Breslin at the 2008 Brooklyn Book Festival
|Born||James Earle Breslin
October 17, 1928
Jamaica, Queens, New York City
|Died||March 19, 2017
Manhattan, New York City
|Occupation||Reporter, columnist, novelist, screenwriter, playwright, actor|
|Notable awards||George Polk Award
|Spouse||Rosemary Dattalico (1954–her death 1981)
Ronnie Eldridge (1982–his death 2017)
James Earle "Jimmy" Breslin (October 17, 1928 – March 19, 2017) was an American journalist and author. Until the time of his death, he wrote a column for the New York Daily News Sunday edition. He wrote numerous novels, and columns of his appeared regularly in various newspapers in his hometown of New York City. He served as a regular columnist for the Long Island newspaper Newsday until his retirement on November 2, 2004, though he still published occasional pieces for the paper. He was known for his newspaper columns which offered a sympathetic viewpoint of the working class people of New York City, and was awarded the 1986 Pulitzer Prize for Commentary "for columns which consistently champion ordinary citizens".
Breslin was born on October 17, 1928, in Jamaica, New York. His alcoholic father, James Earl Breslin, a piano player, went out one day to buy rolls and never returned. Breslin and his sister, Deirdre, were raised by their mother, Frances (Curtin), a high school teacher and New York City Welfare Department investigator, during the Great Depression.
Breslin began working for the Long Island Press as a copy boy in the 1940s. After leaving college, he became a columnist. His early columns were attributed to politicians and ordinary people that he chatted with in various watering holes near Queens Borough Hall. Breslin was a columnist for the New York Herald Tribune, the Daily News, the New York Journal American, Newsday, and other venues. When the Sunday supplement of the Tribune was reworked into New York magazine by editor Clay Felker in 1962, Breslin appeared in the new edition, which became "the hottest Sunday read in town."
One of his best known columns was published the day after John F. Kennedy's funeral and focused on the man who had dug the president's grave. The column is indicative of Breslin's style, which often highlights how major events or the actions of those considered "newsworthy" affect the "common man". Breslin's public profile in the 1960s as a regular guy led to a brief stint as a TV pitchman for Piels Beer, including a bar room commercial wherein he intoned in his deep voice: "Piels—it's a good drinkin' beer!"
In 1969, Breslin ran for president of the New York City Council in tandem with Norman Mailer, who was seeking election as mayor, on the unsuccessful independent 51st State ticket advocating secession of the city from the rest of the state. His memorable quote from the experience: "I am mortified to have taken part in a process that required bars to be closed."
Breslin's career as an investigative journalist led him to cultivate ties with various Mafia and criminal elements in the city, not always with positive results. In 1970, he was viciously attacked and beaten at The Suite, a restaurant then owned by Lucchese crime family associate Henry Hill. The attack was carried out by mobster Jimmy Burke, who objected to an article Breslin had written involving another member of the Lucchese family, Paul Vario. Breslin suffered a major concussion and nosebleeding, but survived the ordeal without any permanent injury.
In 1977, at the height of the Son of Sam scare in New York City, the killer, later identified as David Berkowitz, addressed letters to Breslin. Excerpts from the letters were published and used later in Spike Lee's film Summer of Sam, which Breslin, portraying himself, bookends. In 2008, the Library of America selected one of Breslin's many Son of Sam articles published in the Daily News for inclusion in its two-century retrospective of American true crime writing.
In 1978, Breslin, without significant acting experience, appeared in Joe Brooks' feature film If Ever I See You Again in a main supporting role playing "Mario Marino", the assistant to two Madison Avenue jingle composers. Breslin's performance received a Golden Turkey Award nomination for "Worst Performance by a Novelist".
In October 1986, Breslin landed his own twice-weekly late night television show on ABC, Jimmy Breslin's People, in which he was seen interviewing poor New Yorkers at home. Some of them were incarcerated. Because many network affiliates had already had committed to syndicated programming for Breslin's time slot when the new season started a month earlier, Breslin's show was often delayed or preempted altogether; even the network's flagship station WABC pushed it back from its midnight slot to 2 a.m., and would occasionally only air it one night a week. Disgusted, Breslin took out a full-page ad in The New York Times announcing that he was "firing the network" and would be ending the show after its December 20 broadcast (at which time his 13-week contract expired).
In May 1990, after fellow Newsday columnist Ji-Yeon Mary Yuh described one of his articles as sexist, Breslin heatedly retorted with racial and sexual invective. Asian American and anti-hate groups forcefully decried Breslin's outburst. Breslin appeared on the Howard Stern Show to banter about his outburst and Koreans in general. Following this controversial radio broadcast, Newsday managing editor Anthony Marro suspended Breslin for two weeks, who then apologized.
Author and former FBI agent Robert K. Ressler has stated that Breslin "baited Berkowitz and irresponsibly contributed to the continuation of his murders" by trying to sell sensationalist newspapers. In Ressler's book Whoever Fights Monsters, Ressler condemns Breslin and the media for their involvement in encouraging serial killers by directing their activity with printed conjectures.
Breslin was married twice. His first marriage, to Rosemary Dattolico, ended with her death in 1981. They had six children together: sons Kevin, James, Patrick, and Christopher, and daughters Rosemary and Kelly. His daughter Rosemary died June 14, 2004, from a rare blood disease, and his daughter Kelly, 44, died on April 21, 2009, four days after suffering from cardiac arrhythmia in a New York City restaurant. From 1982 until his death in 2017, Breslin had been married to former New York City Council member Ronnie Eldridge.
In addition to writing articles, Breslin authored multiple books. Selected works are listed below.
- 1962 Sunny Jim: The life of America's most beloved horseman, James Fitzsimmons ASIN B0007DY5XS
- 1963 Can't Anybody Here Play This Game? ASIN: B00704TRH6
- 1969 World of Jimmy Breslin ISBN 0-345-21651-2
- 1970 The Gang That Couldn't Shoot Straight ISBN 0-316-11174-0
- 1973 World without End, Amen ISBN 0-670-79020-6
- 1976 How the Good Guys Finally Won ISBN 0-345-25001-X
- 1978 .44 ISBN 0-670-32432-9
- 1983 Forsaking All Others ISBN 0-449-20250-X
- 1986 Table Money ISBN 0-89919-312-9
- 1988 He Got Hungry and Forgot His Manners ISBN 0-89919-311-0
- 1988 The World According to Jimmy Breslin ISBN 978-0-89919-310-6
- 1991 Damon Runyon: A Life ISBN 0-89919-984-4
- 1997 I Want to Thank My Brain for Remembering Me: A Memoir ISBN 0-316-11879-6
- 2002 American Lives: The Stories of the Men and Women Lost on September 11 ISBN 0-940159-77-5
- 2002 I Don't Want to Go to Jail: A Novel ISBN 0-316-12032-4
- 2002 The Short Sweet Dream of Eduardo Gutierrez ISBN 0-609-60827-4
- 2004 The Church That Forgot Christ ISBN 0-7432-6647-1
- 2005 America's Mayor: The Hidden History of Rudy Giuliani's New York – Preface to Robert Polner's book. ISBN 1-932360-58-1
- 2007 America's Mayor, America's President? The Strange Career of Rudy Giuliani – Preface to Robert Polner's next book ISBN 1-933368-72-1
- 2008 The Good Rat: A True Story ISBN 978-0-06-085666-3
- 2011 Branch Rickey ISBN 978-0-670-02249-6
- "Jimmy Breslin." Encyclopedia of World Biography. Vol. 33. Detroit: Gale, 2013. Biography in Context. Web. March 19, 2017.
- Barry, Dan (March 19, 2017). "Jimmy Breslin, Legendary New York City Newspaper Columnist, Dies at 88". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved March 19, 2017.
- Bacon, John (March 19, 2017). "'End of an era': Jimmy Breslin, legendary columnist, dies in New York". USA Today. Retrieved March 19, 2017.
- McLellan, Dennis (July 2, 2008). "Clay Felker, 82; editor of New York magazine led New Journalism charge". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved March 9, 2012.
- "Piels, Rheingold, Schaefer and Schmidt's". Mick LaSalle. April 14, 2007. Retrieved March 19, 2017.
- Mailer, John Buffalo (May 4, 2009). "Summer of '69". The American Conservative.
- "Two Irishmen: James (Whitey) Bulger and James (Jimmy the Gent) Burke: Boston vs New York". Retrieved March 19, 2017.
- "'Son of Sam' sends Jimmy Breslin a letter in 1977". Retrieved March 19, 2017.
- "What Rupert Wrought". Retrieved March 19, 2017.
- SEYMOUR, GENE (July 2, 1999). "Spike Lee's Turning Point and Living With 'Summer of Sam'". Retrieved March 19, 2017 – via LA Times.
- "True Crime: An American Anthology". Library of America. Retrieved March 19, 2017.
- "AFI Catalog of Feature Films: If Ever I See You Again". afi.com. American Film Institute. Archived from the original on September 16, 2015. Retrieved November 18, 2015.
- Buckley, Tom (June 8, 1978). "Paramount Picks Up Tab For Rights to New Musical". The Sun-Telegram. San Bernardino County, California. p. B15. Retrieved November 15, 2015 – via Newspapers.com. (subscription required (. ))
- Medved, Harry; Medved, Michael (April 14, 1980). The Golden Turkey Awards: The Worst Achievements in Hollywood History. New York City: Perigee Trade. ISBN 978-0399504631.
- Previous Award Winners – Long Island University. Retrieved March 9, 2012.
- The Pulitzer Prizes | Awards. Retrieved March 9, 2012.
- Stiffing the Graveyard Shift, Jimmy Breslin Fires Abc : People.com. Retrieved March 9, 2012.
- Archives, New York Times, May 13, 1990. Retrieved March 9, 2012
- Helen Zia, Asian American Dreams, 2000
- Kornheiser, Tony (May 9, 1990). "The Real Jimmy Breslin". The Washington Post.
- Russel, Dorothy Ing (May 13, 1990). "Jimmy Breslin, Coward and Bully". The Washington Post.
- Jones, Alex S. (May 9, 1990). "Breslin is Given 2-Week Suspension". The New York Times.
- Ressler, Robert K. (1992). Whoever Fights Monsters. St. Martin's Paperbacks. ISBN 0312950446.
- Hauser, Christine (April 23, 2009). "Breslin's Daughter Dies After Collapse". The New York Times. Retrieved April 2, 2010.
- Roberts, Sam (April 2, 1989). "TELEVISION; Jimmy Breslin Goes Hollywood, Family and All". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved March 19, 2017.
- "Books by Jimmy Breslin". Goodreads.