James John Walker, often known as Jimmy Walker and colloquially as Beau James (June 19, 1881November 18, 1946), was the mayor of New York City from 1926 to 1932. During a corruption scandal he was forced to resign.
Life and career
Walker was the son of Irish-born William Walker, a Democratic assemblyman and alderman from Greenwich Village, belying certain accounts of Walker's childhood that stated he grew up in poverty. Before entering politics, the young Jimmy Walker worked as a songwriter, his most popular composition being "Will You Love Me in December (as You Do in May)?" He attended Xavier High School (New York City), and New York Law School.
Walker was a member of the New York State Assembly from 1910 to 1914, and of the New York State Senate from 1914 to 1925. He was President pro tempore of the New York State Senate from 1923 to 1924.
In 1926 he became Mayor of New York City, having defeated incumbent John F. Hylan in the 1925 Democratic primary with the help of Governor Alfred E. Smith and Tammany Hall. The initial years of his mayoralty were a prosperous time for the city, with many public works projects. However, Walker's term was also known for the proliferation of speakeasies during the Prohibition era. His affairs with "chorus girls" were widely known, and he left his wife, Janet, for showgirl Betty Compton without impairing his popularity. He managed to maintain the five-cent subway fare despite a threatened strike.
Walker won re-election by an overwhelming margin in 1929, defeating Republican Fiorello La Guardia and Socialist Norman Thomas. Walker's fortunes turned downward with the economy – due to the stock-market crash of 1929. Patrick Joseph Hayes, the Cardinal Archbishop of New York, denounced him, implying that the immorality of the mayor, both personal and political in tolerating "girlie magazines" and casinos, was a cause of the economic downturn.
Increasing social unrest led to investigations into corruption within his administration, and he was eventually forced to testify before the investigative committee of Judge Samuel Seabury, the Seabury Commission. He was accused of accepting large bribes from businessmen seeking contracts or favorable legislation.
Facing pressure from Governor Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Walker resigned from office on September 1, 1932, and promptly fled for Europe until the danger of criminal prosecution appeared remote. There, he married Betty Compton.
After his return to the United States, for a time Walker acted as head of Majestic Records. He died at the age of 65, in 1946. He was interred in the Gate of Heaven Cemetery in Hawthorne, New York.
When Walker was a member of the New York State Senate, he sponsored the "Walker Law" which legalized boxing in New York. He was honored a number of times over the years by the boxing community. Walker is a member of the International Boxing Hall of Fame and was given the Edward J. Neil Trophy in 1945 for his service to the sport.
In popular culture
A romanticized version of Walker's tenure as mayor was presented in the 1957 film Beau James, starring Bob Hope. The film was based on a biography of Walker, also titled Beau James, written by Gene Fowler. This same book was also the basis for Jimmy a stage musical about Walker that had a brief Broadway run from October 1969 to January 1970, starring Frank Gorshin as Walker and Anita Gillette as Betty Compton. There is also a song about Walker in the stage musical Fiorello!, "Gentleman Jimmy".
Footage of Jimmy Walker is used in the 1983 Woody Allen film, Zelig, with Walker being one the guests during Zelig's visit to Randolph Hearst's mansion, San Simeon.
The novel It Can't Happen Here, by Sinclair Lewis, lists the exiles in Paris as "Jimmy Walker, and a few ex-presidents from South America and Cuba."
Mayor Walker was referenced in the December 6, 2010 episode of the ABC (USA) television series, Castle.
The political and criminal activity surrounding Walker's 1929 campaign features heavily in Tom Bradby's 2009 novel Blood Money.
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