HBO's 'Boardwalk Empire' recreates the Atlantic City of the Prohibition era, complete with gangsters, bootlegging and everything that made the '20s roar.
Early in the premiere episode of HBO’s Boardwalk Empire, a crowd of dapper Atlantic City movers and shakers, partying well into the night in a spiffy supper club, make a familiar countdown, cocktail glasses held high.
10, 9, 8 … when the clock strikes midnight, the place erupts with cheer, optimism and a good share of decadent joy.
But this party doesn’t happen on New Year’s. Rather, it’s a couple of weeks later — January 16, 1920, to be precise. The countdown is for the start of Prohibition. As the rest of the country prepares to go dry (well, on the surface), Atlantic City is braced to launch a new era — a decidedly “wet” era.
And perhaps, by some standards (the party hardy, loose cash and even looser morals standard), its greatest era.
This Sunday (Sept. 19), there will be a similar countdown as Atlantic City prepares for yet another complete makeover of its image. At least that’s the hope.
The new series produced by Martin Scorsese, written by The Sopranos scribe Terrence Winter and starring Steve Buscemi, carries with it a simple wish from the city it portrays.
Please, please make us cool again.
It’s a challenge that Winter, who is also a producer, is ready for.
“I’m really pleased that this is coming at this time,” says Winter in an interview with Atlantic City Weekly. “Atlantic City is a great city. It’s so important and not just selfishly for our show. It’s a national treasure that completely deserves to be revitalized.”
Still, there’s more to Boardwalk Empire, than Atlantic City. Winter and Scorsese are documenting the rise of a new era, one that touched New York, Chicago and all points in the country.
It’s the rise of the original gangsters.
Atlantic City’s rising gangster is Enoch “Nucky” Thompson, played by Buscemi who steps out from years of supporting and character roles to take the star turn. Thompson is a fictionalization of the real life Nucky Johnson, who ruled as “boss” of Atlantic City as a politician and bootlegger throughout Prohibition.
Empire is based on Nelson Johnson’s 2002 book, Boardwalk Empire: The Birth, High Times and Corruption of Atlantic City. But while the book covers decades of city history, the show focuses on the 1920s, a time of profound change in America, especially where crime is concerned.
Early in the show, viewers not only meet Nucky, they meet guys like Al Capone, Lucky Luciano, New York gangster Arnold Rothstein and some of the most famous criminals of the era. The show also includes World War I vets, immigrants, corrupt politicians, uptight feds, African-American bootleggers and a host of other characters — 14 regular characters in all — that bring home the wide impact of the 18th Amendment.
“It’s a big, sweeping epic,” says Winter. “I like to think of it really as an epic novel with all the characters it brings in and how their lives sort of intersect and storylines collide with each other. You may even meet people in early episodes that you might not see again for several seasons. It’s part of creating this real world.”
At the center of the show, however, is Buscemi’s Thompson, who finds himself caught in the middle of the change that is exploding around him.
Buscemi takes Thompson on a roller coaster ride, at times portraying him as a gentle, caring city father who just happens to know a few legal shortcuts, and at others a scheming and even violent gangster on the rise himself.
“Nucky is a complicated guy,” says Winter. “I think he’s equal part politician and gangster. He’s got a dark side, but he also has a benevolent side. I think the real Nucky probably didn’t see himself as a criminal. I think he was more of a pragmatist, in the sense that he felt, that in order to keep the city running, he had to skirt the law.
“But the world was changing so quickly around him,” says Winter. “Nucky is sort of changing with that too. The world he was used to was more genteel in its criminal element. But there are young guys all around him ready to use violence and he has to get comfortable with that.”
Youth does play a factor. Gangsters such as Capone and Luciano are not the famous bosses seen so many times before in dozens of gangster flicks. In 1920 they are brand new, still being mentored by more established gangsters like Rothstein (famous for fixing the 1919 World Series). Capone, for example is merely a flunky in the opening scenes.
But their quick tempers and quicker trigger fingers foreshadow the age that’s coming.
Among the genres of music A Night at the Speakeasy embodies are country (catapulted into popularity in the mid-1920s by the Grand Ole Opry radio broadcast, which originates from Tinnon’s home town of Nashville, Tennessee) and gospel, also made widely popular by radio in the 1920s.
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
"The game has changed quite a bit. Things have gotten a lot more violent, a lot more competitive, and Nucky has sort of had to up his game as well in order to survive. "
"It’s almost foreshadowed in the pilot when Jimmy tells Nucky: 'You can’t be half a gangster anymore,' and I knew that at one point Nucky would cross that line and fully become a gangster."
According to the Hollywood insider publication Variety, HBO "will bring back the 12-episode third season of Boardwalk Empire on Sept. 16 while New Orleans saga "Treme" is back for 10-episode third season on Sept. 23.
"You know what's great about drama? You can make shit up."
New York big-band leader Vince Giordano talks to Atlantic City Weekly about working on HBO's Boardwalk Empire and its GRAMMY-nominated soundtrack.
"Eddie lived in a kind of musically optimistic 1920s place even though he had a shitty childhood. His parents died when he was young but his grandmother raised him and he was little and scrawny so he got beaten up a lot. He learned to make jokes so he could avoid getting beaten up, so from then on he realized this singing and dancing thing could work."
“It’s been my love and passion ever since I was five years old and I think this music moves people. People who come to see us, they say, ‘When I got here I was in kind of a blah mood, not so good, or depressed, or whatever and I come out in just a whole different place. I’m laughing, my spirits are lifted, it’s cheaper than going to a psychiatrist!’”
"We wanted to do it as if it was a behind-the-scenes video of the first rap video ever made [in the 1920s]. But we had trouble getting some of the props we needed for that, like a period movie camera — you know, that would have been our whole budget, just getting that camera."
Plus DrewToonz, the Album of the Week (The Roots), and music history exhibit at WheatonArts in Millville.
Rothstein’s precise role in the matter has been argued for decades, as the related legal proceedings (plus actions taken by Major League Baseball) served more to obfuscate than clarify.
Tis the season to be ... buying. If you are in the 99 percent, of course, you may not have much to spend this season, but don’t fret; there are plenty of low-priced options for holiday gift giving and we’ve listed a selected bunch below. If you’re in the one percent, you probably have someone else ...
"When that piece of thing was falling out of the sky I said that I was going to try to go outside and try to get hit by that thing and try to commit suicide, but nobody would see it as a suicide though, so I was going to try to take advantage of it."
The famed seaside resort that is portrayed in HBO's hit drama series Boardwalk Empire celebrated the show's second season premiere on Sunday, Sept. 25, in a number of ways over the weekend.
Cable TV giant HBO has released an official trailer for the second season of its award-winning and milti-Emmy nominated drama series Boardwalk Empire.
At Missouri Avenue, for many years, was the carnival-looking stand of the “weight guesser.” If he didn’t guess your weight within three pounds, after you stepped on his huge scale, you received one of the many prizes displayed.
They never could enforce it, not really. In Atlantic City, the ban was a boon. The Amendment went out with the next tide.
The heyday of the minstrel show had been in the middle decades of the 19th century. Performers (both white and black) in blackface sang, quipped, and cavorted in a lively if decidedly stereotyped depiction of African-Americans. To label it caricature would be charitable. Yet the richness ...
Maybe labeling the success of Boardwalk Empire as the sole catalyst in a fashion trend toward popular styles of the past would be padding the stats a bit, but there’s certainly a huge correlation. And this weekend’s Atlantic City Antiques & Collectors Show ...
Boardwalk Empire picked up a couple more awards last night from the Screen Actors Guild. The SAGs are the most prestigious awards next to the Oscars, since the SAGs are voted on by a performer’s peers.
With Sunday’s debut of Boardwalk Empire fast approaching, let’s look back on the period during which the series takes place, specifically the year 1920, the dawn of the Prohibition era.
By 2000, Hammonton-based historian Nelson Johnson had compiled the first comprehensive history of Atlantic City between two covers, and enlisted the help of two New York literary agents in structuring and marketing the manuscript. His book, called Nucky’s Town (after political boss Enoch “Nucky” Johnson), presented a road map through the storied city by the sea, complete with detours, pitfalls, and pockmarks.
‘Boardwalk Empire’ Trivia In anticipation of the debut of HBO’s Boardwalk Empire — which is really something, trust us — we begin our ‘Boardwalk Empire Trivia’ contest. After reading the question below, leave your answer in the comments portion below. If you leave the correct answer on our Web site, you’ll be entered into a drawing to win a $20 gift certificate for a dinner at the legendary Fedeli’s Restaurant in Margate. OK, here’s the question (no cheating by looking up on Internet): How much money did Enoch “Nucky” Johnson alledgedly make each year off of Atlantic City’s “vice” industry in the 1920s? Daly, Sanford Swing for Kids’ Sake The Boys & Girls Club of Atlantic City...
As a Boardwalk native and the author of one of A.C.’s definitive history books, curiosity should have long since replaced emotion for Vicki Gold Levi...
The free and open-to-the-public AC Weekly partnered event, "Conversations & Storytelling - Plus Viewing Party," will feature a riveting panel discussion and Q&A segment with local historians and Atlantic City experts including Vicki Gold Levi, Allen "Boo" Pergament," Ralph Hunter, Pinky Kravitz, Israel Posner and James Waltzer on Sunday, Sept. 19, with doors opening at 6:30pm.
It was a windy and rainy mid-September night for the Atlantic City premiere of the much anticipated new HBO series Boardwalk Empire. Regional storms pounded the beach and Boardwalk with crashing ocean waves and assaulting wind gusts. We're talking not only hold onto your hat, but everything else, too.
"There have been so many great performances by guys like Stanley Tucci and Andy Garcia. And they play him as this slick guy and you see what he became. And you certainly don’t want to betray the popular image. But through the research you have to kind of work backwards. You have to go back to the beginning and try to understand where he came from and all the events that shaped his life."
A huge audience of 4.8 million people watched the Sunday night premiere, which ran against a big football game featuring the New York Giants and the Indianapolis Colts, more than any other HBO premiere episode in more than five years...
In real life, Nucky Johnson, Atlantic City’s Boardwalk emperor during the 1920s, did eventually marry a former showgirl and actress, a local woman named Flossie Osbeck. But that didn’t happen until one day before Johnson began serving a four-year prison term for tax fraud in 1941. There’s little historical evidence to support the fact that Lucy is patterned after Osbeck.
The Web site – atlanticcityexperience.org – provides some of the extensive resources contained in the library’s Alfred M. Heston Collection. The collection contains books, photographs, postcards, audio, video, digital files and memorabilia pertaining to the city’s history.
In the 10th episode of this ongoing web video series, hear the panel of Atlantic City historians tell stories about the Atlantic City Boardwalk. Tune in next Friday, Dec. 10 for part two.
Answer the following trivia questions correctly and be entered to win a large Boardwalk Empire poster. We have two available. Participants must be 18 or older and provide correct e-mail address when answering (in the comments portion below) so we can contact you for shipping of the winnings. OK, here they go: 1. What did Senior Prohibition Agent Nelson Van Alden claim to be the cause of death of his partner Agent Sebso? 2. Which of the following six themes have not yet been presented in the multi-part Atlantic City Weekly web video series "Atlantic City History: Conversations & Storytelling"? The web video series was filmed at Caesars right before the viewing party for the debut episode of HBO's Boardwalk Empire on Sept. 19 and included a panel discussion of the following topics by Atlantic City authors and historians including Vicki Gold Levi, Allen "Boo" Pergament, Ralph Hunter, Jim Waltzer, Pinky Kravitz and Israel Posner. a. "Entertainment & Nightlife" b. "The Boardwalk" c. "Nucky Johnson" d. "Gambling (Legal or Otherwise)" e. "The African American Experience" f. "Sports in AC and Camp Boardwalk" Leave your answers below in the comments portion. Two winners will be contacted....
Through the ACCVA, you can put your picture and up to two Facebook friends’ pictures on a poster titled, “Wanted in Atlantic City, Birthplace of 'Boardwalk Empire.’
Here are the Golden Globe nominations for 'Boardwalk Empire,' and what they face as challengers. The Golden Globes will air live on NBC on Jan. 16, 2011 at 8pm.
In the 11th episode of this multi-part series, a distinguished panel of Atlantic City historians and authors continue to discuss the history of Atlantic City's famed Boardwalk.
The next-to-last Webisode in this 13-part series, "Success in A.C." aka "Gambling (Legal or Otherwise)" featuring Stockton College's Israel Posner
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