Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Walter Shapiro's "Hustling Hitler"

Walter Shapiro has covered every presidential campaign since 1980. A columnist at Roll Call, he is also a fellow at the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU and a lecturer in political science at Yale. He is the winner of the Sigma Delta Chi Award, given by the Society of Professional Journalists, as the best 2010 online columnist for his work for Politics Daily. In recent years, Shapiro was the Washington bureau chief for Salon, twice weekly political columnist for USA Today and monthly columnist for Esquire. In prior incarnations, he was on the staffs of Time, Newsweek and the Washington Post. He was also a White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter.

For a decade, Shapiro performed standup comedy at clubs in New York and claims that his on-stage career is merely on hiatus. He lives in Manhattan with his wife, writer Meryl Gordon.

Shapiro applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Hustling Hitler: The Jewish Vaudevillian Who Fooled the F├╝hrer, and reported the following:
I am almost tempted to find my dog-eared edition of The Good Soldier from college to see what Ford Madox Ford put on his Page 99. My book, Hustling Hitler, is the story of my con-man great-uncle Freeman Bernstein, who started as a vaudeville booking agent in the early 20th century. From the beginning, Freeman's show-business exploits were chronicled by a fledgling publication called Variety, which treated him as a Runyon-esque figure at a time when the real Damon Runyon was still a cub reporter in Denver.

On Page 99 of Hustling Hitler, Freeman has just signed on in 1906 as the New York booking agent for John Considine's West Coast vaudeville circuit: "With a shock of white hair and a reputation as a handy man with a gun, Considine was a bighearted sporting man who got his start in Seattle running box houses (whorehouses that featured vaudeville acts instead of a piano player doing the best he can)."

Considine is one of the many compelling minor characters who populate Hustling Hitler. Actually, Considine isn't that minor. After Freeman was arrested leaving Mae West's apartment in Hollywood in 1937 on a charge of bilking the Nazis in a nickel deal, Considine rose from his sickbed to aid with legal fees and bail money. And Considine was by Freeman's side two months later when my great-uncle beat the rap -- thanks, in part, to a Hollywood legal defense fund backed by Al Jolson and Mae West.

The strand linking Freeman and his most loyal friend begins on Page 99. Which goes to show that Ford Madox Ford was onto to something with his Page 99 Test.
Visit the Hustling Hitler website.

My Book, The Movie: Hustling Hitler.

Writers Read: Walter Shapiro.

--Marshal Zeringue