The Bobbed Haired Bandit: A True Story of Crime and Celebrity in 1920s New York / Edition 3

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Ripped straight from the headlines of the Jazz Age, The Bobbed Haired Bandit is a tale of flappers and fast cars, of sex and morality. In the spring of 1924, a poor, 19-year-old laundress from Brooklyn robbed a string of New York grocery stores with a “baby automatic,” a fur coat, and a fashionable bobbed hairdo. Celia Cooney’s crimes made national news, with the likes of Ring Lardner and Walter Lippman writing about her exploits for enthralled readers.

The Bobbed Haired Bandit brings to life a world of great wealth and poverty, of Prohibition and class conflict. With her husband Ed at her side, Celia raised herself from a life of drudgery to become a celebrity in her own pulp-fiction novel, a role she consciously cultivated. She also launched the largest manhunt in New York City's history, humiliating the police with daring crimes and taunting notes.

Sifting through conflicting accounts, Stephen Duncombe and Andrew Mattson show how Celia's story was used to explain the world, to wage cultural battles, to further political interest, and above all, to sell newspapers. To progressives, she was an example of what happens when a community doesn't protect its children. To conservatives, she symbolized a permissive society that gave too much freedom to the young, poor, and female. These competing stories distill the tensions of the time.

In a gripping account that reads like a detective serial, Duncombe and Mattson have culled newspaper reports, court records, interviews with Celia's sons, and even popular songs and jokes to capture what William Randolph Hearst’s newspaper called “the strangest, weirdest, most dramatic, most tragic, human interest story ever told.”

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“A pre-Bonnie and Clyde story . . . in all its tacky, trailer park intrigue.”
-Blue Ridge Business Journal

“With crisp prose and a lively selection of newspaper photographs, headlines, cartoons, and excerpts, authors Stephen Duncombe and Andrew Mattson tell a story of an outlaw couple and, through them, the story of an era.”-Boston Globe

“It could have come out of Hollywood. . . . Stephen Duncombe and Andrew Mattson tell the story of this largely unremembered saga of crime and pursuit. The writing has velocity, and the amazing plot, with all its twists and turns, is alone worth the admission. More than just narrative history, the book is about representation—the multiple ways that the crime was reported in the New York press and ‘instrumentalized and mobilized’ for a variety of causes.”
-Journal of American History

The Bobbed Haired Bandit is a fun read about a forgotten episode.”-Justice

“Brings alive the darker side of flapper-era Manhattan.”
-Entertainment Weekly

Publishers Weekly
In 1924, Celia Cooney, a newly married laundress in Brooklyn, found herself unexpectedly pregnant. The Cooneys' $30-a-week income couldn't support a baby. So Celia and her husband, Ed, began holding up neighborhood drugstores. In this riveting book, the authors, scholars in history and media studies (Duncombe at NYU, Mattson at SUNY-Old Westbury) reconstruct and analyze not only the crime spree but also the ensuing media frenzy. Savvy newspaper editors knew the story of a girl with a gun would sell; they christened Celia the Bobbed Hair Bandit and made her a star. According to the authors, she stood in for the era's anxieties about changing gender roles, her bob a symbol of liberated women. Suddenly, any gal with a bob was seen as a potential threat-even Zelda Fitzgerald was reportedly pulled over by cops and questioned. Once Celia was finally arrested, the public learned about her grueling childhood and negligent mother. Editorialists, including progressive pundit Walter Lippmann, then held Celia up as an example of what happened to poor and abused children when society failed to intervene. Duncombe and Mattson's fast-paced account of Cooney's story is an absolute winner. 40 b&w illus. (Feb.) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
—(Starred Review)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780814719800
  • Publisher: New York University Press
  • Publication date: 2/6/2006
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 3
  • Pages: 394
  • Product dimensions: 6.30 (w) x 9.25 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

Stephen Duncombe teaches politics and history of media and culture at the Gallatin School of New York University. He is author of Notes from Underground: Zines and the Politics of Alternative Culture and editor of the Cultural Resistance Reader.

Andrew Mattson teaches American history and media studies at the State University of New York at Old Westbury.

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Table of Contents

Cast of Characters
Part I Woman with Gun
Part II Get Girl Bandit Dead or Alive
Part III Mystery of the Bobbed-Haired Bandit
Part IV Gunmiss, Roused, Shoots Man
Part V Child of Misfortune
Part VI End of a Thriller
About the Authors

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 12, 2006

    Awesome story - awesome woman

    This book is a historically accurate, compassionate and insightful look at a fascinating couple who committed robberies in 1923-24. She was pregnant and fashionable and he was the mastermind. Together, they set both the Police Department and the population of NYC on their ears. They were fast, gutsy and a little desperate. The real story to me is one of triumph over adversity. Not only did 'the Bandit' overcome a tragic childhood to become a strong, compassionate, fiercely loyal and independent woman, but she became a tax-paying, law-abiding citizen after her jail time. After her husband's death, she raised two boys on her own through the Depression and World War 2. She is a wonderful example of how it is possible to move past our negative histories and ethical blunders. I should know - she was my grandmother.

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