Johnny's Girl: A Daughter's Memoir of Growing up in Alaska's Underworld

Overview

Kim Rich was an ordinary girl trapped in an extraordinary childhood, someone who dreamed of going to parties and getting good grades while living in an after-hours hell of pimps and con men. Kim Rich longed for normalcy, yet she was inescapably her father's child, and she had no choice but to grow up fast. Her mother was a stripper and B-girl: her father was a major player in the underworld of Anchorage, Alaska in the sixties, a city flush with newfound oil money.  Only after her father was gruesomely ...

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Johnny's Girl: A Daughter's Memoir of Growing Up In Alaska's Underworld

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Overview

Kim Rich was an ordinary girl trapped in an extraordinary childhood, someone who dreamed of going to parties and getting good grades while living in an after-hours hell of pimps and con men. Kim Rich longed for normalcy, yet she was inescapably her father's child, and she had no choice but to grow up fast. Her mother was a stripper and B-girl: her father was a major player in the underworld of Anchorage, Alaska in the sixties, a city flush with newfound oil money.  Only after her father was gruesomely murdered and Kim became a journalist was she able to fill in the missing pieces of one American dream gone horribly wrong. Kim's true story is a tale of a woman's search for her parent's secrets. What she finds is both shocking and tragic, but in the end she's able to discover her true self amid the remnants of her parents' lost lives.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“Rich does an amazing job of searching out legal and hospital records, plus letters and diaries of her dead parents, and of interviewing cops, lawyers, former B-girls, and family members,—-all in a effort to lay to rest the ghosts within her…Compelling.”         —-Kirkus Review

“This memoir poses the question, ‘Which offenses from our childhood are forgivable and which ones are not?’ [Rich’s] book is…the story of a gutsy child’s survival, the kind that should go straight to the heart.” 

—-New York Times Book Review

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
In this engaging memoir, the author, a journalist raised in Alaska and now living in New York City, probes her late parents' past. Rich was 15 years old in 1973 when her father, Johnny Rich Jr., a well-known mobster in Anchorage, was murdered. Her mother, Ginger, a former stripper, had died the previous year. Although they both grew up in New England, Johnny and Ginger met in Los Angeles in the late 1950s. Soon they embarked for Alaska, where Johnny became a big man about town and Ginger would soon begin her sojourn through a series of mental institutions. Rich traces and plumbs official records to capture the minutiae and major moments of her parents' lives, including their deaths. Along the way, she comes to terms with her relationships with her parents, especially her father: ``Now I'm beginning to like being Johnny's girl.'' Photos not seen by PW. (Mar.)
Library Journal
Don't be fooled by the misleading title, which conjures up images of an Alaskan version of Teresa Carpenter's Mob Girl ( LJ 3/1/92). Although Rich, as the only child of a gambler and a stripper, grew up ``amid the denizens of Anchorage's nightlife--pimps, con men, gamblers, prostitutes, heroin addicts, strippers,'' she has written not a sensationalistic account of the criminal world but a compassionate memoir, much like Geoffrey Douglas's Class ( LJ 10/1/92), that seeks to make sense of her parents' failed lives. For Johnny Rich and Ginger Chiaravalle, the B-bars and gambling dens of 1950s and 1960s Anchorage were the quick ticket to the American Dream. But Ginger's career as a stripper and prostitute eventually triggered her insanity (the book's most moving section recounts her last years dying of cancer in a mental institution), and Johnny's schemes finally resulted in his murder in 1973. Rich describes in rich detail her unusual and unstable childhood but skimps on her life after her parents' deaths. How did she survive? Why did she become a journalist? Perhaps she can tell us in the next book. Strongly recommended.-- Wilda Williams, ``Library Journal''
Kirkus Reviews
Superbly well-balanced and thoughtful reconstruction of a family life in the Anchorage underworld; based on Rich's series of articles that appeared in the Anchorage Daily News. "Family life" may be too loose a phrase to bind the fragments of existence excavated by Rich while digging up the bones of her murdered father and mad mother. She does an amazing job of searching out legal and hospital records, plus letters and diaries of her dead parents, and of interviewing cops, lawyers, former B- girls, and family members—all in an effort to lay to rest the ghosts within her. In the early 60's, her father, John Francis "Johnny" Rich, was a small-time bamboozler who worked whores in massage parlors, set up nude-photo sessions for all comers in his own home, assembled craps, poker, and blackjack games, and apparently pimped for his wife. And these were among the more openly shady of his dealings, which also included real-estate scams, an addiction to moonlight flights from landlords and creditors, longstanding wrangles with the IRS, and the double- dealing that got him killed in 1973, when Rich was 15. Unbeknownst to Johnny when he married her, Rich's mother, Frances Ann "Ginger" Chiaravalle, had been hospitalized for a mental breakdown at age 20. She kept her sanity during the first years of marriage by focusing on her newborn daughter and saving every scrap that attested to the child's existence. Rich was born in Hollywood, but the family shortly moved to Anchorage, with Frances sent ahead by Johnny to set herself up as a B-girl. Anchorage was an oil-rich frontier town, and Johnny swam in it as if born to the ooze, though Frances went to pieces and Rich endured endless midnight policeraids on their house. After Frances died, Johnny married a teenage heroin addict, whom Rich fought with like a sister. Smartly written and compelling.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780882405247
  • Publisher: Alaska Northwest Books
  • Publication date: 9/28/1999
  • Pages: 304
  • Sales rank: 997,753
  • Product dimensions: 5.40 (w) x 8.34 (h) x 0.91 (d)

Meet the Author

Born in Hollywood, raised in Anchorage, Alaska and with an MFA degree in writing from Columbia University, Kim M. Rich has taught at Alaska Pacific University. She now lives in the lower 48, outside of Alaska.

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Read an Excerpt

Johnny's Girl

A Daughter's Memoir of Growing Up In Alaska's Underworld
By Kim Rich

Graphic Arts Books

Copyright © 1999 Kim Rich
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9780882405247

“Everyone here in the building would not condone our morals” was the first thing my father told the social worker who interviewed him the day after my mother had been hospitalized. …The interview, which took place before the earthquake at the state Division of Mental Health office downtown, was held to determine who would pay for my mother’s medical expenses. What my father had to say that day isn’t surprising to me.” Page 95, Shattered Dreams, Johnny’s Girl



Continues...

Excerpted from Johnny's Girl by Kim Rich Copyright © 1999 by Kim Rich. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

JOHNNY'S GIRL is not the typical Alaskan memoir. Kim Rich came north with her parents who brought their get-rich dreams and schemes to the new state of Alaska. They mined the underside of life in the Last Frontier, working the gambling and B-joints of the raw town of Anchorage. While Rich's father thrived, living one step ahead of the law, her mother became unbalanced. In Rich's book, she probes the mysteries of her parents' lives and comes to terms with her own.

First published in 1993 by William Morrow, JOHNNY'S GIRL was made into a TV movie and later adapted for the stage. We are pleased to make this popular and insightful book, out of print for almost two years, available in a new softbound edition.

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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted August 7, 2005

    Memorable, poignant

    I read this in 1993 when it first came out, and it is unforgettable. Although she grew up 'in Alaska's Underworld' the story is told not only from the reality of her life, but also with touching memories of her parents, including not only her mother's keepsakes from the author's early childhood, but also the part of her father that any child might remember about any father. The author's strength is revealed through the years of her youth and emerging into adulthood, and her maturity and compassion are evident throughout.

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