Monday, January 14, 2013

Remembering Willie Sutton and Our Troubled Past

Sutton's Law is taught in medical schools and states that when diagnosing you should first consider the obvious.  That sounds almost too obvious to state but in this age of  healthcare reform and upheaval you might need that simple reminderThe Sutton of Sutton's Law is Willie Sutton (a/k/a Slick Willie, a/k/a Willie The Actor), a famous bank robber born in a tough Irish Brooklyn neighborhood in 1901.  He died in 1980.   That doesn't seem long ago but he is not the household name that he once was.

J.R. Moehringer has written a fictionalized account of Willie's life entitled SuttonDuring his sprees he stole almost two million dollars from 100 banks and spent more than half his life behind bars.  He prided himself on his disguises (hence "The Actor") and the fact that he never killed anyoneThe book takes the reader on a New York City tour with Sutton, "Reporter" and "Photographer" on Christmas Day, 1969, when the sickly con is released due to good behavior and ill health. As they drive, Sutton relates his life story.  

The writing is fast paced and well researched.  The contrast between the early 20th century and 1969 is fascinating. The reader can't help but like Willie who was a folk hero to many during his lifetime.  He lived during a time when the "cycle of panics, depressions and soaring unemployment" turned people against banks and many rooted for him as a modern day Robin Hood.

Moehringer is the Pulitzer Prize winning writer for the Los Angeles Times whose first book The Tender Bar:  A Memoir was named one of the 100 Most Notable Books of 2005 by The New York Times. That book is a poignant account of the author's fatherless childhood whose role models were cohorts of his uncle's at the local watering holes.

Getting back to Sutton's Law and other musings of Sutton's -

On why he robbed banks Willie stated the obvious - "That's where the money is" (although Willie claims he never said that).

On why he carried a gun - "You can't rob a bank on charm and personality".

On his "career" success - "Success in any endeavor requires single-minded attention to detail and total concentration".  How true.

For a look into another troubled time check out Sutton.  

Willie Sutton