The Hump Does Hollywood
By John William Tuohy
For almost four decades, Murray Humpreys was a major power behind the Chicago mob. A Welshman, the Hump started in the mob as an enforcer and labor goon for Al Capone.
The Hump smiled a lot. He seldom used foul or abusive language in proper company. Even Presidents Truman and Eisenhower, who knew the Hump, remarked that as hoods go, Murray Humpreys was a cultivated man.
But, "The nicest guy in the mob," as Sam Giancana called him, this "Gentleman hood" was born with the disposition of a rattlesnake. Humpreys had blind ambition, brass balls, a love of money and a mean streak a mile long. He wasn't above threatening union workers with loss of a job or with taking out the eye of a dissident child or wife or mother.
Murray Humpreys worked to educate himself not to be a gangster. He learned what to wear, when to wear it. He practiced his diction and improved his vocabulary. He was a dapper, short man who adored expensive and well made suits. His elegant traits inspired a new generation of Chicago hoods who tried to mimic his style, the soft tone of voice, his slow, nasal diction which was void of any emotion when ordering a hit or a beating. In turn, Hollywood made hundreds of films based on smooth talking, cold as ice underworld characters that they watched flood into tinsel town from Chicago during the late thirties and early forties.
The Hump was slicker, far smarter then most other hoods, and he skyrocketed through the ranks to become the outfit's chief political fixer.
When the Hump and his family visited Washington on vacation, Harry Truman personally showed them around Washington when he was the Vice President.
The Hump's daughter, Llewella, recalled that in the early fall of 1952 she walked into the living room of her house where her father was entertaining several men. The Hump asked her "What do you think of Eisenhower?"
The teenager replied that she thought that he was fine man and that she would vote for him if she were old enough. At that very second, Dwight Eisenhower stood up out the easy chair he was sitting in and said, "Thank you very much young lady."
The Hump was doing time on a tax rap when the Bioff scandal went down, but a year after Bioff and the rest went to jail, the Hump was released and the family took a trip out west to Hollywood, where he met and befriended actor Fred MacMurray, whom he resembled. The two men remained lifelong friends.
The Hump had such a good time out in Hollywood, that Sam Giancana, then an up-and-coming star in the Chicago mob, took his own trip out west and arranged for studio mogul Jospeh Pasternak to squire his daughter around the studios and introduced her to Jimmy Stewart, Walter Pidgeon, Spencer Tracy and Greer Garson, while Giancana took care of business in Los Angles with Johnny Rosseli.
Llewella Humpreys recalled: "The outfit through the unions controlled every facet of the movie industry. And it all started with my mother, she was fan-crazy about movie stars. So she mentioned to my father, why don't we go into that business so I can meet everybody. So he, eventually, could make or break a studio by calling people out on strike.
He loved making his own films, to editing, doing titles and putting on the sound track when sound came in. On holidays it was a nuisance with mother and myself twiddling our thumbs while he set up the camera. ...In those days the studios had tours as they have today, Joan Crawford was a very big star, at her peak then. She always worked on a closed set so that no one could come and see her.
Mother really wanted to meet her. But this set on that particular day was especially closed because Joan Crawford had a scar on her face in the movie and didn't want anyone to see her. The head of the studio anyway, took mother an' me in. Joan Crawford stopped right in the middle of her scene and said, 'Get those two out of here. I will not have it on my set. It's closed.'
The head of the studio went over to her and told her, 'Either they stay or you go, and you are through in pictures.' So we watched her make the movie."
Later, the family sailed off to Hawaii and returning by way of San Francisco, Humprey's ship passed Alcatraz Island where Al Capone, Willie Bioff, George Brown and a slew of other Chicago hoods were staying as guests of the government.
The hump filmed the island and later added to the sound track, "The gang's all here."
Mr. Tuohy can be reached by writing to MobStudy@aol.com
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