I am the "Gangster Squad" journalist and author who wrote the articles and book the movie is based on…
Thanks, everyone. My fingers are tingling and my brain numb from trying to answer all the provocative questions. Plus, the dog's barking for a walk. So off I go. Let's do it again sometime. PL
Hi, Reddit community. I spent more than a decade chronicling the real Los Angeles Police “Gangster Squad” that inspired the current film…and considerable debate on Reddit yesterday. So if you want to know what was true, and what was Hollywood dramatization, shoot me questions (not bullets). By way of background:
When the cast of Warner Bros. film version of “Gangster Squad” was preparing to stage the movie’s final confrontation – a wild Tommy Gun shoot-‘em-up between the crew of LAPD cops and the henchmen of the hoodlum Mickey Cohen – Ryan Gosling asked me, “Did any of these guys get killed?” By these guys he meant the real-life members of the real Gangster Squad, which was formed by the Los Angeles Police Department back in 1946 to battle the real Mickey Cohen and other mob figures following a series of shootings that threatened L.A.’s image as America’s sun-washed Garden of Eden. I told Gosling that of the eight original members of the squad, two had been shot and wounded on the job, but before they joined the unit. And the only one killed after the squad was formed, the giant Texan “Jumbo” Kennard, died not in a hail of bullets but when his car struck a bus on a rain-soaked Wilshire Boulevard after a night of drinking. In the film version of “Gangster Squad,” in contrast, one of the squad had already been knocked off by Mickey’s men and another was about to get it in the shootout being staged as Gosling and Josh Brolin stormed an historic L.A. hotel where the film’s Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn) was holed up.
The embellishment should surprise no one familiar with the ways of Hollywood, or the conventions of films on small, elite crews of crime-fighters such as “The Magnificent Seven” or “The Untouchables” – a couple of the good guys are going to bite the dust before the rest prevail over the forces of evil. In this case, Warner Bros. made no secret of the cinematic liberties being taken. As a number of Reddit commentators noted yesterday, the film did not even describe itself as “based on” a true story, it opted for the lesser “inspired by.” On location that night, as Gosling and Brolin grabbed their machine guns to have it out with Sean Penn, the main producer, Dan Lin, termed the unfolding action as, most basically, “Boys with toys.” In real life, the men of the LAPD’s Gangster Squad indeed carried Thompson submachine guns to intimidate hoods like Mickey but never once fired them. The only time a squad member tried to pull the trigger, when confronting a brother of the notorious Al Capone, the Tommy failed to fire.
I bring this up because of the extensive discussion on Reddit yesterday inspired by a wonderfully provocative post by the granddaughter of Sgt. Jack O’Mara, the squad leader played by Brolin, declaring, “The movie butchered my grandfather’s life.” Well, I first met the real Sgt. O’Mara in 1992 and spent many afternoons in his living room, and soon after met the roguish Sgt. Jerry Wooters (the character now played by Gosling), all while researching what first became a series of articles in the Los Angeles Times, “L.A. Noir: Tales from the Gangster Squad,” then recently was expanded into the nonfiction book, “Gangster Squad,” which indeed is quite different from the film. So, as I said, shoot…with questions.