Linda Bennett Pennell Interviews Liz Reams from Al Capone at the Blanche Hotel
Today, we welcome Dr. Elizabeth Reams to History Imagined. Her recent discovery of here-to-fore unknown details of Al Capone’s adventures in Florida has created quite a stir in both the popular media and in academia. It is said that she will be the next super star in her field, history of American crime. Her colleagues at the University of Florida certainly seem to think so.
LP: Welcome Dr. Reams. We are so pleased you are able to join us. So tell us, what drew a lovely young woman to the sordid world of gangsters and hit men?
LR: Good question! My mother has asked the same thing many times. By the way, please call me Liz.
LP: So, Liz, how did you become interested in crime?
LR: My interest in American crime goes back to early childhood. In fact, it began at my grandfather’s knee.
LP: Your grandfather was a gangster?!?
LR: That would certainly make for a great story, but I’m afraid it was something much more prosaic. He loved the old gangster movies of the 30’ and 40’s and he admired the stars, the tough guys like Jimmy Cagney, Humphrey Bogart, George Raft, Edward G. Robinson – really, the whole pantheon that created the film noir genre. If the movie was about bad guys, he loved it. Grandpa grew up in New York’s Hell’s Kitchen, so the movies felt a little like going home to him. If he loved a movie, then did I too. My grandpa was my hero.
LP: Was there a particular favorite for you two?
LR: Little Caesar starring Edward G. Robinson. The plot was loosely based on Al Capone’s life and rise to fame, or more accurately, to infamy.
LP: So you had an early interest in Ole Scarface. What put you onto your discovery that has been creating such a stir?
LR: I hate to admit this, but it was pure luck. I was doing research for a new course my department head wanted me to organize. A chance sighting of a two-line notice in an old newspaper set me on the trail. Fortunately, it led me to my discovery, but it could have just as easily led nowhere.
LP: Luck may have played a part, as it often does, but I suspect it was your determination, hard work, and skill that turned a lucky break into success. Speaking of your department chairman, I’ve heard a rumor. Is it true about you and the handsome Dr. Hugh Raymond? He hardly seems the gangster type.
LR: It depends on what you’ve heard, but I suppose I can share that we are more than mere colleagues.
LP: So, you are romantically attracted to the opposite of the men you choose to study? Has this always been so or is Dr. Raymond the exception?
LR: Oh, dear. I wish I could say that Hugh is not an exception, but until him, I’m afraid I loved the bad boys in both my professional and personal lives. While my romantic partners were never criminals, they were edgy with a touch of bad boy glamor. An early boyfriend was a guitarist with a popular local band. When I took time away from my studies, I was a heavy metal groupie. Well, sort of. I wasn’t particularly dedicated to following the band around, but he was cool, edgy, and glamorous and I loved the idea of breaking the rules. Unless a guy had a few fatal flaws, I wasn’t interested. I can tell you from experience that bad guys make for exciting research and reading, but play havoc with your personal life. I learned that the hard way.
LP: Why do you think this was so?
LR: I’ve done a lot of self-analysis of late and I’ve concluded I was immature, maybe even emotionally stunted, where my romantic life was concerned. I have always been so driven to succeed in my field that I sort of rebelled in my personal life. I wanted, at least I thought I wanted, one thing in my life that wasn’t completely, totally by-the-rules and organized to the nth degree. Sadly, that rebellion took form in the men I chose to love.
LP: Where did that drive come from?
LR: Don’t get me wrong. I love my mom with all my heart. I wouldn’t be where I am today if she hadn’t pushed me so hard, but I think she did it in large part because she gave up her dreams when she got married. She wanted a different life from the one she got, like so many women of her generation. She and Daddy were happy, but she had unfulfilled desires and she poured all that energy into my brother and me. I’m grateful for the drive she instilled in me, but it did have a downside when it came to my romantic choices.
LP: And how did you grow out of this love for the wrong kind of man?
LR: That you will have to find out for yourself.
LP: I see. So all is revealed in the book about your adventures, Al Capone at the Blanche Hotel?
LR: It is.
LP: And what’s next for you?
LR: I won’t go into the details because my research isn’t finished, but I feel comfortable telling you that I may soon have some revelations about Meyer Lansky and the Cuban Revolution.
LP: Wow! I can’t wait!!
You can find Al Capone at the Blanche Hotel here: Amazon
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Al Capone at the Blanche Hotel tells a story of lives unfolding in different centuries, but linked and irrevocably altered by a series of murders in 1930.
Lake City, Florida, June, 1930: Al Capone checks in for an unusually long stay at the Blanche Hotel, a nice enough joint for an insignificant little whistle stop. The following night, young Jack Blevins witnesses a body being dumped heralding the summer of violence to come. One-by-one, people controlling county vice activities swing from KKK ropes. No moonshine distributor, gaming operator, or brothel madam, black or white, is safe from the Klan’s self-righteous vigilantism. Jack’s older sister Meg, a waitress at the Blanche, and her fiancé, a sheriff’s deputy, discover reasons to believe the lynchings are cover for a much larger ambition than simply ridding the county of vice. Someone, possibly backed by Capone, has secret plans for filling the voids created by the killings. But as the body count grows and crosses burn, they come to realize this knowledge may get all of them killed.
Gainesville, Florida, August, 2011: Liz Reams, an up and coming young academic specializing in the history of American crime, impulsively moves across the continent to follow a man who convinces her of his devotion yet refuses to say the three simple words I love you. Despite entreaties of friends and family, she is attracted to edginess and a certain type of glamour in her men, both living and historical. Her personal life is an emotional roller coaster, but her career options suddenly blossom beyond all expectation, creating a very different type of stress. To deal with it all, Liz loses herself in her professional passion, original research into the life and times of her favorite bad boy, Al Capone. What she discovers about 1930’s summer of violence, and herself in the process, leaves her reeling at first and then changed forever.
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