Monday, February 11, 2013
The Beau Brummell of Brownsville
I've written in the past about Harry "Pep" Strauss, the Syndicate trigger man who was perhaps the most prolific of Murder, Inc.'s gunsels (you can read more about Strauss here). Known as much for his style as his penchant for homicide, Burton Turkus - the assistant district attorney who successfully prosecuted several of the Brooklyn troops top guns - noted that Strauss was also known as the Beau Brummell of Brownsville around the DA's office.
There isnt much of a photographic record remaining to attest to Pittsburgh Phil's sartorial flair, but every now and then I'll come across written evidence of Strauss' impeccable style, which was apparently only matched by his utter disdain for the law.
Here, then, is former New York City police commissioner Lewis J. Valentine's recollection of his 1934 run-in with the ice-cool killer, from "Night Stick: The Autobiography of Lewis J. Valentine" (1947):
"I remember my encounter with a manicured, elegantly dressed thug in a police lineup," Valentine recalled. "Strauss bore an easy pose in his smartly cut Chesterfield overcoat with velvet collar. His blue suit was pressed to razor sharpness and a new blue shirt held fast by a tie to match, was snug around his neck. A new pearl-gray fedora was canted over one eye at a jaunty angle."
The sight of the debonair hoodlum must have been too much for Valentine, who then went on to instruct his men: "When you meet such men draw quickly and shoot accurately . . . Look at him - he's the best dressed man in the room, yet he's never worked a day in his life. When you meet men like Strauss, don't be afraid to muss 'em up. Blood should be smeared all over his velvet collar."
The golden age of men's style, indeed.