Bette Davis

JACK THE RIPPER ‘THE DEMENTED GENIUS’ – HIS DEEDS AND TIMES

SIX – INSPECTOR ABBERLINE

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It sounds like the name of a branded product created to appeal to women, perhaps a perfumed soap meant to suggest romance and sunshine.  Inspector Abberline was far less complicated and had nowhere near the amount of sex appeal of Johnny Deep.   In the fanciful movie From Hell the actor portrayed the Inspector as a moody opium addict.   The film had other absurd notions. But even if we resist the Jack the Ripper investigation as romantic mystery, bashful Inspector Abberline still had two relationships with women that would have been useful as plots for movies.

In the tradition of a fine Hollywood weepie his first wife Martha Mackness died eight weeks after their marriage.  Martha was twenty-five years old but no match for a lung infection that became tuberculosis.  Bette Davis would have been great as Martha. Davis would have stammered and died after a couple of poignant blinks. George Marshall is the obvious choice for Abberline. The English actor would have hidden refined grief behind his famous stiff upper lip. It gets better because Marshall and Abberline both limped. Marshall carried an artificial leg, and Abberline had a serious varicose vein in his left leg below the knee.

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The biographers believe that Abberline coped with grief by focussing on work and that his obsessive application resulted in promotion to sergeant two years after being recruited by the Metropolitan Police.   His attitude also helped. Frederick Abberline was unusual. He was an honest policeman who had the unusual idea that crimes should be reported and criminals prosecuted.  The other London policemen liked to dismiss burglaries as disturbances and to report thefts as lost property. Despite his zeal Abberline was reluctant to arrest women for crimes he regarded as petty. The policeman who grew up in a quiet Dorset village had a reputation for being shy with the opposite sex but perhaps because of what happened to Martha he was sensitive to the suffering of women and able to recognise victims.  He would make an effort to research the lives of women and understand their plight.

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The shyness of Abberline was also an important element in the second romantic episode in his life.   Abberline met Emma Beaument in the foyer of a London theatre. She dropped her ticket on the floor, and the off-duty detective picked it up. In protective mood he accompanied Emma into the theatre, and they sat together to watch the show. Not much was said and when the show finished they separated.  Outside the theatre , though, Abberline witnessed a thief robbing the purse of Emma.  Abberline chased the man, arrested him and returned the purse to Emma Beaument. They married and stayed together until Abberline died at the age of 86. Emma died three months after the death of her husband. The romantic tale, though, should not be mistaken for a weepie.   The tragedy of old age happened well after this movie finished.  A story of accident, coincidence, mishap, stumbles and love belongs in a heart-warming comedy.

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Fred Abberline was born in Dorset in a village called Blandford on the 8th January 1843. Almost a hundred years later someone else with another interesting name would be born on the same day. Elvis Presley arrived in 1935 and before he became the King of Rock and Roll he drove a truck. Fred Abberline worked as an apprentice clockmaker before he left Dorset to join the police and later become involved with the notorious chart-topping murderer Jack the Ripper. As an apprentice clockmaker, Abberline walked three miles each way to his place of work. The journeys extended the time away from home. The working day of Abberline in Blandford lasted from five in the morning to ten at night. Abberline was not as pretty as either the rock and roll king or the film star who pretended that the detective was an addict of opium. The height and build of Abberline have been described as medium, and at the time of the Ripper murders his dark brown hair was thinning. Abberline, though, had a square serious face that looked good under a Victorian Derby hat.   The one half decent photograph that exists of the detective reveals a man who would have been acceptable as one of the farmworkers in the 60s movie version of Far From The Madding Crowd.  Yet the white shepherd smock, staff and battered straw hat would have reduced him.

Abberline was wise to move to London. As a detective, he wore a suit. His appearance may have helped him to establish contacts in Whitechapel.  Liverpudlians like to talk about honorary Scousers, people born outside the City but who settle and share sympathies.   Abberline was an honorary East Ender. He developed friendships, and his rural Dorset accent slipped towards Cockney.   In Whitechapel his face was recognisable and his manner was something that felt familiar to the locals in every sense. Abberline was not in charge of the Ripper investigation.   Chief Inspector Donald Swanson was responsible for the enquiry but he was based in Scotland Yard managing his superiors and the media. Abberline was based in Whitechapel searching for witnesses amongst the people he knew and understood.

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He joined the Metropolitan Police in 1863 when he was twenty years old. Two years later he was promoted to Sergeant. Fifteen years after joining the Metropolitan Police he attained the rank of Inspector. There was some subsequent progress because he became a detective and was transferred to Scotland Yard where he became a Chief Inspector. Four years after being replaced on the Ripper investigation by Inspector Henry Moore, Abberline left the police. Moore continued to investigate the murders for another seven years after the final Ripper murder but his team was much smaller, a token force.   In subsequent interviews Abberline referred to 16,000 papers being examined or produced as a result of police enquiries into the Ripper crimes. ‘Theories,’ said Abberline, ‘we were lost almost in theories, there were so many of them.’

When Severin Klosowski was put on trial in 1903 for poisoning his three wives, Abberline speculated that perhaps Klosowski was Jack the Ripper. But by then Abberline was just another amateur expert. His conviction about Klosowski faded with time. When journalist and dramatist George R Sims alleged later that the police knew the identity of the Ripper, there was a response from Abberline. ‘You can state most categorically that Scotland Yard is really no wiser on the subject than it was fifteen years ago.’

 

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A year after he left the Ripper investigation, Abberline had a role in the Cleveland Street scandal. The police arrested a telegraph boy for theft but the boy explained that he was being paid as a prostitute in a brothel in Cleveland Street and that was why he had fifteen shillings in his pocket. The other prostitutes in the brothel were also telegraph boys. The boy who was arrested named names, and Abberline went to serve a warrant to Charles Hammond who ran the brothel and eighteen-year-old Henry Newlove who was the telegraph boy that recruited other boys. The brothel had aristocratic customers.   Prince Albert Victor was rumoured to call at Cleveland Street. In the following century he was also suspected of being Jack the Ripper. The latter rumour is nonsense, and there are doubts about the former.  Prince Albert appears to have been anything but useful, and some of the rumours are maybe true but there are so many they contradict each other.

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Neither Hammond nor the aristocratic customers were prosecuted. The boy prostitutes received what were considered to be light sentences. The radical newspaper, the North London Press, was suspicious about what had happened in court.   In the scandal that followed there were trials and litigation. Reputations and possibly honour were at stake. It all became very complicated.  Abberline was disappointed that the warrants he served had little effect, and it may or may not have been a factor in him resigning from the police three years later. He worked as a private enquiry agent for Pinkerton and six years after joining the Agency he was put in charge of the entire European operations. His record in the Pinkerton Agency indicates not only that Abberline continued to be inspired by detective work and crime but he also had a capacity for administration. The man had authority, and it was not restricted to the forgotten of Whitechapel.

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He retired at the age of 61. In the next 25 years two people who had been obliged to once visit the theatre alone settled in Bournemouth and shared their lives, leisure and comfort.   Today he would have exploited his celebrity and even at the end of the 19th Century he could have used the murders to assemble a fortune. He did not. Neither Fred nor Emma left much money but it does no harm to think he had a code that gave him self-respect. Fred and Emma were buried in an unmarked grave but in 2007 there was a campaign for the grave to be marked. A local stonemason donated a headstone.   The building in Holdenhurst Road Bournemouth where Fred and Emma lived and died has a blue plaque. It remembers a Detective nowhere near as famous as the villain he pursued. Holdenhurst Road now has a Tesco Express store.

 Howard Jackson has had seven books published by Red Rattle Books including novels, short stories and collections of film criticism.   If you are interested in original horror and crime fiction and want information about the books of Howard Jackson and the other great titles at Red Rattle Books, click here.

 

 

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THE MOVIE CHALLENGES

BONUS FEATURE – JOHN GARFIELD

1913-1952

 

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John Garfield was a tough guy with a weak heart. Both qualities were a consequence of his childhood. A heavy dose of scarlet fever left Garfield with the damaged heart. His impoverished childhood meant he ran wild on the streets of New York. He even sampled the life of a hobo. The opening sentence of the novella The Postman Always Rings Twice by James M Cain is one of the best ever; ‘They threw me off the hay truck about noon.’ After that the beginning of the movie was destined to be an anti-climax, and it would have been except that it was authentic tough guy John Garfield falling off the back of the truck.   The novella by Cain was sexy and a little twisted. The movie was censored by the Motion Picture Production Code but the bureaucrats could do nothing about the lusty expectation in the eyes of Garfield and the open mouth simper of Lana Turner. The movie was a big hit. Audiences liked Turner and Garfield.   If Turner was sexy and beautiful, the appeal of Garfield was more complicated.

 

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John Garfield was an actor rated by both the critics and his peers. He had a naturalistic style that anticipated Brando and an intensity that could be compared to Cagney. Garfield can be described as the link between the two actors and the different acting traditions. Garfield, like Cagney, was a physical actor.  In his performances he holds a cigarette and a telephone as if they are weapons. When he turns the pages of a newspaper, he concentrates in a way that insists we think about the information he is absorbing. There are many fabulous moments in his career and more than a few in his greatest movie, the best ever film noir Force Of Evil. At one point in Force Of Evil, Garfield walks through a corridor. He is a lawyer, and running is not permissible. To let us know that he is determined, Garfield tilts his shoulder so that it is at an angle to the floor and he walks in a line that is not quite straight.   The gesture is an exaggerated way of communicating determination but it is also audacious and it succeeds.

Actors who shared a similar background to Garfield could provide physical authenticity but struggled with subtle dialogue.   John Garfield also had a good ear. Nothing in his career was as challenging as the dialogue in Force Of Evil.  In subsequent interviews the director Abraham Polonsky claimed that the dialogue in the film was not the blank verse the critics assumed.  According to Polonsky, he did nothing more than sprinkle some repetition and add poetical rhythm.   Whatever we are listening to, Garfield is adept.  He provides a lyrical lilt and adds tension to the pauses.

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His heart, and perhaps his background, caused the death of the actor in 1952.  John Garfield was 39 years old.  In the previous year he made his last film He Ran All The Way.  Weariness, which may have had something to do with what was happening in his life, informed a convincing performance. Garfield played Nick Robey an amoral criminal who is without pity for his victims. But, because of the acting by Garfield, we understand that the criminal is a wounded animal. Nick Robey, like many others, never had a chance.   Critics and fellow actors understood the skill of Garfield. The rest of us approved of him because he appeared to be like the people we knew, an ordinary man, cocky but shy, arrogant but insecure, loud but wary, innocent but tricky and cunning. In the 40s there was no one like Garfield and that still applied when his movies appeared on British TV many years later.

Not all the movies that John Garfield made were great but that has something to do with him having to do what he was told by Hollywood.   Before the end of his career he co-founded the independent production company The Enterprise Studio. The nine films made by the studio are a mixed bunch.   They include Westerns, comedies and romantic dramas.  None are awful but three are important.  Caught is a fine film noir from the great director Max Ophuls, and Body And Soul and Force Of Evil are the two classics.  These two were made because of the independence and single-mindedness of The Enterprise Studio. The later blacklisted Abraham Polonsky wrote the scripts for both films and he directed Force Of Evil.

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For all of his life Polonsky believed that capitalism was a flawed economic and social system. The movies, though, are not tainted by pedestrian dialectic. Polonsky liked to suggest rather than preach.   Right wing cynics assumed that he nailed the flaws in human nature. Left wing rebels secretly waved the flag under their cinema seat.  In both of the Polonsky films Garfield plays a man who has ambition, someone who wants money and what and whom it buys. He is always, though, more than mere gluttony and appetites. Fear feeds his ambition.  The moments of conscience are sparse but believable.

In a better world it would have been different. Garfield would have lived until he was old, Polonsky would not have been blacklisted, and more great films from the two men would have followed. Instead of being restricted to being a movie icon of the 40s, Garfield would have accepted the offer of the part of Stanley Kowalski in A Streetcar Named Desire. Because of his involvement with The Enterprise Studio, Garfield said no, and Brando took the role.  Marlon was so good people looked to the future rather than remember the past. The memory and contribution of John Garfield was obscured by the hard-hitting realism of Brando and the daring of Tennessee Williams.  It could have been different. Brando would have arrived whatever Garfield had done. If Garfield had claimed the part of Kowalski, the two men might have shaped and shared the decade and what followed.

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It did not happen. Garfield stayed in Hollywood and made two classic movies but was persecuted by the House Committee on Un-American Activities. His wife had been a member of the Communist Party.   The accepted opinion is that Garfield was a left leaning liberal.  In his testimony to the House Committee he condemned Communism.  He proclaimed himself to be a patriot and a Democrat.  During the Second World War he made a few patriotic flag wavers, again they included a couple of classics, Air Force and Destination Tokyo.  In Hollywood there were creative talents who were committed to Marxist ideology.  The House Committee wanted names of what they regarded as fellow conspirators. There was no conspiracy just a few people exchanging ideas and theory but the lack of a sinister plot was no deterrent to the members of the Committee.   Left wing writers and directors were put under pressure to reveal names, and the majority buckled. John Garfield had less reason than others to resist. He was asked to identify people who had political opinions with which he disagreed. Resist, though, he did. John Garfield had his tough guy ethics, the code of the street and his social class. He refused to give names. When he had to do something other than pretend to be a hero, John Garfield delivered.   His two children both became actors.  His inspiration reached beyond the movie screen and into an admiring family.

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The authenticity of John Garfield was a key factor in his success as a movie actor yet the truth is he had more than that.   He was handsome from certain angles but ordinary in others. He convinced both as a lover and warrior. His politics were inspired by decency rather than theory. The performances of Garfield remind an audience that he has not forgotten what it is like to suffer and be powerless. He is always a dominant personality but in many of his films he qualifies as the victim. If his characters become rich, they have to battle and take knocks. He was persuasive as a boxer but also as a gangster with an aching heart. And he also held his own against magnetic female stars such as Lana Turner, Bette Davis and Joan Crawford.

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Apart from the Polonsky duo there are two other films where Garfield and his sense of what capricious life means for ordinary people puts him in a special class. These are The Sea Wolf and They Made Me A Criminal. The latter is a piece of tosh.  The happy ending is unbelievable yet a relief because that is what anyone watching wants for Garfield.  The Sea Wolf is based on the fine novel by Jack London. The adaptation shelves the second half of the book, which is okay because people had to get home after watching the film. A sequel would have been welcome because we could have watched Garfield and Ida Lupino battle the privations of life on a remote island.  But maybe the solitary hero was not in the nature of John Garfield.  He may have been a lonely man when he appeared in front of the House Committee on Un-American activities but his heroism was always defined by his sympathy for the victims of the powerful.  In The Sea Wolf he is the rebellious George Leach who struggles against the cruel captain Wolf Larsen.  Garfield does what he does best.  He resists and protests. It is how he will be remembered.

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 Howard Jackson has had seven books published by Red Rattle Books including novels, short stories, a travel book and collections of film criticism.   If you are interested in original horror and crime fiction and want information about the books of Howard Jackson and the other great titles at Red Rattle Books, click here.