Tag Archives: crime

Journalism in the movies (Whitey Bulger edition)

By Christopher B. Daly 

A tip of the old scally cap to Dick Lehr — my colleague at Boston University and an old friend. He has a front-page piece today in his old employer, The Boston Globe, about his experiences visiting the film sets for the shooting of the feature film being made based on his book Black Mass. That excellent book, which Dick co-wrote with his former Globe colleague Gerry O’Neill, is the basis for a film being made with Johnny Depp, Dakota Johnson, Kevin Bacon, Peter Saarsgard, and Julianne Nicholson (who should not need any Boston-accent coaching, since she is a native of my hometown — nearby Medford, which was a stronghold of the Italian mafia that Whitey helped to bring down.) Personally, I am looking forward to the performance of Benedict Cumberbatch as Whitey’s brother, Billy — the former state Senate president, whom I covered from 1983-1989. 


Director Scott Cooper (l.) and writer Dick Lehr confer.

Dick told me yesterday that he has been spending a fair amount of time on the set, consulting about details for director Scott Cooper. The Globe says Dick will also have a cameo role in the film.





In his piece today, Dick struggles to describe his feelings as an author seeing specifics from his own reporting rendered into scenes and dialogue. Most compelling is the performance of Johnny Depp, who has occupied the role of the gangster and murderer Whitey Bulger. According to Lehr:

Whitey is fully in command, cold and calculating. In a close-up, there’s that terrifying look in his eyes. When the director yells, “Cut,’’ the filmmaking spell may be broken, but everyone viewing in the video tent stays quiet, still mesmerized, as a big chill lingers from the scene just finished a few yards away.

He compares his own experience as a journalist/writer to the reaction recorded by Truman Capote on the set of the filming of the movie “In Cold Blood,” based on his true-crime story. In Dick’s version:

Truman Capote once wrote an essay about visiting the set during the 1967 filming of his book “In Cold Blood,” and I wish I could compose lines as artful as his to describe the experience of seeing an actor who has brought an antagonist you know to life.

“I thought a ghost had sauntered in out of the sunshine,’’ he wrote about seeing Robert Blake for the first time portraying the killer Perry Smith. Capote said he had trouble processing the “mesmerizing reality’’ of the actor cast as Perry, because he was Perry, and that’s how it was with Johnny: He was Whitey. It was disorienting, “like a free fall down an elevator shaft,’’ as Capote put it. “The familiar eyes, placed in a familiar face, examining me with the detachment of a stranger.”

Perfect_storm_posterAll of which brings to mind the larger trend of works of journalism in the hands of filmmakers — either Hollywood feature 200px-Guadalcanal_Diary_1943_posterfilm directors or documentarians. Over the decades, plenty of true stories have been told first by journalists and then by filmmakers. From Guadalcanal Diary (book by Richard Tregaskis, film by Lewis Seiler) to The Perfect Storm (book by Sebastian Junger, film by Wolfgang Petersen) and on to the current filming of Black Mass, it has been a long and productive alliance.


What are your favorite examples of works of journalism providing the basis for films? Let’s get a list going.



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Whitey Bulger tries to exclude certain reporters from his trial. I object!

By Christopher B. Daly 

Whitey Bulger, courtesy of Boston PD. One of the greatest mugshots in the history of the genre.

Whitey Bulger, courtesy of Boston PD. One of the greatest mugshots in the history of the genre.

It is hardly news that Whitey Bulger — accused of 19 murders and more bad acts — is a mean and vindictive guy. It is also no secret that he does not like news reporters, especially the ones who have dogged him over the years when he was running rampant in Boston, corrupting the FBI, and laughing at all of us while he lived as a fugitive.

Now that his trial is getting underway in U.S. District Court in Boston, Bulger has come up with a clever (or “cute,” as we used to say when I was a kid) way to tweak some of those reporters. Here’s how: his attorney, the otherwise honorable J.W. Carney, has listed five reporters as potential witnesses. Once they are named as witnesses, they are banned from attending regular court sessions. They can attend only the session in which they are called as a witness.

Cute, huh?

Here’s the list of reporters Bulger wants to exclude:

–Dick Lehr, my BU colleague and former Boston Globe investigative reporter, who recently published the definitive biography of Whitey.

–Gerry O’Neill, a former BU colleague and former Globie who was Dick’s co-author on Whitey.

–Shelley Murphy, a current Globe crime writer, who co-wrote a rival Whitey biography.

–Kevin Cullen, current Globe columnist and Murphy’s co-author.

–Howie Carr, Herald columnist and former wise aleck turned mean-spirited conservative, who wrote The Brothers Bulger, defining Whitey as only half of the family business, allowing him to fire away at Whitey’s brother Billy, who ruled over the Massachusetts state Senate while Whitey was getting away with murder all sorts of mischief.

For several decades now, these five journalists have done a great public service to the people of Boston, and they deserve to be in court — in the front row.

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