Celebrity, crime and bad behavior seem to run in the same circles, especially with the media watching and the 24/7 news cycle. Anyone who remembers the O. J. Simpson trial of twenty years ago can testify as to the impact of the media, fueled by the internet, on celebrity, and for that matter, on justice. Or, recall the bad behavior of celebrities. Their names and images have been in living rooms around the world, after their bad behavior was made public. But celebrity based on crime and/or bad behavior is nothing new. Starting in the recent past, books based on political celebrities recently caught having extramarital affairs have been best sellers. John Edwards’ campaign aide’s book about his boss’s affair, The Politician : an Insider’s Account of John Edwards’s Pursuit of the Presidency and the Scandal that Brought Him Down, received a lot publicity when it was published earlier this year. Jenny Sanford, ex-wife of then South Carolina governor, now Congressman Mark Sanford, wrote a memoir, Staying True, chronicling the effect of her husband’s affair on their family. Both authors made tours of tv talk shows. Hilary Clinton’s run for President brings to mind her husband’s affair with an intern when he was president.
If you think politicians having affairs is a relatively new thing, check the story of President Warren G. Harding, who was elected in 1920. Although married, Harding had a long relationship with another woman from his home town in Ohio. In the 1960s, the author of The Shadow of Blooming Grove was served with injunction forbidding him to publish letters between Harding and his mistress. Forty years later, the author of The Harding Affair had no such barrier to revealing the correspondence between the two lovers. A different woman accused him of fathering her child in a White House closet.
John Wilkes Booth was a celebrity as a stage actor before he assassinated Abraham Lincoln. James Swanson’s Manhunt: the Twelve Day Chase for Lincoln’s Killer describes the well-known actor trying to evade the authorities who were looking for him.
A modern fugitive who became a cult hero and was much more successful in evading capture was Eric Rudolph. After three years running from searchers in Western North Carolina, Rudolph was finally run to ground in Murphy, North Carolina. This book describes his life on the run: Lone Wolf.
Before the internet, television, newspapers and newsreels fed the celebrity mill. Bonnie and Clyde became notorious for robbing banks before being gunned down in an ambush in Louisiana. Fontana Regional Library has several books about the gun toting couple, the most recent of which is Go Down Together: the True Untold Story of Bonnie and Clyde. Don’t forget the movie version starring Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway, which in the Fontana catalog.
Celia Cooley was not as famous on the national scale as Bonnie and Clyde, but she achieved her own level of celebrity in New York city, where she was famous or notorious (take your pick) for robbing grocery stores in the 1920s. Her tale is told in The Bobbed Haired Bandit.
Zoe Wilkins was trained as an osteopath early in the twentieth century, but she spent more time seducing men and becoming addicted to drugs and alcohol than pursuing a medical career. Towards the end of end of her life, when she contended with legal problems, her lawyer was the son of Jesse James. You can read about her in The Love Pirate and the Bandit’s Son : Murder, Sin, and Scandal in the Shadow of Jesse James .
Note: This blog was originally published in April 2010.