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Famous Like Me > Writer > A > Herbert Asbury

Profile of Herbert Asbury on Famous Like Me

Name: Herbert Asbury  
Also Know As:
Date of Birth: 1st September 1889
Place of Birth: Farmington, Missouri, USA
Profession: Writer
From Wikipedia, the free Encyclopedia

Herbert Asbury (September 1, 1889 – February 24, 1963) was an American journalist and writer probably best known for his The Gangs of New York, which Martin Scorsese adapted into a 2002 film.

Gangs revitalized interest in Asbury. In earlier decades, he was known for his self-described "informal histories": Descriptions of various cities, focusing on violence, prostitution and other lurid events. His books were popular, but critics have suggested that Asbury took journalistic liberties with his sensationalistic (and often unsourced) material, which included interviews, newspapers and police reports.


Asbury was a disenchanted Southern Methodist from Missouri. He rebelled early against his straight-laced upbringing, characterized its bigotry and hypoocrisy in his first book, and threw himself into the lore of urban crime, gangsterism, prostitution and gambling as a popular historian. He had served in World War I, where he was gassed, permanently weakening his lungs.

Asbury achieved first notoriety with a story that H.L. Mencken published in his magazine, The American Mercury in 1926. The story detailed a prostitute from Asbury's hometown of Farmington, Missouri. The prostitute took her Protestant customers to the Catholic cemetery and her Catholic customers to the Protestant cemetery; some in Farmington considered the prostitute beyond redemption.

The article caused a sensation: The Boston Watch and Ward Society had the magazine banned. Mencken then journeyed to Boston, sold a copy of his magazine on Boston Commons, and was arrested. Sales of the recently-founded Mercury boomed, and Asbury was a celebrity. Asbury then focused his attention of a series of articles debunking temperence crusader Carrie Nation.

Many of Asbury's works, mostly chronicling the largely hidden history of the seamier side of American popular culture, have been reissued. They include New General Catalog of Old Books and Authors:

  • Up From Methodism 1926. (The title is intended as a reminiscence of Booker T. Washington's Up From Slavery.)
  • A Methodist Saint : The Life of Bishop Asbury1927. A biography of Asbury's progenitor, Rev. Francis Asbury
  • The Devil of Pei-ling 1927. A novel.
  • The Tick of the Clock 1928. A novel.
  • The Gangs of New York : An Informal History of the Underworld 1928. Republished in 2001 with a foreword by Jorge Luis Borges.
  • Not at Night: A Collection of Weird Tales
  • The Bon Vivant's Companion : Or, How to Mix Drinks (with Jerry Thomas) 1928.
  • [The Life of] Carry Nation 1928.
  • Ye Olde Fire Laddies Alfred A. Knopf, New York 1930. An informal history of firefighting in New York City.
  • The Barbary Coast : An Informal History of the San Francisco Underworld 1933. 1933 ISBN 1560254084
  • All Around the Town : Murder, Scandal, Riot and Mayhem in Old New York 1934. (reissued as a "Sequel to Gangs of New York)
  • The Breathless Moment (with Philip van Doren Stern) 1935.
  • The French Quarter : An Informal History of the New Orleans Underworld 1936. ISBN 1560254947
  • Sucker's Progress : An Informal History of Gambling in America 1938.
  • Gem of the Prairie : An Informal History of the Chicago Underworld 1940. Northern Illinois University Press reissued it in 1986 with a preface by Perry R. Duis. It was again reissued as The Gangs of Chicago ISBN 1560254548
  • The Golden Flood : An Informal History of America's First Oil Field Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 1941 (often dated 1942).
  • The Great Illusion: An Informal History of Prohibition 1950.

Motion Pictures

Asbury is credited with three crime-thriller screenplays for Columbia Pictures, which he co-wrote with Fred Niblo Jr:

  • 1934 Name the Woman (A Cub reporter on the crime beat established the innocence of a woman he has wrongly implicated.)
  • 1934 Among the Missing Worked up from a "laughably implausible" (TV Guide) story by Florence Wagner
  • 1934 Fugitive Lady

The adaption of Gangs of New York was so loose that Gangs was nominated for "Best Original Screenplay" rather than as a screenplay adapted from another work.

External link

  • A site devoted to Herbert Asbury

This content from Wikipedia is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article Herbert Asbury