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H.G. Wells was a blogger.

19 Sep

September 19, 2014

Long time readers (those of you are still mentally stable) many recall this image which used to grace the sidebar of this blog.

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Here’s an example.

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While H.G. Wells may not have been a blogger, he knew them intimately. He knew the psyche of the type of person who wrote cranky letters to the editors of scientific journals. Or maybe just wrote mean letters to the local penny press. Who is more invisible than the anonymous blogger? Like the Invisible Man, the anonymous blogger blows up institutions, metaphorically. He uses words but the effect is the same. What put this into perspective was one of those internet “Which character are you?” quizzes. This one used Universal horror monsters (Dracula, Frankenstein’s monster, the Wolfman, The Invisible Man, etc.) I took the quiz and got The Invisible Man, and the accompanying graphic put it all in focus.

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That sums up bloggers in my book. Of course, the “genius-level smart” and “extraordinarily clever” parts may exist only the blogger’s minds, but I say the “kind of a dick” part is right on the mark.

Take it from a blogger.

 

 

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A New York Minute (18) September 2014- Al Pacino!

17 Sep

September 17, 2014

Hello, and welcome to your New York Minute. This week’s episode is brought to you by Pharell’s big hat.

Al Pacino was born in Manhattan, but it took some Brooklyn law breaking for him to become one of Hollywood’s biggest stars.

I live in South Brooklyn, and in more than one New York Minute I talked about organized crime and the movies. There was Kid Twist and Coney Island, the Bowery Boys, even the mob shaking down the crew filming Saturday Night Fever. Al Pacino starred in some of the greatest organized crime films ever made, The Godfather and The Godfather Part Two. Many years later, he also starred in a Godfather parody called The Godfather Part Three.

Pretty much for as long as I can recall, I had been told that one of the houses in The Godfather was actually located right around here, so the other day, just for you, I set out to find “the Godfather house” and sure enough, it was right in my backyard.

As seen in the movie

As seen in the movie

Turns out it was the house that Clemenza lived in, and although I already had the address, I found out that the neighbors are pretty good about people, like me, who still come around looking for the house and taking pictures. I’d ask if you go, please be nice and respectful, as it is a quiet residential neighborhood. It’s a narrow street, so don’t try to double park, and also, please don’t knock on the door and ask if Martin Scorsese ever drops by from some capicola. Um, not that I did that.

The house today. I took the shot on the right.

The house today. I took the shot on the right.

The most interesting thing about the house isn’t the building itself, which is pretty nice, it’s the neighborhood. It is located just a few minutes away from the inspiration for another famous Al Pacino film. Just the next year, Al, (we’re on a first name basis, we’re good like that), was back in Brooklyn filming Dog Day Afternoon, and unlike The Godfather, this was based on an infamous bank robbery that happened wayback when I was a kid. And it turns out that I pass the robbery location almost every single day.

The scene of the crime: then and now

The scene of the crime: then and now

I’m not talking about where the film was shot, this is the actual robbery scene. Back in the 70’s this was a Chase bank, but today it is vacant. Want to rent it? The way this area is going, it’ll be sure to be a hipster juice pub thing any day now. Anyway, the building has gone through a few owners, it still has the cut corner that was a trademark of Chase banks of the era.

The movie was filmed in Windsor Terrace, still in Brooklyn but with Prospect Park as a backdrop. In a nutshell, the bank robbery went bad, hostages were taken, and it turned into a police standoff with the hundreds of onlookers rooting for the crooks. In the end, the cops seem to give in to their demands but Pacino’s character gets 20 years in prison. Spoiler warning! That was a spoiler.

dogdaymovie

Interestingly, both films also starred the amazing yet odd John Cazale, and if he were born in Brooklyn this would have been a neat and tidy way of wrapping things up but he had to spoil it be by being born in Massachusetts. No foresight there, thanks a lot.

Although I was too young to see any of the filming of these movies, in 1991 I did get to see the filming of Steven Segal’s Out for Justice, and believe me, that’s not a feather in anybody’s cap.

This has been your movie star, and Steven Segal, -filled New York Minute, and like Pacino said in The Godfather III- “just when I think I’m out, they pull me back in!”

What, you were expecting Scent of a Woman? “HOOOOOO-AH!” There you go.

An audio version of this story recently appeared in the amazing FlashPulp website. Check them out for awesomeness and goodies!

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R.I.P. Fred Mertz, by Hollywood Russell

11 Sep

September 11, 2014

Excerpted from Crime Doesn’t Take Credit, by “Hollywood” Russell Wyndham, ©Nebulous Enterprises, 1983

3058-042

That’s the headline that made me famous, and I didn’t even earn a penny on the case.

I was asked to look into the death of Fred Mertz by a Cuban bandleader I once knew. We’d met back in Havana during the war, and years later after he married up and moved to the Big Apple I’d drop in at his club from time to time. The drinks were always on the house and it was a good place to meet clients. A few drinks did wonders to loosen stiff tongues.

Anyway, this Mertz was the Conga King’s best friend, and after he died the police ruled it an accident. Conga wasn’t so sure, and that’s where I came in.

I’d met the dead Mertz and his wife a couple of times. They were ex-vaudeville performers who never got the stage out of their blood. Ricky Ricardo, to put a name to the Babalooing Balladeer, out of some sense of loyalty, or maybe because they were the ones he paid his rent to, would sometimes put them in his shows.

And that was my first clue. You see, he didn’t pay his rent to them, he paid it to her. The building was solely in the name of Ethel Roberta Louise Mae Mertz, lock, stock and boiler.

So there you had it. On the face of it: a happy, if mismatched and more than a little bumptious couple, running a New York brownstone. Scratch the surface, and you see an older man with no prospects married to a much younger woman with money. That recipe has been on the menu for murder since the dawn of time. But it didn’t taste right.

I took a trip to Steubenville Ohio, Fred’s home town. It was there that former gold gloves contender began his life on the stage as part of the duo of “Mertz and Kurtz,” known for “tap dancing, soft shoe and smart quips.” It didn’t sound right. Mertz was a wannabe prize fighter and a veteran of World War One. A tap dancer? Soft  shoe? After a couple of walks through the sheriff’s open files, I found that Mertz and his partner, Barney Kurtz, left town pretty quickly after piling up some petty theft convictions, just ahead of a warrant for running a numbers scam.  

So how did this small-time grifter end up dead in a New York brownstone?

The trail took me to Albuquerque New Mexico, home of the flapper named Ethel Potter. 

She was marginally attractive and about as talented. A small town girl, she might have become the tailor’s wife or the butcher’s better half or, if she had more luck than she had talent, she could have been a fixture in local weekend revues, cutting out notices from the local penny press and neatly gluing them into her scrapbook. Once a month, always on the first Monday, she’d call around to the big agencies in Chicago or St. Louis to see if they needed a dancer/singer/actress for whatever production they had coming up. A small life.

But she wanted to be a star. And when Mertz and Kurtz came to town, she saw stars. Two of them. Kurtz was the pug of the pair, and one look at him told Ethel that Mertz was the one. Mertz was THE one. Her way out. Her way to stardom. Mertz and Kurtz and Potter. Or better yet, Mertz and Potter. Better yet- Mertz and Mertz.

It really didn’t take long. Ethel didn’t have beauty. Ethel didn’t have a great personality. And much as Mertz tried, she wasn’t loose. But she had money, and a lot of it, so all was forgiven and forgotten.

As you’d expect, within a year, Kurtz was out, Potter was in, and by the end of the year, “Mertz and Mertz” was taking bookings on the vaudeville circuit, wherever the road took them. Ethel had hitched her meager wagon to Fred’s lackluster star.

I got some of this from the local papers, some of it from the locals, and lots of it from Kurtz.  He was bitter to the end of his life, which was only a few months after I spoke to him. He was doing a lifetime stretch in prison, the convictions from Ohio finally having caught up to him, as well as some evidence for some more local crimes. Evidence which turned up on the sheriff’s desk the night before Mertz and Mertz pulled up stakes.

Vaudeville was dying, and if you ask me, Mertz and Mertz were accessories to murder. I saw their act in the Tropicana and while some people said they were past their prime, I don’t think they ever had a prime. 

Ethel’s dreams were dying but she was smart and used her money to buy a building in New York City, expecting it to support her in her old age. And this is where things really turned sour. If she was married to Fred in hopes of becoming Queen of the footlights, and that dream was fading fast, then why did she need Fred?

And if Fred married Ethel for her money, but Ethel put the building only in her name, then why did he need Ethel?

But Fred was a conman, not a murderer. And Ethel was a jaded gold-digger, not a killer. So that’s how they spent the next years of their lives: Fred joking about Ethel’s cooking, Ethel joking about Fred’s cheapness, and both smiling for the neighbors. But behind the smiles? A growing revulsion.

And then one day Mertz was gone. I called in a few favors and got a look at the police files. There wasn’t much. The Mertz’s were upstanding citizens and no one was inclined to doubt the word of the widow, especially in light of Mertz’s obvious ill-health. That’s polite shamus talk meaning that Mertz was a drunk.

Fred was sitting at the kitchen table (Ethel said) and suddenly grabbed his chest (Ethel said) and keeled over (Ethel said). She ran to his side, but he was already gone. He let out a few gasps and that was it. Oh, it was sweet, very sweet, especially the report by Officer O’Connell which read “Mrs. Mertz stated that her husband’s last words were ‘I loved you from the first time I saw you, you talented gal.’”

Coroner said heart attack, case closed.

Private eyes do a lot of things that nice people never hear about. Manhandling mooks and slugging skells is a part of the job but that doesn’t happen much. Standing around in alleys, listening in doorways, even just sitting around waiting for something, anything, to happen: that’s how a P.I. spends his days. And that’s when he has a job. Not only was I not making any money on this job, but I spent most of my time digging through trash. First the trash cans behind the brownstone, then in the big piles in the dump.

I’ll spare you the details because it took the guys at the police lab to explain it to me, and I couldn’t get the medical stuff straight even if I remembered it, but it goes like this:

At some point, it seemed that the Mr. and the Mrs. came to the same conclusion: Time for the other to go. Ethel had no use for the mooching Fred, and Fred realized that if Ethel were gone, he’d have the building.

So Fred switched her headache pills for strychnine.

And Ethel started sprinkling arsenic in his breakfast.

Then they waited.

Ethel’s poison worked first. And no autopsy was ever done so she got away with it. Until I came along.

I broke it to the Conga King first and left it to him to tell his wife. I’d been around more than once for her crying storms and her wails of WAHHHH! RICKY! Her crocodile tears were as phony as her red hair and the age on her wedding license.

I slipped the solution to the cops just a few minutes after I slipped it to a friendly reporter, and then I slipped out and left it to them to take her in. And from what heard later, she didn’t come easily.

ethyl gun

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About The Author: A three time Edgar Award winner, “Hollywood” Russell has settled down to a life of writing true crime  novels.  After decades of trying to catch killers just to pay the bills, “Hollywood” finds the life of a best-selling author more profitable and less prone to getting shot, shived, or shanked.

 

 

 

 

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