Speak Easy, Boys, Speak Easy, and hear the sad, soulful lament of a jazz singer
January 26, 2013
Sometimes, a story will envelope us, transport us, inspire us…
This is exactly what happened to me when I began writing. My fascination grew, wouldn’t leave me alone. I delved into the research and found myself rooting for my own character, loving the idea of the immergence of the independent woman in an era so chaotic and fraught with peril.
The Velvet Shoe Collection, my mystery romance series, is based on a true story—a young woman, headstrong and spoiled, determined to find her own way in an upside down world. The ‘roaring twenties’ was full of material for interesting, dangerous, and colorful characters. The heroine, Ruth, falls into that seedy world disguised as a jazz singer in the second book of the series. Let me tell you a bit about that moment in time.
The 1920 era was called the Jazz Age, and the young people wanted alcohol. The problem was—the 18th amendment banned the sale, transportation, and manufacture of alcohol. Millions, however, chose to ignore the law. The illegal commodity had a large market in the major cities, and the gangsters provided it. I think we all know one of the more famous gangsters, Al Capone of Chicago. He was ‘Public Enemy Number 1’, and in 1920 worked for Johnny Torrio. By 1925 Torrio, after being almost killed by a rival, decided to make Capone his own boss and handed the business over to him.
Two years later, Capone was earning $60 million a year from alcohol, but another $45 million in other rackets. Wow! He bribed policeman and important politicians within Chicago. Arming thugs and patrolling election booths cost him around $75 million, but assured his politicians were re-elected. Because of the rival gangs and violence, Capone was surrounded by body-guards all of the time and used an armor plated limousine to travel in.
By 1931, the law caught up with him and charged him with tax evasion. He got 11 years in jail. After he was released, his health failed, and he retired to his Florida mansion. He died January 25, 1947 of an apoplectic stroke.
My novel is set in Detroit, Michigan, so Capone probably wasn’t around that area, but gangsters were all too real. My main villain, overcome with jealousy, seeks to hire this unsavory type.
Of course, we can’t talk about gangsters without talking about Prohibition and the speakeasy, a bar where illegal alcohol was sold.
It’s not positively confirmed, but the term ‘speakeasy’ could have originated in 1888 in Pennsylvania because of a Brooks High-License Act. The law raised the state’s fee for a saloon license from $50 to $500. Some bars stayed alive by operating illegally. One Kate Hester, in a town outside of Pittsburgh, refused to pay the fee, but kept a low profile. She would hush her customers when they got rowdy by whispering, “Speak easy, boys! Speak easy!” The term became common and spread like wildfire.
Yes, I have a gangster and a really nasty villain in my novel and writing about them has been a lot of fun. Does my heroine get mixed up with these guys? Hmm.
The first hair dryer was invented in 1920, also. Believe it or not, women used to blow-dry their hair by inserting a flexible pipe in the exhaust of a vacuum cleaner. I’m told the new machine over-heated easily but, of course, it was better than using a vacuum cleaner! Quite a contraption!
A writer is naturally curious. What great things we learn when we research our genres!
Patty Wiseman is the author of An Unlikely Beginning. Click on the book cover to read more about the novel on Amazon. Patty can be reached at email@example.com, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Goodreads, LinkedIn, and www.pattywiseman.net