Comparing HBO’s Nucky Thompson with his real-life counterpart Nucky Johnson
LEFT: The real Nucky Johnson (with carnation) on Jan. 12, 1967 at the Shelburne Hotel.
By contrast, Nucky Thompson, though attentive to public duties and no stranger to the Boardwalk, is essentially an introverted soul less sympathetic to the populace and even more manipulative — witness his two-faced relationship to the black community and equally adroit northside enforcer Chalky White (played by Michael Kenneth Williams). Above all, Thompson seeks to maintain order, status quo — whatever it takes.
Nucky Johnson’s maintenance tasks were not nearly as daunting, but that makes for less compelling drama. Changing Nucky’s surname is consistent with the latitude sought by Boardwalk Empire producers in sculpting the character. Verisimilitude abounds, but there are marked differences as well.
Meanwhile, the comparison is not static; we’ll see how Mr. Thompson evolves in the coming seasons. His progenitor, however, is in the books — Enoch Lewis Johnson was born in Galloway Township when Chester A. Arthur was in the White House, and died in Northfield a month after Richard Nixon’s election. By all accounts, he respected his mentor-predecessor, Louis “Commodore” Kuehnle (emphatically not the case in BE).
And he routinely wore glasses as well as carnations.
A public discussion entitled “The Atlantic City Experience: The Roaring ’20s” will be hosted by the Atlantic City Free Public Library on Saturday, Oct. 13, in the Atlantic City Historical Museum
"You know what's great about drama? You can make shit up."
Placed in charge of Atlantic City’s two “colored” schools by 1921, Pennsylvania native Brock succumbed the following year at the age of 42, in the thick of a battle over whether or not to integrate the local schools.
"The book is the book, the show is the show, the book is what inspired the show and the show, with the benefit of some really creative people, is going to re-tell the story of Prohibition through the eyes of criminals. And the focal point of that is Nucky."
For our 2nd annual Then and Now issue, celebrating the Atlantic City region, we asked several members of the community about their experiences and memories.
His white hair tufted beyond tolerance, the minister stepped into the barbershop and its buzz of bonhomie. Combs raked scalps, scissors snipped furiously, and the scent of lilac water suffused the air. Twenty minutes later, the clergyman stood from the pedestal-chair and surveyed his reshaped dome. The dark skin of his forehead glistened below the white fringe. He paid the barber and paused on the black rubber mat. “Am I good for another dime?” The barber grinned. “You bet.” And so he did — 10 cents on number 357, a wager to be rewarded only if the digits corresponded, respectively, to the last number on each of the day’s win-place-show handles at Aqueduct Racetrack, some 90 miles to the north. The “numbers,” or “policy,” game was a lottery before lotteries were legal. Nearly everyone in town played it even...
Seashore history is slippery — some accounts place Capone and his fellow delegates at the President, and Nucky’s digs on the Ritz’s eighth floor — but by any measure, the 1920s roared extra loud in Atlantic City.
In the second part of "Nucky Johnson," the distinguished panel of Atlantic City historians go deeper into the life of the real man behind HBO's Nucky Thompson: Enoch "Nucky" Johnson.
Enoch “Nucky” Johnson, treasurer of Atlantic County, ruled the rackets and the Republican Party in Atlantic City. Former cabbie Louie Kessel ordered his master’s life. Home base was the posh Ritz Carlton Hotel at Iowa Avenue and the Boardwalk (near today’s Tropicana).
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