Gangster's life lures host of storytellers
Bulger coterie eyes book and movie deals
By Shelley Murphy, Globe Staff, 4/18/2004
Southie, as one former gangster put it, is going Hollywood. At least a half-dozen people with ties to fugitive South Boston crime boss James "Whitey" Bulger are trying to write a book or looking for a movie deal.
The list of aspiring authors includes Bulger's longtime girlfriend, several of his former partners in crime, and even one victim who was forced at gunpoint to sell his liquor store to Bulger.
"We've got everybody in town trying to write a book," said Teresa Stanley, Bulger's longtime girlfriend, who said she decided to team up with a local writer after rejecting overtures from several people trying to pump her for information for their own projects.
"I've spent 30 years with this guy and I've been through hell," said Stanley, 63, who signed an agreement last year with Jonathan Wells to write a book about life with Whitey. Wells recently left the Boston Herald to become an executive producer at Fox 25.
But in the competitive atmos phere of the Whitey book world, everything is up for grabs, as Stanley learned when her son, Billy, took a rare photograph of his mother and Bulger from her Silver Street home and gave it to Stephen Rakes, who plans to use it in his own book.
"It was stolen," said Stanley, who is contemplating a lawsuit to get it back. "Do you know the value of that picture?" she told her son. "If anybody was going to be using it, I would."
Rakes, who was forced to sell his South Boston liquor store to Bulger in 1984, declined to discuss the book he's working on with a friend, but confirmed that he plans to use the photo he obtained from Stanley's son. "I paid $20 for it," Rakes said.
Since Bulger fled to evade a 1995 federal racketeering indictment, he has been outed as an FBI informant who corrupted some of his handlers and has been charged with killing 19 people.
Many of his former cohorts are now cooperating against him, are in prison, or both. And while Bulger-bashing has become a popular sport in South Boston, so has cashing in.
Former Bulger associate Patrick Nee has a publisher for his book, which will trace his life from Ireland to South Boston and his involvement in an ill-fated plot to ship guns to the Irish Republican Army in 1984 aboard the Ipswich-based trawler, Valhalla.
"It's the real Valhalla story," said Nee, who pledged to correct "misconceptions" that Bulger was an avid IRA sympathizer who helped mastermind the gun-running scheme. "Whitey did have something to do with the Valhalla, but he tried to derail it."
Nee said his book is being written by Michael Blythe, a friend from South Boston, and Rich Farrell, one of the producers of the 1995 award-winning HBO documentary, "High on Crack Street," a film about drug abuse in Lowell.
While Nee jokes that "everyone's gone Hollywood" in South Boston, he said he's not expecting a windfall from book sales and thinks other would-be authors from his hometown might have unrealistic expectations about the literary world. "The odds of making a lot of money on a book are nil," he said.
Chip Fleischer, the publisher of Steerforth Press, which is planning to release Nee's book late next year or early in 2006, agrees. The small publishing company based in Hanover, N.H., also published "Street Soldier: My Life as an Enforcer for Whitey Bulger and the Irish Mob," based on an account by Edward MacKenzie Jr. and written by Phyllis Karas.
"I think the general public thinks there's more money at stake with books than there really is," Fleischer said. "If somebody writes a book that's turned into a movie, then there's money. But the book industry is really small time compared to the movie industry. In very rare cases do books lead to anybody having any kind of windfall. Even a genuine bestseller is not going to change your life."
Fleischer said MacKenzie's book, which was released a year ago, has "done well" and has been a local bestseller but not a national one.
While MacKenzie's book has been met with incredulity in Southie, where people in Bulger's former inner circle insist that MacKenzie never was one of them, it has helped fuel the book boom, on the theory that if MacKenzie can sell a book, maybe others can.
Howie Winter, the former leader of Somerville's Winter Hill Gang who is now working as a property manager, said he's been talking to movie producers and would be happy with any deal that could bring some financial security for his wife.
"I'm broke, so if I could make some money I'd think of doing it," said Winter, adding that he has no current agreement with anyone to tell his story, including his life with Whitey, who he said "could teach the devil tricks."
Yet not everyone is convinced there's a future in Bulger books, especially since two have already been published detailing Whitey Bulger's corrupt relationship with FBI agents: "Black Mass," written by former Globe reporters Gerard O'Neill and Dick Lehr, and "Deadly Alliance," by Globe reporter Ralph Ranalli.
Also, Boston Herald columnist and WRKO-AM radio show host Howie Carr recently confirmed that he received a hefty advance to write a book about Bulger and his brother, William, the former president of the state Senate and the University of Massachusetts.
John Taylor "Ike" Williams, a well-known literary agent and entertainment attorney for the Boston law firm of Fish & Richardson, predicted that another Bulger book must be "really beautifully written" or contain "a very relevatory fresh look" to be successful.
"I don't think there's room for badly written memoirs," Williams said. "Just because you're a criminal doesn't mean the world's waiting for your story."
Former FBI agent John J. Connolly Jr. had been writing a book about growing up in South Boston with the Bulgers and investigating the Mafia when his project was cut short by his arrest. Convicted of racketeering in May 2002 for helping Bulger evade capture, he was sentenced to 10 years in prison.
This story ran on page B1 of the Boston Globe on 4/18/2004.
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