Tuesday, June 18, 2019

The "Cure" for Hysterical Women Behind Asylum Walls

Life Magazine advertisement from August 22, 1912.

The concept of the "weaker sex" in the 1800s made women more susceptible to charges of mental illness or emotional breakdown. Before the mid-1800s, women who suffered from depression or mental illness were believed to have an incurable disease of the soul. Many of these women were sent to institutions popularly known as the mad house, the insane asylum, or the nut house. Some were undoubtedly sent to local parish priests for exorcisms.

Because of existing gender stereotypes and a patriarchal society, women who disagreed with their husbands or families could be committed without formal legal proceedings or medical exigency. Institutional records indicate that women were labeled mentally ill and committed at a much higher rate than their male counterparts.

Biddy Hughes was Michigan's Eloise Asylum's first official mental patient. She was committed by her family in 1841 when she was in her mid-thirties. She was kept behind locked doors until her death fifty-eight years later.

Being a woman in the nineteenth century would make any woman hysterical--a collective term then used to describe all manner of women's mental health issues--ranging from menstruation-related issues, pregnancy-related issues, post-partum depression, chronic fatigue, and anxiety. The word hysteria derives from the Ancient Greek word for womb--thus womb disease.

Asylums were essentially warehouses for non compliant women. Once committed, these unfortunate women were subjected to a daily life of neglect and abuse. These indignities only drove troubled women deeper into mental illness regardless of why they were there. Insane asylums were not places for treatment or cure of the mentally ill.

Women had no voice to protest nor did they have any advocacy beyond the asylum gates. They lacked the solidarity to stand up for themselves or each other. Once admitted, it was next to impossible to be discharged. Bad treatment by attendants and terrible living conditions led to many asylum suicides from constant harassment, violence, loneliness, and despair.

In the Victorian age, the perfect wife did not demand time or rights for herself. She was supposed to be subservient to the needs of her family. Her husband in particular. Women with strong personalities and active minds could never conform to that role without sacrificing the core of their beings. Unsatisfied and vindictive husbands could have their wives committed for stepping outside the boundaries of her role as a wife.

Married women were sent to asylums for nymphomania, promiscuity, bearing an illegitimate child, or being the victim of rape. Women who practiced sex outside of marriage were accused of moral imbecility and could be committed for the public good. Many husbands used commitment as a convenient alternative to divorce.

By the mid-nineteenth century, doctors began regarding mental illness as a medical problem. With little formal training, they tested their quack theories on mentally ill patients. Perhaps the most egregious example of a gratuitous treatment was devised by male doctors who created a condition they called Hysterical Paroxysm.

Doctors would give female patients "pelvic massages" to release the women's pent-up libido and frustrations. It wasn't long before women were being treated for frustration and anxiety as outpatients in doctors' offices. After the electric vibrator was invented towards the end of the century, women could effect this treatment in the privacy of their own homes.

Doctors of this era believed women who tried to improve their station in life by asserting their independence, getting an education, or living outside the family unit without a husband were considered suspect. Women who were outspoken, volatile, or expressed discontent were labeled mad if they refused to fit the stereotypical mold of the passive housewife. Many women were driven to mental illness by the rigid strictures polite society imposed upon them.

Mental health researchers in the Victorian age devised three archetypes of the mad woman:
  1. The Ophelia (named after the heroine in Hamlet). These women were pliant and pleasant--code words for easy to control.
  2. The Crazy Jane. These patients represented psychotic women who were clearly disturbed and needed to be watched.
  3. The Lucia (named after Renaissance poisoner Lucretia Borgia). These patients were prone to violence and considered dangerous.
Imposing these labels on women was a way for men to garner further control over women and possess them more thoroughly. Doctors of the day warned against any activity that might change a woman's domestic status. Suffragettes and women's rights advocates were particularly troublesome for the status quo and challenged the system.

Meanwhile, Edith Lanchester was committed in 1895 by her brother for refusing to marry. She was diagnosed as insane by reason of "over-education" while her brother took full possession and ownership of their jointly inherited estate.

"When We Called the Insane Asylum Eloise" link:

Monday, June 3, 2019

Literary Classics 2019 Awards Ceremony

For self-published authors who labor long hours in obscurity, winning a writing award is a cost effective way to gain exposure for your book title. Most competitions include press releases, photo opportunities, book cover medallions, and formal presentation ceremonies.

Winning a writing award competition is a valuable tool for self-published authors to gain media exposure and to network with like-minded individuals who share similar goals and challenges. Scheduled receptions and author forums allow for social opportunities with other writers to share information about our best practices and marketing strategies creating a sense of community for one brief weekend.

This year's Literary Classics Awards Ceremony occurred on May 12th, 2019 in Rapid City, South Dakota. My book The Richard Streicher Jr. Murder won a silver medallion for adolescent mystery and a gold medallion for true crime.

As an added bonus, my wife and I took a side trip to Mt. Rushmore and the Crazy Horse Memorial to make our trip a three-day weekend vacation. Both attractions are truly wonderous and awesome to see.

If you haven't entered a writing contest, you might want to give it a try. Winning is a great motivator.

Link to my Amazon author site. 

Thursday, May 23, 2019

Brave New World of Betty Boop

Classic Betty Boop Sketch
Betty Boop was a music novelty character who was a sex symbol during the Great Depression. She was a caricature of Roaring Twenties flappers--young women who smoked cigarettes, drank alcohol, drove cars, and danced the Charleston in speakeasies. Betty Boop became known as the "Boop-Oop-a-Doop girl." Her personality can best be described as moxie.

Max Fleischer with his creation.
Betty was a creation of Max Fleischer Studios targeted for an adult movie audience during the 1930s. She wore short dresses, high heels, garters, and contoured necklines. Betty's "innocent sexuality" was a mixture of girlish naivete and vampish allure which some people would define as infantilizing women.

In 1932, jazz singer Cab Calloway performed in the famous film short "Minnie the Moocher" singing that evocation song while the video blended into a Betty Boop animation which defined her character and made her a star. This musical short was one of the original music videos and the song became Calloway's signature theme song for subsequent stage appearances.

As Betty's popularity progressed, many of her early cartoons found her fighting off predatory men trying to compromise her virtue, making some modern American women view Betty as a feminist icon against sexual harassment. By 1934, the Hayes Production Code forced animators to tame the Boop character by making her a ambitious career girl trying to make it in the big city. She began wearing appropriate business attire and less jewelry. The newer cartoons lost their edge and their popularity--the last of the original cartoons was made in 1939. The Betty Boop series gained a new audience when her cartoons were released for television making Betty an American cartoon superstar.

Helen Kane
Betty's "baby doll" voice was similar to the voice characterization of actress Helen Kane whose musical comedy stage career had faded by 1931. Kane brought a $250,000 infringement lawsuit in 1934 against Paramount Pictures for "deliberate caricature exploiting her personality and image."

Esther Jones
During the trial, it was discovered that African American cabaret performer Baby Esther (Esther Jones) used a similar vocal style in her Harlem Cotton Club act. Even the scat "Boop-Opp-A-Doo" was created by Jones as a vocal jazz improvisation. An early jazz novelty short film was found featuring Baby Esther performing her "baby doll" style. The New York Supreme Court ruled that the "baby doll" technique did not originate with Kane. 

Six different actresses portrayed the voice of Betty Boop. Two of them--Margie Hines and Mae Quistal were also the voice of Olive Oyl in the Popeye cartoons of the same era. 

Although the series ended in 1939, Betty's character appeared in two television specials in the 1980s, and she made a cameo appearance in the feature movie Who Shot Roger Rabbit? in 1988. Her image is still popular worldwide and has become a merchandising goldmine for King Features Syndicate.

Link to "Minnie the Moocher"

Sunday, May 5, 2019

The Purple Gang Tied Up In Chains

Purple Gang perp walk.

A decisive federal arrest of Purple Gang members marked a change in the public attitude towards Detroit's most notorious Prohibition-era gang. Prior to their arrest on May 24, 1929, members of the Purple Gang were often arrested, arraigned, and released before beating whatever rap they were accused of. The public believed that the gang was prosecution proof. There was lots of evidence to support that belief.

But this time was different. The gang wasn't dealing with the Detroit or Wayne Country court system. Conspiring to violate the prohibition law was a federal offense and twelve known Purple gang members were rounded up. Federal Judge Charles C. Simons levied bail of $100,000 each against Eddie Fletcher, Abe Axler, Irving Milberg, and Harry Sutton--the four men caught in the act. The other eight "associates" were held on $50,000 bail apiece.

For the first time in the gang's history, the city's professional bail bondsmen couldn't post bail for that sum of money. The official blanket charge was that on May 10, 1929, the Purple Gang "entered into a conspiracy with Canadian liquor exporters to purchase and import beer and liquor. Known gang members delivered two cases of whiskey to the Lido Club, a cabaret on 3747 Woodward Avenue owned by Abe Burnstein said to be the leader of the Purple Gang."

A young Abe Burnstein.
Burnstein could not be reached for comment. Abe was attending a crime conference in Atlantic City--the first of its kind. Crime bosses from around the country attended and made decisions like a corporation would that affected the direction of organized crime in America. This was where the modern mob was born. But Abe's youngest brother Izzy was among the men arrested.

The boys had to cool their heels in the Wayne County Jail. Their faces fell when they saw the U.S. Marshall approach them with a length of chain with six pairs of handcuffs welded to it. The twelve men were cuffed together in tandem along either side of the chain leaving one hand free to hide their faces on their perp walk. Then, they were led to the Marshall's van for a ride to the Wayne County Jail.

All but four of the men were released on writs of habeas corpus for lack of evidence. Fletcher, Axler, Milberg, and Sutton were held over for trial. Two months later, they reappeared in federal court each ten pounds trimmer. Apparently, county jail food didn't agree with them. All four were convicted and charged the maximum sentence--twenty-four months in federal prison and a $50,000 fine each. They were credited with two months for time served. Finally, the Purple Gang myth of immunity from prosecution was broken.

The Elusive Purple Gang 

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Eastern Michigan University Student Queried - "Is Paul (McCartney) Dead?"

The biggest hoax in the history of Rock & Roll is surely the "Is Paul Dead?" controversy. On Sunday afternoon, October 12, 1969, Thomas Zarski, an Eastern Michigan University student, called [Uncle Russ] Gibb, a concert promoter and popular D.J. for Detroit's underground music radio station - WKNR-FM.

On the air, Zarski asked Gibb what he knew about the death of Paul McCartney. This was the first the D.J. heard of it. "Have you ever played "Revolution 9" from the The White Album backwards?" Zarski asked.

Gibb hadn't. Skeptical, he humored his call-in listener and played the song backwards. For the first time his audience heard, "Turn me on, dead man." Then WKNR's phone started ringing off the hook.

Apparently, the rumor started when Tim Harper wrote an article on September 17, 1969 in the Drake University (Iowa) newspaper. The story circulated by word of mouth through the counter culture underground for a month until Zarski caught wind of it. He called Uncle Russ asking about it. Gibb had solid connections with the local Detroit and British rock scene because he was a concert promoter at the Grande Ballroom--Detroit's rock Mecca.

University of Michigan student Fred LaBour heard the October 12th radio broadcast and published an article two days later in the October 14th edition of The Michigan Daily as a record review parody of the Beatles' latest album Abbey Road. This article was credited for giving the story legs and was the key exposure that propelled the hoax nationally and internationally.

The legend goes that Paul died in November of 1966 in a car crash. The three categories of clues were:
  1. Clues found on the album covers and liner sleeve notes,
  2. Clues found playing the records forward, and
  3. Clues found playing the records backwards.
The clues came from the albums:
  1. Yesterday and Today,
  2. Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band,
  3. Magical Mystery Tour,
  4. The Beatles [the White Album], and
  5. Abbey Road.
Some people thought the Beatles masterminded the hoax because of the large number of clues. They thought there were too many for this story to be merely coincidental. 

The story peaked in America on November 7th, 1969, when Life magazine ran an interview with Paul McCartney at his farm in Scotland, debunking the myth.

For more detailed information on the myth and the clues, check out these links: 



Video link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xqBf6iNPVOg

Thursday, April 25, 2019

Connie Kalitta "The Bounty Hunter" vs. Shirley "Cha-Cha" Muldowney

Baby Boomers who grew up in the Detroit area and listened to Windsor radio station CKLW were familiar with advertisements for the Detroit Dragway located at Sibley and Dix. The ads always began with "Saturday, SATURDAY NIGHT, at the DETROIT DRAGWAY." Then the card for the automotive duels would be hyped. If you don't remember or aren't old enough to know what I'm talking about, I have a link to an audio at the end of this post.

Connie Kalitta with top fuel dragster in 1967.
Two of the most popular drag racers of the 1970s and 1980s were Connie Kalitta "The Bounty Hunter" and Shirley "Cha-Cha" Muldowney. Connie was from Mount Clemens, Michigan, and Shirley was from Schenectady, New York. They shared a professional and personal relationship from 1972-1977. Connie gave Shirley a Funny Car he no longer raced and acted as her crew chief for many of her early races. In those days, Shirley was known as "The Huntress." 

Kalitta began drag racing when he was a sixteen-year-old student at Mount Clemens High School. He worked himself up the ranks of the National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) to become one of the sport's top drivers. Known as The Bounty Hunter, Kalitta was the first driver to reach 200 mph in a sanctioned NHRA event. In 1989 at the Winter Nationals, Kalitta was the first driver to break the 290 mph barrier with a 291.54 mph qualifying run.

In all, Kalitta won ten national titles and was inducted into the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America in 1992. The NHRA compiled a list of the Top 50 Drivers for their fiftieth-anniversary in 2001. Kalitta ranked 21st on the all-time list, and in 2016, he became the first recipient of the NHRA's Lifetime Achievement Award.

Kalitta's first NHRA win came in 1964 in Bakersfield, California. In 1967, he won his first NHRA title. With the prize money, he bought his first airplane--a Cessna 310--and started his company Kalitta Air at the Willow Run Airport shipping freight for the Ford Motor Company (FoMoCo)--his racing sponsor. 

Kalitta Air and Kalitta Motorsports company photograph.
For a time, Kalitta retired from racing and directed his attention toward building up his air freight business. Now he has a fleet of about 100 planes, many of them 747s. In addition to a bread-and-butter FoMoCo parts distribution contract, Kalitta Air provides charter flights for Medical Flight Services, Air Ambulance Specialists, the Shriners' Children's Hospital and the United States Department of Defense, to name a few. It is not generally known that Kalitta Air keeps a 747 on standby to work with the military to return fallen service men and women to their homes.

Kalitta no longer races, but he is the CEO of Kalitta Motorsports in Ypsilanti, Michigan which sponsors four cars and drivers. His love of racing became a lifelong pursuit and a way of life.


Shirley Muldowney
Connie Katilla first met Shirley Muldowney in 1966 at Raceway Park in Illinois when she was racing a dragster with her husband as her mechanic. In 1972, Shirley divorced Jack Muldowney when she wanted to advance to top fuel funny cars, and he refused to live the life of a Gypsy to compete on the NHRA circuit. Doubtless, there were other personal issues as Shirley moved in with Kalitta in 1972. Kalitta was The Bounty Hunter and Muldowney became The Huntress. Connie soon tagged Shirley with the nickname "Cha-Cha" which she never liked, but it became part of her NHRA branding.

After her split from Kalitta, Shirley went on to make a name for herself in this macho male sport. At first, she had trouble attracting sponsors and finding a crew that would work with a woman. But when Shirley "Cha-Cha" Muldowney showed up at the track with her hot pink car, cowboy boots, and crash helmet, she started filling the grandstands. Even her pit crew wore hot pink team shirts.

Muldowney defied traditional gender stereotypes head-on and challenged sexism in the racing culture like Billie Jean King had for tennis in 1973's Battle of the Sexes against Bobby Riggs. Both ladies proved women can compete in a man's world.

Shirley Muldowney was the first woman to receive a NHRA license to drive top fuel dragsters. She was the first person--man or woman--to win three NHRA national events in a row. In 1980, Shirley won the World Finals by beating her nemesis Connie Kalitta, and in 1982, she won an unprecedented third NHRA Top Fuel Championship.

Muldowney's achievements were not lost on Hollywood. She got the big screen treatment in 1983's Heart Like a Wheel starring Bonnie Bedelia as Muldowney and Beau Bridges as Connie Kalitta. Muldowney has said the film didn't capture her real life very well but was good for the sport.

On the heels of her celebrity, Muldowney was faced with her biggest challenge. In June of 1984, her dragster crashed at over 250 mph at Sanair Speedway near Montreal, Canada. A front tire shredded and got twisted up in a wheel causing the car to lose control for 600 feet before crashing. Shirley was left with broken legs, crushed hands, a shattered pelvis, and a severed thumb. Determined to race again, she undertook two years of grueling physical therapy and recovery. Her first race back was against "Big Daddy" Don Garlits--a personal friend of hers. She lost.

Because of trouble attracting sponsors, Shirley retired from racing in 2003. During her career, she won eighteen NHRA National events and was ranked 5th on NHRA's 2001 list of its Top 50 Drivers earning her the title of "First Lady of Drag Racing." Her memoir Shirley Muldowney: Tales from the Track was released in 2005 depicting her drag racing life. The same year, Muldowney was inducted into the Automotive Hall of Fame.

CKLW radio commercial for the Detroit Dragway from 1966: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BbrdImfvFmQ

1982 U.S. Nationals Championship drag race between Kalitta and Muldowney: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2-Q8f6bsfI0  

Muldowney on the Johnny Carson Show in 1986 after her 1984 catastrophic car crash: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1FeaqiczHzI

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Detroit's Beloved Weatherman Sonny Eliot

Sonny Eliot and friend.
Weatherman Sonny Eliot was well-known to generations of Detroiters. He began his career in 1947 at the very beginning of television broadcasting in Detroit and spent thirty-five years at WWJ (now WDIV), which included seventeen years hosting "At the Zoo." For many years, he was the Master of Ceremonies for Detroit's J.L. Hudson's Thanksgiving Day Parade. In 2010, Eliot retired from broadcasting.

Sonny Eliot was a cultural icon for Baby Boomers and their parents. Once called the Ernie Harwell (Detroit Tiger sportscaster) of weather, Eliot had an unprecedented 50% share of Detroit's television market during his weather segment. Perhaps he is best described as a borscht-belt comic weatherman and best known for his hybrid blending of weather conditions like "snog" for snow/fog, "cloggy" for cloudy/foggy, and "droudy" for dreary/cloudy. In addition to his television career, he was the author of four children's books. Eliot had a wonderful sense of humor and loved to make people laugh.

Marvin Schlossberg was born on Hastings Street December 5, 1920. He was the youngest child of Latvian Jewish parents. His mother nicknamed him "Sonny." He credits his mother for his sense of humor. His parents owned and ran a hardware store on Detroit's East Side. As he grew up, Sonny developed a passion for flying.

B-24 Liberator bomber
"During World War II, he was a B-24 bomber pilot who was shot down over Germany. Flak tore into his plane in February of 1944. He held the bomber as steady as he could while his crew parachuted before he jumped. Sonny was apprehended by a German farmer armed with a pitchfork and spent eighteen months in Stalagluft I until the end of the war. The POW camp was located near Barth, Germany. It was liberated the night of April 30, 1945, by Russian troops. The American prisoners were soon evacuated by American aircraft in "Operation Revival" and returned home.

Mel Butsicaris, son of Johnny Butsicaris and nephew of Jimmy Butsicaris, the Lindell AC bar owners, gave me permission to share his Facebook post on the Sonny Eliot he knew.

"Sonny was an incredible man and many stories have been told and written about his life. He lived, worked, and played in Detroit, so people felt like they knew him because he would take the time to acknowledge them. Uncle Sonny is what I called him. He was a unique man and a joy to be around: funny, smart, adventurous, generous, and fun-loving. He fit in with anybody he was with.

"People would see Uncle Sonny hanging out at the Lindell AC (Athletic Club) sports bar during the week. My dad even gave him an office on the second floor of our building. But on the weekends he focused on his two loves--his wife Annette and flying with my dad in an airplane they co-owned. Flying was their shared addiction.

"Uncle Sonny made everyone feel like a friend, so people naturally felt like they knew him. I have lost track of how many times people have come up to me and say they saw Sonny Eliot drunk at the Lindell feeling no pain, or Sonny was so funny after he had a few drinks. Newsflash! Sonny Eliot did not drink alcohol.

"To all the people that bought Uncle Sonny a drink in the Lindell, I am sorry for overcharging you, but you insisted I make him a drink. I would give him his usual glass of soda water with a splash of ginger ale for some color and a lemon twist. I would put my finger over the pour spout so it only looked like he was getting whiskey. His drinking was an act, but his wit, fun-loving personality, and his genuine kindness were real."

Marvin (Sonny Eliot) Schlossberg died peacefully among family and friends in his Farmington Hills home on November 16, 2012, at the age of ninety-one. Sonny Eliot led a remarkable life touching the lives of millions of Detroiters and leaving us better for the experience.

WWJ video tribute to Sonny Eliot--https://youtu.be/Y0iVuyfDUjM

Sonny Eliot news story: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lZD-gKG5-g8