8/4/08 - beau james

In today's excerpt - the beloved bon vivant James John Walker (1881-1946), often known as Jimmy or Beau James was the outlandish and ultimately disgraced mayor of New York City during the Jazz Age:

"No New York City politician ever reveled in the adulation of its people or endeared himself as much as Jimmy Walker. Whether strutting along Broadway or Fifth Avenue during a parade in a cutaway coat, striped pants, silk top hat, and a gleaming smile, or amusing neighborhood gatherings with off-the-cuff speeches brimming with optimism and wisecracks, 'Our Jimmy,' as practically all New Yorkers called James John Walker, was the personification of New York and its open rebelliousness toward social restraints during the Jazz Age. No politician in memory had ever brightened the city's spirits as Walker did, as he dashed about town to civic ceremonies, neighborhood festivals, and funerals of people he had never met, or broke from the ranks of the St. Patrick's Day Parade to sprint up the steps of St. Patrick's Cathedral on Fifth Avenue to kiss the archbishop of New York's ring with a flair that delighted the crowd. ...

"He was a rogue, but a charming one, and in a city where most citizens went to a church or synagogue on a fairly regular basis, he managed to carry on a very public affair with an actress named Betty Compton while he was married without getting pilloried for it either by the public or even his extremely forgiving wife. ...

"If he wasn't at a fight, a ball game, or a civic gathering, Walker was apt to be found at fashionable restaurants like the Casino in Central Park, Rector's, Delmonico's, or Tex Guinan's 300 Club rather than at City Hall, where he spent as little time as he could, usually showing up around noon and leaving before five. When his mayoral opponent in 1929, Fiorella La Guardia, criticized Walker for accepting a raise from $25,000 to $40,000 (the equivalent of more than $100,000), Walker responded, 'That's cheap. Think of what it would cost if I worked full time.' It was a cynical rejoinder, but it was typical Walker and most New Yorkers loved it.

"Eventually, New York's love affair with Walker began to wane. In the face of growing editorial criticism of Walker's travels abroad, his affair with Betty Compton, and his alleged misconduct of city business, ... three separate investigations were begun. ... After testifying before [an investigative] committee that August, Walker abruptly resigned as mayor on September 1, 1932, saying he was doing so to spare himself from 'an un-American unfair proceeding ... .'

"Nine days after resigning, Walker left for Paris, both to avoid possible prosecution and to join Betty Compton, whom he would eventually marry. As he boarded the liner Conte Grande, a reporter said to him, 'Everyone is for you, Jim. All the world loves a lover.' 'You are mistaken,' Walker, a master of the pithy quote, replied. 'What the world loves is a winner.' "


Jack Cavanaugh


Tunney: Boxing's Brainiest Champ and His Upset of the Great Jack Dempsey


Ballantine Books


Copyright 2006 by Jack Cavanaugh


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