Gambling, booze, prostitution, gangsters and political machines; these are the elements that helped Atlantic City boom during the 1920s. In “Boardwalk Empire: The Birth, High Times, and Corruption of Atlantic City,” author Nelson Johnson gives us all the dirty secrets of this seaside New Jersey resort. The gritty true story has been adapted for HBO by Executive Producer Terrence Winter (“The Sopranos”) with the pilot episode directed by Martin Scorcese and starring Steve Buscemi.
Johnson’s historic novel takes us all the way back to the origins of Atlantic City. The story drags a bit in the beginning as it gets bogged down in the extensive history of the early days. It is clear how much research Johnson put into this historical work, but it makes for tedious reading to go through every person that was involved and all the railroad and other bureaucratic complications.
The story picks up steam when we reach the era of Louis “The Commodore” Kuehnle and thus begins the chain of Republican bosses. Kuehnle’s reign ends in the early 1910s with a conviction for political corruption, leaving the door wide open for a new leader. That leader was Enoch “Nucky” Johnson. Nucky (to be played by Buscemi) is described as a “ruggedly handsome man” and was the perfect charismatic boss to keep the Republican machine well oiled and running smoothly.
“In his prime, he strode the Boardwalk in evening clothes complete with spats, patent leather shoes, a walking stick, and a red carnation in his lapel” writes Johnson. Nucky was known for his lavish behavior and also his generosity; provided that said generosity could turn into votes for the machine-picked candidates come election time.
It will be interesting to see how Buscemi will portray Nucky and how the producers will handle the rich history laid out by Johnson. The dynamic between each political boss and the people of Atlantic City is another fascinating aspect that could bring some great drama to the HBO series. Eleven episodes have already been ordered and the show is due to premiere sometime next year. But if you want to get a head start on the story, you can pick up “Boardwalk Empire: The Birth, High Times, and Corruption of Atlantic City” now.