Wednesday, May 13, 2009

How I Got The Idea For Banquet Before Dawn

This was my second novel. During my early years in Washington when I was in the Public Relations business, I ran a campaign for a man seeking to fill a Congressional Seat in Maryland. This was back in the early seventies. The country was in ferment. Neighborhoods were changing radically. Race riots had occurred in the late sixties in Washington and Baltimore. I witnessed them at first hand. At the time I owned a radio station in Baltimore.

The station studios were in the Penthouse of a building directly across the street from the Armory. From my window I could see National Guardsmen in uniform and armed. In the parking lot was an assortment of military vehicles. One had the sense that law and order was breaking down and the politicians could not control the government.

Not long before I had attended a veterans convention in Boston and an incident occurred that added to those elements that together triggered the idea for this novel. My wife and I entered a restaurant in downtown Boston with two friends, both representatives of the government, a state department official and military officer. There weren’t many patrons in the restaurant and we were enjoying a few rounds of drinks before dinner.

One of my friends began a conversation about Mayor Curley who had run Boston with an iron hand and had been recently convicted of corruption and was serving time in prison. Curley was an icon, especially to the Irish community, which at the time was the power elite that ran the city. Loyalty to Curley, despite the corruption scandal was still endemic. The Boston Irish loved Curley with an emotional fierceness that brooked no criticism.

My friend, buoyed by the booze was particularly virulent in his distaste for Curley and voiced his criticism loud enough to attract attention in the nearly empty restaurant.

As we talked, a policeman arrived and sat down in a conspicuous spot directly in our site line. He proceeded to unbutton the leather holster at his side displaying the handle of his firearm. We interpreted this action as a direct attempt at intimidation to answer the insult my friend had apparently made to his political hero.

The policeman sat there, staring at us throughout the meal. I recall being reminded of the book by Frank O’Connor titled “The Last Hurrah” a fictional account of Mayor Curley’s last campaign, a brilliant book that was made into an equally brilliant movie with Spencer Tracy playing the Mayor. Although it is hard to pinpoint the exact eureka moment when the germ of the idea for Banquet Before Dawn popped into my mind, but I am certain that it was these elements and memories that became the ingredients for the stew that nourished my imagination and created the story.

After all, the book is about an aging Irish politician from a Brooklyn district that was once predominantly Irish and the Congressman had always been a shoo-in for re-election. His district has undergone a swift and radical change, from Irish to Black. Not only had the racial content changed radically, his Irish base had disintegrated and he was suddenly confronted by the realization of his irrelevance. Although brilliant in his social skills and political savvy, he cannot relate to the new people and the new alliances. His political appearance at a traditional event in a Brooklyn hotel results in disastrous consequences and closes the coffin on his political career.

It was never optioned for a film, but one of my acquaintances the late Jason Robards, a superb actor of Irish ancestry read the book, loved it, related to and wanted to star in it if it was ever sold the movies. One day, perhaps, it may make it to the silver screen.

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