Thursday, July 23, 2009

Mae West: Tim Sullivan

Since MAE WEST had her eye on Tammany Hall perhaps for the entire time she lived in New York, she could spot a fixer.
• • "Big" Tim Sullivan [23 July 1862 — 31 August 1913] was a fixer extraordinaire and a born ward-heeler. This New York politician who controlled Manhattan's Bowery and Lower East Side districts as a prominent figure within Tammany Hall was the model for Mae's character Gus Jordan in "Diamond Lil."
• • Similarly, in "She Done Him Wrong" [1933] the bejewe
led chanteuse and brash entertainer Lady Lou (Mae West) works in the 1890s Bowery saloon of her boss and benefactor Gus Jordan (Noah Beery, Sr.), who has given her many diamonds.
• • Several of the regulars who could be found bending an elbow at Gus Jordan's barroom were drawn from life. In 1928, many ticket-holders lining up in front of the Royale Theatre [located at 242 West 45th Street] probably would have recognized the name, for instance, of the legendary Bowery notable Chuck Connors, and relished seeing Chuck Connors, Jr. in the cast portraying his infamous Dad — — called "Lefty Eddie" in Mae's play.
• • "Big" Tim reworked as Gus Jordan • •
• • Unbeknownst to Lady Lou, slick and sleazy Gus Jordan trafficks in white slavery (prostitution) and runs a counterfeiting ring (to help finance Lou's expensive rock collection). He also sends young women to San Francisco to be pickpockets. Gus works with two other crooked entertainer-assistants, Russian Rita (Rafaela Ottiano) and Rita's lover, the suave Serge Stanieff (Gilbert Roland).
• • Not as handsome as Beery and certainly far heavier, "Big" Tim Sullivan was born to poor Irish parents in the notorious Five Points neighborhood. Determined to be successful,
"Big" Tim Sullivan cultivated careers in business and politics. Over the course of 25 years beginning in 1886, Sullivan assembled a political machine that ruled the districts of lower Manhattan. A legitimate entrepreneur in the world of entertainment, Sullivan forged an effective brand of urban politics by fusing the traditional tactics of the machine with his influence in commercial leisure and organized crime.
• • Staging theatrical entertainments and athletic competitions, handing out food and clothing to constituents, and offering employment and social services to ordinary citizens won him many followers, but Sullivan's protection of key figures in the vice economy of the Lower East Side made him a rather controversial figure. Despite his frequent use of physical intimidation, "Big" Tim nonetheless worked to expand the franchise and give the disadvantaged a voice in municipal politics.
• • Both Mae West's character Gus Jordan and Tim Sullivan were active in a number of illegal activities including prostitution, white slavery, gambling, and extortion.
• • On 31 August 1913, "Big" Tim's body was found on the tracks in the Eastchester area of the Bronx, New York. He was 51 years old.
• • Sullivan's wake was held at his clubhouse — — located at 203 Bowery.
• • More than 25,000 people turned out for his funeral at St. Patrick's Old Cathedral, New York on Mott Street. Perhaps some "mourners" turned up solely to make sure this politico was dead.
• • Tim's clubhouse was down the block from the notorious Bowery "resort" near Houston Street, namely McGurk's Suicide Hall [295 Bowery]. The second chapter of "Diamond Lil" (a 256-page novelization of the play published by Macaulay in 1932) is Suicide Hall.
— — Source for some of this information: — —
• • Article: "Underworlds and Underdogs: Big Tim Sullivan and Metropolitan Politics in New York, 1889 — 1913"
• • Byline: Daniel Czitrom
• • Published in: The Journal of American History, vol. 78, no.2
• • Published on: September 1991
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• • Come up and see Mae every day online:
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• • Photo: • • Mae West • • saloon-keeper Gus Jordan a.k.a. "Big Tim" • •
• • Artwork: Big Tim Sullivan was drawn by artist Pat Hamou
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1 comment:

  1. Hello - I would appreciate if you credited my portrait of Big Tim Sullivan. I realize having work up on the web leads to other folks 'borrowing' material but if you are going to that please credit the material.