Read this today...very interesting.
Mon, Nov. 5, 2007
The real rap on 'Bumpy'
'Harlem Godfather' widow, living here, spills it
By JENICE M. ARMSTRONG
Philadelphia Daily News
MAYME JOHNSON, the widow of the infamous Harlem gangster Bumpy Johnson, has no plans to see "American Gangster," a film about one of her husband's former associates.
"I don't want to see it because it's not true," she said last week, from a senior facility in Philadelphia.
Spry until a recent leg injury left her using a wheelchair, Johnson, 93, can still recall the lavish existence she shared with one of America's most legendary crime bosses, a man whose criminal enterprises ranged from prostitution to numbers running to drugs, beginning in the '20s and '30s. It was a life of spacious New York City apartments, European travel, fur coats, hobnobbing with black celebrities and literary types from the Harlem Renaissance - and it almost never included Frank Lucas.
"American Gangster" is based on Lucas' claims of having been a personal assistant and enforcer for Johnson, as well as his heir-apparent. Lucas, who is portrayed by Denzel Washington in the film, claims to have been Johnson's driver for 15 years - which Johnson's widow angrily disputes.
"I don't agree with anything Frank Lucas has said. To me, he's a sick man. I think he's a total liar," she told me. "I've thought about reaching out to him and punching him in his face, knocking out his teeth. He's a sick man."
Lucas, she said, has inflated his role in Johnson's crime syndicate. To her husband, Lucas was a mere flunky - someone Johnson might have allowed to carry his coat. According to Johnson's widow, Lucas didn't meet Johnson until 1963, after Johnson's parole from prison on a 10-year drug conspiracy charge. Johnson died five years later.
"Bumpy never had nobody to drive him for 15 years," Johnson said.
She insisted that Lucas may have driven Johnson a few times, at most. Karen E. Quinones Miller, a former Philadelphia Inquirer reporter who's written a book about Johnson called "Harlem Godfather: The Rap on my Husband, Ellsworth 'Bumpy' Johnson" pointed out, "Bumpy died in 1968. He got out of prison in '63. Did Frank drive him when he was in Alcatraz? He's never been out on the street for 15 years."
Miller, who met Johnson as a child, pointed out that in the movie, Lucas is shown entering an appliance store with Johnson, who then collapses with a heart attack. In reality, Johnson's heart attack happened while he was dining at Wells Restauraunt, which is known worldwide for its fried chicken and waffles. He died in the arms of his childhood friend, Junie Byrd - not Lucas.
"We were watching the Lawrence Welk show that night," his widow remembers.
They'd just eaten the dinner he'd requested - lima beans and chicken wings.
"And he says, 'Well, I'm going to bed.' He went on in the room and I stayed out in the kitchen. [Later] I went in to bed and he said, 'I think I'll go out.' I said, 'If you feel well enough to go out.'
"He got up and put $500 in his pocket," she added.
Since Johnson's driver's license was suspended, Byrd drove him to a card game. After losing all but $30, he walked over to Wells, a popular after-hours watering hole. Johnson ordered a fried chicken leg and hominy grits. Then, he was seen slumping at the table. A nurse who happened to be dining nearby attempted to revive him. Someone ran to get Byrd, who made it back in time to pick Johnson up into his arms and say, "I've got you n-----." Johnson smiled and died.
"Frank Lucas was nowhere around. Bumpy did not die with Frank Lucas. All of his talk is lies," Mayme Johnson said vehemently.
A BET episode about "American Gangster" that aired Wednesday night left her especially infuriated.
"Did anyone notice that he said we lived on the corner of 121st Street, and then he pointed to a brownstone and said, 'Right there. My boss lived right there?' Well, Bumpy and I lived on 120th Street. Two West 120th Street to be exact. And we lived in an apartment building [apartment 3I], not a brownstone."
Johnson was a largely self-educated man who wrote poetry and studied philosophy when he was incarcerated. Hugely popular, he was known for throwing big Christmas parties for underprivileged youngsters and paying residents' rent when they were on the verge of eviction.
"He loved Harlem and Harlem loved him. When he came out of prison, they gave him a parade," Miller said.
Johnson pointed out, "Bumpy did good for a lot of people."
As for his criminal activities, she said she didn't let that bother her.
"I loved him. It didn't make any difference what he was doing. He was good to me. I had everything in life I wanted," she said. "If I had to do it all over again, I'd still marry him." *