History of the World According to the Movies: Part 61 – Depression Era Outlaws


I couldn’t have a post dedicated to Depression Era outlaws in the movies without using a picture from the 1967 Bonnie and Clyde. Sure this is a very entertaining movie with all the violence and sex any box office smash could ask for starring the sexy Warren Beatty and the sultry Faye Dunaway who have great chemistry. However, remember that this movie doesn’t tell the real story of Bonnie and Clyde who were no more than a couple of ruthless thugs that didn’t rob from the rich to give to the poor. Nor were they that stylish and good looking either.

You’d think that the repeal to Prohibition would lead to less crime now that alcohol was legal again. However, since this was the time of the Great Depression, you’d be dead wrong. Thanks to the Great Depression and the fact that people back then didn’t have the modern conveniences we have now, 1930s America had a new generation of outlaw legends whose exploits were read in the papers or heard on the radio. Sure they weren’t nice people but many of these outlaws seemed to emanate a sense of romanticism during difficult times. People didn’t mind that they robbed banks, killed people, or held people hostage because their adventures provided some sort of escape from the normal hard life of the general population since these guys didn’t let the law stop them. Didn’t hurt that they dressed well, too. Still, many of these Depression outlaws had celebrity status such as John Dillinger, Pretty Boy Floyd, Machine Gun Kelly, Bonnie and Clyde, and the Barker gang. And, yes, the 1930s is a rather popular setting for gangster films as well as movies dealing with crime. Nevertheless, there are some liberties Hollywood tends to take with the facts on many of them which I shall list accordingly.

Outlaws and Gangsters:

Henry Young:

Henry Young was convicted of stealing $5 to save his sister from destitution. (This is from a film called Murder in the First Degree that stars Kevin Bacon which seems so sweet but it’s bullshit. The real Henry Young was a hardened bank robber who had taken a hostage at least on one occasion and committed a murder in 1933. In the 1930s, he had been incarcerated in at least 2 state prisons before landing in Alcatraz. Also, he killed Rufus McCain a year after his return in the general prison population, was only in solitary confinement for a few months {not 3 years and certainly not kept in a dungeon}, and didn’t die at Alcatraz in the early 1940s. In fact, he left Alcatraz in 1948 for the US Medical Center for Federal Prisoners and was transferred to the Washington State Penitentiary in 1954. In 1972, he’d be released, jump parole, and disappear. His whereabouts and fate remain unknown to this day.)

Machine Gun Kelly:

Machine Gun Kelly’s girlfriend was Flo Becker. (Her name as Kathryn Thorne and she was his wife.)

Bonnie and Clyde:

Bonnie Parker pressured Clyde Barrow into robbing banks along with pulling big time heists and the two had sympathy for the dispossessed. (Clyde was already a confirmed criminal who had spent time in jail and killed a man by the time he met Bonnie, who also had a husband in prison {who was an abusive drunk no less}. Clyde more or less wore the pants in the relationship and they may not have been as much in love with each other as the movie implies. Also, neither displayed any sympathies or motives for the unfortunate. Not to mention, Clyde was a careless and remorseless killer in pursuit of small stakes, hardly a sympathetic figure at all. He also had a series of love affairs before he met Bonnie and his strongest commitments to women were to his mother and older sister. Bonnie was more of a criminal groupie more than anything and was depicted as a cigar smoking moll. Besides, they didn’t look anything like Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway and certainly wouldn’t be dressing in those kind of clothes {which resemble designer outfits than anything either of them would actually wear}. Actually their real life counterparts more or less resemble a couple of hicks though Clyde’s brother and sister-in-law were much better looking than Gene Hackman and Estelle Parsons who play them in the film {with the real Blanche Barrow saying about Bonnie and Clyde, “That movie made me look like a screaming horse’s ass.”}. The story of Kathryn Thorne and George Kelly Barnes might have been a better tale to film as a kind of relationship where a woman led a man astray and inflated his criminal ambitions. And as a Robin Hood figure who conducted big time heists and tried to avoid killing, John Dillinger.)

Bonnie Parker smoked cigars. (She didn’t despite the photo. She and Clyde smoked cigarettes. She did drink whiskey though.)

Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow broke the bonds of convention and became a threat to the status quo who didn’t fear cops and lived a life of glamorous luxury outrunning them. (Bonnie and Clyde were sometimes incompetent and often careless crooks who lived a hard life punctuated by narrow escapes, bungled robberies, injury, and murder. Oh, and they became one of the first outlaw media stars when police found photos of them fooling around with guns.)

Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow robbed rich people and banks to give to the poor. (Most of their victims were small town store owners and farmers’ savings banks. During the Depression, they basically robbed from ordinary hard working Americans to give to themselves. What a couple of heroes, yeah right.)

Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow often robbed banks together. (Actually they robbed less than 15 banks during their life of crime, some more than once. Also, they usually got away with very little like $80 in one incident, but. In the more successful robberies, Clyde mostly committed them with a criminal associate named Raymond Hamilton. Bonnie would sometimes drive the getaway car but she’d usually stay a hideout while the rest of the gang robbed the bank. Not to mention, unlike in the 1967 film, Bonnie and Clyde would rarely attempt bank jobs on their own and more commonly robbed grocery stores and gas stations that usually had a low take that they had to commit more robberies just to get by. The frequency of these crimes made the couple easier to track.)

Bonnie Parker fired a gun many times during her crime spree with Clyde Barrow. (There’s been controversy over the shooting of Bonnie who may never have fired a gun and seemed not to have been charged with any capital offense.)

The exploits of Bonnie and Clyde were part of one daring crime spree. (Actually Clyde and Bonnie were imprisoned for stints during their career together. Also, the movie about them leaves out a near-fatal car accident that left Bonnie so badly burned down one leg that she was left permanently disabled as well as the fact they made frequent visits to their families.)

Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow were two criminals in love. (Like I said, Bonnie was kind of a criminal groupie who may have had a mental disorder that made her attracted to seriously violent men. This is a sexual fetish called hybristophilia, or “Bonnie and Clyde Syndrome,” which you see with a lot of women who are attracted to convicted murderers or death row inmates with the most famous example being Carol Anne Boone marrying serial killer, Ted Bundy. So the entire romance between Bonnie and Clyde may have had less to do with love and more to do with her disturbing paraphilia. Not only that, while Bonnie was killed at 23, she had been married to another man for seven years and she was wearing her wedding ring when she died.)

Bonnie and Clyde were hunted down by Frank Hamer who was a bounty hunter. (Hamer was actually hired by the Texas prison system administrator to hunt down Bonnie and Clyde but not as a bounty hunter. He was actually an ex-Texas Ranger called out of retirement. Also, unlike in Bonnie and Clyde, he wasn’t an idiot and had never personally interacted with them before the 1934 shoot-out. Thus, he wouldn’t be kidnapped and embarrassed by the Barrow gang. Still, Hamer’s surviving family were so outraged at the man’s depiction that they filed a defamation lawsuit against Warner Brothers which the movie studio settled out of court.)

Bonnie and Clyde were the crime media darlings of their day. (They were around the same time as John Dillinger who the public actually had more sympathy for. Still, when Bonnie and Clyde came out, newspaper columnist Mike Royko printed a number of angry letters from many of the Barrow Gang’s real-life victims. One said: “They got my father. They did him with machine guns. He lived for three days.” Besides, while Dillinger dominated headlines in the United States, Bonnie and Clyde rarely received any newspaper attention outside the Dallas area.)

The Barrow gang sent photos and poetry to the press. (The photos and poetry were found by police who sent them for publication. They took the photos for their own amusement.)

Clyde Barrow died outside the car while Bonnie Parker died in. (Clyde died in the car with Bonnie.)

Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow met when Clyde was at Bonnie’s trying to steal her mother’s car. (According to Bonnie’s mother the two met over a mug of hot chocolate at a friend’s house not during a stick-up. Also, they didn’t go on their crime spree until two years into their relationship. Oh, and Bonnie was unemployed at the time.)

Clyde Barrow was impotent. (He wasn’t. His impotence was invented for the film. Still, he did kill a guy in prison for sexually abusing him though.)

Dillinger and Associates:

Dillinger’s gang was responsible for killing a lot of people. (They were responsible for the deaths of a dozen people. Public Enemies just takes it to the nth power.)

Little Bohemia served as a hideout for the Dillinger gang after a disastrous robbery at Sioux Falls. (Actually this wasn’t the case as depicted in Public Enemies since a lot happened between Sioux Falls and Little Bohemia. The film skips over events like the bank robbery in Mason City, Iowa on March 13, 1934, Dillinger, Billie, and Van Meter’s narrow escape from police in St. Paul on April 1st, and a visit to Red Hamilton’s sister Anna Steve a few days before Little Bohemia.)

The Dillinger Gang expected more than what they got during the Sioux Falls robbery. (Though the gang managed to get $46,000 in the Sioux Falls robbery, unlike in Public Enemies, they expected to net at least six figures at the First National Bank in Mason City, Iowa not Sioux Falls. They knew that there was about $250,000 in the bank’s vault but only netted 1/5th of the money because Red Hamilton got stalled by an intelligent bank manager.)

John Dillinger:

John Dillinger died after Pretty Boy Floyd, Homer Van Meter, and Baby Face Nelson. (He actually got killed before all of them. Dillinger was killed in Chicago on July 22, 1934 while Van Meter was shot to death that August by police in St. Paul. Floyd was gunned down in East Liverpool, Ohio on October 22, 1934 and Baby Face Nelson died in a shootout on November 27, 1934 in Barrington, Illinois. And, no, Melvin Purvis didn’t gun down all of them unlike in Public Enemies save maybe Pretty Boy Floyd.)

John Dillinger said, “Why? I have absolutely nothing I want to do in Indiana.” (He would never say this because he would never have dismissed his home state.)

John Dillinger took 3 people prisoner with a wooden gun during a prison escape. (He took 17 possibly 20. Still, while legend says that he used a gun made out of soap and shoe polish, Dillinger always claimed to have used a wooden gun and there are photos to prove it.)

John Dillinger was present at the Indiana State Prison break that took place on September 26, 1933. (He was imprisoned in Lima, Ohio at the time though he did smuggle guns in the place for his associates while robbing banks during that June but we’re not sure how. Nevertheless, the breakout didn’t happen like in Public Enemies as TTI quotes: “According to Bryan Borrough’s book, the escapees took the guards hostage with the guns, then paraded them into the administration building, while fooling the tower guards into thinking that the prisoners were just being escorted by the day captain. Four of them escaped by taking a visiting sheriff hostage in his car, while Pete Pierpont and his group stole a car from a gas station across the street. Only a clerk was injured, shot in the leg. There was none of the mass bloodshed shown in the movie.” As to John “Red” Hamilton, he was there but he was one of the inmates who escaped {as well as the only one to get recaptured before his death in April of 1934} not just outside the prison helping Dillinger with the breakout. Still, except to Indiana Police Officer Matt Leach, Dillinger was relatively unknown before the mass breakout and was first presumably known to many after he broke out of jail in Lima.)

John Dillinger shot down three people consisting of two detectives during the Racine robbery and a police officer during the Sioux Falls robbery. (Dillinger killed nobody during these robberies. In fact, the only person he’s believed to have actually shot and killed was police officer William O’Malley when Dillinger and Red Hamilton held up the First National Bank in East Chicago, Illinois {allegedly when Dillinger lost his temper}. It was this officer’s murder that Dillinger was standing trial for in Indiana.)

John Dillinger was Public Enemy #1 in 1933. (He didn’t become Public Enemy #1 until his 31st birthday on June 22, 1934.)

John Dillinger was shot in the shoulder during the Sioux Falls robbery. (He was shot a week after that during the robbery of the First National Bank in Mason City, Iowa.)

John Dillinger had a brief conversation with Melvin Purvis during the former’s incarceration. (They may have come close to seeing each other shortly before Dillinger died but they didn’t exchange words. However, Dillinger had multiple in-prison encounters with his original pursuer Indiana State Police detective Matt Leach, who was actually more competent than the FBI in pursuing him.)

John Dillinger died within seconds after being shot by Winstead. (He lived a few minutes before taking his last breath. However, he didn’t say “Bye, bye, blackbird” though.)

John Dillinger was a ruthless gangster that regularly killed innocent people. (He’s only said to have killed one police officer during his entire life and it’s questionable whether he actually did it. Still, he was a blue collar crook who planned his bank robberies around not killing people. He robbed for the money, the thrill, and as revenge against a corrupt system he felt betrayed the common man like himself. He despised cold-blooded killers and Baby Face Nelson because he knew he was a criminal and that the people after him were just doing their jobs. He hated being forced to work with Baby Face Nelson and never even bothered trying to hide it. He even threatened to kill Nelson if he shot anyone needlessly despite that Nelson helped Dillinger escape from Crown Point Prison. The resentment was mutual since Nelson hated how Dillinger got all the attention and how the press was drooling over him with all his sightings making the front page. Those who were killed during his robberies were usually shot either by Baby Face Nelson or Homer Van Meter. Nevertheless, many movies portray Dillinger as a remorseless killer with Public Enemies being no exception.)

John Dillinger’s pocket watch had Billie Frechette’s photo inside. (The photo inside was Polly Hamilton’s not Billie’s.)

John Dillinger drove away from the Crown Point jail in Sheriff Holley’s Ford V8. (Deputy Sheriff Ernest Blunk was the actual driver in the escape and Dillinger didn’t get behind the wheel until after Blunk and Saager were set free outside of Peotone, Illinois.)

John Dillinger was recommended Louis Piquett by Alvin Carpis during his incarceration at Crown Point Prison. (It was prison trusty Sam Cahoon who recommended Piquett, which was arranged by the East Chicago mob.)

John Dillinger was shot from behind outside Chicago’s Biograph Theater while strolling with two women. (He actually pulled a gun and tried to get away after he noticed Melvin Purvis standing aside. The agents opened fire and Dillinger was shot three times with bystanders being injured by bullets and debris. Yet, Public Enemies shows him dying without putting a fight though he was accompanied by Polly Hamilton and Anna Sage {who tipped off the authorities}.)

John Dillinger and Anna Sage were friends before she informed on him. (They were not nor did they know each other long before she tipped the authorities on him, and she mainly did it because she was threatened with deportation. She was just Polly Hamilton’s madam and Dillinger knew her after Little Bohemia.)

John Dillinger walked into police headquarters during his own investigation. (No, but he actually walked into another police station and this was after he received plastic surgery which he thought would make him unrecognizable in public. He just didn’t count on his plastic surgeon reaching out to the FBI.)

John Dillinger didn’t alter his appearance in the final months before his death. (He actually had plastic surgery a month and a half before his death including a fingerprint removal/alteration that his family didn’t recognize him when they saw his corpse. Yet, they managed to identify him because he had a scar on his thigh which he received from a barbed wire fence during a watermelon raid years prior. And no, he didn’t look like Johnny Depp. Still, all movies about him don’t have Dillinger alter his appearance for practical reasons. Yet, playwright Joseph Kesselring would take Dillinger’s plastic surgery bit and run with it in Arsenic and Old Lace. Oh, and like Jonathan Brewster, Dillinger had an alcoholic doctor, too {who was an inspiration for Dr. Einstein in the play}.)

John Dillinger was betrayed since he was making too many waves. (Dillinger had a $15,000 reward on him which would’ve been an irresistible sum to anyone during the Depression. Also, Anna Sage was being threatened with deportation while his plastic surgeon was reaching out to the FBI. Also, Dillinger was getting careless since his plastic surgery that he started appearing in public venues thinking that his altered looks would keep him safe. It was only a matter of time.)

John Dillinger was in rigorous health when he died. (Actually he had a heart condition according to a 1938 book by a physician from the Indiana State Prison.)

John Dillinger saw himself in the PSAs when he was at the movies. (There’s no proof he did but it’s possible.)

Billie Frechette:

Billie Frechette was arrested after the shootout at the Little Bohemia Lodge. (She was arrested before that. Her arrest was partly why Dillinger and his gang went to Little Bohemia so Dillinger could take his mind off his girlfriend. Also, Dillinger was in the same car during Billie’s arrest yet Purvis didn’t take notice until after it drove away.)

Billie Frechette was John Dillinger’s true love. (Yes, he loved her but he had many girlfriends. Still, when Billie got arrested, Dillinger was so distraught that the rest of the gang {even Nelson} had to discourage him from attempting to rescue her. Nevertheless, he moved on to Polly Hamilton two months later.)

Billie Frechette was a sweet and fragile innocent. (Actually she had worked in nudie nightclubs for awhile and had developed an affinity for the wrong kind of men. Oh, and she and Dillinger were only together for six months.)

Billie Frechette was slapped around during her interrogation. (The FBI treated her badly like handcuffing to a chair under bright lights as well as interrogating her relentlessly for 24 hours straight, when she begged to be allowed to sleep. Yet, there seemed to be no slapping but it was enough for Purvis’ secretary to say something about it.)

Anna Sage:

Anna Sage wore red on the day John Dillinger was killed. (She wore orange, not red. Yet, she’s known as “the Woman in Red.” Oh, and she contacted the Chicago police on Dillinger’s whereabouts not the FBI.)

Homer van Meter:

Homer van Meter was shot dead 20 or more times at Little Bohemia by FBI agents. (Contrary to Public Enemies, was killed after Dillinger and managed to escape from Little Bohemia. He was killed by the St. Paul Police Department who shot him 52 times with some of his fingers shot off as well. His death was a lot uglier than portrayed in the film.)

Homer van Meter escaped from Michigan City Prison during the September 26, 1933 breakout. (He had been paroled by that time.)

John “Red” Hamilton:

John “Red” Hamilton had all his digits. (One of his nicknames was “Three Finger Jack” by the authorities because he was missing two fingers from his right hand and would later lose a third during the East Chicago bank job. Still, Public Enemies probably didn’t have the budget to do CGI on the guys hand.)

Red Hamilton was killed at Little Bohemia. (He died from a wound he received during a shootout at a roadblock during the escape from Little Bohemia.)

Pretty Boy Floyd:

Pretty Boy Floyd was shot near an apple orchard. (He was shot in an open field outside a farm house and by a sniper at great distance. Still, he’s alleged to have died unarmed though I highly doubt it. Nevertheless, his funeral was attended by about 20,000 to 40,000 people, the largest in Oklahoma history.)

Pretty Boy Floyd started out as a boxer who fought under his nickname. (This is in a biopic about him but it’s not true. Floyd never had a career as a professional boxer and actually received his nickname from a robbery. It was a nickname he despised.)

Pretty Boy Floyd’s last words were “You have killed me, you can rot in hell.” (Actually it’s said his last words were, “Fuck you. I’m through. You have got me twice.”)

Baby Face Nelson:

Baby Face Nelson was executed by the electric chair 1937. (Contrary to O Brother, Where Art Thou?, he died in a 1934 shootout so his death in the electric chair didn’t happen and he never stepped foot in Mississippi. His death in Barrington, Illinois happened like something you’d see in a Quentin Tarantino movie according to TTI: “In his real shootout on November 27, 1934 in Barrington, Illinois against Agents Samuel P. Cowley and Herman Hollis (both of whom were mortally wounded), Nelson refused to fall despite having been struck a total of seventeen times (Hollis shot him ten times in his legs with a shotgun, and Cowley shot him seven times with a submachine gun). This is attributed to adrenaline surging through his body – which kept Nelson alive for approximately three hours before he succumbed to his wounds. And the bullets that felled Cowley and Hollis were fired after Nelson had been really shot up.” Man, why isn’t this scene in Public Enemies?)

Baby Face Nelson and Tommy Carroll escaped from the Sherone Apartments building when police tried to arrest them. (A bungled up attempt to arrest a criminal did happen at this building but the guy was Verne Miller, who was wanted for the Kansas City Massacre in June 1933. Yet, the Dillinger gang did have a shooting in an apartment building but it was at the Lincoln Court Apartments in St. Paul, Minnesota, which involved Dillinger, Billie Frechette, and Homer van Meter. Basically it consisted of Dillinger and Billie getting away while van Meter fired at the agents.)

Baby Face Nelson and several others were killed when FBI agents raided Dillinger’s hideout. (Though this is Nelson’s death scene in Public Enemies, in reality, it was his most famous escape with every single criminal getting away unharmed. The only casualties were a civilian killed by FBI agents and an Fed killed by Baby Face Nelson himself. Nelson also shot another agent and a police officer there, too. Only three of the gang’s women were taken into custody that consisted of Nelson and Tommy Carroll’s wives and Homer van Meter’s girlfriend. So like Public Enemies the raid at Little Bohemia was a disaster, but for the FBI.)

During the Sioux Falls Robbery, a boy jumped on Baby Face Nelson’s back and struggled with him a few moments before Nelson threw him off shattering a window. (This incident did happen to Nelson but this was during a robbery Merchants National Bank in South Bend, Indiana on June 30, 1934.)

Baby Face Nelson’s real name was George Nelson. (Actually George Nelson was a pseudonym and he hated his nickname “Baby Face Nelson.” His real name was Lester Joseph Gillis. Still, he was a homicidal maniac known for killing more FBI agents in the line of duty than any other person.)

Law Enforcement:

The FBI used enhanced interrogation techniques on Dillinger gang members called the “third degree.” (Though it’s shown in Public Enemies, it’s very unlikely enhanced interrogation techniques were used on Dillinger gang members, though it’s alleged to have happened to other prisoners. Still, agents who tried using physical torture got very little information for the pain they inflicted on prisoners. The senior men got agents who attempted this back in line. Nevertheless, they more likely had these people in the room for hours to wear them down like most law enforcement do but no one wants to see that. Also, when Dillinger heard rumors about an interrogator had done something like this to Billie Frechette, it’s said Dillinger considered assassinating the guy.)

The failure at Little Bohemia was due to poor FBI judgment. (It was also due to J. Edgar Hoover wanting all the credit and glory for his own organization and made it a policy to cooperate as little as possible with other law enforcement agencies. One of the reasons why Purvis didn’t rely on local authorities when he should’ve was because he was worried about what his boss may think. Still, in Little Bohemia, Purvis was basically screwed either way.)

Melvin Purvis:

Melvin Purvis and the FBI were after John Dillinger from the very beginning. (Contrary to Public Enemies, the early hunt for John Dillinger was actually primarily led by the Indiana State Police. In that period, the most the FBI did to get involved in the Dillinger manhunt was attending a number of conferences and offering to help in fingerprinting. After the death of Sheriff Sarber, J. Edgar Hoover actually ignored pleas from then Indiana Governor Paul McNutt for the FBI’s help until Dillinger drove a stolen car over state lines during his escape at Crown Point Prison {because before then, Dillinger hadn’t committed a federal crime}. As for Purvis, he had been SAC of the Chicago field office for several months when Dillinger first began robbing banks.)

Melvin Purvis was assigned to lead the hunt for John Dillinger. (He was the head of the FBI’s Chicago office but the person leading the Dillinger investigation in the final months before Dillinger’s death was fellow agent Samuel P. Cowley. Hoover actually thought Purvis to be quite inept {though he might’ve just said that out of jealousy of Purvis getting all the media attention}.)

Melvin Purvis shot himself with the gun he killed John Dillinger with. (The gun he shot himself with in 1961 was given to him by his colleagues as a retirement gift when he left the FBI in 1935. Dillinger was gunned down in 1934, and not by Purvis. Also, guns make terrible retirement gifts, really.)

The death of Pretty Boy Floyd helped Melvin Purvis land the Dillinger case. (Actually Floyd’s death happened after Dillinger was killed though Purvis was there, but he and his agents had help. It had more to do with Dillinger’s escape from Crown Point prison in which Dillinger drove a stolen sheriff’s car between the Indiana and Illinois state border.)

Melvin Purvis was an experienced FBI agent who was dragged down by well-meaning but raw agents. (He was just as inexperienced as his co-workers. According to Brian Burroughs, “He once “forgot” to arrest George “Machine Gun” Kelly, despite iron-clad intelligence from other FBI agents of a meeting Kelly had planned at a Chicago tavern. And under his leadership, the Dillinger manhunt became a comedy of errors. For months, Purvis inexplicably neglected to order a watch kept on the homes of Dillinger’s family and associates, allowing the outlaw to hide out in ease. Purvis ordered raids on the wrong houses, and arrests of the wrong people. And he and his men lost Dillinger’s trail countless times.  They were finally able to corner him only because an informant, Anna Sage (the fabled ‘woman in red;’ though she actually wore orange, as the film shows’) contacted the Chicago police with information on Dillinger’s whereabouts.” Also, he never threatened to resign unless J. Edgar Hoover obtained experienced law enforcement officials skilled with guns and he wasn’t a fearless man of action.)

J. Edgar Hoover:

J. Edgar Hoover and Agent Melvin Purvis killed John Dillinger. (Dillinger was gunned down by agents Charles Hurt, Charles Winstead, and Herman Hollis. Most historical accounts usually name Winstead as the guy who delivered the fatal shot to the back of Dillinger’s head. J. Edgar Hoover even sent Winstead a letter of commendation for it.)

J. Edgar Hoover was a cross-dressing homosexual momma’s boy. (Well, he and Clyde Tolson were very good friends who spent a lot of time together and were buried side by side. Tolson also inherited the bulk of Hoover’s estate when he died. Still, whether to say Hoover and Tolson were lovers is anyone’s guess {though there were rumors}. However, as to whether he was a cross dresser, we’re pretty sure that this is a myth, though many wish it was true. As for his mother, he actually spied on her. Still, the fact he lived with his mother until her death wasn’t unusual for Hoover’s generation. He was, however, a Freemason and a highly commended one at that.)

The Lindbergh Kidnapping:

The notion of the crime laboratory in the FBI originated with the kidnapping of the Lindbergh baby. (The crime lab had been around much earlier according to the FBI’s website. Also, it was actually the New Jersey police headed by Superintendent Norman Schwartzkopf Sr. {father and namesake of the future commander of Desert Storm} that did the work on the Lindbergh kidnapping, including the forensics that led to the mill where the kidnapper was employed. The Treasury Department was also involved with cracking the case with Frank J. Wilson able to incriminate Bruno Hauptmann through the serial numbers on the money that was found at his place.)

The Lindbergh baby kidnapping was a watershed moment in J. Edgar Hoover’s career. (The Lindbergh case actually merits a little more than a couple of pages in any Hoover biography. He wasn’t at the center of the investigation or the subsequent trial.)

History of the World According to the Movies: Part 60 – The Great Depression


Though more of a contemporary movie than a historical one, nevertheless, John Ford’s 1940 adaptation of John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath has become the definitive film about the Great Depression. It’s also famous for making Henry Fonda a star in his iconic role as ex-convict Tom Joad. It’s a saga about the Joad family who are forced off their farm in Oklahoma and become migrant workers in California. The Joads’ bleak economic condition and displacement leads to the disintegration of their family as well as puts them in worse shape than ever before. Yet, this movie demonstrates the strength of the idea of community in the face of hard times held by women like Ma Joad who endure just about any obstacle that might hit them.

Unfortunately the bad economic practices of the 1920s soon caught up with everyone that by the 1930s much of the world was engulfed in the greatest economic crisis in history. It began with the Wall Street Crash of 1929 with its effects lasting for over a decade. Banks failed, businesses closed, jobs were lost, homes were foreclosed, fortunes were lost overnight, and so on. Millions of people had lost everything and struggled to make enough to survive. In Europe, while the Depression wasn’t as bad as it may seem in the United States, but some countries were dominated by totalitarianism like Nazi Germany and many of these ruthless dictators had a following of fans outside their borders. And later in the decade, Europe would become engulfed in power struggles that would eventually lead to all out violence in conflicts like the Spanish Civil War as well as World War II. This isn’t seen as a happy time in movies and no wonder yet sometimes films seem rather optimistic of what was going to happen compared to what was yet to come.

In the United States, the Great Depression is a period known for its widespread poverty, mass unemployment, folk singing hobos, and the Dust Bowl. During this time, a third of the nation went to bed hungry. Radical politics was common place with an intensity and popularity perhaps unprecedented in American history. Yet, this is also the decade of the New Deal which was instituted by Franklin Delano Roosevelt with programs like Social Security, public works projects, banking reforms, labor relations, labor standards, and others. While it’s still debated whether the New Deal programs had any effect in the positive sense, what can’t be denied is that many of these programs are still around which have been credited for preventing another horrible economic catastrophe from happening since and for overseeing a relatively stable economy most of the time. But in the 1930s, you also have the beginnings of the Golden Age of Hollywood with musicals, screwball comedies, gangster films, and other masterpieces. Still, while movies set in this time get some things about the Great Depression right, there are plenty they get wrong, which I shall list.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt:

FDR had no qualms for appearing in a wheelchair as president. (Though the image of FDR in a wheelchair is well-known today, FDR went through great lengths to hide his polio-induced disability since he thought that being seen like this would ruin his credibility. Many people had no idea he spent a lot of time in a wheelchair until close to his death. Still, there are a few photographs that exist of him in one.)

FDR said, “So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself” in 1932. (He said this in his first inaugural address which was in 1933. Of course, Scout was only six at the time and probably got things mixed up.)


Trainer James “Sunny” Fitzsimmons had an Irish brogue. (He had Irish ancestry but he was born in Brooklyn.)

Bobby Jones and Walter Hagen were fictional characters. (Unlike what The Legend of Bagger Vance tells you, these two guys were legendary golfers as well as real people.)

Babe Ruth left the Yankees in 1935. (He left the Yankees for the Boston Braves in 1934.)

Red Pollard:

Red Pollard’s mother’s name was Agnes. (Her name was Edith. His wife’s name was Agnes.)

Red Pollard was single during his final days with Seabiscuit. (Actually, he had a wife named Agnes who was his nurse when he injured his leg and they were married at Charles Howard’s ranch and had a daughter in 1940 as well as a son several years later. Also, she was the one who gave him the Saint Christopher medal. Still, she’s absent from Seabiscuit.)

Red Pollard was born in the United States and his family fell on hard times during the Great Depression. (Contrary to Seabiscuit, he was born in Edmonton, which is in Canada. Also, his family lost their brick factory business because of a flood and the insurance didn’t cover enough of the damages in 1915. Thus, Pollard went to the United States with a friend of a family who abandoned him at a race track in Montana in 1922.)


Seabiscuit started dead last in the race during his 1940 Santa Anita Handicap win. (Charts show that Seabiscuit was running no worse than fourth at any point during the race.)

Seabiscuit was shorter than War Admiral. (They were both about the same height, with some sources saying that Seabiscuit was the heavier of the two. Also, they were of similar breeding and descended from Man O’War. In fact, War Admiral was technically Seabiscuit’s uncle.)

Jim Braddock:

Jim Braddock’s wife begged him not to fight Max Baer. (Contrary to Cinderella Man, she was thrilled to see him fight Baer since he’d get substantial money out of the fight regardless of outcome, yet she did worry about him and didn’t watch his fights in person since 1930s boxing was a brutal sport.)

Max Baer:

Boxer Max Baer was a brutal thug who boasted about killing two of his opponents in the ring. (He only killed one of his opponents in the ring and the incident haunted him for the rest of his life. He also regularly gave money to the man’s widow and paid for his children’s education. As for the other guy who died weeks after facing Baer, well, he already had meningitis and the flu and even his family said that Baer had nothing to do with his death. Still, Baer was remembered for his lighthearted personality and was celebrated as an American hero for his defeat of Nazi Germany’s champion Max Schmeling while wearing a Star of David on his trunks. Not to mention, he had a son who’d play Jethro in The Beverly Hillbillies. His family was not happy with his depiction in Cinderella Man.)

Lou Gehrig:

Lou Gehrig’s 1939 retirement speech at Yankee Stadium went like this:

“I have been walking onto ball fields for sixteen years, and I’ve never received anything but kindness and encouragement from you fans. I have had the great honor to have played with these great veteran ballplayers on my left – Murderers’ Row, our championship team of 1927. I have had the further honor of living with and playing with these men on my right – the Bronx Bombers, the Yankees of today.

“I have been given fame and undeserved praise by the boys up there behind the wire in the press box, my friends, the sportswriters. I have worked under the two greatest managers of all time, Miller Huggins and Joe McCarthy.

“I have a mother and father who fought to give me health and a solid background in my youth. I have a wife, a companion for life, who has shown me more courage than I ever knew.

“People all say that I’ve had a bad break. But today … today, I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the Earth.” (This is his speech delivered by Gary Cooper in Pride of the Yankees. The actual speech went like this:

“Fans, for the past two weeks you have been reading about a bad break. Yet today I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the Earth. I have been in ballparks for seventeen years and have never received anything but kindness and encouragement from you fans.

“Look at these grand men. Which of you wouldn’t consider it the highlight of his career just to associate with them for even one day? Sure, I’m lucky. Who wouldn’t consider it an honor to have known Jacob Ruppert? Also, the builder of baseball’s greatest empire, Ed Barrow? To have spent six years with that wonderful little fellow, Miller Huggins? Then to have spent the next nine years with that outstanding leader, that smart student of psychology, the best manager in baseball today, Joe McCarthy? Sure, I’m lucky.

“When the New York Giants, a team you would give your right arm to beat, and vice versa, sends you a gift – that’s something. When everybody down to the groundskeepers and those boys in white coats remember you with trophies — that’s something. When you have a wonderful mother-in-law who takes sides with you in squabbles with her own daughter — that’s something. When you have a father and a mother who work all their lives so you can have an education and build your body — it’s a blessing. When you have a wife who has been a tower of strength and shown more courage than you dreamed existed – that’s the finest I know.

“So I close in saying that I might have been given a bad break, but I’ve got an awful lot to live for.”)

Lou Gehrig was given a very tragic diagnosis of ALS, dismal prognosis, and brief life expectancy from his doctors at the Scripps Institute. (He was diagnosed with ALS at the Mayo Clinic. Lou knew that his days were numbered and wrote to his wife about it but the Mayo Clinic doctors painted an unrealistically optimistic of Gehrig’s condition and prospects than what’s seen in Pride of the Yankees. Among other things Lou said he was given “a 50–50 chance of keeping me as I am” for the foreseeable future, and was told that he “…may need a cane in 10 or 15 years.” However, this would’ve been a realistic diagnosis if you were talking about Stephen Hawking who has had ALS since his college days and is still alive in his seventies {as of 2014}. Gehrig lived for about two years. Deliberate concealment of bad news to patients, especially when it concerned cancer or an incurable degenerative disease was common practice at the time. Still, because of Lou Gehrig’s unfortunately contracting ALS, this incurable degenerative illness is now known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease.)

Lou Gehrig won the American League Triple Crown on the same day as his wedding. (Lou married Eleanor in September of 1933 while he won the American League Triple Crown in the 1934 season.)

Lou Gehrig’s streak started when he first took first base. (Almost everyone believes this but according to records, his streak started the previous day as Gehrig pinch-hit for shortstop Pee Wee Wanninger. The GM put Gehrig to play first base the following day.)


Shirley Temple was famous in 1933. (She wouldn’t achieve fame until 1934.)

Camille came out in 1933. (It came out in 1936.)

Charlie Chaplin:

Charlie Chaplin was married to Paulette Goddard during the 1930s. (Well, they lived together but we’re not sure if they were technically married because there’s no record of them having done so.)

Jean Harlow:

Jean Harlow was married once. (She was married 3 times.)

Jean Harlow was a horrible sexy person. (Despite the 1965 Harlow movie and other adaptations, Harlow was said to be sweet and funny and was called “Baby” by her friends. Not to mention, she wasn’t as naïve as many movies said she was.)

Jean Harlow died of pneumonia in 1937. (She died of renal failure at 26 perhaps of uremic poisoning.)

Katharine Hepburn:

Katharine Hepburn dumped Howard Hughes for Spencer Tracy. (She and Hughes were done long before Hepburn ever met Tracy. Still, Katharine more or less dumped Howard Hughes because Hughes’ interest in Kate had more to do with her being a famous actress than her personality. Hughes liked the image of being a Hollywood playboy and was more obsessed with collecting women than loving them.)

Katharine Hepburn’s older brother committed suicide when she was a star. (Her brother killed himself when Katharine was a child.)

Cole Porter:

Cole Porter’s riding accident happened in his back yard on a stormy afternoon that sent the horse into a frenzy. Cole was thrown from his horse when lightning struck a tree branch and was soundly trampled. (Though the accident is depicted like this in Night and Day, it actually happened in 1938 on a clear day on a Long Island Estate of Countess Edith de Zoppola and the horse wasn’t his. In fact, attendants tried to discourage Cole from riding a skittish horse to begin with. It happened on the top of the hill when the horse shied at a clump of bushes and reared. Cole failed to kick the stirrups free and the horse crushed his legs. He’d later have several surgeries but would never regain the use of his legs.)

Monty Woolley heard about Cole Porter’s riding accident while making The Man Who Came to Dinner. Yet, he promised Cole not to tell Linda about it. (Monty would make The Man Who Came to Dinner in 1941 and Cole’s accident happened in 1938. Besides he probably knew about Cole’s accident in the papers like everyone else did and there was no way he could’ve kept the whole thing secret from Linda. As for Linda, she immediately rushed to Cole’s side from Europe demanding that no decision about the amputation be made until she got there. She would never leave Cole’s side again and did everything possible to aid his recovery like closing their house in Paris and shipping all her furniture to their California home though she hated the place.)

Billie Holiday:

Billie Holiday was arrested for using drugs in 1936. (Her drug arrest was in 1946 and she always claimed that she didn’t start using drugs until the 1940s. However, I’m pretty sure Billie said this because she wasn’t caught using drugs before then but it’s very likely she used drugs way before then. I mean she worked as a prostitute during her teens and drug usage wasn’t unusual at all among 1930s jazz performers. In fact, drugs like heroin, booze, and marijuana were part of that culture.)

Billie Holiday’s mother was a saint. (Sadie Harris wasn’t a saintly woman who basically left Billie in the care of others during the first 10 years of her life. Like Billie, Sadie was also a prostitute in Harlem and they were both arrested when Billie was 15.)

Billie Holiday recorded “Love Me or Leave Me” in 1934. (She recorded the song in 1941.)

Billie Holiday was inspired to sing “Strange Fruit” after she stumbled upon seeing a young black man get lynched by the KKK. (The song was based on a poem about lynching by a Jewish school teacher in the Bronx named Abel Meeropol {he’d later be the guy who adopted Julius and Ethel Rosenberg’s two sons} and had been previously played in teachers’ union meetings. Billie was introduced to the song by a Greenwich Village club owner but she almost didn’t perform it since she said it reminded her of her father’s death {who was a jazz musician named Clarence Holiday who was denied treatment for a fatal lung disorder because of racial prejudice}.)

Billie Holiday knew her husband Louis McKay during the beginnings of her singing career. (She probably didn’t know Mafia enforcer Louis McKay until later for she married him in 1952 and he was her third husband. Though Lady Sings the Blues was correct that McKay tried to get Billie off drugs, he was no less abusive than her other two husbands as well as an opportunist who eventually left her. Billie certainly would’ve divorced him had she not died in 1959 from liver cirrhosis. In the biopic with Diana Ross, he’s played by Lando Calrisian. However, McKay wasn’t the only man in Billie’s life as a jazz singer but her life was the opposite of a happy Hollywood story.)

Woody Guthrie:

Woody Guthrie’s singing partner at LA’s KFVD was Memphis Sue. (Unlike in the film Bound for Glory, her name was Maxine Crissman known as “Lefty Lou” because she shared Guthrie’s politics and was just as outspoken.)

Woody Guthrie was fired from KFVD in Los Angeles in 1939 because of his left wing politics. (Yes, and no. Unlike in Bound for Glory, Guthrie was never pressed to stop singing union-organizing songs because station owner Frank Burke was a populist New Dealer who agreed with him. The real reason that Guthrie was fired from KFVD was due to World War II when the Soviet Union signed a non-aggression pact with Nazi Germany. Guthrie would start singing songs that mirrored the Communist Party line and denounced the war as capitalist fraud. He’d later change his mind once Germany invaded Stalingrad though.)

Glenn Miller:

Glenn Miller and his wife had adopted two children by 1938. (Their kids were adopted in 1943 and 1944 and it’s likely Glenn may have only saw his son once and never met his daughter. Also, unlike his Jimmy Stewart portrayal, he was only 40 when he died.)

“Tuxedo Junction” was recorded after the sequence was filmed. (Actually it was recorded before the dance sequence was filmed.)

Ray Charles:

Ray Charles did nothing to help his younger brother George from drowning in their mother’s washtub because he thought the boy was joking. (Actually contrary to Ray, according to his autobiography, Ray Charles said he tried to pull his brother out of the tub after realizing he was actually drowning but was unable to save him.)

Malcolm X:

Malcolm X’s father was a race leader willing to brave opposition to promote Marcus Garvey’s Universal Negro Improvement Association. (Yes, his dad was an activist as well as a Baptist lay preacher but the elder Little is somewhat idealized in the Spike Lee film Malcolm X. The real Malcolm X remembered him as an abusive husband and father though Spike Lee was right that he was most probably murdered {despite police saying Earl Little’s death was an accident and the life insurance company saying it was a suicide}. Still, after his father’s death, his family fell apart.)

Howard Hughes:

Howard Hughes reshot Hell’s Angels for sound. (He just reshot the dialogue sequences only, tweaked the plot, and replaced Greta Nissen with Jean Harlow.)

Howard Hughes was a self-made man. (While this is implied The Aviator, we have to accept that if Howard Hughes didn’t have wealthy parents who died when he was a teenager, he wouldn’t be the guy we know today.)

Howard Hughes referred to Katharine Hepburn as “country mouse” while Hepburn called him “city mouse.” (It’s actually the other way around according to telegrams since Hughes lived in suburban Los Angeles and Hepburn was a regular in New York.)

Howard Hughes was left handed. (According to photos he was right handed.)

Howard Hughes’ first film Hell’s Angels was the most expensive film ever made at that time. (Actually the 1925 Ben Hur: A Tale of Christ was but Hell’s Angels wasn’t far behind.)

Howard Hughes’ germ phobia originated with his mother. (Somewhat since his mother did get hysterical about germs and coddled her only child excessively. Yet, Howard Hughes’ aversion to shaking hands wasn’t since that probably began when he contracted syphilis {this isn’t shown in The Aviator}, which revealed itself in the form of tiny blisters forming on his hands. After receiving medical treatment, Hughes’ doctor recommended him not to shake hands for a while. Hughes would follow that for the rest of his life. Oh, and unlike what The Aviator implies, Hughes liked African Americans as much as he liked germs.)

Most of Howard Hughes business deals were spur of the moment decisions. (Actually, they were complex business deals that were arranged well in advance.)

Howard Hughes burned all his clothes as a response for Katharine Hepburn dumping him. (Go ahead, Martin Scorsese, blame the women in his life for making Howard Hughes do crazy things. However, the real Howard Hughes didn’t burn all his clothes just because Katharine Hepburn dumped him. The clothes burning had more to do with Hughes’ overreacting to his syphilis diagnosis by ordering every piece of clothing and bed linen in his home destroyed.)

Amelia Earhart:

Amelia Earhart was an annoying brat. (She was said to be charming and rather soft-spoken.)

The romance between Amelia Earhart and George Putnam didn’t attract scandal. (Actually it did because he was married with a kid when they hooked up.)

George Putnam was old enough to be Amelia Earhart’s father. (He was actually only 10 years older than her, but Richard Gere is 25 years older than Hillary Swank which makes it kind of look creepy in Amelia. Still, when it comes to sexual chemistry, let’s say you’re better off reading about the real thing.)

Amelia Earhart had an affair with Gene Vidal. (They knew each other but it’s highly unlikely they had an affair. By the way, Gene Vidal was Gore Vidal’s dad.)


Prohibition was repealed early in 1933. (It was repealed in December of that year.)

Hopping onto moving trains was perfectly safe. (No, it’s not.)

Members of the Klu Klux Klan were ardently racist. (Many of them, absolutely. However, there were people like Hugo Black who mainly joined the KKK just to get into politics because he was from Alabama and thought that he needed to do so to enhance his political career. However, he admitted that joining was a mistake. Still, between the world wars, the Klan was a powerful organization in this period. And the Second KKK was more of a nationwide organization with Indiana being the most dominated Klan state in the 1920s.)

The stock market crash was the direct cause of The Great Depression. (What caused the Great Depression wasn’t just the 1929 Stock Market Crash but also other shady business practices like an unregulated finance system, lack of economic transparency, too many people making bad stock investments like buying on margin, living beyond means, and others that had culminated in over a decade. Also, the Great Crash was part of a string of worsening economic conditions.)

Swing music was around in 1933. (Actually the earliest swing music wouldn’t be recorded until late in 1935.)

It wasn’t unusual in the South to have mixed black and white prisoners in the prison population and in the chain gang. (This wouldn’t have happened in the 1930s but we see integrated prisons and chain gangs in a lot of films, including those made in the 1930s like in I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang.)

In 1935, prisoners were executed in Louisiana by the electric chair in the state prison. (Sorry, Stephen King, but Louisiana executions in the 1930s were carried out in local courthouses. The state wouldn’t start electrocuting prisoners until 1940 and they wouldn’t be conducted in state prisons until 1957. Also, it’s unlikely that a 1930s Louisiana radio station give any airplay to a Billie Holiday record.)

“You Are My Sunshine” was a popular song in 1937. (It was written in 1939 and recorded and released in 1940.)

The Stock Market Crash happened in 1928. (It occurred in 1929.)

Lots of stock brokers jumped out of windows during the 1929 Crash. (Few did, if any. Yet, about 23,000 did kill themselves in its first year though.)

The Great Depression started with the Crash of 1929. (Actually as to when the Depression began depends on locations. Sure the Crash of 1929 might have set the Depression in motion and banking system collapsed in 1932-1933. And in the South, the Great Depression was well on its way due to cotton boom of the previous century and its traumatic ending.)

Starvation was rife during the Great Depression. (Though people starved, most were able to survive through resourcefulness and charity. Not to mention, virtually no one starved to death during the Great Depression.)

The people of Sallisaw, Oklahoma were driven from their land due to eviction and the Dust Bowl. (Actually Sallisaw is in the Eastern part of the state and is considered green country. The Dust Bowl never happened there but rather in the western part of Oklahoma. The Joads more likely fled their home due to eviction.)

The Lone Ranger was a popular character in 1931. (Michael Sullivan’s kids wouldn’t be reading books by him at this time because the Lone Ranger was created for radio in 1933 while the books came later.)

Hoboes were just harmless old drifters full of tall tales and song just wanting to see the world.

The Klu Klux Klan used the Confederate Battle flag in their rallies. (Only the US flag was used in KKK rallies during the 1920s and 1930s. The KKK wouldn’t use the “rebel” flag in their rallies until the Civil Rights conflict of the 1960s. This is why we associate the “rebel” flag with racism today and why it’s absolutely not OK to have it on public display even if you are a redneck or Lynard Skynard fan. It’s the same reason why wearing KKK robes and using blackface are never OK.)

You could easily buy alcohol in Mississippi in 1937. (Actually though Prohibition would be repealed in 1933, Mississippi still prohibited the sale of alcohol until 1966.)

W. Lee “Pappy” O’Daniel was a two term governor of Mississippi. (Yes, he did exist and wasn’t made up by the Coen Brothers. Yet, he had no political presence in Mississippi and until 1975, incumbent governors in Mississippi weren’t allowed to run for reelection. The real Pappy was a Texas flour salesman who became a radio personality {as host of broadcasts of Bob Wills and the Light Crust Doughboys}, then used that as a platform to launch himself into Texas politics, becoming governor, and later Senator.)

1930s radio programs had recording sessions. (Recording sessions didn’t exist in radio until the late 1940s. All radio broadcasting at this time was live, with national shows produced twice for the East and West coast.)

The FDIC was created in 1933. (It was created in 1934.)

John D. Rockefeller and Andrew Carnegie were alive and well in 1933. (Carnegie had been dead for 14 years by this point while Rockefeller was 94 years old.)

Hobos always carried their belongings in bindle sticks.