Back to Notorious Chicago
Chicago Tribune reporter Maurine Dallas Watkins covered these two murder cases in order to provide a “woman’s angle.” She left the Tribune after only six months and made millions on a play she wrote based on these two cases.
One more thing. She also snuck into Bobby Frank’s funeral and interviewed Leopold and Loeb just hours before they confessed.
Date of Crime: April 3, 1924
Date of Verdict: May 24, 1924
Chicago Tribune April 4, 1924
Beulah May Annan, the 23 year old wife who shot “the other man” Thursday afternoon to the tune of her husband’s phonograph, was held to the grand jury yesterday afternoon by a coroner’s jury, which charged her with the murder of Harry Kalstedt. Assisting State’s Attorneys Bert Cronson, Roy Wood, and William McLaughlin are preparing to rush the case to an early trial, at which they will ask the death penalty.
Thursday afternoon Mrs. Annan played “Hula Lou” on the phonograph while the wooer she had shot during a drunken quarrel lay dying in her bedroom at 817 East 46th street. And yesterday afternoon the chapel organ at Boydston’s undertaking parlors played “Nearer, My God to Thee” for an old soldier’s funeral, while she waited for the inquest to start.
Changes Her Story.
Thursday night at the Hyde Park station she insisted that Kalstedt’s advances had caused her to shoot to save her honor. Several hours later, however, when the effect of the liquor had worn off, she broke down hysterically and confessed that she had lied; that Kalstedt had threatened to leave her, and that she had killed him rather than lose him. But yesterday she only shook her head dreamily and smiled when questioned.
“I wish they’s let me see him,” she said softly. “Still, it would only make me feel worse.” The last time she saw him was when he lay dying and she dare not feel his heart of pulse because he was “so bloody.”
They say she’s the prettiest woman ever accused of murder in Chicago—young, slender, with bobbed auburn hair; wide set, appealing blue eyes; up-tilted nose; translucent skin, faintly, very faintly, rouged, an ingenious smile; refined features, intelligent expression—an “awfully nice girl” and more than usually pretty. She wore fawn colored dress and hose, with black shoes, dark brown coat, and brown georgette hat that turned back with a youthful flare.
Talks of Little Son.
While waiting for the inquest she talked of her early life in Kentucky and her little 7 year old son by a former marriage, who now lives with his father’s people in Owensboro, Ky. Divorced from Perry Stephens after a year, she moved to Louisville, where she met Albert Annan, her present husband, whom she married in Chicago four years ago (29 March 1920). He made $50 or $60 a week as mechanic at a garage at 9120 Baltimore avenue, but she wanted to work, too, and last September became bookkeeper for Tennant’s Model laundry.
It was there she met Harry Kalstedt, another employe, who took her for walks, visited her a few times in her husband’s absence and shared with her a taste for “booze.”
Beulah May Annan
Repeats Her First Story.
Calmly she played with a piece of paper and softly whistled through it as Kalstedt’s brother-in-law, William Wilcox, told the coroner’s jury what she had told him of the tragedy the night before. He also identified the statement read by Assistant State’s Attorney Roy Woods as the one she had made in his presence the preceding night.
According to this, Kalstedt had telephoned her early Thursday morning that he was going over on the west side to get some wine, and had come to her apartment fifteen minutes later to get the money with which to buy it. She had the afternoon off from work, and he joined her art about noon with two quarts of wine. After drinking for an hour or so they started quarreling. She teased him a little about “Billy, the boy with an auto,” and he reproved her for doing things she shouldn’t. Then she flared back; “You’re just a four-flusher!” and called him a “jailbird.” Kalstedt, it seems, had served a penitentiary sentence for a statutory crime. He retorted hotly that she was “no good.”
A revolver was lying on the bed, and both sprang—
“Both went for the gun!” interrupted W. W. O’Brien, counsel for Mrs. Annan. “Both sprang for it.”
She cupped her chin in a slim white hand, with its orange blossom ring, and didn’t blanch as the state read her answer to the question:
Why didn’t he get that far?”
“Darned good reason: I shot him.”
She caught him as he slipped to the floor, calling, “My God! You’ve shot me!” and tried to tell him it wasn’t true. His hands still felt soft, his face was soft, but she couldn’t feel his heart for it was “all bloody.”
She played again with the paper as the state’s attorney read her confession of intimacy with Kalstedt on three occasions and laughed lightly as the lawyers quarreled over the questioning.
According to the testimony of Policeman Thomas E. Torton, who was called at 6:05 o’clock Thursday night, the shooting must have occurred at approximately 2 o’clock. For almost four hours, then she played the phonograph and paced the floor before she telephoned her husband that she had killed a man. Upon his arrival they called the police and physicians. Dr. Clifford Oliver, who arrived at 6:20 o’clock, said Kalstedt had been dead only half an hour or so.
Husband on Stand.
Mrs. Annan had posed prettily for the photographers, but her husband hid his face with his rough, scarred hands when he took the stand. He identified the revolver—a .38 caliber—as his, and haltingly told how he had found the man—whom he did not know—dead and his wife too hysterical to talk.
Thursday night at the station he told the officers bitterly: I’ve been a sucker, that’s all! Simply a meal ticket! I’ve worked ten, twelve, fourteen hours a day and took home every cent of my money. We’s bought our furniture for the little apartment on time and it was all paid off but a hundred dollars. I thought she was happy. I didn’t know—”
But yesterday he wouldn’t talk; just shook his head sadly to all questions.
Under advice of her attorney, Mrs. Annan made no statement.
When the finding of murder was announced she powdered her nose, took the money her husband had borrowed, and went back to jail to await developments.
Chicago Tribune, 25 May 1924
Beulah Annan’s innocence took second stage to the Bobby Franks’ kidnapping, which lead to the famous Leopold & Loeb Trial. Tribune reporter Maurine Watkins did manage to sneak her way into the funeral of Bobby Franks, the boy murdered by Leopold and Loeb, as a mourner, and she interviewed the educated young killers just hours before they confessed.
BY MAURINE WATKINS
Beulah Annan, whose pursuit of wine, men, and jazz music was interrupted by her glibness with the trigger finger, was given freedom last night by her “beauty proof” jury.
The jury retired from Judge Lindsay’s court at 8:30 and at 10:20 brought in the verdict “Not guilty” on the third ballot, acquitting her of the murder of her admirer, Harry Kalstedt, in her apartment, 817 East 46th street, on April 3. The fair defendant thanked the jury all around, assisted by her faithful husband, Al.
“O, I can’t thank you!” she said, flashing a glance at each one as she pressed his hand. “You don’t know, you can’t know—but I felt sure that you would—” Her appealing glance finished the sentence.
Husband Nearly Overcome.
Mr. Annan, who has stood by her from the very night he found the man lying dead in his bedroom, was almost overcome with joy and gratitude.
“I knew my wife would come through all right!” he said, proudly. “That seemed to be the consensus of the opinion.”
“Another pretty woman goes free!” was the only comment made by Assistant State’s Attorney William F. McLaughlin, who prosecuted the case alone after the withdrawal of Roy C. Woods, who was called as a material witness.
Tells Sordid Story.
“Beautiful—but not dumb!”
For she had talked incessantly; two different versions of the shooting before she came to trial, and the third one—when she took the stand yesterday—was the charm.
“We both grabbed for the gun!”
Under the glare of motion picture lights—Beulah took the stand. In another dress—navy twill tied at the side with a child-like moire bow—with new necklace of crystal and jet, she made her debut as an actress. And the jury laughingly nominated the youngest of their sheiks as a Rudolph for the titian haired sheba.
Pleading Eyes on Jury.
More calm than she was Friday, she answered the questions in child-like southern voice, and turned innocent, pleading eyes to jury and attorney.
Q—Did you shoot this man? A—I did.
Q—Why? A—Because he was going to shoot me.
Simply she told the story of Kalstedt’s morning visit to her apartment, after her husband had gone to work; of his attempt to borrow six dollars from her for booze; and of his subsequent return that afternoon with two quarts of moonshine.
Begged Him to Go.
“I saw he was drunk and begged him to go,” she said, “but he refused, and asked me to take a drink first. So I did—just to get him to leave. But still he wouldn’t go, though I begged him to, told him my husband might come home and that he would shoot us both.”
Q. And What did he say to that? A. He said, “To hell with your husband.” Then he insisted that I take another drink and I did. Then he said “Let’s have a little jazz and we played the Victrola, and then—
She hesitated a moment.
“And then, he said, “Come on into the bedroom” and I refused and begged him to go. And finally I told him”—she faltered, and sent an appealing glance to her attorney.
Recorded January, 1924
Her Appeal Unheeded.
“Yes?” said Mr. Scott Stewart, encouragingly, “Go ahead, Beulah, tell the jury.”
She closed her eyes a moment, then bravely went on: “I told him of my—delicate condition. But he refused to believe me—and boasted that another woman fooled him that way and that he had done time in the penitentiary for her. And I said ‘You’ll do another!’ And he said, ‘You’ll never send me back!’ And I said, ‘I’ll call my husband!’ And he’ll shoot us both!'”
Q.—And what did he say to that? A.—He said, “Where is that — gun?”
Q.—Then what did he do? A.—He started for the bedroom.
Q.—How did you reach the bedroom? A.—Maybe he was a step ahead of me. By the time he got to the bed I was even with him—he grabbed for it and got it first. Then he put up his hand and said. “By —, I’ll kill you yet!
Tells Details of Shooting.
Q.—Then what did he do? A.—He started toward me, and I pushed his shoulder with my left hand—and shot.
She closed her eyes—her face pale under the glare of the movie lights—in horror of the picture, and weakly described the details of the shooting. She told how she had wiped his face, had turned off the grating phonograph record, and had sunk down in a daze beside the body.
She denied having called Betty Bergman the afternoon of the murder, told again of her promised immunity if she would make the statements to the police, and denied intimacy with Kalstedt.
Thoroughly poised under direct questioning, she was a trifle nonplused by the opening attack of the prosecution in cross-questioning, for Mr. McLaughlin tried to establish the fact that her “story” had been “framed” by her attorneys. But she rallied when it came to the story itself, and was only slightly daunted when he pointed out that it was remarkable that she should be a step behind Kalstedt in the “getaway,” have the “outside” track, and yet beat him to the gun.
Repudiates Old Statement.
One by one he read her the questions and answers she had made at the Hyde Park police station the night of the murder, in which she confessed killing the man after a jealous quarrel. She searched him with her shallow eyes: what was back of it all?
“When you asked this—and was this your answer?” he asked.
“I don’t remember.”
“I did not.”
One by one she repudiated every statement in the confession, varying the defiance of her “no” with a childishly petulant, “I don’t remember.”
“That’s my story and I’ll stick to it,” was her attitude—and she did, till she stepped down demurely from the witness stand with settled complacency of a school girl who has said her her piece.
And under the glare of movie lights, Mrs. Mary Neal, her mother, was called by the defense as sympathy witness. Her dark eyes were and mouth set as she answered the few simple questions as to her name, relation to the defendant, etc. Al, her faithful husband, marched briskly to the stand, but was not permitted to testify oin account of his relationship.
Testimony In Rebuttal.
Roy C. Woods, originally a prosecutor in the case, was called by the state as a refute Mrs. Annan’s testimony that he promised her immunity if she would confess to him.
Q—Did you state to Beulah Annan that you would help her if she would keep Wilcox’s (Kalstedt’s brither-in-la) name out of it> A. —I did not.
Q.—Did you tell her it was no crime for her to shoot a man in her own house? A.—Most certainly not.
Q.—Did you tell her that she couldn’t “frame” anything with you? A.—I did.
Beulah sat with bowed head through the state’s opening argument, in which Mr. McLaughlin pointed out the weak points in her story; that a woman should try to “soothe” a man who was threatening to attack her by drinking with him; that he knew where the gun was—in a totally strange house; that he was shot in the back.
“You have seen that face, gentlemen. It’s probable that she hadn’t had many men tell her to ‘go to hell,’ and that was why she went for the gun!” the prosecutor told the jury.
His main argument was hinged on the credibility of the witness, who had made three entirely different statements ti the jury.
Beulah in Tears.
William Scott Stewart read line by line the confessions and demonstrated the third degree methods that were used to obtain them. Then Beulah, the tender hearted slayer, broke into gentle sobs. She had played the Victrola while the man she murdered lay dying, she had laughed at the inquest, she had sat calm and composed while they descriptions of the crime but she broke down when she heard her attorney’s impassioned account of the suffering she had undergone at the hands of the police and assistant state’s attorneys, who questioned her for statements.
And again, she was overcome with emotion when Mr. O’Brien painted the picture of “this frail little girl, gentlement, struggling with a drunken brute”—and the jury shook their heads in approbation and chewed gum more energetically.
“The verdict is in your hands,” was the voice of the peoples’ prosecutor, “and you must decide whether you will permit a woman to commit a crime and let her go because she is good looking; you must decide whether you want to let another pretty woman go out and say ‘I got away with it!'”
And they did.
The day after the trial ended in acquittal, on May 25, 1924, Beulah Annan announced, “I have left my husband. He is too slow.” She divorced him in 1926 on the charge that he had deserted her. Beulah married two more times before dying of tuberculosis in 1928. Records for her death can be found under the name Beulah Stephens. She is buried in Mount Pleasant Cumberland Presbyterian Church Cemetery, in Davies County, Ky.
A coincidence remarked in connection with her death is the then recent publication of a short story called “Butterfly Goes Home,” by Maurice Watkins, former Chicago Tribune reporter and author of the play, “Chicago,” which was based on her life. It relates the death of a girl whose life was similar to that of Beulah Annan (aka the Jazz Killer), and her burial in a tiny town from whence she came.
Beulah Annan with lawyer William Scott Stewart (left), her husband, Al (right) and two unidentified men.
4 April 1924
Date of Crime: March 11, 1924
Date of Verdict: June 5, 1924
Chicago Tribune June 6, 1924
Belva Gaertner, twice a divorcée of page one notoriety, was placed in the county jail last night, charged by a coroner’s jury with slaying Walter Law, a young automobile salesman.
Law’s body was found in her car early yesterday morning. He had been shot to death with a steel bullet after a cabaret gin party.
One minute of testimony from a pal of Law’s brought the turning point in the inquest. It seemingly cleared all doubt from the minds of the jurors. The witness was Pail E. Goodwin, a fellow auto salesman.
Says Law Feared Woman.
“Walter told me Monday that he planned to take out more life insurance because Mrs. Gaertner threatened to kill him,” Goodwin said under oath. “Three weeks before he told me she locked him in her flat with her and threatened to stab him with a knife unless he stayed there.”
That story, supplemented by a sentence or two of explanation seemed to sweep from the minds of the jury retold details of the gin party, the visible grief of Law’s young wife, and child, the story of Mrs. Gaertner had told police that she was so drunk she remembered nothing between leaving the cabaret and suddenly hearing a great explosion as Law toppled against her, dead.
The state. represented by Stanley Klarkowski, assistant state’s attorney, has planned to have the inquest, but as Goodwin walked from the stand, the prosecutor announced:
The state is willing to let this vase go to jury at once without further delay,
Divorcée Kept from Stand.
“Does Mrs. Graetner wish to take the stand,” replied Tom Reilly, one of her three attorneys, hired by her former husband, William Graetner. “Her statement to the police has been admitted in evidence. That is all she cares to say?”
Twenty minutes later the jury came back and the foreman read the verdict:
We, the coroner’s jury, find that Walter Law came to his death in the automobile of Mrs. Belva Graetner from a bullet fired by Mrs. Belva Graetner.
Then came the recommendation that she be held without bail.
Goodwin’s brief statement on the stand switched the entire complexion of the investigation. It brought the first direct intimation that Mrs. Graetner had planned to make a target of the 29 year old male—some five to ten years her junior—who made her acquaintance through an automobile sale and retained it through midnight gin escapades.
6800 Cottage Grove avenue
Simple Gingham Café Idyl.
Prior to Goodwin’s testimony the two hours of the inquest had been taken up with details, circumstantial and corroborative, but assembled it was simply this:
Belva and Walter got drunk at the Gingham Café. They drove home. The car was found in front of her house. Law’s body hanging over the steering wheel, her gun on the floor. She was found in her apartment, her clothes covered with blood, maintaining she was “so drunk” she couldn’t remember anything. But she had said that at the café Law had proposed that they flip a coin to see which should have the first shot at the other, but that she talked him out of the idea. The questions that arose at the inquest were:
Did she murder Law?
Did she shoot him in self-defense?
Did she accidentally kill him?
Did a third person do the slaying?
Wanted Law for Her Own?
“The motive which the state believes lies behind the case is this,” Mr. Klarkowski said. “Mrs. Gaertner had ensnared Law. He tried to break away, to stick to his wife and family. She killed him rather than lose him.”
Back of Goodwin’s testimony lie further details not yet brought before the public. They are an amplification of his story, made partly by himself in private statements to officials, partly by himself, in private statements to officials, partly by other friends of the dead man.
Law, these details say, had feared Mrs. Gaertner for some time. He had repeatedly tried to break away from her, but she refused to let him go.
Law was depicted as “a boy who couldn’t refuse” when women and gin were suggested. As recently as twenty-four hours before his death he confided to his friends that “some day’ he’s die—and probably at the hands of the woman with whom he went on drinking sprees once or twice a week.
“I believe that when Law and Mrs. Gaertner returned from the café she tried to make him enter her apartment,” Mr. Klarkowski said. “He, remembering the time she locked him in and held him there at the point of a knife, refused. Then she pulled the gun, perhaps. He tried to stop her, but couldn’t.
Prior to Goodwin’s testimony there had been a succession of witnesses whose stories told nothing to refute the statement of Mrs. Gaertner that “we got drunk and he got killed—I don’t know how.”
Then Detective Sergeant Corcoran who arrested Mrs. Gaertner, twstified him, because he was so nice. Said she was too drunk to remember leaving his café—didn’t know a thing until there was a big noise and Law toppled over.”
“Curly” Brown, manager of the Gingham, about whom Mrs. Gaertner said she and Law had some words because she danced with Brown, gave a touch which, some thought was satire.
“They didn’t have any gin,” he said. “Just ginger ale. We don’t allow gin. They didn’t display any gun in the café—though they may have talked about one—for I’ve always got my eyes peeled for guns. They were such a nice couple—I’m certainly shocked.”
Then as people yawned and wondered if there’d be anything “hot,” a detective whispered in Klarkowski’s ear.
“Bring him in quick,” said the prosecutor. And ten minutes later Goodwin took the stand.
Chicago Tribune June 6, 1924
Belva Gaertner, another of those women who messed things up by adding a gun to her fondness for gin and men, was acquitted last night at 12:10 o’clock of the murder of Walter Law. “So drunk she didn’t remember” whether she shot the man found dead in her sedan at Forrestville avenue and 50th street March 12—
But after six and one-half hours and eight ballots the jury said she didn’t.
Mrs. Gaerntner lost the emotionless poise she maintained throughout the trial, burst into hysterical laughter, threw her arms around her attorneys, and thanked the jury.
“O, I’m so happy! she exclaimed over and over, “so happy! And I want to hurry out now and get some air!”
Prepares at Once to Leave.
She left at once to get her elaborate wardrobe from the jail, and from there went home with her sister, Mrs. Charles Kruschaar. Some time within the next month, she said, she will remarry her divorced husband, William Gaertner, the wealthy manufacturer, and they will sail to Europe “to forget all this.”
But there’s a woman who won’t forget: Mrs. Freda Law, widow of the slain man, who half fainted when the verdict was read and crept away to sob in the arms of her sister: “There’s no justice in Illinois! No justice! Walter paid—why shouldn’t she?”
“Women—just women!” was the laconic comment of Assistant State’s Attorney Harry Pritzker.
“Why did they take so long?” said the crowd.
Long Wait for Verdict.
That’s what Belva Gaertner asked herself as she smoked cigarets and paced the floor of the “bullpen” while the jury, not six feet away, deliberated whether she had murdered Walter Law, found dead in her sedan March 12.
And neither they nor the blasé divorcée, Cook county’s most stylish defendant, knew that Judge Lindsay had ruled when the defense asked for nolle prosse:
I haven’t the power to tell the state’s attorney what to do, and therefore deny the motion. But if the jury should bring in a verdict of guilty, I am confident the Supreme court would reverse the decision, as the evidence is only circumstantial: string enough to arouse suspicion of guilt, but not to convict.
Belva Gaertner looking at her defense attorney, Thomas D. Nash.
6 June 1924
Defense Waives Argument.
“The state has not made its case,” was the attitude of the defense, represented by Nash & Ahern, and Marshall Sollberg, who waived their opening statement, rested without offering a single witness and waived closing argument.
The jury, who had heard only the state’s plea for a “just verdict,” listened gravely, and the court fans sleepily, to the instructions of the judge with their droning rhythm:
…beyond all reasonable doubt…you shall find the defendant not guilty…
But they all sat alert when he reached the age of the defendant: “about 38,” and turned to stare at the slim, youthfully rounded creature who’d never looked prettier.
She’s Stylishly Dressed.
And she wore a new dress—café su laid, braided in black, with bell shaped sleeves, and deep cuffs—that clung in soft folds to her body. And the cloche hat of a deeper brown matched her eyes, and the mink “choker” softened the lines of her throat. Only her hands with their rosily tinted nails showed her age—and nervousness, as she played with her gloves and fur while the state attempted early in the day to prove she was not “too drunk to remember.”
Belva Gaertner as Showgirl and in Prison
Alfred Quodbach, proprietor of the Gingham Inn at 6800 Cottage Grove avenue, and his head waiter, William F. Leathers, testified concerning the sobriety of Law and Mrs. Gaertner while they were in the café the night he was killed.
“Perfectly sober,” was Quodbach’s statement.
“I wish I had always been as sober as they were that night!” said Leathers.
Following testimony by the widow, Mrs. Freda Law establishing corpus delicti, the case went to jury.
In 1925, following her acquittal, Belva remarried William Gaertner again. In 1926, Gaertner filed for divorce again, claiming she was abusive and an alcoholic. On July 5, Gaertner claimed his wife threatened to murder him after he found her with another man. She was convicted of drunk driving in November 1926.
By 1930, she and Gaertner had moved to Europe. Following William Gaertner’s death on December 2, 1948, in Wilmette, Illinois, Belva moved to Pasadena, California and lived with her sister, Ethel Kraushaar. She died of natural causes on May 14, 1965, at the age of 80.
Chicago Tribune, June 7, 1924
Murderess Row Loses Class as Belva is Freed
But Four Obscure “Girl” Killers in Jail.
“Not guilty for Belva Graetner, who was acquitted yesterday of the murder of Walter Law, brought joy to her playmates in the county jail, and made hope spring a little higher in the hearts of the remaining women “killers.”
Only Sabella Nitti mourned. Poor Sabella! who chopped her husband up one day, assisted by a roomer, the state charges. Her greeting to visitors used to be: “Me choke”—which being interpreted reads: I’m sentenced to hang”—and now she waits a new trial. Each acquittal brings pangs of compassion to her.
She have gun. She shoot. She go free. Me, no gun, no shoot; me here over a year.!
Only four women, the fewest in years, are now waiting trial for murder—for they’re getting out even faster than they’re getting in! And the last two who walked to freedom in thhe last two weeks, “pretty” Beulah Annan and “stylish” Belva Graetner, robbed the women’s quarters of their claims to distinction and plunged murderess’ row into oblivion.
Two of these left are colored; Minnie Nichols and Rose Epps. The other two, Sabella Nitti and Lela Foster, are middle-aged and—well, neither is cursed with the grace or the beauty of Diana. Then, too, Beulah and Belva killed young men friends, and these bodies only “bumped off” their husbands.
So they can’t hope for publicity, maybe not even acquittal. They’ll be given the same chance with the “weapons of defense” that the other women have had, powder, rouge, lipstick, and mascara. Makeup is taboo in jail, only soap and water is permitted, until those testing days when they face the “twelve good men and true.”
Chicago Tribune, July 10, 1920
She’s a Taxi Driver Now—Her Own Boss
The taxi drivers who wait for fares in the shadow of the Chicago club in Van Buren street don’t know it yet but they are to have a new member in their midst on Monday morning. She is Mrs. Belle Overbeck Gaertner of the “house-of-a-thousand-detectives,”who was divorced from William Gaertner, wealthy manufacturer of scientific instruments at 5345 Lake Park avenue, three months ago.
Mrs. Gaertner started her career as a taxi chauffeur a few days ago. She had a meter installed in her car, obtained state and city licenses, affixed the badges to the lapels of her green uniform, and started out. And then the car broke down and a motorman bumped his street car into it as it was being towed in.
Mrs. Gaertner, flicking a speck of dust from the knee of her trousers, said:
And just when the Elks’ convention was on, and I looked for my biggest week. I’m going to get the car back tomorrow and I’ll be at the stand bright and early Monday morning.
You see, my divorce left me with $3,000, my car, my furniture, and a billiard table—that was the table from which Mrs. Gartner took the balls and hid them when I insisted on playing with my detectives who were watching me. Well, I just can’t take orders from anyone. Therefore I can’t hold a job. I must be my own boss. So I decided to be a taxi driver I’d be my own boss, make enough to live on, and still have the pleasure of the car.
But I shall not drive at night, and I won’t make trips into the suburbs. There are too many holdup men. I can change a tire and do all that has to be done to keep a car in condition unless something breaks.
But tell me something. Is there anything I can do to get the squeak out of these leather putees?
Maurine Dallas Watkins
Reporter and Playwright
Maurine Dallas Watkins moved to Chicago from Radcliffe, Massachusetts and in February, 1924 landed a job as a reporter with the Chicago Tribune. Her assignment was to write about crime in Chicago with a woman’s perspective. By early April, she was winning front-page bylines, no small feat in those days, and the stories she wrote were doozies.
Maurine Dallas Watkins
Her first byline was published on April 3, 1924 (above) about Beulah Annan’s case. She also covered Belva Gaertner’s trial as well. Beulah and Belva threw themselves at the mercy of the juries. Understanding the necessity of looking good, the two women opened a kind of fashion school for female criminals at the Cook County Jail. They cut each other’s hair in the latest style. They discussed how to wear cosmetics. They gave themselves and each other manicures.’
Despite the gruesome nature of both murders, the “fashion defense’’ worked. Beulah and Belva were found not guilty by all-male juries, much to the disappointment of reporter Watkins. She left the Tribune after only six months and moved to New York to study playwriting. The frustrated, Watkins transformed this raw material into her classic play. Beulah became the fictional Roxie Hart.
Her non-musical play “Chicago, or, Play Ball” has become one of the most adapted plays in history. It premiered in New York in December 1926 and it first played Chicago in September 1927. The play then became a silent Cecil B. DeMille feature in 1927 (Chicago), a Ginger Rogers comedy in 1942 (Roxie Hart), a 1975 Bob Fosse Broadway musical (“Chicago: A Musical Vaudeville”) and a 2002 Oscar-winning musical film (Chicago).
Watkins was approached throughout the 1950s and the 1960s for the rights to revive her play for Broadway, which, time and time again, she refused to give. After her death, Bob Fosse negotiated with Watkins’ estate and was able, with his colleagues, to buy the rights and turn the play into his famous musical. “Chicago.” The 2002 movie starring Richard Gere is based on Fosse’s musical.
In later years, Watkins often left home with a heavy veil over her face. Because of that, people thought she was eccentric. The truth is the writer had cancer which had deformed her nose and one cheek. She died of lung cancer on August 10, 1969. She was 73 years old and left a fortune worth about $2.33 million.
Movie poster from the 1927 film, “Chicago.”
New York Times Review
By MORDAUNT HALL.
December 24, 1927
That a Hollywood blonde belongs to real life was to a certain extent proved in the picturization of Maurine Watkins’s play, “Chicago,” which was presented last night at the Gaiety Theatre. In this quasisatirical affair, none other than Phyllis Haver, the vampire in Emil Jannings’s last film, “The Way of All Flesh,” gives an astoundingly fine performance as the redoubtable Roxie Hart. Miss Haver makes this combination of tragedy and comedy a most entertaining piece of work.
This film may deal lightly with trials and juries, but there is throughout an element of truth in the action, just as there was in the play. It is a production that makes the most of the predicaments of a woman who has fired off a pistol in the heat of temper. Miss Haver goes through the different scenes with singular appreciation for serious or humorous slants of the defendant. Frank Urson, the director of this subject, whose work, it is understood, was supervised by Cecil B. DeMille, has touched up the various incidents with considerable understanding. He brings out the nonchalance of the almost tragic situation in an intelligent fashion, and he amplifies the comic turns.
Perhaps Mr. Urson’s best sequence is the one concerned with the defendant’s lawyer’s summing up of the murder case. It is quite plain that the witness, Roxie Hart (Miss Haver), has her own idea of impressing the twelve good men and true, and that some of her expressions and actions are hardly countenanced by her attorney.
During the course of the trial, the lawyer insists that his client “droop,” but Roxie is never actually in such a state of mind. She is perhaps ahead of her attorney in her feminine sense of appreciation of the weaknesses of the jurors. Through the camera, Mr. Urson is able to call attention to some gestures, and even expressions, that might have escaped notice on the stage.
Mr. Urson evidences the manner in which Roxie Hart basks in the spotlight of yellow journalism and the disapointment she feels when it is all over. To substantiate the fact that yesterday’s news is dead, Mr. Urson turns his lens on the big letters of a front page of a newspaper, and shows it being washed away in the river. The words announce the acquittal of Roxie Hart, and yet, at that moment. Roxie was fighting over a question of money with her husband, instead of being joyous at being freed. She is the personification of modern gayety, a woman who has no thought for consequences. Money, of course, is important in her young life and the mere fact that she has, under provocation, it is true, killed a man, slides off her blonde brain as nothing more than an everyday experience.
Roxie annoys her lawyer by the shortness of her dress, and she evinces but little interest in his lecture on how to conduct herself at the trial. Miss Haver brings to the part all the happy-go-lucky expressions one would expect from a girl of Roxie Hart’s type. And when the jury is depicted. Mr. Urson shows the expressions of the twelve men, stressing how they are affected by feminine actions, even when these actions virtually contradict the energetic eloquence of the lawyer. And this lawyer, in the course of his speech, is not blind to the fact that Roxie looks occasionally to be anything but the drooping, virtuous girl he is describing.
This picture dashes along with considerable wit and occasional splashes of tragedy and pathos. Victor Varconi is excellent in the rôle of the husband of the wind-blown city’s chief blonde. Robert Edeson is capital as the mercenary lawyer, who, at a price, does all he can in his own way to save his client from the gallows. Warner Richmond is competent as the hopeful District Attorney, the man who evidently did not prefor blondes as witnesses.
The Gay Murderess.
CHICAGO, with Phyllis Haver, Victor Varcont, Eugene Palette, Virginia Bradford, Clarence Burton. Warner Richmond, T. Roy Barnes, Sidney D’Albrook, Otto Lederer, May Robson, Julia Faye, Robert Edeson, Viola, Loule and others, adapted from Maurine Watkins’s play of the same name, directed by Frank Urson. At the Gaiety Theatre. Premiered December 23, 1927.
Phyllis Haver as Roxie Hart from the 1927 film, “Chicago.”
Motion Picture World
November 26, 1927 & December 10, 1927
Roxie Hart, 1942
Movie poster from the 1942 film, “Roxie Hart.”
New York Times Review
By BOSLEY CROWTHER.
February 20, 1942
A newspaper man’s nostalgia for the wild and irresponsible “bad old days” of the Nineteen Twenties in Chicago is the very weak peg on which is hung Twentieth Century-Fox’s remake of the old play, “Chicago,” now “Roxie Hart.” And a weak peg it is for the reason that this is a most unsuitable time to be calling to mind the follies, the court-room circuses and vulgarities of this brashly eccentric nation during a period which might better be forgotten. However, if one can swallow a coarse jest at our own expense—and swallow it without gulping over the crudities of the jest itself—then one can probably garner much fun from the Roxy’s new film.
For a couple of notorious madcaps, Nunnally Johnson and William Wellman, have slapped “Roxie Hart” together out of the bones of Maurine Watkins’s old play and the flesh of their own fertile fancies, running even more wild than usual. They have got Ginger Rogers, a most credible Miss Twinkle-Toes, to play the role of the dolly who gets thoroughly pushed around in the tale. And they have used a supporting cast of able harlequins, headed by Adolphe Menjou, to make up their gallery of spoilers, hot-air artists and other assorted Chicago bums. In short, they have knocked together a rowdy and brassy burlesque.
And that, you may possibly remember, is all the original play ever was—or the first screen version, for that matter, back in 1927. For this fable of Chicago is nothing but a lot of coarse nonsense—the story of a gum-chewing flapper, picked up on a murder charge, who becomes a yellow-journal sensation and the center of a flashy murder trial. It is simply a ribald wallow in the cheapness of an ugly phase of life. And although Mr. Johnson, the producer as well as the writer of the film, has endeavored to give it an aura of sentiment by telling it in flashback, it still is a trashy story without any immediate pertinence to life.
As a burlesque, however, Mr. Johnson and Mr. Wellman, who directed, have squeezed every laugh they could from it. As a matter of fact, one fault is that they have squeezed just a bit too hard. A gag such as a box full of jurors gawking at Miss Rogers’s legs or a judge jumping into a news picture is funny when pulled once or twice. But several times is too many. Mr. Johnson and Mr. Wellman didn’t know when to quit.
The same goes for the performers; little or no restraint was placed upon them. Miss Rogers is a talented actress, but it pains one to see her tossed into a role which requires that she do no more than play a Dumb Dora to excess, swaggering with hands on hips, chewing gum and teasing the hem of her skirt. Mr. Menjou as a tricky criminal lawyer (“a simple, barefoot mouthpiece,” they call him, without giving credit where it is due) plays with spectacular flourishes and so do the others in the cast. They all give the bad impression of working a shade too hard. And the film, between the script and its performance, becomes a raucous and tasteless travesty.
ROXIE HART; produced and written for the screen by Nunnally Johnson; based on the play, “Chicago,” by Maurine Watkins; directed by William Wellman for Twentieth Century-Fox. At the Roxy.
Roxie Hart . . . . . Ginger Rogers
Billy Flynn . . . . . Adolphe Menjou
Homer Howard . . . . . George Montgomery
Jake Callahan . . . . . Lynne Overman
E. Clay Benham . . . . . Nigel Bruce
Babe . . . . . Phil Silvers
Mrs. Morton . . . . . Sara Allgood
O’Malley . . . . . William Frawley
Mary Sunshine . . . . . Spring Byington
Velma Wall . . . . . Helene Reynolds
Amos Hart . . . . . George Chandler
Judge . . . . . George Lessey
Gertie . . . . . Iris Adrian
Announcer . . . . . Milton Parsons
Movie poster from the 2002 film, “Chicago”
Chicago Sun-Times Review
By ROGER EBERT.
December 27, 2002
“Chicago” continues the reinvention of the musical that started with “Moulin Rouge.” Although modern audiences don’t like to see stories interrupted by songs, apparently they like songs interrupted by stories. The movie is a dazzling song and dance extravaganza, with just enough words to support the music and allow everyone to catch their breath between songs. You can watch it like you listen to an album, over and over; the same phenomenon explains why “Moulin Rouge” was a bigger hit on DVD than in theaters.
The movie stars sweet-faced Renee Zellweger as Roxie Hart, who kills her lover and convinces her husband to pay for her defense; and Catherine Zeta-Jones as Velma Kelly, who broke up her vaudeville sister act by murdering her husband and her sister while they were engaged in a sport not licensed for in-laws. Richard Gere is Billy Flynn, the slick, high-priced attorney who boasts he can beat any rap, for a $5,000 fee. “If Jesus Christ had lived in Chicago,” he explains, “and if he’d had $5,000, and had come to me–things would have turned out differently.” This story, lightweight but cheerfully lurid, fueled Bob Fosse, John Kander and Fred Ebb’s original stage production of “Chicago,” which opened in 1975 and has been playing somewhere or other ever after–since 1997 again on Broadway. Fosse, who grew up in Chicago in the 1930s and 1940s, lived in a city where the daily papers roared with the kinds of headlines the movie loves. Killers were romanticized or vilified, cops and lawyers and reporters lived in each other’s pockets, and newspapers read like pulp fiction. There’s an inspired scene of ventriloquism and puppetry at a press conference, with all of the characters dangling from strings. For Fosse, the Chicago of Roxie Hart supplied the perfect peg to hang his famous hat.
The movie doesn’t update the musical so much as bring it to a high electric streamlined gloss. The director Rob Marshall, a stage veteran making his big screen debut, paces the film with gusto. It’s not all breakneck production numbers, but it’s never far from one. And the choreography doesn’t copy Fosse’s inimitable style, but it’s not far from it, either; the movie sideswipes imitation on its way to homage.
The decision to use non-singers and non-dancers is always controversial in musicals, especially in these days when big stars are needed to headline expensive productions. Of Zellweger and Gere, it can be said that they are persuasive in their musical roles and well cast as their characters. Zeta-Jones was, in fact, a professional dancer in London before she decided to leave the chorus line and take her chances with acting, and her dancing in the movie is a reminder of the golden days; the film opens with her “All that Jazz” number, which plays like a promise “Chicago” will have to deliver on. And what a good idea to cast Queen Latifah in the role of Mama, the prison matron; she belts out “When You’re Good to Mama” with the superb assurance of a performer who knows what good is and what Mama likes.
The story is inspired by the screaming headlines of the Front Page era and the decade after. We meet Roxie Hart, married early and unwisely, to Amos Hart (John C. Reilly), a credulous lunkhead. She has a lover named Fred Casely (Dominic West), who sweet-talks her with promises of stardom. When she finds out he’s a two-timing liar, she guns him down, and gets a one-way ticket to Death Row, already inhabited by Velma and overseen by Mama.
Can she get off? Only Billy Flynn (Gere) can pull off a trick like that, although his price is high and he sings a song in praise of his strategy (“Give ’em the old razzle-dazzle”). Velma has already captured the attention of newspaper readers, but after the poor sap Amos pays Billy his fee, a process begins to transform Roxie into a misunderstood heroine. She herself shows a certain genius in the process, as when she dramatically reveals she is pregnant with Amos’ child, a claim that works only if nobody in the courtroom can count to nine.
Instead of interrupting the drama with songs, Marshall and screenwriter Bill Condon stage the songs more or less within Roxie’s imagination, where everything is a little more supercharged than life, and even lawyers can tap-dance. (To be sure, Gere’s own tap dancing is on the level of performers in the Chicago Bar Association’s annual revue). There are a few moments of straight pathos, including Amos Hart’s pathetic disbelief that his Roxie could have cheated on him; he sings “Mr. Cellophane” about how people see right through him. But for the most part the film runs on solid-gold cynicism.
Reilly brings a kind of pathetic sincere naivete to the role–the same tone, indeed, he brings to a similar husband in “The Hours,” where it is also needed. It’s surprising to see the confidence in his singing and dancing, until you find out he was in musicals all through school. Zellweger is not a born hoofer, but then again Roxie Hart isn’t supposed to be a star; the whole point is that she isn’t, and what Zellweger invaluably contributes to the role is Roxie’s dreamy infatuation with herself, and her quickly growing mastery of publicity. Velma is supposed to be a singing and dancing star, and Zeta-Jones delivers with glamor, high style and the delicious confidence the world forces on you when you are one of its most beautiful inhabitants. As for Queen Latifah, she’s too young to remember Sophie Tucker, but not to channel her.
“Chicago” is a musical that might have seemed unfilmable, but that was because it was assumed it had to be transformed into more conventional terms. By filming it in its own spirit, by making it frankly a stagy song-and-dance revue, by kidding the stories instead of lingering over them, the movie is big, brassy fun.
Chicago Tribune, January 19, 1927
BEAULAH ANNAN, BEAUTY FREED OF MURDER, IS BRIDE
Wedding Adds Sequel to “Chicago” Drama
Beulah Annan became the bride yesterday of Edward Harlib, 26 years old, 117 East Chestnut street, a former pugilist, and thereby added a sequel to Maurine Watkins’ play “Chicago,” based upon the adventures of the most beautiful woman ever tried for murder in Cook county.
Despite the bitter opposition of Harlib’s family, the couple eloped to Crown Point Monday too late to obtain a license, and were married by Judge Kemp at 8 o’clock yesterday morning. The bride gave her age as 23.
Harlib yesterday bought his wife a bungalow site at Barrington, Ill., as a wedding present. He told interviewers he was divorced from the first Mrs. Harlib in 1922. His brother, Peter, a garage owner, had stated that Edward was still married to his first wife.
Beulah Annan, who was tried for the murder of Harry Kalstedt in 1924 and who was accused of playing a jazz record on a phonograph after shooting her victim, declared she had heard she was the subject of Miss Watkins’ play and was anxious to see it. Some one told her, she said, that she resembled the actress who takes the leading role of Roxie Hart.
Beulah divorced her first husband, Albert, last July, after he had helped her throughout the trial. She met Harlib six months ago at a party. Both declared they were eager to forget the past and build a love nest on the lot at Barrington after a honeymoon in Los Angeles.