Thursday, June 23, 2011

Whitey Bulger

I heard on NPR this morning that Whitey Bulger was arrested in San Diego. James Joseph Bulger, Jr. was a South Boston gangster and organized crime boss. Some say Jack Nicholson's character in The Departed was based off of him.

You can find the NPR story here, but the audio won't be available until 9 AM EDT. Here's a picture of Mr. Bulger:


And here's what he looked like when he was young, possibly his first arrest:


I don't know why, but people like this fascinate me. They're evil, sure, and we'd all be better off without them, but they're also great characters, and I wonder what it is that drives them. Whitey Bulger, John Gotti, John Dillinger, Al Capone. America has a great history of mob bosses, and we love to romanticize them in film and fiction.

Don Vito Corleone, Neil McCauley, Keyser Soze, Marsellus Wallace, the list goes on. What is it about these men (and they're always men) that fascinates our collective consciousness so?

I don't know. I'm no psychologist, but I do know that I love the stories. It's not the violence, or the machismo, or the misogyny, I mean I'm a pacifist and a big wuss in real life anyway, but there's something about these stories, something classical, almost chivalrous in a twisted, Americanized way.

If you love books and you're interesting in this kind of novel you should look up Elmore Leonard, Richard Price, Mario Puzo, James Ellroy, Patricia Highsmith, and Steig Larsson.

I don't know. What do you guys think? Do you read crime novels? Do you watch crime films? Did I forget any great crime writers?

27 comments:

mooderino said...

My latest post is about crime fiction writer, a Boston one, George V Higgins who wrote The Friends of Eddie Coyle.


mood
Moody Writing
@mooderino

Cynthia Lee said...

I have a love/hate relationship with mobster themed stuff. I've gotten into the habit of watching The Sopranos everyday. Sometimes I get sick of the characters and I just want them to go to jail forever and other times I almost like them.

I guess it's something I can't shake altogether although I occasionally want to.

I think you forgot Lawrence Block, a great noir writer. I enjoyed his Matt Scudder books.

Matthew MacNish said...

I've never heard of either of those writers. Thanks, guys!

Clarissa Draper said...

He actually looks like Nicholson when he's older. I hope they catch him but you're right, they make awesome characters.

KatieO said...

I can't believe they finally caught him. I need to go read that NPR piece - thanks for the link!

Sarah said...

Yeah--I was really surprised to see they caught him. I live in the Boston area and they've been talking about this for years, but I kind of assumed he'd just disappear forever. I agree--mob stories are sort of fascinating, but a lot less romantic in real life.

Old Kitty said...

Dashiell Hammet and Raymond Chandler and of course Miss Agatha Christie and Arthur Conan Doyle!!! Of course!!! LOL!! I'm an oldie!!

I love these films!!! Love these nasty men (may I add Ma Baker too?? Was she real or is she just a song?!?!?). She was a kind of gangster woman with all these twisted sons (according to the song!). Bonnie and Clyde. Sorry, am trying to think of some badass scary women equivalent of these guys!

Take care
x

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I don't read a lot of crime novels although I watch a couple crime shows. And you mentioned Keyser Soze! The Usual Suspects is one of my favorite movies.

Rebecca Kiel said...

Leonard's Get Shorty was such a great screenplay! While I haven't really enjoyed gangster-type things for a while, I can always go back to Get Shorty. Chili cracks me up.

Jess said...

My Dad created and marketed a tourist poster of Gangland Chicago--it's a beautiful item. I still remember him dragging me around to find a graveyard so he could make a rubbing of Al Capone's grave :)

Sarah Ahiers (Falen) said...

i'm totally obsessed with watching true crime. One day i'd like to write fantasy version of the godfather, or like some other sort of mob movie/book, because i love the character dynamics

Talli Roland said...

With a name like Whitey Bulger, why am I not surprised he's a gangster?

Michael G-G said...

I'm no psychologist either, but my guess is that with these mob characters everything (at least in its fictional representation) is writ large and all the living is done on the edge. Kind of easy for our reptilian brains to fathom, I suppose.

One of the most fascinating places I've visited is Alcatraz prison. Plenty of mugshots there that look just like Whitey's!

Kelly said...

He does look gangster! And 19 counts of murder! HOly Crap!
There's a lot of Al Capone stories around here and up north where we vacation. Every summer we eat at Al Capone's old vacation home!

Sara McClung ♥ said...

That there are people like this out in the world is SO scary to me. That being said? I totally enjoy thrillers when I read them. But I think it's because with thrillers, you know it's fictional. Or even if they're based off of a true story, you're so far removed from the real events that they seem fictional.

Or, wait... you asked about crime novels/films. I'm not sure if I've ever read a crime novel. Well, YES, I have! Steig Larsson. I've read his the girl with the dragon tattoo series and loooooved it.

Sorry for rambling. I haven't had my coffee yet.

Happy Thursday :)

Nicole Zoltack said...

I love to read true crime stuff. I'm fascinated by serial killers and took a lot of courses in college about criminology and forensics. I had wanted to work in a crime lab but there weren't any job openings when I was job hunting unfortunately.

Bethany Elizabeth said...

I've always been fascinated by this sort of stuff as well. Crime, real-life 'villains'. I think part of it is that, whether we'd class them as good or evil, these guys stepped forward in life out of the crowd, and flipped off (or killed) anyone who got in their way. These days, they're mob bosses. A thousand years ago? They could've been heroes. You never know.

Carolyn Abiad said...

Whatey who? I watch movies about it, but I'm not a huge fan of mob-style crime novels, by any means. Detective stories I do go for...

Copyboy said...

Yeah I agree. As a society we hate and love 'em at the same time. You said it much smarter than me.

Laura M. Campbell said...

I haven't read any crime novels, but I'll be sure to check out Elmore Leonard. I keep hearing his name all over the place. I need to get my act together.

On the other hand, I like watching crime movies. I'm attracted to the power the character wields and excitement of the anti-hero living above the law.

Munk said...

I don't know, they look good in hats maybe.

Not much.

Sometimes.

Sometimes.

Yes.

Man, you ask a lot of questions.

Liza said...

The story about Whitey, as with many of the others you mentioned is that there is no clean black and white. Inside these bad people there are snippets of good, which intrigues and makes them characters rich in contradiction and nuance. Ask the FBI. They didn't think Whitey was all that bad...until the bodies started showing up.

John Wiswell said...

The stories of major criminals have plenty of understandable appeal. Often they promise us the inside information on a villain, sometimes a real life villain. Accentuating the villainous aspects, or expanding the individuals into real people, catch the mind.

Slamdunk said...

Yes, I am a def crime geek--though it relates to a professional interest as well.

I think the FBI is very proud of themselves. They had been marketing hard with info on this guy and his dental hygenist gf for the last few weeks hoping to get lucky.

Lydia K said...

I've been having that problem too. I think it's the "over one year blogging"-itis. I think we need to give ourselves a break once in a while. I'm going to try!

Michael Offutt said...

Wow...this guy was pretty good lookin' as a young man.

Joe said...

James lee Burke, John D. MacDonald, Lawrence Block are three of my favorites. Love noir and hardboiled too.