Monday, September 12, 2011

"Dark Harbor" by Nathan Ward

In this colorful and enjoyable history, Nathan Ward has brilliantly tied together the story of corruption along the New York waterfront of the 1930's through the 1950's with the iconic film "On the Waterfront." Utilizing the Pulitzer Prize winning series of articles by New York Sun reporter Malcom Johnson, Mr. Ward has pieced together the facts behind the thinly disguised fiction of the Elia Kazan film. Working with playwright Arthur Miller, and actor Marlon Brando, gave that film a reality that still has a bite, even now when viewed almost 60 years later.

The author takes the reader on a pier by pier journey through the corruption that ate away at the social fabrics of whole neighborhoods, gobbling up livelihoods, and often lives, as it swallowed the promise of the American Dream based on hard work.

The "shape-up", the humiliating practice of having men bribe, and beg, for a day’s work, is explored in detail. The real life characters that were the basis for the main players in "On the Waterfront" are all exposed here through the real life experiences of the working men, and their families, who were all victims to the thugs and organized criminal enterprises who ran the docks. There really were Johnny Friendly's and Kayo Dugan’s, just as there were real life Terry Malloy's, all caught up in the struggle to provide either pinky rings for themselves, or food and shelter for their families. There really was a Crime Commission investigating the labor practices along the waterfront, and witnesses were killed for testifying before them.

Of special interest in this book are the preparations for the filming of "On the Waterfront", with both Arthur Miller and Marlon Brando walking the streets of Red Hook, where the movie takes place, in order to capture the real feel of the time and place. Brando didn't think he could walk the streets unrecognized as Marlon Brando. Donning his costume, and carrying his cargo hook, he strode through the neighborhood, without raising an eyebrow. That's when he knew he was ready.

From Albert Anastasia, in the area of the Fulton Street Fish Market, to Charlie Yanowsky, in Jersey City, the cast of characters is colorful in this engaging book which chronicles the sordid history of New York's waterfront. In 1948 it was written that "the New York waterfront produces more murders per square foot than any other one section of the country."

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