History of the World According to the Movies: Part 59 – Life in 1920s Europe


No movie defines 1920s life in Paris like Woody Allen’s 2011 film Midnight in Paris in which Owen Wilson’s character meets 1920s luminaries in the city of lights and falls for artist model played by Marion Cotillard. Though it’s a romanticized portrayal, it sort of serves a purpose as the subject matter pertains to nostalgia. Yet, while everything may seem glamorous in Paris in that era, things weren’t much fun elsewhere in Europe.

Europe in the 1920s doesn’t appear much in movies for some reason, but that doesn’t mean that there was nothing going on at the time. Of course, Paris was a haven of culture and expatriate artists and authors like Picasso, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Ernest Hemingway, as well as the home of Gertrude Stein. You also had the bohemian Bloomsbury group in Great Britain as well as Agatha Christie writing her mystery novels but there’s really not much happening there outside fiction. Yet, there are some places in Europe not having a fun time. For instance, Italy came under Fascism in 1922 under the forces of Benito Mussolini and his Blackshirts. Let’s just say living in Italy under Ill Duce was not a fun time, especially with Blackshirt thugs and secret police around. 1920s Germany was under the Weimar Republic which was of political corruption and instability, economic hardship {their whole currency collapse}, and the rise of political movements like Nazism, all of which would pave the way for the creation of Nazi Germany in 1933. However, 1920s Germany did experience great cultural growth in this period like cabaret culture which helped start Marlene Dietrich’s career, Dadaism, Bauhaus architecture, German Expressionism, and lots of writers and intellectuals. Nevertheless, while there aren’t a lot of movies set in 1920s Europe but I’ll list the historical inaccuracies nonetheless.

Weimar Germany:

Adolf Hitler was friends with a Jewish art dealer named Max Rothman during the 1920s. (There’s a movie about the whole thing but I’m sure Hitler didn’t have any Jewish friends at any point in his life that we know of. Still, anti-Semitism was rife in Europe during that time in history.)

Adolf Hitler was a vegetarian in the 1920s. (He didn’t become a vegetarian until 1931mostly due to health reasons.)

The NSDAP was around in in 1918. (It was known as the DAP then before Hitler changed the name to NSDAP in 1920. Still, we know this party as the Nazi Party which is just a rather violent political party at this point.)

During and immediately after World War I, Adolf Hitler sported his trademark “comb” mustache. (He actually had a traditional handlebar mustache at this time, yet he adopted the “comb” mustache we know him by today shortly thereafter.)

Great Britain:

Leonard Woolf did the typesetting for his wife Virginia’s novels at Hogarth Press. (Leonard’s hands shook so he couldn’t set type. It was actually Virginia Woolf who would do the typesetting, which she said felt calming and that it shaped her feel for words on the page, influencing her approach to writing.)

In 1926, Agatha Christie spent her 12 day disappearance at the Harrogate Hotel under the name of a relative of her husband Archie’s lover. She spent her time there planning to commit suicide as a way to frame her husband and his mistress for her “murder” but was stopped by a smitten American journalist. (Well, this is a theory which forms the plot in a movie called Agatha but we’re not sure what she did during that time. Still, her heirs fought two unsuccessful lawsuits in the US to prevent the film from being distributed. Also, she was missing for 10 days not 12 and may have been in a fit of amnesia at the time. Not to mention, she and Archie divorced in 1928 and her second husband was a British archaeologist so it’s unlikely she’d have a romance with an American reporter.)

Harold Abrahams was the first person to compete the Great Court Run through Trinity College in 1919. (This is just all smoke and mirrors nonsense from Chariots of Fire. The first person to compete in the Great Court Run was Lord David Burghley in 1927. Abrahams never competed in one.)

Harold Abrahams fell in love with Sybil Gordon during her performance in The Mikado who kissed him goodbye before the 1924 Paris Olympics. (She was a real person but Harold didn’t fall in love with her. However, he did end up dating and eventually marrying a woman named Sibyl Evers who was a singer in the same D’Oyly Carte Opera Company around the interwar period. Yet, he didn’t meet her until the 1930s. But neither of them played the lead female role in The Mikado. Still, Abrahams was a fan of Gilbert and Sullivan.)

Aubrey Montague was a student at Cambridge University. (He was a student of Oxford but Chariots of Fire takes place at Cambridge. Still, oddly Montague’s daily letters about Oxford he sent to his mother serve as narration for the film. Also, Montague died 30 years before Harold Abrahams yet in Chariots of Fire, he’s seen attending Abrahams’ funeral in 1978.)

Harold Abrahams first sought Sam Mussabini as he saw Eric Liddell race. (Eric Liddell introduced the two of them.)

Harold Abrahams lost the 200 meter run before winning the 100 meters. (He did both of these but he won the 100 meters before losing the 200. Still, Chariots of Fire is a sports move so a character’s losses have to go before his or her victories.)

During the international athletic meeting between Scotland and France, Eric Liddell was tripped up by a Frenchman in the 400 meter event, recovered, made up the 20 meter deficit, and won. (This actually happened but it was during the 440 yard race at the 1923 Triangular meet between England, Ireland, and Scotland. His achievement was remarkable because he also won the 100 yard and 220 yard races that day.)

Lord David Burghley had his butler place champagne glasses on hurdles at the grounds of his country estate so he didn’t catch them with his feet. (Actually he used matchboxes not champagne glasses. I’m sure the household staff wouldn’t let him use the glasses for his athletics. However, he wasn’t a contemporary of Harold Abrahams. Also, the Burghley expy of Lord Lindsay was created for Chariots of Fire because Douglas Lowe a a real gold medalist in the 1924 Olympics refused to get involved.)

Eric Liddell agonized over having to run the 100 meters race on a Sunday since he was a devout Christian raised by missionaries in China to respect the sabbath and his sister gave him hell for him enjoying himself on account of insulting God. (Jennie Liddell actually supported her brother’s running. Besides, it’s very common for sports competitions to fall on weekends at colleges anyway, even at those with a religious affiliation {this coming from someone who spent four years at a Catholic school}. Besides, don’t people usually spend Sundays watching sports anyway? Chariots of Fire just takes the religion idea too far.)

The Prince of Wales and Lord Birkenhead tried to convince Eric Liddell to run on the Sunday 100 meter competition. (Yes, Liddell did refuse to run on a Sunday yet he had the race schedule well in advance so he had plenty of time to swap events and train for the 400 meters. He didn’t have to switch places with anybody at short notice.)

Lord Burghley won a medal for the 400 meter hurdles during the 1924 Paris Olympics. (He actually went out in the first round in the 110 hurdles of the 1924 Olympics but he won medals in the 400 meter hurdles in the 1928 Olympics and the 1932.)


Coco Chanel had an affair with Igor Stravinksy. (Well, both of them knew each other and had several affairs with other people, we’re not sure whether they had an affair with each other.)

Pablo Picasso had a lot of mistresses. (Yes, he was married twice, had affairs, and was famous for his love life. However, he was quite constant with his mistresses for he was with two of them for at least eight years {though he wasn’t necessarily faithful to them either}.)

After World War I destroyed his studio, Georges Melies burned his props and sold his films. (He actually burned his films and sold his props. Also, the costumes and sets for his movies were in shades of gray, not in their natural colors as depicted in Hugo.)

The Lost Generation:

F. Scott Fitzgerald was the co-dependent in his relationship with Zelda. (Yes, Zelda had problems but unlike in Midnight in Paris, but the Fitzgeralds’ marriage was nowhere near as harmonious as depicted in the film. Sure they loved each other but their marriage was plagued with financial difficulties {one of the reasons why Scott ended up moving to Hollywood}, infidelity {she cheated on him with a French pilot according to Hemingway}, her mental illness {schizophrenia and was later institutionalized}, and his alcoholism {since his college days}. Also, their relationship was quite stormy especially in their later years when Scott was having a long affair with dancer Sheila Graham. And during the 1930s, they became estranged. Not to mention, they had a daughter whose existence goes unmentioned in Midnight in Paris. Still, while Zelda is free to have her problems, Scott seems to be perfectly normal in the film.)

Zelda Fitzgerald was blond. (Maybe, but she was more of a dirty blonde or brownish blond than bleached.)

Ernest Hemingway was the ultimate literary man’s man. (Yet, we forget that he drank a lot, had affairs {which was one of the reasons he was married 4 times}, was subject to depression in the 1940s as he saw his many of his friends die, experienced all kinds of health problems due to his lifestyle {like severe headaches, high blood pressure, weight problems, and diabetes as well as had all kinds of injuries}, and eventually committed suicide.)


The Roaring 1920s was a decade of great economic prosperity. (It was also a decade of great debt and there were burgeoning problems that only created the illusion of prosperity. Ditto, the notion of the unregulated consumer economy. Besides, there were plenty of people who weren’t doing that great during the decade, even before the Great Depression. For instance, in 1920s America, 60% of the population lived below the poverty line.)

The virus responsible for Spanish flu pandemic came from Spain. (The first outbreak of Spanish flu came from a military training facility in Kansas. The fact that it infected troops was a major factor in its spread.)

Flappers wore sleek bobs, fringe dresses, and feathered headbands. (Not always. Earlier flappers wore wide brimmed hats but longer and narrower skirts but still had that loose silhouette. Yet, as the decade progressed with the help of prominent women like Coco Chanel, hats became tighter and narrower while silhouettes became more streamlined and skirts became shorter.)

All men in the 1920s treated women with the same level of respect as other men. (Sometimes, but if Gertrude Stein didn’t have influence with or access to publishers and booksellers {or wasn’t able to get struggling writers published}, then she wouldn’t have received the respect she got. Also, if you were just an artist model or girlfriend in 1920s Paris, then your opinions were more easily dismissed. Not to mention, Hemingway doesn’t really treat his heroines well in his fiction. Not to mention, it’s a time when women were called, “broads,” “bunnies,” “dames,” and “dolls.” A woman who could sing was called a “canary” while one who was sexually promiscuous was called a “chatty girl.”)

Filtered cigarettes were available at this time. (Actually they wouldn’t be around until the mid-1950s.)

Elevators had push buttons at this time. (Actually push button elevators wouldn’t come around until the 1950s. Until then you had elevator operators.)

Pants in the 1920s had zipper closures. (Zippers on men’s pants wouldn’t be around until the 1930s.)

Lobotomies were a medical procedure at this time. (This nightmarish surgery wasn’t around until 1935.)

Cognitive dissonance theory of attitude was around during the 1920s. (This notion was first formulated in the late 1950s.)

Sliced bread was around before 1927. (Sliced bread was invented in 1928 and it was the best thing ever.)

Chocolate chip cookies were around in 1928. (They were invented in 1933.)

All 1920s films were silent and in black and white. (Many films did have sequences in color but this was painstaking work and didn’t happen that often. Also, 1927 had The Jazz Singer which paved the way for movies with sound.)

Exit signs were around in the 1920s. (They weren’t invented yet.)

Crop dusters were around in 1923. (The first commercial crop dusting company began operation in 1924.)

Parties were always awesome in the 1920s. (Except if you were a member of Gatsby’s staff who had to clean up after his parties. I don’t think that would be fun. Gatsby must pay them generously for all the work they did.)

History of the World According to the Movies: Part 58 – Prohibition


Of course, I couldn’t do a post about Prohibition without having a picture from the 1987 film The Untouchables with Kevin Costner as Elliot Ness and Sean Connery who does one of the worst Irish accents ever and still wins an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor. Still, while the Brian De Palma film does capture the popular image of Prohibition, it gets the whole story wrong when it came to Al Capone. Elliot Ness didn’t take down Al Capone nor ever met the guy. Nor was Frank J. Wilson a gun toting accountant. He was an IRS agent who spent his time in Chicago gathering information about Capone’s money because tax evasion was the only charge that stuck to him. Also, there were 12 Untouchables, not 4 and none of them died. Neither did Frank Nitti who was Al Capone’s No. 2.

Of course, we can’t talk about 1920s America without discussing Prohibition, which has been one of the default settings for many gangster films since the 1930s which made a fortune in Warner Brothers. From 1920 to 1933 alcohol was illegal in the United States under the 18th Amendment, which was in place thanks to the advocacy of Temperance organizations (though you have to admit, alcoholism was a big problem for much of US history which hurt a lot of families which explains why many people in the movement were also feminists). Still, this didn’t mean that alcohol’s ban was going to stop people from drinking because it wasn’t. Rather it was the reason that people kept on drinking that led to gin being made in bathtubs or by moonshiners, smuggled by organized crime syndicates as well as the likes of men like Al Capone, and served only in hole-in-the-wall bars known as speakeasies that could be highly prone to raids by stolid, humorless cops, or an ambush by Prohibition agents. Still, while Prohibition seemed like a good idea at the time, it actually did more harm than good such as leading to the rise of organized crime and violence in cities, alcoholism among women, people getting seriously ill or possibly dying from drink which you didn’t know what was in it, moon shining, and others. Nevertheless, movies set in this time tend to get a few things wrong, which I shall list accordingly.


Only Italian led organized crime syndicates got involved in Prohibition. (Actually practically a lot of ethnic groups had their own organized crime syndicate involved during Prohibition, not just the Italians. You had Irish guys like Bugs Moran, Jews like Meyer Lansky, black guys like Bumpy Johnson, and others. Yet, when people think of the mafia, they think of The Godfather for some reason. Oh, and not all Italian gangsters were Sicilian either. For example, Al Capone was Neapolitan.)

Gangster Peter Gusenberg was born in 1898. (He was born in 1888.)

Tommy guns were popular and reliable weapons for gangsters. (What Prohibition Era gangster wouldn’t be without his trusted tommy gun blowing everything around him to bits and killing everyone in sight nicknamed the “Chicago Typewriter”? Actually tommy guns weren’t as popular in Prohibition Era gangland as movies led you to believe since they were subject to frequent jams, which is one of the many problems it had. Nevertheless, its place as one of the first fully automatic weapons and association with gangsters during Prohibition was the inspiration for one of America’s first federal gun control laws, which required to register them.)

Al Capone:

Al Capone saw Enrico Caruso perform at the Chicago opera house while Elliot Ness was investigating him. (Elliot Ness started to investigate Capone in 1929. Enrico Caruso died in 1921, before Capone was just a relative unknown gangster working for Chicago Outfit head Johnny Torrio. Capone would become head of the Chicago Outfit in 1925.)

The jury in Al Capone’s trial was switched to the jury next door after the discovery that the first one had been bribed. (Something like this really happened but not in the way it’s depicted in The Untouchables. In real life, the jury was switched much earlier in the trial according to TTI, “the pool of jurors both sides could select or veto was switched; switching it when they did in the film, even if it had been allowed, would have meant that the new jury was handicapped by having missed the presentation of key evidence.” And no, it wouldn’t be switched with a jury in a divorce case in the next courtroom since divorces are covered by state law and Al Capone was charged with federal tax evasion, cases which wouldn’t be held in the same courthouse.)

Al Capone’s lawyer attempted to enter a plea without his client’s consent. (He never did this because this is a good way to have a mistrial, an overturned conviction, and an attorney disbarment. Al Capone’s lawyer wouldn’t have attempted this because such action would’ve not only cause him to lose his case {which happened anyway} but also to lose his job. For a lawyer to enter a plea without his or her client’s consent falls under Legal Stupidity 101, even in the 1920s.)

When found guilty Al Capone became violently angry over the verdict and punched his attorney. (Capone actually accepted his verdict calmly while meekly proclaiming to the press that he was innocent. He may have often been violent and unpleasant with his competitors and those inside his organization, he was very protective of his public image as a genial, “misunderstood benefactor” of Chicago and took great pains while in public {and dealing with the press} to remain refined, polite, and well mannered. He would’ve never made a public outburst in front of a courtroom, especially in front of the press. Yes, he was prone to temper tantrums but he knew how to behave himself in public.)

Al Capone’s wife was a Chicago single mom named Maureen Flannery with a daughter. (Her name was Mae Josephine Coughlin. She was an Irish American girl from Capone’s native Brooklyn who gave birth to his son before they were married.)

Al Capone last saw Frank Nitti in 1946. (Nitti had killed himself in 1943 so such reunion would’ve been impossible.)

Al Capone beat one of his associates to death with a baseball in front of British journalists at a party. (Yes, Capone is said to have personally attacked people with a baseball bat on at least three occasions but only when he was on the job. He would’ve never acted like that in front of the press or at a public party since he didn’t want people to think he was a violent sociopath.)

Al Capone was born in Italy but raised in a Brooklyn slum. (He was born in Brooklyn in 1899.)

Al Capone was indicted for tax evasion three months after the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre of 1929. (He was indicted and convicted of tax evasion in 1931.)

Al Capone killed Joe Aiello on a train in 1929. (Aiello was killed in a drive by shooting in 1930.)

Al Capone’s scar was caused from broken glass from a window. (It was actually a knife wound he received during an knife fight  he had between Frank Gallucio over a remark he made at the latter’s sister Lena at the Harvard Inn on Coney Island in 1917. Despite having the nickname of “Scarface” Capone was actually his scars which he would come to great lengths to hide in photographs and claim they were war wounds {though he never actually served in the military}.)

Al Capone was faithful to his wife. (Remember he died from syphilis so where did he contract that from? Then again, his son Albert Francis Capone was born with congenital syphilis due to this and that was a month before he married the boy’s mother. Still, it’s been proposed that his ruthless and raging personality was caused by him suffering third stage syphilis though which he probably contracted by the time he was 20 and possibly from his wife. Still, it’s a tough call.)

Al Capone moved to Chicago because he wanted to get in the liquor business there. (That and the fact he left Brooklyn because he was being investigated for murder.)

Frank Nitti:

Frank Nitti was killed by Elliot Ness after taunting him about murdering his partner. (Nitti actually killed himself in 1943 mostly because he had been indicted for extorting the Hollywood film industry and didn’t want to go to prison. It was also rumored he was suffering from terminal cancer. Also, he was a much smarter man that he’s depicted in The Untouchables because he took the reins of Capone’s organization and diversified the Chicago Outfit’s interest after Prohibition ended.)

Frank Nitti was one of Al Capone’s bodyguards. (He was Capone’s second-in-command as well as main enforcer. At least Road to Perdition gets his role right.)

Dutch Schultz:

Dutch Schultz had an unrequited love for a policeman’s wife during Prohibition. (This probably never happened. Also, he was married, sort of though not technically {it’s kind of complicated but he at least had romantic relations with at least two women, possibly having children with one of them}. Still, there’s a movie about his love for a policeman’s wife called Portrait of a Mobster with Vic Morrow.)

Dutch Schultz worked for Legs Diamond and his gang when he started up as a racketeer. (His first boss was named Joe Noe who initially hired him to tend a speakeasy but would make him his partner when Shultz earned a reputation for brutality and having a nasty temper. Also, before Noe hired him, Schultz was just a feeder and pressman for various trucking companies as well as a small time crook who’d already served prison time. Diamond was one of his competitors he had a gang war with.)

Dutch Schultz was shot by his friend Bo Wetzel by mistake, despite betraying him and already had a hit on him. (Actually he was done in by the Mafia Commission {the New York organized crime syndicate}, when he asked them for permission to kill U. S. Attorney Thomas Dewey {who was after him for two tax evasion. Also, he’s the same guy from “Dewey Defeats Truman”} in an attempt to avert his conviction. The Commission unanimously refused {for good reason} but he made an outburst and attempted to kill Dewey anyway. The Commission would later order Schultz’s murder just to save Dewey’s life. He was shot in the men’s room {either peeing or washing his hands} at his Newark, New Jersey headquarters by two hitmen from Murder Inc. Nevertheless, Schultz’s fatal flaw was his own selfish idiocy.)

Law Enforcement:

There were four members of the Untouchables and two of them died. (The Untouchables did exist and were led by Elliot Ness but they consisted of just 12 people and they all survived Prohibition. Oh, and they mostly raided stills and breweries. Also, the Treasury Department didn’t have a single casualty from Prohibition either.)

The Untouchables worked for the Treasury Department. (They were Prohibition agents who weren’t under Treasury Department jurisdiction.)

Law enforcement agents during Prohibition were always clean cut guys who usually didn’t drink. (There was a lot of corrupt law enforcement during Prohibition, since such corruption led many organized crime syndicates prosper and many agents did drink. Elliot Ness was an alcoholic.)

Frank J. Wilson:

Frank J. Wilson was an Untouchable as well as a gun toting accountant. (He wasn’t nor was he a gun toting accountant. He was an IRS agent who took down Al Capone, and he did it without a gun but by gathering information about his finances that revealed millions of dollars the crime boss made during Prohibition. This guy was totally screwed in The Untouchables but he actually ended up having a better life than Ness. He was also an investigator in the Lindbergh kidnapping case and would head the Secret Service before taking a long and comfortable retirement until his death in 1970.)

Elliot Ness:

There was a rooftop chase during Al Capone’s trial when Elliot Ness to the stand. (No there wasn’t but it’s in The Untouchables.)

Elliot Ness took down Al Capone. (The IRS did for Capone was put in prison for tax evasion, specifically by Franklin J. Wilson, though Ness did try to root out corruption in Chicago’s law enforcement while applying pressure to Al Capone’s organization but his raids in illegal breweries were intended as diversions. And no, Capone wasn’t taken down with Ness giving a big gun to a geeky looking accountant on Ness’ team because Ness had absolutely nothing to do with it. Capone wasn’t taken down by guns; he was taken down by some Treasury Department agent investigating the crime lord’s finances for three years, like tracking down his accountants and bookkeepers, that sort of thing. And Al Capone knew this and hired five guys to murder him for it but ended up canceling the hit after urgings from former mentor Johnny Torrio. Seems to me, Al Capone was more scared of some guy from the Treasury Department disguised as a tourist gathering dirt on his finances than the “great” Elliot Ness. It’s pretty funny thinking about it.)

Elliot Ness’ resolve to get Al Capone was only strengthened when Capone and Nitti threatened his loving wife and daughter. (For one, when Ness was assigned to Capone he was a young bachelor still living with his parents though he’d get married later on but his first marriage was a failure. Second, since Ness was a law enforcement officer, to threaten him or any members of his family would’ve been unthinkable for any gangster in the Chicago Outfit. Third, Al Capone wasn’t really scared of him as he was of IRS agent Frank J. Wilson who wanted to know more about his finances though he did underestimate the IRS.)

Elliot Ness once smashed a crate of pretty green parasols from Canada as well as participated on a horseback raid in Montana as well as a shootout in a station. (Ness never did these things. I’m sure anyone writing the screenplay to Brian De Palma’s The Untouchables, just made these things up.)

Elliot Ness was a clean cut law enforcement officer who didn’t drink or fool around. (He used political/family connections to get his Chicago assignment as a Prohibition agent. Also, he was an inveterate philanderer and an alcoholic like Jimmy McNulty, but more of a hypocrite. Not to mention, he was divorced twice by the 1940s, which really said something and the rest of his life was plagued by business failures.)


Al Capone and Elliot Ness met face to face. (They never did.)

Prohibition just consisted of G-Men vs. gangsters. (Actually there were other people involved in Prohibition like moonshiners in the Appalachians, rum runners, speakeasy workers, and such. It wasn’t all gangsters and law enforcement.)

Bootleg alcoholic drinks were safe to drink. (This isn’t always the case and a lot of people died from bad booze during this time.)

History of the World According to the Movies: Part 57 – 1920s America


You may realize that a lot of the movies I have pictures for related to the 20th century thus far are screen adaptations from literature. However, I think Baz Luhrman’s 2013 adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby which stars Leonardo DiCaprio as the title character pretty much sums up the decadence of 1920s America among the upper class though with the Jay-Z music aside. Still, Luhrman is absolutely spot on with the glitziness and decadence of the era that has shaped much of our perception with its exquisite Art Deco set design. Yet, Leo’s Gatsby is a tragic hero in an age of lavish parties and lifestyles of excess who was driven to make his fortune on an idealized but unattainable dream which eventually costs him dearly and through illegal means. Despite that he managed to rise from poverty to great wealth, he dedicated his endless talent and ambition to become part of a society that cared nothing for him. No wonder they make us read the book in high school though I have much more appreciation for F. Scott Fitzgerald’s work now than I did back in the day.

After World War I and Spanish flu, the 1920s was a time of great change with people embracing a new modernism and casting away the old fashioned trappings of 19th century life for good. Film had become the new artistic medium with the great silent films made all over the world. Jazz and blues have become all the rage in music with new dances like the Charleston, the Shimmy, the Tango, the Baltimore Buzz, and the Black Bottom. Yet, in movies, this is seen as the decade of parties, prosperity, and hedonism. It was the time of the flapper, a 1920s party girl who liked to drink, smoke, spoke in slang and swearing, had sex where and whenever she wanted, and enjoying other delights the Roaring Twenties had to offer. She had short bobbed hair tucked under her swanky cloche hat, wore knee length skirts and short and loose low-waisted evening gowns with turned up silk-stockings, and covered her face with powder and rouge. And the men didn’t look too badly either with their great colorful tailored suits capped with an array of hats. Gangsters especially had fashion sense and style. It was a decade of rebellion and tension whether it was Prohibition in the US that contributed to organized crime and violence or economic problems contributing to the rise of Nazism in Weimar Germany. You also see a lot of cool cars on the road not just limited to the Ford Model T and a lot of electric powered labor saving devices we associate with middle-class living (though many people in even the industrialized world wouldn’t have much access to it.) If you think the 1960s were a radical decade, the 1920s gives that era stiff competition yet with much more glamor and much more honest rebellious hedonism.

1920s America is an excited period in movie history which depicts scenes of parties, bootleg gin, jazz, lively dancing, and flappers in a gorgeous Art Deco interiors and architecture. Of course, this is the decade when US women got the right to vote though this didn’t necessarily mean that women though unfortunately the notion that women should be housewives once they got married remained a popular notion of the day though some women did try getting around it or having some fulfillment in their lives (though many had their choices limited just due to plain old socioeconomics). African Americans also had it better since this the time of the Harlem Renaissance with authors like Zora Neal Hurston and Langston Hughes, jazz artists like Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington, and intellectuals like W. E. B. DuBois who helped plant the seeds of the Civil Rights Movement. Yet, it was a time when blackface was common in the entertainment industry, racial segregation was a fact of life, the Klu Klux Klan was a major organization with over 5 million members and had a 50,000 march in Washington D. C., and lynchings and hate crimes were still an all too common occurrence nationwide (especially in the South). It was a time of Prohibition when alcohol was illegal and thus rebellion against the 18th Amendment became common and cool, yet led to organized crime and violence. Yet, it was a time of the Scopes Monkey trial and religious fundamentalism. Finally, it was a time of big business and prosperity, but laissez-faire politics would make an unpredictable and unregulated stock market with high-risk practices like buying on margin which would lead to the Great Stock Market Crash of 1929 and put an end to the Roaring Twenties for good. Of course, there are plenty of things movies in America during the 1920s get wrong which I shall list with key precision.


The NFL in the1920s had an annual college draft. (The ideal of an annual college draft was proposed to the NFL in 1935 and wasn’t put into effect until 1936. Leatherheads is a whole decade off on this and probably should’ve taken place in the 1930s since its plot revolves around this.)

Lou Gehrig hit a home run through a window of the Columbia University athletic building. (The athletic building is nowhere near Columbia’s baseball field. Ironically, while Lou Gehrig did attend Columbia on a football scholarship, but dropped out after a couple of years when he went to play for the Yankees.)

The “Hail Mary” pass was a 1920s football term for a long last-second pass down field. (It wasn’t coined until after the Dallas Cowboys beat the Minnesota Vikings in the NFC championship game in 1975. In some ways a “Hail Mary” is a newer term than “the Immaculate Reception” which was something only people raised in Steeler country would understand. It’s hard to explain.)

The NFL league president in the 1920s was appointed by Congress. (The NFL is a private corporation and has never had a league president appointed by Congress. Though the NFL did have a president at this time named Joe Carr, he was probably appointed by a board of directors just like every NFL president since. Also, he wouldn’t have had the power to deal with the media as he did in Leatherheads.)

Archibald “Moonlight” Graham played his lone game at the end of the 1922 baseball season. (He played his only game in June of 1905. Yet, like his Burt Lancaster portrayal in Field of Dreams, he actually did go on to be a doctor and practiced in Chisholm, Minnesota {but he was actually born in Fayetteville, North Carolina}. Oh, and he died in 1965 not 1972. Not to mention, he batted left-handed not right handed.)

Pitcher Shoeless Joe Jackson batted right-handed and threw left-handed. (He batted left-handed and threw right-handed.)

One of the banned players of the 1919 Chicago White Sox was a catcher. (None of the three catchers of the 1919 White Sox were among the eight players banned from that team.)

Babe Ruth was sold to the Yankees because Red Sox owner Harry Frazee’s latest Broadway offering had flopped. (This is a popular myth but it’s really not the case. The real story according to Imdb is: “the sale came about due to the fact that Frazee hadn’t been hand-picked by American League president Ban Johnson to own a team, hence, Frazee was unwilling to do Johnson’s bidding. When Carl Mays jumped the Red Sox, Frazee sold him to the Yankees, ignoring Johnson’s order to suspend Mays. Meanwhile, Ruth was out of control, repeatedly breaking curfew, and jumping the team several times. The final straw came when Ruth was a no-show for the final game of the 1919 season, then held out for $20,000, despite the fact that Frazee had given Ruth bonuses. With the White Sox’ reputation in tatters following the Black Sox Scandal, and Johnson pressuring the Cleveland Indians, the Detroit Tigers, the Philadelphia Athletics, the St. Louis Browns, and the Washington Senators not to deal with Frazee, Frazee had little choice but to deal with the Yankees.”)

Lou Gehrig hit a ball out of Yankee Stadium during the 1925 season. (Actually this isn’t true since no player has done this.)

Lou Gehrig and Babe Ruth were enemies from the start. (They were actually good friends until after Lou married Eleanor Twitchell in 1933.)

Babe Ruth and his first wife Helen divorced after Babe was sold to the Yankees. (Actually they never divorced since they were both Roman Catholics but they did separate by then. In fact, Babe didn’t marry his second wife Claire {who he met at a Yankees vs. Senators game} until a few months after Helen died in a house fire.)

Babe Ruth hit a home run at his first bat in the majors. (He didn’t because he was primarily a pitcher and rarely batted. In fact, he didn’t hit his first home run until his second season.)

Claire Ruth was Babe’s only wife. (She was his second, Helen was his first.)

William Randolph Hearst:

William Randolph Hearst shot movie producer Thomas H. Ince in the head by mistake on the former’s Oneida yacht in 1924 during the latter’s 42nd birthday. (His autopsies indicated he suffered a heart attack of indigestion on there. Still, he was taken ashore by water taxi accompanied by Dr. Charles Goodman and died at a San Diego hotel two days later. Yet, there were rumors that Hearst shot him which is probably bullshit but it was the subject of a lot of rumors.)

Charlie Chaplin:

Charlie Chaplin divorced his first wife Mildred Harris after he found out that she lied to him about a miscarriage. (She did lie to him about being pregnant to get Chaplin to marry her but they did stay together when he found the truth. However, Harris was pregnant to Chaplin a month or two after their wedding but the baby survived just three days. Chaplin and Harris divorced the following year.)

Charlie Chaplin had an affair with Marion Davies. (While there have been rumors, there’s no evidence they had. Also, a lot of Chaplin’s love interests were much younger than he was and his first two wives were both under 18. I think it’s more likely him and Davies were just friends. Besides, Chaplin’s sex life had gotten him into quite a bit of trouble during his life and 1924 was the year he knocked up Lita Grey who was about 16. Not to mention, unlike in Cat’s Meow, Chaplin wasn’t on the Oneida during the Thomas Ince incident but did visit him afterwards and attended his funeral, according to his autobiography. Still, we’re not sure how much of Cat’s Meow is accurate because there’s not much evidence to support such events depicted.)

Harry Houdini:

In 1926, Harry Houdini died of a ruptured appendix during his first attempt to escape from the Chinese Water Torture Cell. (This is how Houdini died in the Tony Curtis film, which does a terrible job telling the guy’s life story. For one, Houdini had developed his water torture escape 14 years before his death and performed it hundreds of times. Second, while he did die of a ruptured appendix it was during his 1926 tour and took much longer. In Montreal, he exhibited his strength by letting a medical student strike him in the abdomen. Yet, the blows came before Houdini could prepare himself and his appendix was ruptured. However, he fiercely disregarded his own physical ailments {didn’t seek medical attention} but continued the tour for 9 days until he collapsed and subsequently died of peritonitis in a Detroit hospital on Halloween of 1926. So Houdini’s death had less to do with his escape hijinks he’s so famous for and more to do with him having a severe medical complaint and refusing to seek proper medical attention. No dark forces here.)

Harry Houdini was alive in 1928. (He died in 1926.)

Gypsy Rose Lee:

Gypsy Rose Lee and June Havoc had the ultimate stage mother. (Yes, their mother was one to the max. Yet, Gypsy leaves out that Rose Hovick had a violent temper, ran a lesbian boarding house, and might’ve shot her lover dead for making a pass at Gypsy that was covered up as a suicide. She never stopped demanding money from either of her daughters.)

Cole Porter:

Cole Porter’s original version of “Let’s Do It (Let’s Fall in Love)” was written in the 1920s contained nothing objectionable by today’s standards. (Allow me to show you a sample from the original lyrics in the first chorus: “Chinks do it, Japs do it, up in Lapland little Laps do it…”. You could see why recent renditions of the song don’t include this. Also, contrary to Midnight in Paris, it was written in the 1940s.)

“Let’s Misbehave” was a popular song in 1922. (Cole Porter wrote it in 1927.)

Linda Lee was a young woman when she met Cole Porter in 1919. (Contrary to Night and Day, her name was Linda Lee Thomas who was a 36 years old divorcee when she met Cole in Paris during 1919 who was widely considered one of the world’s most beautiful women. Cole was about 28 at the time. Their relationship was highly intimate but never romantic since Linda didn’t desire sex after an abusive first marriage and Porter was gay {and she knew what she was getting into}. Still, she fiercely supported his musical career and never left him in the 1920s. They were briefly estranged in 1937 though but it was over her wanting him to give up Hollywood and return to Broadway. Also, they spent a lot of the 1920s traveling Europe.)

Cole Porter was straight. (Uh, unlike his Cary Grant portrayal in Night and Day {though Grant batted on both teams if you know what I mean}, Cole Porter liked men. You hear me, all you old people out here who listen to his music, he was gay and by “gay” I don’t mean happy either.)

Franklin Delano Roosevelt:

FDR walked to the podium on crutches when he addressed the 1924 Democratic Convention. (He didn’t walk on crutches. Rather, he was supported by his son James on one side and he supported himself with a cane with the on the other. To the observer, this gave more of an appearance of walking.)

FDR’s crutches were so short that he’d have to lean over and use them to walk on all fours. (No competent orthopedist would ever give FDR crutches that were that short but Ralph Bellamy does this in Sunrise at Campobello. According to Imdb: “Crutches should be long enough so that the user can stand up straight, support his weight on them and propel himself forward with his shoulder muscles.”)

FDR was faithful to Eleanor Roosevelt who was undeniably straight. (Actually FDR and Eleanor weren’t sleeping together by the time FDR contracted polio mostly because Eleanor discovered him having an affair with her social secretary Lucy Mercer. He dumped her and she married someone else, but they did get back together without Eleanor’s knowledge since Lucy was with him when he died. He’s also said to have two other mistresses such as his private secretary Missy LeHand and Daisy Suckley who gave him Fala. Their marriage was actually more of a political partnership than anything resembling an intimate relationship between husband and wife. Despite giving birth to six kids, Eleanor is said to have disliked sex {at least with him} which may lead some to speculate whether she was gay for she did develop rather close relationships with a few female friends {she was even plagued by gay rumors as First Lady}. )

FDR’s polio brought him and Eleanor closer together. (It actually drove them further apart.)

FDR and Eleanor spent a lot of time together after he contracted polio. (They actually spent a lot more time apart in their own lives. They weren’t a conventionally married couple. In fact, FDR’s polio led Eleanor to involve herself more in Democratic politics.)

Charles Lindbergh:

Charles Lindbergh was an upstanding American hero and role model. (Despite the fact that he believed in eugenics, was a Nazi sympathizer before Pearl Harbor, and fathered thirteen children with three or four different women. Kind of puts him in competition of today’s athletes in the anti-role model department despite being played by Jimmy Stewart.)

Charles Lindbergh was a Colonel in the National Guard during his famous flight from New York to Paris. (He was a Captain. He would be promoted to Colonel after he returned.)

Robert Stroud:

Robert Stroud was a vicious killer but his behavior improved once he got into ornithology. (Contemporary inmates resented Burt Lancaster’s portrayal of the guy in Birdman of Alcatraz and said Stroud was far more sinister and unpleasant than he was in the film. Oh, and one of the reasons why he was sent to Alcatraz was that some of the equipment Stroud had requested for his Leavenworth lab was being used as a home made distillery. Also, he was diagnosed as a psychopath during his time at Alcatraz.)

Rudolph Valentino:

Rudolph Valentino worked as a boxer and giggolo. (Contrary to Valentino, he was neither.)

Rudolph Valentino’s early death was caused by an alcohol perforated ulcer. (Contrary to Valentino, the ulcer was caused by stress and his refusal to see a doctor, not booze. Also, he was said to have suffered from peritonitis and other health problems.)

Eugene Allen:

Eugene Allen’s mother was raped by a plantation owner who shot his dad dead. (Contrary to The Butler, there’s nothing to suggest that Eugene’s parents ended up like this. Also, he grew up in Virginia, not Georgia. Still, unlike his film expy Cecil Gaines, Eugene probably had a pretty mundane childhood you’d usually expect of a black kid living in the Jim Crow Era.)

The Matewan Massacre:

The 1921 Matewan Massacre was an isolated incident in 1920s West Virginia. (It was actually part of a prolonged struggle for unionization of West Virginia miners which lasted for decades since the state was dominated with people who were dominated by the special interests in the coal companies that even the authority of sympathetic local officials was often overridden. In 1907, the state experienced the worst coal mine disaster in US history and by 1921 mine safety laws were notoriously unenforced, child labor laws were weak and systematically ignored including educational requirements, coal mine operators didn’t have to pay compensation for workplace injuries, and so on. By this time in history, West Virginia had the highest death rate of any coal mining state with the proportion of miners dying in accidents exceeding that of any European country.)

The Matewan coal mining community needed outside influence to unionize. (They didn’t for the miners had been struggling to form a union for quite some time.)

The Scopes Monkey Trial:

John T. Scopes was engaged to a minister’s daughter. (He wasn’t nor did he have a girlfriend. The Browns in Inherit the Wind were fictional characters with no real-life counterparts. Also, he’d eventually marry a Catholic and convert.)

John T. Scopes’ teaching of evolution was frowned upon in the community where he taught. (Scopes’ trial wasn’t brought forth by some crazy Bible-thumping minister who didn’t want him to date his daughter. In fact, he wasn’t even arrested nor did he issue a plea for empathy. The town of Dayton actually persuaded Scopes to teach the theory of evolution since it was suffering an economic slump after Tennessee had banned such subject from the curriculum. Though initially reluctant, Scopes was planned to be indicted under the ban so the town could have a big publicity trial to bring in the tourists {so they weren’t hostile to people who came there to see the trial}. Also, attorney Clarence Darrow publicly announced he’d defend anyone arrested for teaching Evolution before the trial actually happened and the case was financed by the ACLU who wanted someone to challenge the constitutionality of the Tennessee evolution ban. The plan worked perfectly.)

William Jennings Bryan didn’t offer to pay Scopes fine if he was convicted. (Bryan actually did do this.)

William Jennings Bryan died of a heart attack right after the Scopes Monkey Trial collapsing at mid-speech. (He actually died five days later in his sleep. And, no, he didn’t collapse at mid-speech or had to be dragged out the courtroom while strangely speaking on being inaugurated as President.)

There were no Christian speakers who endorsed evolution during the Scopes Monkey Trial. (There were plenty that said Christians could believe in Evolution, too {a view endorsed by Darwin himself so would Scopes who’d later convert to Catholicism when he got married}, and such arguments are in the original transcripts. But such complexity beyond “us vs. them” simple message is a little inconvenient for Inherit the Wind {though it was intended as a criticism of McCarthyism so there’s not much middle ground there compared to the debate of creationism vs. evolution debate}. Other than what I listed, the trial went as much as it did in the play and later film.)

John T. Scopes was arrested for teaching evolution. (He claimed that he was teaching evolution in his school but nobody could prove that he actually taught it. Still, he did use a textbook with evolution in it, but all science teachers did at the time, even in Tennessee.)

The evolution ban was enforced in Tennessee. (Unlike in Inherit the Wind, Scopes was the only person tried under the law. Despite that the law against teaching evolution would remain in the books for at least over a decade, it was seldom enforced to the point where even college professors in the state taught it without further incident.)

William Jennings Bryan was totally and willfully ignorant of Darwin’s book and evolution in general. (In the actual case, he quoted from Darwin’s book in memory though completely out of context but definitely not of total ignorance.)

The 1925 Serum Run to Nome:

Balto was a gray wolfdog hybrid. (He was a trained purebred Siberian husky {or Malamute} and was mostly black with a white belly and front legs. You can actually see him in the Cleveland Museum of National History. Also, he was actually born in a kennel owned by the famous musher Leonhard Seppala and wasn’t a conceived during a random hookup between a Siberian husky and a wild white wolf. The 1995 Balto children’s cartoon lied. Besides if Balto was a wolfdog that spent most of his life in the wild, he probably wouldn’t have been seen as a viable sled dog, let alone be able to reproduce if domesticated.)

The serum run to Nome, Alaska was a race with Balto being the leader of the first team to carry the medicine to Nome in which he had to travel the longest and most hazardous distance. (Actually the 1925 serum run depicted in Balto was a relay. Balto was the leader of the last team to carry the medicine to Nome. The longest and most hazardous distance was traveled by the team led by Togo whose accomplishments went greatly under appreciated in the cartoon. Many mushers today would consider Togo the real hero of the sled run who actually did have an amazing story worth making into a children’s cartoon. Even his owner thought Togo was neglected by the press commenting in dismay, “it was almost more than I could bear when the newspaper dog Balto received a statue for his ‘glorious achievements'”. Still, he and Balto had the same owner, though Balto was pulled by one of Seppala’s workers.)

During the 1925 Serum Run to Nome, Balto took over the sled run once the musher was incapacitated. (No mushers were incapacitated during the sled run and the medicine was never driven by dogs alone. God almighty, is it just me who thinks Balto is kind of fucked up, here?)

After the 1925 Serum Run to Nome, Balto managed to father a litter of pups. (Balto actually had been neutered at a young age which would make his pups in the sequels be impossible to exist. What actually happened to Balto is pretty grim. Since he was never destined for stardom in the breeding shed, Balto was relegated to being neglected on the vaudeville circuit with his team. Balto and his fellow teammates would later be sold to the company who sponsored his tour. This led to the dogs being chained in a small area in a novelty and freak show museum in Los Angeles. That is, until a Cleveland businessman named George Kimble discovered to his shock how badly these animals and thus worked with a local newspaper to bring Balto and his six companions to his hometown. Balto and his fellow teammates would receive a hero’s welcome in 1927 and spent the rest of their lives in Cleveland’s Brookside Zoo. Of course, this would’ve made a terrible sequel to the 1995 kiddie cartoon.)

Bush planes in 1920s Alaska were used in the 1925 Serum Run to Nome. (Bush planes in the 1920s weren’t used for deliveries, medicine, or mail. Rather they were used for surveys and firefighting and were popularized after World War II. Also, bush planes at this time were concentrated in Canada and weren’t used commercially in Alaska until the 1940s.)


The FRC and the Office of Censorship were around in 1925. (The FRC was founded in 1926 {soon to become the FCC in the 1930s} while the Office of Censor was established shortly after Pearl Harbor in 1941.)

Auto entrepreneur and later horse owner Charles S. Howard’s son Frankie, was a fan of Flash Gordon comics. (This is shown in Seabiscuit but it’s wrong. His son died in 1926 when Flash Gordon came out in 1934. Also, Frankie died in a truck accident at 15 not 10 as the film implies. Not to mention, the elder Howard had three other sons besides him. Not only that, but his second wife Marcela was his daughter-in-law’s older sister. So yeah, he became a brother-in-law to one of his sons.)

The Chrysler Building and the Empire State Building were under construction in 1922. (The Chrysler Building’s construction began in 1928. The Empire State Building’s construction began in 1930.)

The Charleston was a popular dance in 1922. (It would originate in 1923 for a Broadway show and would gain popularity in mid-1926.)

Dr. Spock’s book on childcare came out in 1929. (It was published in 1939.)

It wasn’t unusual for American jails to have black prison matrons. (There’s no way an African-American in 1920s America would’ve been allowed to hold a position of authority over white people. Yet, Queen Latifah plays one in Chicago.)

New York City was a town filled with skyscrapers in the 1920s. (The recent Great Gatsby adaptation exaggerates the number of skyscrapers actually in New York by this time.)

Julius W. “Nicky” Arnstein was Fanny Brice’s first husband. (He was actually her second. Still, he was a professional gambler and con artist as well as already married when Brice met him. He served two prison sentences during their relationship and it was for swindling as well as conspiracy to carry stolen Wall Street securities {worth $5 million} into the District of Columbia, not for embezzlement. He was also kind of a jerk who disappeared from Brice’s life {as well as their kids’ lives who aren’t mentioned in the movie} after his 1927 release. And though Funny Girl said that Arnstein turned to crime because his pride wouldn’t allow him to live off of Fanny, in reality he eagerly sponged off her even before their marriage. And instead of turning himself in as in the movie, he actually went into hiding and didn’t plead guilty when caught. He even used his wife’s money to fight the charges. As for Fanny herself, she didn’t come of modest means for her parents were relatively well-off saloon owners.)

Illinois had its first woman executed I the 1920s. (The first time Illinois executed a woman was in 1845.)

The Teapot Dome scandal was made public in January of 1922. (It was made public in latter half of 1923.)

“Rhapsody in Blue” was a hit in 1922. (George Gershwin wrote it in 1924.)

It wasn’t unusual to see a black rich guy have a white chauffeur at this time. (Well, this was unusual but F. Scott Fitzgerald included such instance in The Great Gatsby so it’s not that it didn’t happen.)