Friday, October 22, 2010

The Death of Pretty Boy Floyd

Charles Arthur 'Chock' Floyd was born in Adairsville, Georgia, in February 1904; when he was ten the Floyd family moved to Akins, in the Cookson Hills of Oklahoma, where in addition to dirt farming, they were known as moonshiners. Married to Ruby Hargrove at 17, Floyd committed his first crimes at eighteen, was a father to Jack Dempsey 'Jackie' Floyd at nineteen, in jail by 21 and divorced at 22. When he finally left jail at 26 in 1930 he moved to Kansas City, vowing never to return to prison...

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketOne of a number of celebrity gangsters whose Midwestern crime sprees in the early 1930s electrified the general public, by the height of the gangster era of 1933-4 Floyd was already famous, not least because of the colourful moniker, which he hated. Misinformation, even more than the most sensational facts, is what legends are made of, and of the life and crimes of Pretty Boy Floyd there are far more myths than facts.

It begins with his name, which some say was given to him by a madam named Beulah Baird, and still others claim came from a description given of him by a witness to an early robbery. In addition, he was often accused of committing multiple bank robberies at the same time.

Even the circumstances surrounding his death are curious. There are those who claim that police from East Liverpool, Ohio, were with the FBI on the final raid against Floyd and his gang; still others claim that the FBI acted alone. One story has him wounded but fit to stand trial, another that Melvin Purvis summarily executed him. About all that is known for certain is that on this day in 1934, Pretty Boy Floyd - the sagebrush Robin Hood, as he had come to be known - died, aged almost 31, and that tens of thousands of people either filed past his body in the Sallisaw, Oklahoma funeral home or attended his funeral in his adopted hometown of Akins.

'Pretty Boy' Floyd was played by Channing Tatum in Michael Mann's eagerly anticipated 2009 summer blockbuster Public Enemies, which also starred Christian Bale as Melvin Purvis and Johnny Depp as John Dillinger; Floyd has already been portrayed on film by John Ericson, Fabian, Steve Kanaly, Martin Sheen, and Bo Hopkins. Larry McMurtry and Diana Ossana have already tried to rehabilitate Floyd's image in their 1994 work Pretty Boy Floyd, A Novel; a well-read hardcover copy of this out-of-print book resides in the collection of the Pop Culture Institute.
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