Monday, June 22, 2009

Public Enemy

Today is the birthday of John Dillinger, the famous bank robber, born in Indianapolis in 1903. Dillinger was as famous for his daring escapes as he was for robbing banks. In March 1934 he escaped from a heavily guarded jail in Crown Point, Indiana, using a revolver carved out of soap and stealing the sheriff's new Ford automobile. Six months earlier he was sprung from a jail in Ohio by gang members posing as officers of the court. It was during the summer of 1934 that J. Edgar Hoover named him Public Enemy #1.

Because Depression-era Americans resented bankers, Dillinger was perceived as hero, a modern-day Robin Hood. He cultivated this persona by posing for newspaper photographers, but he was no philanthropist. Nor was he self-invented; newspapers and radio glorified him but Hollywood had already created the role of armed antihero. Dillinger represented the shift from folklore to popular media. The way he leapt over teller's windows during robberies was borrowed from gangsters he'd seen in the movies. In July 1934 he was gunned down by G-Men after seeing a gangster movie at Chicago's Biograph Theater. He was 31.

John Dillinger appears three times in A Book of Ages.

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