Thursday, June 25, 2009

A Gangster With Star Appeal

In truth, there is no secret to Dillinger's appeal. "He was what he seemed to be," says researcher and historian Sandy Jones, who once owned Dillinger's death mask and his 1933 Hudson Essex-Terraplane 8, now on display at the National Museum of Crime & Punishment in Washington. "He was an Indiana farm boy who loved baseball." (He was also a Chicago Cubs fan, so you knew that he would some day come to a bad end.) "He wasn't a Robin Hood, but he was living a revenge fantasy that millions of Americans dreamed about during the Depression. If he was alive today, he'd probably be going after Wall Street brokers."

It's fitting that John Dillinger was killed after an outing to one of his beloved movie houses. The last film he took in was "Manhattan Melodrama" with Clark Gable and William Powell. But his favorite movie gangster was James Cagney, who, according to legend, he actually met in a Chicago tavern. Lucky for Dillinger, he didn't live to see the star of "The Public Enemy" (1931) become -- literally -- a poster boy for J. Edgar Hoover's FBI in the movie "'G' Men," released a year after his death.

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