The birth of BOOTLEG BROADWAY:
After FROM HERE TO 14TH STREET set in 1894, I needed to set this a generation later, which happened to be the 1930s—with Prohibition and the Great Depression as the backdrop. This is the first book I ever wrote where I created the characters first, with nothing to do yet. The plot developed the way it did because of who they are. My goal was to get the protagonist Billy McGlory into one mess after another. This era couldn’t have been more suited to Billy’s adventures, a few of which he barely escaped with his life.
About BOOTLEG BROADWAY:
In this sequel to FROM HERE TO 14TH STREET, Vita and Tom McGlory and their three children are struggling to make ends meet.
It's 1932. Prohibition rages, the Depression ravages, and Billy McGlory comes of age whether he wants to or not. Musical and adventurous, Billy dreams of having his own ritzy supper club and big band. On the eve of Billy’s marriage to the pregnant Prudence, the shifty "businessman" Rosario Ingovito offers him all that and more. Fame, fortune, his own Broadway musical…it's all his for the taking, despite Pru's opposition to Rosie's ventures.
Meanwhile, Pru's artistic career gains momentum and their child is born. Can anything go wrong for Billy? Only when he gets in way over his head does he stop to wonder how his business partner really makes his millions, but by then it's far too late…
Nicknames from real life:
As in FROM HERE TO 14th STREET, a lot of characters have nicknames like Piggy Balls and Dirty Neck Bruiso. I sat around the table with my surviving aunts and uncles who were then in their 80s and 90s, and they rattled off these nicknames from ‘the old days’ in Jersey City like they made them up yesterday. That was a standard Italian neighborhood custom, everybody had a nickname. Some were more descriptive than others. But you didn’t just ‘get’ a nickname. You had to earn it.
Some more nicknames from the old neighborhood:
Bruno Chicken Body
Chick a la zoo
Dirty Neck Bruiso
Frankie Butch Butch
Johnny in for the pot
My fav passage from BOOTLEG BROADWAY (which made my aunt cringe):
Pru had kept closemouthed all day about what she was giving him for his birthday. He badgered and hounded her, but she wouldn’t give in.
As Ma began divvying up the rum cake, the doorbell rang, and Da came back with a long box. “This thing’s heavy. What’s in here, Pru? Billy’s tombstone?”
Billy cut the ribbon with the cake knife and slid the lid off. Wads of tissue paper filled the box. As he removed the last layer of covering and revealed what was inside, they all gasped—a sculpture of a naked man, in all his masculine glory—and fully aroused. He had one hand on his hip and one foot upon a pedestal on which was inscribed in bold letters, “BILLY.”
“Oh, crap.” His face turned red hot.
Where Did I Begin?
This was the first book I ever wrote where I created the characters first, with no storyline whatsoever. All I knew was that it was during Prohibition, and I wanted to get the main character, Billy McGlory, into one mess after another.
Here’s a prime example of that, in this excerpt:
Heading south on Madison Avenue, I heard the siren. I glanced into the rearview mirror and saw the unmistakable Greyhound radiator ornament of the Lincoln behind me. Cop car. All the gangsters drove Lincolns, which had a top speed of 80, so the cops had to get Lincolns to keep up with them. I tried to get the hell out of his way—he must've been going to a robbery or a diner or something. I pulled over, and he pulled up next to me. Oh, shit. It was me he was after.
I rolled down the window and asked sweetly, "Yes, sir, what can I do for you, sir?"
"License and registration please."
"Uh—what's wrong, officer? Did I commit a traffic violation?" As the son of the ex-Chief of Police, I should have been real comfortable around cops, but to tell the truth, they scared the hell out of me. The cops my father knew weren't the crooked ones. They were the straightassed ones, just like him, who fought Tammany and made a career out of busting crooks. They didn't have a price, like the rest of them. Hardnosed bastards, some were frustrated politicians and not smart enough to get into law school, so they enforced the laws from behind their badges. Hell, I was all for law and order, but these guys sometimes took it too far. "Your back license plate is missing."
Relief drained me. "Oh, drat. It must've got stolen. You know this city—just crawlin' with thieves."
"License and registration, please," he repeated, in what passed for a more menacing cop voice. Now he assumed his cop stance, pudgy fists on meaty hips, waiting while I dug through the glove compartment, tossing aside all the crumpled up sheet music and junk crammed in there. Oh, that's where my emergency pack of cigarettes was, and that old box of prophylactics! But damned if I couldn't find the registration.
"Uh—I can't find it, but it's my car, honest. I mean, it was a gift to me, but it's been paid for, it's not stolen or anything. I can probably find it in my penthouse. You wanna follow me there? It's only two blocks aw—"
"Step out of the car, please."
Uh-oh. I felt my bowels burning. I had two briefcases bulging with two shitloads of money in the back seat.
He poked his head into the car. "What's in the briefcases?"
"Uh—I dunno. I'm doing an errand for somebody."
"Yeah, I'll bet you dunno. Step aside, please."
"Hey, you got a search warrant?" I demanded.
But demanding a search warrant from a New York City cop was like demanding a shot of Scotch from Satan in the middle of Hell.
I didn't want to look. I turned my head and flattened my palms on the roof of the car, like I was being searched. I heard the clicks as he sprang the latches and his not-so-surprised "mm-hmmm" as he checked out the contents.
"Who you doing this errand for, sonny boy?"
What was with the "sonny boy"? He wasn't much older than me. I knew he just wanted to put me down. Screw that. I've been called a lot worse by much better cops than him. He obviously didn't know who I was. "Uh—I'd better get a lawyer or something."
"You'd better come with me."
"Look, uh—you wanna just take a few bills outta there and forget it?” I asked, real generously. “I mean, uh—we're all in this mess together, ya know—"
"Bribing an officer of the law is a very serious offense, sonny boy. You'll have to come with me. Park your car there, please."
"Here? But there's a hydrant here. I'll get a ticket."
I CONSIDERED THESE TITLES BEFORE I CHOSE BOOTLEG BROADWAY (feel free to use any of these if you’re writing a book set during Prohibition or the Depression—it was a tough decision)
Headin' for Better Times
If It Ain't Love
If I Had You
Never Let the Same Bee Sting You Twice
Puttin on the Ritz
Say it Isn't So
See if I'll Care
Somebody Loves You
Take the A Train
Thanks for the Memory
Under the Moon
When Dreams Come True
Wherever you Are
OTHER PROHIBITION BOOKS YOU’LL ENJOY:
The Stork Club - Ralph Blumenthal
Once Upon a Time in NY - Herbert Mitgang
Incredible NY: High Life & Low Life - Lloyd Morris
The Night Club Era - Stanley Walker
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