When Films are Slow, Read a Book
It's a slow week for new movies.
The most promising is the Amelia Earhart biopic "Amelia," starring Hilary Swank, but due to my new day job, I was unable to get to an advance screening.
The good news for film buffs is the 24th annual Fort Lauderdale Film Festival begins tonight at Miniaci Performuing Arts Center in Davie.
FLIFF continues through Nov. 11 with screenings at Cinema Paradiso, 503 SE Sixth St., Fort Lauderdale. Go to www.fliff.com for details.
Life During Prohibition
One of the good things about a book is that you can read any time you want, as time permits.
"Wicked Palm Beach: Lifestyles of the Rich and Heinous," is the latest from journalist and history buff Eliot Kleinberg.
Each chapter of "Wicked" is an expanded version of columns that originally appeared in the Palm Beach Post, where Kleinberg still works.
Most of the tales occurred during the Prohibition Era, from 1919-1933.
It is very difficult to legislate morality, and just about impossible if laws prohibit something most people want.
The "Noble Experiment" of the prohibition of alcoholic becverages, enacted as the Eigtheeth Amendment, turned the United States into a nation of criminals. It made bootleggers and gangsters rich and transformed ordinary people who simply wanted to relax with an alcoholic beverage, scofflaws.
Because of Florida's proximity to the Bahamas, where alcohol has always been readily available, the state became a hotbed of illegal activity, which bred crime and lawlessness.
Kleinberg chronicles such well-known crime lords as Al Capone and John Dillinger and their Florida connections, as well as lesser-known figures like John Horace Alderman, the ruthless "Gulf Stream Pirate." A whole chapter is devoted to the infamous Ashley Gang of Jupiter.
Rubbing elbows with the unsavory were such celebrities as George Gershwin, Babe Ruth and Hoagy Carmichael, all of whom had Palm Beach County connections.
Then there are tales of ordinary life: the boom-time buildings of West Palm Beach (some still standing), era movie theaters and boxing venues, mail service, bridges and highways, the first radio station and even license plates.
As a lifelong history buff with a particular fondness for Florida and its wild and wooly past, I find "Wicked Palm Beach" both fascinating and educational.
Write on, Eliot.
"Wicked Palm Beach" ($19.95) is published by The History Press of Charleston, South Carolina. Go to www.historypress.net.
Overseas Highway an "All-American Road"
In other Florida history news, the Florida Keys Overseas Highway has been declared an "All-American Road" by the Federal Highway Administration.
If you've ever driven down to Key West, you know there is no other highway in America remotely like the stretch of U.S. 1 from Key Largo south to Mile Marker Zero at the southernmost point of the USA.
I first visited the Keys as a Boy Scout on a camping trip in 1959. Back then a trip on the narrow, rickety highway, built atop 1912 trestles of the Florida East Coast
and opened in 1938, was quite an adventure.
I first drove the road in 1970 and have been back many times, most memorably by motorcyle.
The ride became safer, more comfortable and less white-knuckle in 1982 when 37 of the original bridges were replaced with wider, DOT-approved spans.
Many of the old bridges stand alonside the new, in mute testimony to the many who suffered and died building this "Eighth Wonder of the Word."
The Florida Keys Overseas Highway is one of only 20 in the country designated All-American Road.