate did have three things in its favor: location, location, location.
Rank #4: NF Case #17: Raymond Chandler-Writer
NOIR FACTORY PODCAST CASE #17: Raymond Chandler-Writer
“Down these mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean, who is neither tarnished nor afraid. He is the hero; he is everything. He must be a complete man and a common man and yet an unusual man. He must be, to use a rather weathered phrase, a man of honor—by instinct, by inevitability, without thought of it, and certainly without saying it. He must be the best man in his world and a good enough man for any world.
“He will take no man’s money dishonestly and no man’s insolence without a due and dispassionate revenge. He is a lonely man and his pride is that you will treat him as a proud man or be very sorry you ever saw him.
“The story is this man’s adventure in search of a hidden truth, and it would be no adventure if it did not happen to a man fit for adventure. If there were enough like him, the world would be a very safe place to live in, without becoming too dull to be worth living in.”
-Raymond Chandler, Writer
Raymond Chandler didn’t invent hard-boiled fiction. Chandler, like Dashiell Hammett, saw a new narrative forming in popular literature and they felt comfortable working in it. It was a style of detectives and dames and it rang a bell with the American public.
The school of hard-boiled literature would still exist without men like Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett, but we would probably have to call it something else. They put the word “literature” to the form, and without them, they would only be stories of “detectives and dames.” They would be sensational and fun, but very little more.
Raymond Chandler wrote with elegance and grace. His dialogue was quick and intellectual and his characters were multifaceted. To call him one of the greatest pulp writers of the twentieth century is accurate but demeaning. Quite simply, he was one of the best writers of the twentieth century, period.
Rank #5: Case #24- The Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew
“...My husband pointed out that kids frequently have an instinctive desire to follow the good example rather than the bad, once they find out which is which. We agreed that a good moral background and thorough grounding in the Hardy Boys would always tell in the long run.”
-Shirley Jackson, author
They are still in print today and they are still popular, even though they aren’t really like the stories you remember. Today there are smart phones and text clues, hackers and virtual reality, but don’t let that bother you.
They really weren’t for you in the first place.
They were for the person that you used to be. They were for the ten year old that you were. The one who stayed up late and smuggled a flashlight under the covers because you had to know what The Secret of the Old Clock really was or because you had to learn the true meaning behind the Mystery of the Whale Tattoo.
And if you are unhappy with the changes in the text or because Frank and Joe don’t look the way you remember them as kids, then that’s not on them. After all these years, the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew are still just kids. If you can’t stand that modern sensibilities are creeping into your precious stories, then that’s on you.
But before you pass final judgment on some of your best childhood memories, then again let me remind you that they probably weren’t cutting edge entertainment when you read them. Adults probably looked down on them and thought of the stories as simple or cartoonish, or even, God forbid, juvenile.
But then what the hell did the adults know anyway?
Rank #6: Case #32 : Alan Ladd and Box 13
Alan Ladd and Box 13
“I'm the most insecure guy in Hollywood. If you had it good all your life, you figure it can't ever be bad, but when you've had it bad, you wonder how long a thing like this will last.”
Alan Walbridge Ladd was born on September 3rd, 1913 in Hot Springs, Arkansas and was the only child of Ina Raleigh and Alan Ladd. Like most of the characters Ladd went onto play, his upbringing was rough and growing up was a constant struggle.
The family lost Alan's father, a freelance accountant, to a heart attack when Alan was only four. Shortly afterwards the family apartment was lost when Alan accidentally burned it down playing with matches.
After they lost their home Alan and his mother moved to Oklahoma City where she remarried. Afterwards they went to Pasadena, in a Grapes of Wrath-like journey,where his step-father found short-time work painting movie sets. Later in life, Ladd said they existed for long periods of time on nothing but potato soup.
Rank #7: Case #25-Humphrey Bogart
“Whether in a white dinner jacket or in a trench coat and a snap-brim fedora, he became a new and timely symbol of the post-Pearl Harbor American: tough but compassionate, skeptical yet idealistic, betrayed yet ready to believe again, and above all, a potentially deadly opponent.” -Ann M. Sperber, author A lot of what we do here at the Noir Factory revolves around noir films, crime history, and pulp stories. And like it or not, whenever the subject of noir comes up, it has only one face. And that face has a scar on its upper lip, sleepy eyes, a fedora worn at a roguish angle, and a cigarette dangling from its lips.And most of us wouldn't have it any other way. Humphrey DeForest Bogart was a Christmas baby, born on December 25th, 1899 in New York City. And while that sounds like a typical "tough-guy" bio, it was anything but. Bogart was the son of a prominent New York surgeon with the unfortunate name "Belmont Bogart," and successful commercial illustrator Elizabeth Bogart. Humphrey Bogart was raised in the Upper West Side, in a fairly privileged home, and before we go any further into Humphrey Bogart's childhood, we have to address the elephant in the room regarding his childhood.Namely “Was Humphrey Bogart the Gerber baby food?”We were all beautiful babies because every baby is beautiful. But again, none of us were beautiful babies like Humphrey Bogart was a beautiful baby.
Rank #8: Case #005: John Dillinger-Public Enemy Number One
In the 30's, the FBI used the term “Public Enemy Number One” as a designation of infamy. Although that period in time became known as the “Public Enemy Era,” there were only three people actually held that designation.
The first one wore the title like a crown.
John Herbert Dillinger was born in Indianapolis, Indiana on June 22nd, 1903. His father, John Wilson Dillinger, owned a small grocery store. His mother, Mary Ellen, died from a stroke when he was three.
His sister, Audrey, was fourteen years older than John and the responsibility of caring for the child fell to her. She carried on with that responsibility until she married and moved out to begin her own family.
That left John Wilson Dillinger to raise his son on his own, and raising kids wasn't his strong suit.
Accounts of John Dillinger's childhood vary. His father was at times abusive and at other times gracious, lavishing money on his son for toys and treats. Those same accounts vary on John Dillinger's behavior.
Some say that the young Dillinger was a well-behaved child with a precocious streak. Others point to his childhood gang, the Dirty Dozen and their purchase for mischief. He also gained a reputation as a baseball player. For most of his life, John Dillinger would walk the line between fame and infamy.
By the time he reached his teenage years, he was on his way to becoming his own man.
Rank #9: Case #013: Bugsy Siegel-American Gangster
Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel was born in
Williamsburg, Brooklyn, to a family of poor Jewish immigrants, who
came from Eastern Europe. His parents, Max and Jennie, worked
whatever jobs they could find to provide for their five children,
and their neighborhood constantly invented new definitions for the
a child, the second of five, Benjamin saw that struggle as well as
what his parents struggled against, and he vowed that he would rise
above a life of poverty.
dropped out of school somewhere around the age of eleven and
started his life of crime. Even as a child he was familiar with
violence and intimidation, learning most of what he knew from the
Irish and Italian street gangs around him.
Rank #10: Case #34: Joseph Weil-The Yellow Kid
Noir Factory Podcast
Joseph Weil: The Yellow Kid
“Who's going to believe a con artist? Everyone if she's good.”
Joseph Weil was born in Chicago in 1875 to Mr. and Mrs. Otto Weil. The couple owned a small neighborhood grocery store and made a decent income. Their boy, Joseph, helped out after school by sweeping up and stocking shelves.
And then he discovered racehorses.
Rank #11: Case# 003-Black Bart: Outlaw Poet
Life changed quickly for the people of Norfolk County, England in the 1800’s. The large estates were falling. The families of privilege, who employed large households full of servants, often for life, grew more scarce by the day.
John and Maria Bowles could see the writing on the walls, so to speak. Their way of life, their means of support, was going away, never to return. They had to make some big decisions. With a meager savings and nine children in tow, they made their way across the ocean, to the land of second chances.
They went to America.
What they found there was farmland, and they were used to that. With many strong sons, enough funds to buy some land, and the vision to use the resources they had, the Bowles family settled into Jefferson County, in upstate New York, and grew their farm to a 100-acre homestead.
And the man who would become Black Bart grew up the farm outside of Plessis Village, with much grander dreams than a life of working the soil.
Born Charles Earl Bowles, Charlie was two when his family immigrated to America from England. He was a strong child and athletic child, but smaller than the rest of his family.
Rank #12: Case #009: Dame Agatha Christie
Agatha Christie was the bestselling author of all time, and living in the days of Stephen King and J.K. Rowling, that means something. In literature, it goes the bible, Shakespeare, and Christie.
In short, she is what legends in mystery writing aspire to be.
But it wasn’t always like that for her.
When you look at Agatha Christie’s story, is helps to know something about her mother, Clara Boehmer. Clara was the only daughter of a military man and an Englishwoman. She older brothers, one of which died very young, but they had left home to join the armed forces or to make their own way in the world.
But Clara was the youngest and she stayed behind at the family’s home in Belfast, Ireland. At least as long as she could.
Clara was still very young when her father, a captain, died in a riding accident. Her mother scraped by on a meager income and could barely support herself, let alone her daughter. So in her daughter’s best interests, she sent her to live with her aunt in West Sussex. Clara’s aunt had married a wealthy American, so the move not only kept young Clara from poverty, but it opened up a whole new world for her.
The couple introduced Clara to society, as well as to a young American stockbroker who had originally come to Europe to finish his education.
Frederick Aluah Miller was raised in the upper class of American culture, and he seemed born to be a man people trusted with their money. He was friendly, personable, attractive, and right from the start, young Clara seemed quite smitten.
They were married in April of 1878 and lived in Torquay, an English seaside village.
The couple’s first child, Margaret Frary Miller, was born a year after they were married, followed by their son, Louis Montant Miller, or “Monty,” a year later. They settled into the seaside village and brought a villa they called “Ashfield.” The couple settled in and Clara spent the next decade raising her children there.
Then came the “mystery” of Agatha Christie.
Rank #13: Case #20: Ida Lupino- Hollywood Legend
"My agent told me that he was going to make me the Janet Gaynor of England-I was going to play all the sweet roles. Whereupon, at the tender age of thirteen, I set upon the path of playing nothing but hookers.”
There are certain family names in Hollywood make you sit up and take notice. Today those names are the Fonda and the Bridges, Coppola and Sheen. It wasn't any different in the early days of Tinseltown. The names were different, but royalty was still royalty. Back then if you were a Barrymore than it caught people's attention, and if you were a Huston, then folks wanted to see what you had.
For Ida Lupino, the family tree she grew out of was just as solid and sturdy as any in Hollywood, but the roots went deeper than most. She wasn't a Coppola or a Barrymore. She was a Lupino.
And that name had a weight all of its own.
Rank #14: Case #19: The Kray Twins
NOIR FACTORY PODCAST
CASE #19: The Kray Twins
“They were the best years of our lives. They called them the swinging sixties. The Beatles were rulers of pop music, Carnaby Street ruled the fashion world...and me and my brother ruled London. We were fucking untouchable.”
-Ronnie Kray, from his autobiography
The East End of London during the sixties was a mixture of poor and artistic, of modern and bohemian, of classic and diversity that England had never seen before or since. It was like Bauhaus before Hitler. It was like Harlem in the 20's. It was like.... well, it wasn't like anything ever, and that's what made it special.
Clubs and art galleries sprang up amid the squalor that was the East End, and with them came the rich and the beautiful. It was said, rather famously, that “London's West End has all the money and leisure and that the East End monopolizes most of the labor and nearly all of the dirt.”
In the 60's it was time for the dirt in the East End to shine.
The wealthy and the influential came to the East End to rub shoulders with the infamous, the dangerous, and the notorious. There was no neighborhood in all of England that encapsulated the 60's like the East End, and all through it lurked a dark and dangerous thread that lead to a pair of twin brothers looking to make London their own.
Rank #15: Case #23: The Real Inspiration for Professor Moriarty
- NOIR FACTORY PODCAST CASE #23- The Real Life Inspiration for Professor Moriarty. “He is the Napoleon of crime, Watson. He is the organizer of half that is evil and of nearly all that is undetected in this great city, He is a genius, a philosopher, an abstract thinker. He has a brain of the first order. He sits motionless, like a spider in the center of its web, but that web has a thousand radiations, and he knows well every quiver of each of them. He does little himself. He only plans.” -Arthur Conan Doyle He was the World's Greatest Detective, but what did that mean if he went up against purse snatchers and sneak-thieves. He matched wits with the best criminals in London, but how impressive was that if you always came out on top? If you always won? Doyle’s detective bored quickly and needed the game to keep his senses sharp, his intellect keen. So if you are Arthur Conan Doyle and you have the great Sherlock Holmes at your disposal, you don't need a good villain or even a brilliant foe. You need the greatest criminal mind ever. You need the man Scotland Yard dubbed the “Napoleon of Crime.” Adam Worth was born to a Jewish family in Germany in 1844 and traveled with his parents to America five years later. The Worth family settled in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Adam's father was a tailor and young Adam helped around the shop. When he was 5 years old, young Adam was conned into trading two old, dull pennies for a bright, shinny new one. Adam's father beat the boy for falling for the trick and even at that early, tender age, Adam Worth vowed that “no one would ever get the better of Adam Worth in any business transaction, regular or irregular.
Rank #16: Case #29: George Remus-King of the Bootleggers
"He and this Wolfsheim bought up a lot of side-street drug-stores here and in Chicago and sold grain alcohol over the counter. That's one of his little stunts. I picked him for a bootlegger the first time I saw him, and I wasn't far wrong."
-F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby
George Remus was born on November 13th 1876 in Germany to Frank and Maria Remus, a working class family. He was the middle child with an older sister and younger brother and while he was still just a toddler, the family immigrated to the US.
The Remus family landed in Baltimore, then Cincinnati, and finally to Chicago, along with an intense wave of German immigrants to the Midwest.
Frank Remus found work as a lumber scorer during a boom time in Chicago and his son George flourished in school. Picking up the language quickly, he was fluent in both German and English at an early age and carried with him only the slightest German accent.
When George was only fourteen his father, Frank, who had suffered from acute rheumatism, was left disabled by the disease and unable to work. That left George to take up the mantle as breadwinner of the family. With fierce determination, he told his father not to worry and dedicated himself not only to supporting his family but to rise up through society as well.
He went to work at his uncle's pharmacy as a clerk and at the age of nineteen passed the state exam for a pharmacist's license. He continued to save and invest and within two years of becoming a pharmacist he purchased his uncle's shop and a few years after that opened a second, all the while dabbling in health insurance the side.
As a young adult Remus grew to be a fastidious man who was meticulous about his clothes and his surroundings. He prided himself as being a connoisseur of good food, fine wine, art, and literature. He also considered himself a “man's man,” and even though he grew into a soft, pudgy adult, he could still count on his iron will to achieve any goal he set for himself.
He was quick with his fists and even though he wasn't the most athletic man he could wear down almost any opponent. He also took up swimming with the same amount of focus and determination that he did everything.
He became a member of the Illinois Athletic Club and joined their water polo team, participating in national events. In 1907 he set the record for endurance swimming in Lake Michigan by swimming for 5 hours and 40 minutes in the dead of winter.
It was a record that held up for decades.
In 1899 he fell in love with one of his customers, Lillian Klauff, and in July of that year, the two were married. The following year, George Remus's daughter, Remola, was born.
When Remola was only eight years old she was cast by L. Frank Baum himself to play Dorothy Gale in the first film adaption of The Wizard of Oz.
Before George Remus was thirty years old he had met every goal society, or more importantly, he himself had ever set. But the arena, that of a pharmacist and a business owner, wasn't the one he had chosen. He had been thrust into it.
Now it was time for George Remus to face bigger challenges.
Rank #17: Case #31: The Batman
“He's clearly a man with a mission, but it's not one of vengeance. Bruce is not after personal revenge ... He's much bigger than that; he's much more noble than that. He wants the world to be a better place, where a young Bruce Wayne would not be a victim ... In a way, he's out to make himself unnecessary. Batman is a hero who wishes he didn't have to exist.”
In 1939 detectives and vigilantes rules the popular literary landscape. They were hard men who handed out justice at the end of a gun. Even the heroes that appeared in pulps, the early Super Heroes, such as the Shadow and the Spider, handed out death sentences with regularity, and whenever justice didn't come from them, it usually came in another fatal form, and no one seemed really broken up over it.
But suddenly comics and comic books were picking up steam with the public, serving as moral compasses for the kids of America, and that brand of quick justice would no longer do.
Names like Doctor Occult, the Clock, Superman, and the Crimson Avenger were on the scene, and to tell the truth, the transition from pulp sensibilities to comic books was rough. Heroes still wailed on the bad guys with little regards for health or civil rights, and even Superman was not above sending a guy to the hospital.
You know....if society needed that to happen.
In truth even Batman carried around a gun in the early days, but that went away quickly. Comics had a wider audience than the pulps, and Bob Kane and Bill Finger had a job to do.
That job wasn't to protect children. It was to sell comics to kids and approving parents.
Rank #18: Case#30: Billie Holiday- Jazz Legend
“Behind me, Billie was on her last song. I picked up the refrain, humming a few bars. Her voice sounded different to me now. Beneath the layers of hurt, beneath the ragged laughter, I heard a willingness to endure. Endure- and make music that wasn't there before.”
The woman who would be Billie Holiday was born Eleanora Fagan in Philadelphia on April 7th, 1915. In her autobiography Lady Sings the Blues, written with William Duffy, Billie said that her parents were “just a couple of kids” when they were married. She said that her father
was eighteen at the time, her mother was sixteen, and that she was three.
In reality her mother and father were never married, never lived under the same roof, and her mother nineteen when she met Billie’s father, who was himself only seventeen.
Lady Sings the Blues is littered with inaccuracies and misquotes. The book was written quickly, from conversations between the two writers, Billie telling William Duffy stories of her life. He was interested in getting her story, what she felt, and was less interested in fact checking.
And in this case, that’s fine. We may slip over a lyric or two, but the melody of the song, the voice, IS clear and true, and it really tells us everything we need to know about Billie Holiday, the immortal Lady Day.
Rank #19: Case #010:Bonnie and Clyde-American Outlaws
Letter to Henry Ford on April 10, 1934….
While I still have breath in my lungs I will tell you what a dandy car make. I have driven Fords exclusively when I could get away with one. For sustained speed and freedom from trouble the Ford has got ever other car skinned and even if my business hasn’t been strictly legal it don’t hurt anything to tell you what a fine car you got in the V8-
Clyde Champion Barrow
Rank #20: NF Case #35: Sexton Blake-Pulp Detective
Noir Factory Podcast
Sexton Blake-Pulp Detective
“If there is a wrong to be righted, an evil to be redressed, or a rescue of the weak and suffering from the powerful, our hearty assistance can be readily obtained. We do nothing for hire here; we would cheerfully undertake to perform without a fee or a reward. But when your clients are wealthy, we are not so unjust to ourselves as to make a gratuitous offer of our services.”
As the 19th century came to a close, Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes was the undisputed heavyweight champ of popular fiction. From London to California, the exploits of the World’s Greatest Detective were the stuff of legend, and the public, more literate now than at any other time in history, were hungry for more.
And while Arthur Conan Doyle was hoping to distance himself from his great creation, one man, Henry Blyth, saw a hole in popular fiction that needed to be filled. And while he was just the man to do that, he saw no reason to re-invent the wheel.
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