Chicago is adapted from a play of the same name by Maurine Watkins. She was a reporter from the Chicago Tribune during the 1920’s. Watkins used her own articles on the crime within Chicago to create the satirical story of Roxie Hart and Velma Kelly. This journalist turned playwright exposed the corruption of Chicago with humour and themes which, unfortunately, will always be relevant in the court of law.
Female reporters were often expected to report on the emotional awareness or unawareness of the female suspect. It became easy for the images of these criminals to become distorted to their advantage merely by the way they presented themselves to the masses. Demeanor, hair, makeup, and clothes all affected the way reporters were supposed to sympathize with them. This way, criminals like Roxie and Velma got off of their cases and even became media sensations. Take, for example, the trial of Ruth Snyder. The original Chicago was running on Broadway when Snyder’s trial was receiving more press than the sinking of the Titanic in 1912.
The material for her play primarily came from the trials of Beulah May Annan and Belva Gaertner. Belva Gartner was a twice divorcee who was accused of killing her lover in her car. When they found Walter Law slumped over the wheel of her sedan, a 1/5th bottle of liquor was found along with a revolver. Belva was found in her apartment, down the street from the murder scene, hysterically pacing with her clothes covered in blood. Her defense was that she was so drunk she couldn’t remember what had happened. Belva was known as the classiest of women, especially of those on murderess row. What she lacked in practical skill, she made up for by hiring the other inmates to do her laundry, iron press her undergarments, and clean her bunk. Before her time in jail and her marriage to Mr. Gaertner, she had been on the stage as Belle Brown, a vaudeville performer. This is the character of Velma Kelly.
Beulah Annan was known as the “prettiest murderess” for her red hair and fair looks. She was accused of shooting her lover, Harry Kalstedt, in the back in her and her husband’s apartment. Her husband stood by her during the ordeal, and when she told the public she was pregnant he filed for divorce. Through the process of the trial he decided that he was wrong, but when she was acquitted of the crime she didn’t take him back. Beulah claimed self defense of herself and her unborn child. This is inspiration for Roxie Hart. Both women were found Not Guilty of their crimes.
Buy it on Amazon: Chicago: With the Chicago Tribune Articles that Inspired It
The Girls of Murder City is a novel by Douglas Perry which pairs excerpts of Watkins’s articles and other newspaper publications covering crime and the “girl gunners” of the 1920’s Chicago crime scene. Perry displays the world of Chicago in an imaginative and accurate portrait of the social scenes which influenced the crimes on the Murderesses and other civilians. The main focus of the novel is the evolution of Watkins as a reporter and a writer in a male dominated field focusing on female-related issues. Fame, fortune, beauty, lust, and love all shaped the outcomes of each of the cases followed by Watkins, and the way the papers relieved the material made a large impact on the way the juries received the cases. Male dominated juries were the law in Chicago even though women has earned suffrage with the 19th amendment in 1919. Perry issues a background look at the personalities of the women of Murderess Row, particularly Belva and Beulah, and the thoughts that may have gone through their heads. His third-person narration breaks down the details of each case and unscrambles the madness of police reports, newspaper articles, and quotes that stirred up rumors and speculation until the truth was blurred and no one knew truth from fact, right from wrong, and sin from virtue.
But it on Amazon: The Girls of Murder City
Lutes, J. M. “Tears on Trial in the 1920s: Female Emotion and Style in Chicago and Machinal.” Tulsa Studies in Women’s Literature 30.2 (2011): 343-369. Project MUSE. Web. 8 Jul. 2016. <https://muse.jhu.edu/>.
Thomas H. Pauly, introduction to Chicago: With the “Chicago Tribune” Articles That Inspired It, by Watkins, ed. Pauly (Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1997), xxxii; and Jennifer Jones, Medea’s Daughters, 43.
Watkins, Maurine Dallas. Chicago: With the Chicago Tribune Articles That Inspired It. Ed. Thomas H. Pauly. N.p.: Southern Illinois Univeristy, n.d. Print.
Perry, Douglas. The Girls of Murder City: Fame, Lust, and the Beautiful Killers Who Inspired Chicago. New York: Viking, 2010. Print.