The Good Bootlegger: Roy Olmsted

th

When I created my bootlegger character David, I had in mind the real bootlegger, Roy Olmsted. I learned about him in Daniel Okrent’s LAST CALL: “Olmsted had entered public life as a promising member of the Seattle Police Department, praised by the department’s very dry chief as ‘quick and responsive . . . bright and competent.’ But Olmsted’s competence extended beyond ordinary police work, and while still a member of the department . . . he began running liquor from Canada. Roy Olmsted was handsome, personable, intelligent, and remarkably ethical. He never diluted his imports or blended them with industrial alcohol as so many other bootleggers did, and he dealt in such volume that he was able to undersell every other bootlegger in the Pacific Northwest. . . he ‘avoided the sordid behavior of others in the same business–no murder, no narcotics, no rings or prostitution or gambling’–and as a result, ‘many people could not regard him as an authentic criminal.'”

What happened to Roy? Like my fictional David, he served time in prison–four years. President Roosevelt later pardoned him. Not sure whether a pardon is in David’s future . . .

Published in: on December 30, 2016 at 9:07 am  Leave a Comment  
Tags: , ,

Commemorating Jack Benny’s death 42 years ago

Benny Kubelsky in 1909

Benny Kubelsky in 1909

Benny Kubelski, born in 1894 in Chicago, died 42 years ago on Dec. 26, 1974. He got his start in vaudeville at the age of 17, playing his violin, sometimes with a musical partner. He struggled for years, changing his name to Ben K. Benny and then to Jack Benny. It wasn’t until World War I when he was in the navy and entertaining servicemen that he began adding comedy to his act. After the war, he returned to vaudeville and found greater success, but it was radio that made him a star comedian. I have many fond memories of watching him on television–his humor and sense of timing was legendary. 

thI use Benny as a character in my first book, THE IMPERSONATOR, when he was a not-so-great vaudeville performer in 1925. 

Published in: on December 17, 2016 at 3:04 pm  Comments (1)  
Tags:

A vio-tortionist? One of Vaudeville’s most unusual acts . . .

I’m always on the look-out for unusual vaudeville acts that I can weave into my novels. When I met a woman whose mother and aunt had been unusual vaudeville performers, I knew I had a keeper! These two young women were violinists and acrobats, which gave them a most interesting profession: bio-contortionist. Helen Myra, my friend’s mother, was a ballerina who performed Pavlova’s Dying Swan while playing the violin. Her sister, Olga Myra is pictured below, playing the violin as she performed acrobatic feats. They performed in the mid-1920s, which is when my Roaring Twenties series is set, so I incorporated these usual acts into the fourth book in my series, due out next year.

olga-myra-pittsburg-daily-post-1-july-1926-p-54-002

 

olga-myra-oakland-tribune-26-march-1926-p-35-004

Here are some of Olga’s reviews, courtesy of her niece. I found them fascinating to read. 

Pittsburg Daily Post, 3 July 1923, p. 10

“Olga Myra’s high kicks and her violining while she did the split…”

Rochester, NY Democrat and Chronicle, 25 September 1923, p. 23

“Olga Myra and her Southern Entertainers “stopped the show” in the fifth position. Miss Myra was also favored with a fetching personality…and in a variety of picturesque  costumes she exhibited marked suppleness and more or less originality of style in  dancing. Hers was mostly “stunt” dancing, and she excelled in “splits,” back bending and kicking.”

Amsterdam, NY Evening Recorder, 9 October 1923

“No other performer on the stage has been able to execute a happy combination of  acrobatic dancing and violin performance at the same time as young and winsome Olga Myra…She is a finished artist in her line, having devoted eight months of continuous  study and practice at the Theodore Art School in New York.”

Louisville, KY Courier-Journal, 20 December 1923, p. 4

Olga Myra will top the new vaudeville program that will be offered at B.F. Keith’s  National this afternoon and the remainder of this week. She is a dancer who combines  violin playing with a characteristic form of acrobatic dancing…”

Variety, 1 April 1925, p. 11 (reviewing the show at the NY Palace)

Olga Myra and the Bitter Sisters, a Foster Hip turn, with a big production and swift changes of pace, costumes and methods in dance, ran 13 minutes and seemed like six. Miss Olga Myra is an accomplished contortionist, but of the refined and subdued order. She does some unusual fiddling while going through her bends…”

Rochester, NY Democrat and Chronicle, 13 October 1925, p. 18

“Keith’s Theater: One of the most colorful and artistic dancing acts presented at Keith’s vaudeville house this season, or any other season for that matter, is the offering of Olga Myra and her two assistants, Betsey Rees and Margaret Litchfield. All three are graceful and agile dancers of an exceptional order. Then the act is staged with exceedingly good             taste, a charming simplicity of setting being used for each dance number so that the audience’s eye is centered on the dancers and yet conscious that all surrounding details are satisfying artistically. In fact, it is one of very few dance acts that is not over done in setting and costuming. Olga Myra herself is a supple dancer who seems capable of achieving any position at all with her agile limbs. The other two are toe dancers and interpreters of charming dance designs, which their grace and ability make remarkably appealing.”

In separate article on page 23: “Keith star offers real dance novelty…Olga Myra offers a distinct novelty in the nature of acrobatic dancing with violin playing. She knows how to fiddle well, and she lays her instrument while exerting exceedingly difficult acrobatic dancing feats. Miss Myra is the only performer who does this novelty. In various numbers she also displays ability to do true aesthetic dancing. Hers is obviously a genuine dancing temperament coupled with an understanding of vaudeville showmanship…”

Pittsburg Post-Gazette, 22 December 1925, p. 15

“Olga Myra, dancing violinist, and two other dancing artists who are featured in the same act, Misses Betsy Rees and Margaret Litchfield, the latter a Pittsburg girl…Miss Myra was the embodiment of ease of movement in a waltz that lofted toes sideways, forward and backward with equal smoothness and rhythm. She also played sweetly on the violin as she performed an acrobatic obbligato in slow movement. The entire act was prettily staged and it was one of the most popular on the bill.”

In separate article on p. 11: “A much-admired dancing attraction by Olga Myra includes her curling and uncurling herself to her violin playing, her backward bending and high kicking and splitting…”

Variety, 16 June 1926, p. 21 [a review of the act]

“Olga Myra and Company, Dancing, 16 minutes, Full Stage, at the Palace.

“Olga Myra formerly appeared with a band. In her new turn are but two girl brunet dancers, while a special musical director, Fred Hathaway, is in the pit. Betsy Rees and Margaret Litchfield dance with Miss Myra, the minor members opening the act with a Columbine-Pierrot dance, backed scenically by a Venetian Canal drop revealed through a set frame mounted upon a platform. Miss Rees, a toe dancer, was the Columbine and Miss Litchfield (hair short) the Pierrot.

Opened well and led to a solo waltz by the featured artist, whose forte in this number was high side kicks, helping to send her off well. A special drop backed the frame for this.

For the following number, “The Enchanted Rose Bush,” Miss Litchfield was a pensive lover admiring a rosebush, which suddenly opened, disclosing a toe dancer who went into some nice steps to the measures of “La Traviata’s” ballet music and ending with the dancer retiring to the bush, the lover resuming the pensive attitude.

Then, Miss Myra for a violin solo played as she went through a difficult contortionistic routine on the platform. This was her old specialty and is built up to be the act’s feature. A Russian trio dance closed the act [other accounts note this dance trio was entitled “Boots”]. The turn was moved from fourth to closing intermission and scored in that good spot. In addition to the good work of the principals, especially the featured girl, the costuming is not only handsome and lavish but in excellent taste.

As a dance-flash turn for vaudeville or the big picture houses, this one frames all around. With some speeding it would be a set-up for the cinema palaces, where they appear four- a-day, but pay more money than in vaudeville.”

 

 

 

Published in: on December 11, 2016 at 11:31 am  Leave a Comment  
Tags: ,

RENTING SILENCE: a First Chapter Preview

I’m pleased to announce that the third in my Roaring Twenties mystery series debuts in the U.S. today, Dec. 1. You can find it at bookstores or online in both hardcover or as an ebook. Libraries should have copies in a few weeks. The publisher, Severn House in London, says the paperback will be out in 6 months. Meanwhile, here’s the first chapter.

renting-silence-cover

Chapter One

Filming silent movies is noisy work—directors shouting instructions through megaphones, cameras grinding away like machine guns, studio musicians playing the mood from the corner—which is why I was perplexed when I walked onto the set of Little Annie Rooney that morning and found it frozen in silence. Actors, electricians, makeup artists, grips, carpenters, script girls, and cameramen stood motionless, as if drawing a deep breath would shatter a spell. Only one person gave life to the scene, and all eyes were on her. Mary Pickford, “America’s Sweetheart” and the star of the film, was slowly pacing the edge of the set, her head down in fearsome concentration.

I looked to Director William Beaudine who motioned for me to stay where I was. He waited until Miss Pickford faced away from him before gliding to my side, so his movement wouldn’t distract her.

“A note said Miss Pickford wanted to see me on the set,” I whispered. “Maybe I’d better come back later?”

Tall and stick thin, Beaudine had to bend to get close to my ear. “Hang on a minute, Jessie. This is the last take before we break.”

One glance at the chalkboard in a young assistant’s hand raised my eyebrows. Sixteen takes? That was a lot, even for a perfectionist like “Re-take Mary Pickford.”

“I could strangle Rudolph Valentino,” the director whispered, almost to himself. “He barged in here, broke her concentration. She hasn’t—”

Miss Pickford stopped and lifted her chin. “I’m ready.”

The scene lurched to life. “Hit ‘em once!” shouted Beaudine and the set was instantly flooded with silvery light from an array of Kleigs, baby spots, and barrel lights. “Camera!” Cameramen cranked up their Mitchells, and the four studio musicians in the corner began playing a gloomy number to set the mood. They were shooting the tearjerker part, where Little Annie learns her policeman father has been killed in the line of duty.

As I watched, thirty-three-year-old Mary Pickford, playing a twelve-year-old girl, scampered out from her hiding place under the table, ready to surprise her beloved father with his birthday cake, only to find herself face to face with a policeman sent to deliver the tragic news. Her expression started at mischievous and slid rapidly past puzzlement, confusion, disbelief, denial, futile hope, and horror, only to end with heart-rending tears. It was an astonishing display of acting skill. In all my years in vaudeville, I had never seen the equal. No wonder she was the most famous actress in the world! I hoped everyone in the audience would have hankies in hand—I was misty-eyed myself. The scene reminded me all too forcefully of having been orphaned myself at the same age.

“Cut! Good work, good work, everyone,” called Beaudine. “No more shooting for now, boys and girls. We’ll break for lunch, and well deserved it is. Take a whole hour.”

A solemn Mary Pickford came over to exchange a few words with Beaudine. Catching sight of me, she gestured to one of the simple wooden chairs on the set, meaning that she would be with me shortly.

I sat down and swung my legs. The seat of the chair was high, maybe three inches higher than normal. I’m small—just over five feet, the same height as Miss Pickford—but I can’t usually swing my legs in a chair. I studied the wooden kitchen table. It was made to the same scale, a little higher than typical.

Mary Pickford walked over and sank into the chair beside me. “What are you smiling at, Jessie?”

“I just realized what you are doing,” I said, awed by her mastery of the craft. “With the furniture, I mean. The whole set is over-large, isn’t it? And that policeman who delivered the bad news, he was very big and tall.”

Suddenly she was Little Annie Rooney again, grinning like a youngster caught up in mischief. She swung her feet too. “When I’m doing a young role, I always hire tall actors. They make me seem smaller by comparison. A couple extra inches on the furniture don’t hurt either.”

“I saw the final take. You were wonderful.”

You’d have thought I’d insulted her. Her shoulders slumped, her grin fell away, and her honey-colored ringlets bounced as she shook her head. “Thank you, but I wasn’t. And I had it! I really had it!” She slapped the table for emphasis. “Before Rudy walked in, I was twelve years old. When he left, I couldn’t get it back. No matter how hard I tried, I just couldn’t get it back.”

There was nothing I could say. The scene had looked great to me, but what did I know? I was just a lowly assistant script girl new to Hollywood, having been hired by Mary’s husband, Douglas Fairbanks, a few months earlier.

“I’m not blaming Rudy,” she went on, more to herself than to me. “I invited him to stop by the set any time and say hello, bless his heart, and that’s all he did. But it distracted me. It was my fault entirely. My fault.” She swung her legs a little longer, sighed, then looked toward the twin cameras. “Oh, Rob!” she called. “Rob Handler!”

One of the cameramen turned at the sound of his name and nodded that he had heard. Pulling a reel of film off the Mitchell, he methodically packed it in a soft case before joining us in the middle of the set.

“Have you met Jessie Beckett?” asked Miss Pickford.

The cameraman nodded. “I’ve seen her around,” he said, then turned to me. “You’re the girl who used to play vaudeville. I heard how you helped solve those gangster murders last month. Pleased to know you.”

“Rob Handler is one of the finest cameramen at our studio,” she said by way of introduction. “One of the finest in all of Hollywood, actually.”

A wiry, middle-aged man who would have passed unnoticed in a crowd, Handler looked like he’d done a week’s worth of work in the past few hours. His forehead was creased with worry, his eyes heavy with dark circles. The compliment from Mary Pickford brought the merest twist to his lips. He sank onto the hard chair like a marionette with slackened strings.

“You used to play kiddie roles, didn’t you?” he asked, more to be polite than from any real interest.

“Most recently, yes. I was with the Little Darlings for a few years. But I’ve also worked for the Kid Circus, a couple of magicians, a Shakespeare troupe, and a variety of song and dance acts.”

“And now you’re an assistant Script Girl.”

“She’ll be working with Douglas on his new pirate picture. But I was hoping she could stand in for me this afternoon. That hospital scene we’re shooting uses only my back. If you would, Jessie, that would free me up for a meeting.”

Miss Pickford had mentioned once before that she might want to use me as a double. We were the same size and build, and while my auburn hair was bobbed and her ringlets were long and golden, there were wigs in Costume that would solve that in a jiffy. From the back, we would be indistinguishable. Imagine, me, Jessie Beckett, a stand-in for the incomparable Mary Pickford! Last year’s vaudeville wash-up, when I was turned down at every try-out, had squelched any ambition I might have had about acting in the pictures—I simply didn’t have that sort of talent—but the prospect of this small connection to the woman I idolized thrilled me. My heart beat faster.

“Sure!” I said, too quickly. My excitement crashed as fast as it had soared. I held up my right hand, the one that had been injured a last month when someone I was investigating at Miss Pickford’s request had tried to kill me at the foot of the Hollywoodland sign. Two fingers were still in a splint. “Is this a problem? I’m sure I can get Wardrobe to remove it for the scene.”

“That would be wonderful. I’ll let Beaudine know. Thank you, Jessie.”

I heard dismissal in her voice and stood. “I guess I should go see about costumes . . . ”

“No, no, sit. That wasn’t the only reason I called for you. What I really want is for you to hear Rob’s story. If you don’t mind, Rob, dear, please tell her what you told me yesterday,” she said.

Handler glanced back and forth between us, and I thought for a moment he was going to say he was too tired to speak. Instead he sighed and leaned forward, rested his elbows on his knees, and started to talk in a monotone that brooked no interruption.

“Well, it’s like this. I was called to jury duty for the Ruby Glynn trial,” he began, staring down at his clasped hands. Of course I knew about the Ruby Glynn case. Everyone did. It had been in all the papers. In fact, I was even grateful to Ruby Glynn for making me old news when her own sensational trial had pushed me and the Hollywood gangster murders off the front page. But I hadn’t realized that someone in our own Pickford-Fairbanks Studios had been on the Glynn jury.

“Well, I need to tell you how it was, because the newspapers, well, they got a lot of things wrong.”

That didn’t surprise me, not after my experiences with the yellow press during those murders last month. Pulitzer and Hearst had fought their customary inky battle for readers, printing speculation as fact, inventing outrageous stories, and slandering innocent people with no concern for the consequences. Any lie was printable as long as it boosted sales. I’d never again believe a word I read in the newspapers.

“At the trial, the lawyers kept saying it was a cut-and-dried case. They had so much proof, we didn’t even need to deliberate. Well, they did have good evidence—the murder weapon with fingerprints, her scream, the fights, Ruby’s ticket, the rented car . . . The defense, well, they didn’t have much to say about these things other than to say they were coincidence. So you’d think it would be an easy call, wouldn’t you? But through it all, I just had this feeling that wouldn’t go away. I believed her when she said she didn’t do it.”

Miss Pickford started to say something, but Rob didn’t notice; his eyes were glued to the floor as if he could only keep going if he didn’t raise them. Running his fingers through thinning hair, he continued.

“When we went in the back room to deliberate, the foreman took a preliminary vote to check the lay of the land. Three of us voted for acquittal, the two women and me. The others were patient at first, reviewing all the evidence, showing us where we were wrong. But we wouldn’t budge. Hours went by. Finally the foreman had to tell Judge Peters judge he had a hung jury. Judge wouldn’t accept that. He ordered us to go back and keep trying. Said we weren’t going home until we had a verdict. That’s when things turned nasty. The others, they shouted at us and said they wanted to go home to their families and their jobs. They accused us of—well, I don’t need to go into all that. It’s no excuse anyway.”

He paused to wipe his eyes and rub his nose with the back of his hand. Miss Pickford waited, respectfully silent, until he could gather himself.

“Pretty soon they bullied the older lady into changing her mind, and that convinced the other woman to give in too. That left me alone. They all said how impossible it was that I could believe Ruby Glynn was innocent with evidence like that. I couldn’t give any hard reason except that I had this feeling that she was telling the truth, that she didn’t kill that girl. She didn’t look like a killer. I didn’t know Ruby Glynn, never worked with her, never met her, but she just didn’t seem like the kind of girl who would kill someone.”

Miss Pickford reached over and gave his arm a pat. “Well, I know Ruby Glynn,” she said, “and I don’t think she could kill anyone either.”

“Still, feelings don’t hold up against facts, and finally I gave in too. The logic was all on their side. I thought, how can I be right and all these people be wrong? I’m not so much smarter than they are. So I voted guilty. We all went home. But that night, I knew I’d made a horrible mistake. Never mind how I voted, I still don’t believe Ruby Glynn killed that girl. I can’t tell you who did, but I don’t think it was Miss Glynn. Now she’s going to hang. If I had held my ground, the judge would have had to declare a mistrial, and another group of jurors would have heard the case. Maybe they’d have come to the same conclusion, who knows? But one thing’s certain—I put the noose around that girl’s neck, and I don’t know how I’m going to live with that for the rest of my life.”

Finally he looked up and his sorrowful brown eyes found mine. “I haven’t been able to sleep since. Or if I do fall off for a minute, the nightmares start.” He leaned back, a lost soul facing a pain-filled eternity.

For a long while, no one spoke. At last Miss Pickford broke the silence.

“I wonder if you would look into this for us, Jessie. Investigate this murder. I’ve already talked with Douglas, and he thinks it’s a fine idea. The pirate picture doesn’t need to take up your whole day, not at this stage anyway. And you have a knack for this sort of thing.”

I looked at the cameraman. Not a flicker of hope crossed his face. Or maybe he had sunk too far into his own private hell to hear. I looked at Mary Pickford. For the past ten years, she had been my idol. Studying her in moving pictures had taught me how to play young roles, my bread and butter for most of my adult life. She was “our Mary,” “the girl with the curls,” the most popular person in America, the founder of one of the most important film studios in Hollywood, and, some said, the most recognized face in the whole world. We had much in common—a childhood sacrificed to the stage, growing up in rundown boarding houses, sleeping on trains to save the dollar for the hotel, living on cheese sandwiches and pickles or whatever a friendly grownup would buy you without asking for a return on his investment. I had loved Mary Pickford long before I had the amazing good fortune to meet her. I hesitated not a second.

“Of course I’ll try, if you want me to. But I’m no detective . . . what can I do to investigate that the police haven’t already done?”

“That’s just it,” she said. “The police never investigated the case. Tell her, Rob.”

The cameraman pulled himself out of his reverie. “That’s so, Jessie. The police got called right when the landlady heard the scream. This was back in February, remember. The victim—Lila Walker, her name was—screamed when she was stabbed. The landlady ran upstairs and a couple girls from down the hall rushed in. They all saw Lila lying on the bedroom floor. She was still alive then, just barely. Ruby Glynn was lying there too, the bloody knife in her hand. She had fainted. First, everyone thought they were both dead, then one of ‘em brought Ruby around and helped her sit up. Lila kept pointing at her, trying to speak but she couldn’t get the words out. The doctor and the police arrived fast. The doc said Lila wouldn’t make it to the hospital, and he was right. But before she died, the cop asked her again, ‘Who did this to you?’ and she pointed one more time, real weak-like, to Ruby, then she went limp.”

“How awful,” I managed to say.

“Ruby said she didn’t do it. Said Lila was already stabbed when she got there. Maybe a good while before she got there, who knows? She said she was the one who screamed, not Lila, then she fainted. Said she’d never do anything like killing somebody, even if they had quarreled. She said they’d made up weeks before. She said Lila asked her to come over that day. Her lawyer said it was just coincidence that Ruby was planning to leave the country the next day.”

“And you believe Ruby?”

He swallowed hard. “Don’t think I don’t know it sounds daft, but I do. She was so confused looking, so innocent and scared. Reminded me of my daughter when she got lost one time. She just couldn’t have done it. I know, I know. Then, who did? Lila didn’t stab herself, and there was no one else there.”

 

Published in: on December 1, 2016 at 8:05 am  Comments (2)  
Tags:

New Invention of the 1920s: a Snow Loader

273139cp

I’m setting my second Roaring Twenties mystery series in Chicago in 1924. I’ve finished the first manuscript and have started on the second, where the action takes place in the winter. That got me thinking . . . how did people remove snow from city streets before the era of snowplows?

A little research taught me a lot. First of all, in most cities, snow removal was done by men with shovels, gangs who were hired to shovel snow into horse-drawn carts. Those were driven to the nearest river where they could dump the snow. Salt was widely used, but pedestrians complained that it ruined their shoes and clothes. Cities also used sand and cinders.

Motorized plows began to appear in 1913, lessening the reliance on horses. Trucks and tractors with snow blades came shortly afterwards, but still, gangs of men with shovels predominated.

Chicago and other big cities had an edge. They could afford a new invention, the 1920 Barber-Green snow loader, pictured above. This scooped up the snow, dropped it on a conveyor belt that led to a dump truck, where it was deposited. When the truck was full, it drove off (to the river) and another truck slipped into its place.

So in my story, I’ll have a brief scene outdoors where my main characters walk past one of Chicago’s new snow loaders. I only wish I could include a picture!

Published in: on November 20, 2016 at 10:47 am  Comments (1)  
Tags: , , ,

Near Beer Flunks the Test

th-2

Beer with very low alcoholic content existed in America long before Prohibition. During the colonial era, it was called “small beer.” By the time Prohibition struck (1920), it had pretty much faded away, but the new reality resurrected the old idea.

Anheuser-Busch led the way into nonalcoholic beer with a product they named Bevo. Laws prohibited the use of the word “beer” on the label or in advertising, so manufacturers had to insinuate that the produce was like beer without using the offensive word. Bevo sold well for about six months into Prohibition. Other breweries climbed on the bandwagon: Pabst made Pablo; Miller made Vivo; Schlitz made Famo; another company named its product Nearo, getting as close as legally possible to the words they all wanted to use: “near beer.” (The -o ending seemed to be the common factor . . . )

th

But all of a sudden, the market evaporated. I suppose that, having tried the nonalcoholic version, most people saw no reason to drink the substitute. People who wanted to drink real beer shifted to home production, where they could buy beer starter (malt extract, which was legal since it didn’t contain any alcohol) and make their own. 

 

 

Published in: on November 5, 2016 at 3:50 pm  Comments (2)  
Tags: , , , , ,

Prohibition and the Movies

Norma Shearer and co-star in THE DIVORCEE, 1930.

Norma Shearer and co-star in THE DIVORCEE, 1930.

Prohibition was the law of the land, even if it was ignored in many cities (notably New York, Detroit, Chicago, Washington DC, Baltimore, etc.) Hollywood production codes prohibited scenes showing people actually drinking, so if the story called for drinking, the best they could do was picture a bottle, or show someone pouring a drink, or people holding glasses.

But according to Daniel Okrent in LAST CALL, a scholarly survey of films in 1929 showed that drinking was evident in 2/3 of them, often favorably. “In AFTER MIDNIGHT, a shy and virginal Norma Shearer takes her very first drink and burst into bloom. Joan Crawford became a star by hoofing on a speakeasy tabletop in OUR DANCING DAUGHTERS.” For the millions of people going to the movie theater each week, scenes of beautiful women and debonair men drinking alcohol looked pretty glamorous. The message served only to further undermine the Prohibition laws.

Joan Crawford

Joan Crawford

Drinking was too commonplace to ignore in the movies. I make sure to get that point across in my series.

Published in: on October 30, 2016 at 2:14 pm  Leave a Comment  

Drug Stores in the 1920s

In my Roaring  Twenties series, I’ve set several scenes in drug stores. In SILENT MURDERS Jessie visits a dozen drug stores, looking for evidence of someone buying poison. I appreciate pictures like these when describing what the drug stores looked like. 

Interestingly, drug stores became the best place, outside of the speakeasy, to buy liquor. It was legal if you had a doctor’s prescription for it, and you could buy it at any drug store; it was illegal to buy it at a speakeasy. Many people did both. 

 

5eddbfc690f33fb6d4dbfc7787ad45d0

peeps02

th

4ceaffeda8497d08c2deffbaf9433b89

88b30140a3a511510296ef9d820e5cb4

Published in: on October 16, 2016 at 3:16 pm  Comments (3)  

Winemaking in the 1920s

58675662Well, there wasn’t much winemaking after 1920, since Prohibition caused most of the wineries to close. A few wineries in California (such as Beaulieu Vineyards, Christian Brothers) stayed in business to make legal sacramental wine for churches and synagogues, but the vast majority closed in 1920, suffering catastrophic losses that were not reimbursed by the government–an “illegal taking,” according to some. (I learned that Beaulieu Vineyards was producing over a million gallons of wine during Prohibition–all legal, all supposedly for religious purposes . . . ha!) 

Wine drinking was still largely a California kind of thing in those years. In the rest of the country, very generally speaking, it was mostly just immigrants (Italians, French, Greeks, and other southern Europeans) and the wealthy who drank wine. So as I write my current mystery, set in Chicago in 1924 with characters who are French Canadian and Italian plus one wealthy German family, I can have them drinking wine. Otherwise, my characters drink beer, spirits, or hard cider, all illegal, of course. 

Christian Brothers Winery

Christian Brothers Winery

Published in: on October 1, 2016 at 12:02 pm  Comments (2)  
Tags:

Booze Cruises

thOne of many changes that Prohibition brought to America was the “booze cruise,” “party cruise,” or “cruise to nowhere”–short boat trips that sailed beyond the three-mile territorial limit (now obsolete) where American law no longer applied. There, guests could indulge in alcohol to their hearts’ content.

Suddenly popular, too, were short sailing trips to the Bahamas and Havana, where clubs and other drinking establishments sprang up to cater to thirsty Americans. Prior to 1920, the reason people took a cruise was to get across the ocean. By the early 1920s, cruising had taken on a different connotation. Historians believe these pleasure cruises were the beginning of a new industry–the vacation cruise industry.