The story of Jimmy Walker who became mayor of New York in the '20s. Used by professional politicians and money-grabbers, Walker himself was "stupid but clean", although his open affair with Betty Compton cost him dear. Written by
Jeremy Perkins <firstname.lastname@example.org>
I believe it was Walter Winchell who coined that nickname for James J. Walker, Mayor of New York from 1926 to 1932 and the subject of this biographical film starring Bob Hope. It was Hope's last stab at a serious dramatic part. While he does well in it, Hope never tried as serious a role again in his career.
Jimmy Walker was the Majority leader of the State Senate and was the personal choice of Governor Alfred E. Smith to be Mayor of New York. Then as now, Republican mayors of New York City were a rarity, the Democratic nomination was sufficient guarantee to be elected.
Al Smith had dreams of being the Democratic presidential candidate. He almost was in 1924, but could not get past William Gibbs McAdoo that year in the famous 103 ballot convention that eventually turned to compromise dark horse candidate John W. Davis who went down in November to Calvin Coolidge. Smith wanted to secure his home base, but the mayoralty of New York and the patronage of the office was controlled by Smith's arch enemy, publisher William Randolph Hearst and his stooge Mayor John F. Hylan. Smith ran Walker in the 1925 primary and beat Hylan and then Walker handily won the General Election.
Smith knew Walker was a lightweight and he took the unusual step of having a gubernatorial office put in City Hall where he would be at least once a week, keeping tabs on Jimmy. Smith became the Democratic presidential candidate in 1928 and lost to Herbert Hoover. No longer governor, Smith was not around to keep Walker on a short leash. That's when he got into trouble.
Walker was a colorful figure during Prohibition. He and Smith were both unalterably opposed to the idea and Smith even served notice that the law enforcement arm of New York State would not be wasting its time on policing the drinking habits of New Yorkers. Walker got the nickname the Night Mayor of New York because as often as not he'd sleep all day and be partying all night at the famous Central Park Casino.
It was there that Walker met showgirl and began a long term affair with her. His marriage to his wife Allie was long over, but for appearance's sake, for the millions of Catholic voters in New York he kept the facade up.
Times have certainly changed. We now have a former Mayor of New York, named Rudolph Giuliani running for president with three marriages to his credit and a nasty divorce that got spread out in the tabloids.
Nobody ever mentioned Walker and president in the same breath. It was trouble enough to keep him paying attention to his job as mayor. The cronies he had from Tammany Hall ran wild, especially when Smith was no longer governor to keep them and him in line. During the boom times of the Twenties, people laughed at his colorful antics, but come the Depression and the stories of graft became routine newspaper stories, public opinion turned against Walker overnight.
Bob Hope made a fine Jimmy Walker and the two women in his life, Vera Miles as Betty and Alexis Smith as Allie give him good support. In one of his last films, Walter Catlett makes a brief appearance as Alfred E. Smith, and the rest of the cast is headed by Paul Douglas as a Tammany boss and Darren McGavin as Charles Hand, Walker's press secretary and conscience.
Beau James is a colorful account of a colorful era. It certainly as a film version of his life one that Jimmy Walker would have approved of.
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