His death was confirmed by his wife, Ronnie Eldridge, a prominent Democratic politician in Manhattan. Mr. Breslin had been recovering from pneumonia.
With prose that was savagely funny, deceptively simple and poorly imitated, Mr. Breslin created his own distinct rhythm in the hurly-burly music of newspapers. Here, for example, is how he described Clifton Pollard, the man who dug President John F. Kennedy’s grave, in a celebrated column from 1963 that sent legions of journalists to find their “gravedigger”:
“Pollard is forty-two. He is a slim man with a mustache who was born in Pittsburgh and served as a private in the 352nd Engineers battalion in Burma in World War II. He is an equipment operator, grade 10, which means he gets $3.01 an hour. One of the last to serve John Fitzgerald Kennedy, who was the thirty-fifth President of this country, was a working man who earns $3.01 an hour and said it was an honor to dig the grave.”
Here is how, in one of the columns that won the 1986 Pulitzer Prize for commentary, he focused on a single man, David Camacho, to humanize the AIDS epidemic, which was widely misunderstood at the time:
“He had two good weeks in July and then the fever returned and he was back in the hospital for half of last August. He got out again and returned to Eighth Street. The date this time doesn’t count. By now, he measured nothing around him. Week, month, day, night, summer heat, fall chill, the color of the sky, the sound of the street, clothes, music, lights, wealth dwindled in meaning.”
And here is how he described what motivated Breslin the writer: “Rage is the only quality which has kept me, or anybody I have ever studied, writing columns for newspapers.”
Poetic and profane, softhearted and unforgiving, Mr. Breslin inspired every emotion but indifference; letters from outraged readers gladdened his heart. He often went after his own, from Irish-Americans with “shopping-center faces” who had forgotten their hardscrabble roots to the Roman Catholic Church, whose sex scandals prompted him to write an angry book called “The Church That Forgot Christ,” published in 2004. It ends with a cheeky vow to start a new church that would demand more low-income housing and better posture.
Love or loathe him, none could deny Mr. Breslin’s enduring impact on the craft of narrative nonfiction. He often explained that he merely applied a sportswriter’s visual sensibility to the news columns. Avoid the scrum of journalists gathered around the winner, he would advise, and go directly to the loser’s locker. This is how you find your gravedigger.
“So you go to a big thing like this presidential assassination,” he said in an extended interview with The New York Times in 2006. “Well, you’re looking for the dressing room, that’s all. And I did. I went there automatic.”
Early on, Mr. Breslin developed the persona of the hard-drinking, dark-humored Everyman from Queens, so consumed by life’s injustices and his six children that he barely had time to comb his wild black mane. While this persona shared a beer with the truth, Mr. Breslin also admired Dostoyevsky; swam every day; hadn’t had a drink in more than 30 years; wrote a shelf-full of books; and adhered to a demanding work ethic that required his presence in the moment, from a civil rights march in Alabama to a “perp walk” in Brooklyn — no matter that he never learned to drive.
The real Jimmy Breslin was so elusive that even Mr. Breslin could not find him. “There have been many Jimmy Breslins because of all the people I identified with so much, turning me into them, or them into me, that I can’t explain one Jimmy Breslin,” he once wrote.
Sometimes he presented himself as a regular guy who churned out words for pay; other times he became the megalomaniacal stylist — “J. B. Number One,” he called himself — who was dogged by pale imitators with Irish surnames. On occasion he would wake up other reporters with telephone calls to say, simply, “I’m big.”
He cut longstanding ties over small slights, often published an annual list of “the people I’m not talking to this year,” and rarely hesitated to target powerful friends, depending on his depth of outrage and the time until deadline. He would occasionally refer to those who had fallen out of his favor only by their initials.
After concluding that Gov. Hugh L. Carey of New York had become too enamored of fine living, for example, Mr. Breslin rechristened his old pal Society Carey, a nickname that stuck like gum on a handmade shoe. But when someone he knew was sick, whether a beloved daughter or the switchboard operator at work, Mr. Breslin would be at the bedside, offering his comforting gift of almost vaudevillian distraction.
A man whose preferred manner of discourse was a yell, Mr. Breslin could be unkind, even vicious. In 1990, for example, he was suspended by his employer, Newsday, for a racist rant about a female Asian-American reporter who had dared to criticize one of his columns as sexist.
At the same time, Mr. Breslin was unmatched in his attention to the poor and disenfranchised. If there is one hero in the Breslin canon, it is the single black mother, far removed from power, trying to make it through the week.
According to his wife, Ms. Eldridge, Mr. Breslin became so upset by what he had witnessed in the streets of the city, streets he knew as well as anyone, that he often needed time to recover after writing his column. “Bad news puts him to bed,” she said.
Mr. Breslin came honestly to his empathy and distrust. Born James Earle Breslin on Oct. 17, 1928, he grew up in the Richmond Hill section of Queens. When Jimmy was 6, his father, James, a musician, deserted the family, leaving him to share an apartment with an emotionally distant mother, Frances — a supervisor in the East Harlem office of the city’s welfare department who drank — as well as a younger sister, a grandmother and various aunts and uncles.
Decades later, after Mr. Breslin had become famous, his father, destitute in Miami, came back into his life “like heavy snow through a broken window,” he wrote. He paid for his father’s medical bills and sent him a telegram that said, “NEXT TIME KILL YOURSELF.” When his father died, in 1974, he paid for the cremation and said: “Good. That’s over.”
Mr. Breslin found early escape in newspapers. As a boy, he would spread the broadsheet pages across the floor and imagine himself on a Pullman car, filing stories from baseball ports of call: Chicago, St. Louis, Pittsburgh. Then The Long Island Press, in Jamaica, Queens, hired him as a copy boy in the late 1940s. High school took longer than necessary, and college received only a passing nod; his life centered on deadlines and ink.
After getting a job as a sportswriter for The New York Journal-American, Mr. Breslin wrote a freshly funny book about the first season of the hapless Mets, “Can’t Anybody Here Play This Game?” It persuaded John Hay Whitney, the publisher of The New York Herald Tribune, to hire him as a news columnist in 1963.
Soon Mr. Breslin was counted among the writers credited with inventing “New Journalism,” in which novelistic techniques are used to inject immediacy and narrative tension into the news. (Mr. Breslin, an admirer of sportswriters like Jimmy Cannon and Frank Graham, scoffed at this supposed contribution, saying that he and others had merely introduced Dickens-like storytelling to a new generation.)
Unleashed, Mr. Breslin issued regular dispatches that changed the craft of column writing, said the journalist and author Pete Hamill, a former colleague. “It seemed so new and original,” Mr. Hamill said. “It was a very, very important moment in New York journalism, and in national journalism.”
Mr. Breslin wrote about President Kennedy’s gravedigger, the sentencing of the union gangster Anthony Provenzano, the assassination of Malcolm X, and a stable of New York characters real and loosely based on reality, including the Mafia boss Un Occhio, the arsonist Marvin the Torch, the bookie Fat Thomas and Klein the lawyer. But Mr. Breslin’s greatest character was himself: the outer-borough boulevardier of bilious persuasion, often chaperoned by his superhumanly patient first wife, “the former Rosemary Dattolico.”
“Jimmy invented himself,” said Donald H. Forst, a prominent New York newspaper editor who died in 2014 and first worked with Mr. Breslin at The Herald Tribune. “He was irascible, extremely talented and very, very hard-working. And he understood what news was.”
Mr. Breslin began his day early, making calls to judges, politicians, police officers and other journalists, always greeting them with words that signaled he was in the hunt for news: “What’s doin’?”
“He just keeps calling until he has a column in his head,” Ms. Eldridge explained. “But then he has to go see it.”
Over the years, Mr. Breslin would leave daily newspapers in search of better pay. In 1969, for example, he resigned from The New York Post after writing his first novel, “The Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight,” a best-selling satire about the Mafia that was later made into a forgettable movie. But he repeatedly succumbed to the sirens of daily journalism, first at The Daily News, then at New York Newsday, then at Newsday on Long Island, then back to The Daily News.
“Once you get back in the newspapers, it’s like heroin,” Mr. Breslin told The Times. “You’re there. That’s all.”
Mr. Breslin always seemed to be “there.” He became one of the first staff writers at New York magazine. In 1968, he was nearby when Robert F. Kennedy was assassinated in Los Angeles. In 1969, he ran for City Council president on a wacky, wildly unsuccessful ticket that included Norman Mailer for mayor. (Their contention that New York City should become the 51st state found little traction.) In 1986, he broke the story of how the Queens borough president, Donald R. Manes, had been implicated in a payoff swindle involving city officials; two months later, Mr. Manes committed suicide.
And in 1977, most famously, Mr. Breslin received a chilling letter from the serial killer known as Son of Sam, who, by that point, had killed five young people in New York and wounded several others with a .44-caliber revolver. “P.S.: JB, Please inform all the detectives working the case that I wish them the best of luck,” the killer wrote.
Mr. Breslin published the note with an appeal for Son of Sam to surrender, but the killer, David Berkowitz, struck twice more before being captured. The New Yorker magazine accused Mr. Breslin of exploiting the moment and feeding the killer’s ego. But he countered that he had published the letter at the suggestion of detectives, who thought it could encourage the killer to write another note that might bear clearer fingerprints.
Mr. Breslin won nearly every award known to the newspaper business, and also distinguished himself as a critically acclaimed author. He wrote novels, including “World Without End, Amen” (1973), a transcontinental love story set against the Troubles in Belfast, and “Table Money” (1986), about a Queens housewife freeing herself from her husband, an alcoholic sandhog.
He wrote biographies of Damon Runyon and Branch Rickey. He wrote “The Good Rat” (2008), in which he used the saga of two New York police detectives working as Mafia hit men to share his funny, hard-earned insights into mob culture.
Perhaps the quintessential Breslin book was “The Short Sweet Dream of Eduardo Gutierrez,” published in 2002, in which he focused on the death of an unauthorized Mexican worker at a flawed Brooklyn construction site to rail against the shoddy building practices, political cowardice and racism of his beloved city.
Trial and tragedy accompanied his many triumphs. In 1981, Mr. Breslin’s first wife, Rosemary, died of cancer; she was 50. In 2004, his elder daughter, Rosemary, a writer, died of a rare blood disease; she was 47. In 2009, his other daughter, Kelly, died after collapsing in a Manhattan restaurant; she was 44. At these times, friends say, words failed even Jimmy Breslin.
But Mr. Breslin always returned to the distraction and urgency of writing. In 1982, he married Ms. Eldridge in a Catholic-Jewish union that, with his six children and her three, provided rich column material. (“Everybody hated each other,” he told The Times. “It was beautiful.”) In 1994, he underwent surgery for a brain aneurysm that threatened what he called his “billion-dollar memory,” an experience that led to a memoir, published in 1996, called “I Want to Thank My Brain for Remembering Me.”
“Think of it: He still works every day,” former Gov. Mario M. Cuomo, a close friend who died in 2015, wrote in remarks prepared for a 2009 celebration of Mr. Breslin. “Writing, or thinking about writing, and he has done it for 60 years, nearly 22,000 days and nights — except for the short hiatus when doctors were forced to drill a hole in his head to let out of his congested brain some of his unused lines. Then he wrote a book about it!”
In addition to his wife, Ms. Eldridge, a former city councilwoman from Manhattan, Mr. Breslin is survived by his four sons, Kevin, James, Patrick and Christopher; a stepson, Daniel Eldridge; two stepdaughters, Emily and Lucy Eldridge; a sister, Deirdre Breslin; and 12 grandchildren.
In 2004, Mr. Breslin resigned from his three-columns-a-week job at Newsday to pursue other writing projects. But in 2011, he briefly returned to The Daily News to write a weekly column, in which he revisited old mob acquaintances, reflected on the plight of job-seekers and denounced the deaths of the young in wars waged by the old.
It was as though he could not help himself. Telling the stories of others, he once wrote, allowed him to suppress his feelings about his own story — including, say, a father’s abandonment.
“I replaced my feelings with what I felt were the feelings of others, and that changed with each thing I went to, so I was about 67 people in my life,” he wrote.
Telling stories was how Mr. Breslin communicated. In 1994, as he was about to undergo brain surgery, he told a nurse about Bo Gee, a small, thirsty man who sold Chinese-language newspapers in the bars and restaurants of the East Side. Between drinks, the man would call out the two headlines that sold the most papers.
One was “War!” Mr. Breslin told the nurse. And the other: “Big Guy Dies.”
|Jimmy Breslin in 1970. Credit Michael Evans/The New York Times|
Jimmy Breslin's columns on Donald Trump
Jimmy Breslin wrote about New York characters, and one who showed up often in his columns over the years was Donald J. Trump. Here are three of his columns for Newsday – from 1990, 1989 and 1988 -- taking note of Trump as a grandmaster of illusion.
The Art of the Trump: Call It Corum's Law
The following column by Jimmy Breslin was published in Newsday on June 7, 1990.
Suddenly, we have all these prudent, responsible bankers, loan papers crackling in their frightened hands, chasing madly after Donald Trump for money. It seems like great sport, but I must tell you that I believe this to be temporary and that Trump, no matter what kind of a crash he experiences now, will come back as sure as you are reading this. I now will tell you why.
Trump survives by Corum's Law. This is a famous, well-tested theory and is named after Bill Corum, who once wrote sports for the Hearst papers when they were in New York. He had a great gravel voice and did radio and television announcing for the World Series and heavyweight championship fights. He was a round little guy who was the youngest Army major in World War I, and when he came back he announced, "I just want to smell the roses." He read Balzac at the bar, often wrote exciting English, drank a ton of whiskey and lost as much money as he could find at the racetrack. He was a tough guy who understood weakness.
Corum was asked to become the head of the Kentucky Derby by Louisville businessmen who said they had a grave problem. Newspapers all over the world claimed Louisville was a place where Derby visitors were robbed. Prices were tripled, touts were everywhere and women who were supposed to be available and uncommonly glamorous turned out to be nothing more than common thieves.
Corum glanced at the clips and threw them in the air. "This is great. There is nothing better for a championship event than a treacherous woman. If a guy from North Dakota goes home from here after the race and has to be met because he doesn't even have cab fare left, that guy is going to say to himself, 'Wow. I must have had a hell of a time. I can't wait for next year.' But if that same guy goes home and he still has half his money, he is going to say 'I guess I didn't have such a great time at the Kentucky Derby after all.'
"Because, gentlemen, this is the rule. A sucker has to get screwed." Corum ran the Kentucky Derby on this premise for years, and the game was good for all of Louisville. No sucker ever wept.
Today, Corum's Law runs all of Donald Trump's situation. But instead of horseplayers, the suckers who must get screwed are a combination of news reporters and financial people. It is all quite simple. Donald Trump handles these nitwit reporters with a new and most disgraceful form of bribery, about which I will tell you. He uses the reporters to create a razzle dazzle: there are five stories in the newspapers in the morning papers leading into 11 minutes of television at night. The financial people, who lead such dreary lives, believe what they read and see on television. Trump is larger than life. No, not Trump. Don't use that name. It's Donald! He cannot lose. The financial geniuses can't wait to rush into the glamour and lights. They want to touch Trump's arm. "Here, I'm from Prudential, the rock of Gibraltar. Take our $ 75 million to build another crap game. Can I ride on your boat?"
During 1989, when Trump announced he was buying the Eastern Shuttle and about to start a building on the West Side that could be seen from Toledo and would park 9,000 cars, he was on the first page of this paper and others as often as the logo. There were four stories about Trump in one day's issue of The New York Times newspaper. He had the joint from front to back. I remember looking at the paper with the four stories in it and saying to myself, "Look at this, all these years later and the Times hires a whole room full of guys who are out on the take." On television that night, all I saw was announcers genuflecting as they mentioned Trump's name. They mentioned it in unrelated conversation, as if Trump were a part of the language. I said, "What kind of a payroll must this guy have?"
But when I started to think about it, I immediately realized I was wrong. Things were even worse. These reporters were doing it for nothing! The scandal in journalism in our time is that ethics have disintegrated to the point where Donald Trump took over news reporters in this city with the art of the return phone call.
Trump bought reporters, from morning paper to nightly news, with two minutes of purring over the phone.
"I just talked to Donald!" I heard somebody say in the place where I work. "Donald called!" somebody at the Times told me they hear various reporters say, enthusiastically, almost every day. "I have to get off. Donald is on the other phone," a friend of mine at NBC said one day. They even put an article in front of his name, as if he were The Bronx.
Donald Trump, who must have been spending about half of each day on the phone with reporters and editors, owned the news business.
From reporters and bankers, the illusion spread. How can one forget the sight of wise businessmen standing at a bookstore and buying Trump's book so they could learn something about business. These book buyers were taking a fall without even getting a phone call from Trump. The book was nothing more than safe-cracking by hardcover. Yet here were people working for a living reading and nodding at the sage advice, "Smell blood!"
Trump's next book, scheduled for publication any day now, has been held up. It is being edited with flea powder.
Once, here was healthy dishonesty in the news business in New York. Then, a gossip columnist named Walter Winchell had a nightclub build a personal barbershop for him. If Winchell had Trump, he would have made Trump bigger than the president. Winchell also would have been living on a full floor of the Plaza.
But today all of this has been replaced. Not a quarter hits the floor. "I'm going to take over all of Atlantic City and then Los Angeles," Trump announced. It made the front pages. "Donald called!"
But all involved now, particularly the worried bankers, should know that Corum's Law remains. Trump will call and announce his rise. The suckers will write about a heroic indomitable spirit. Redemption makes an even better tale. So many bankers will grab his arm the sleeve will rip. All Trump has to do is stick to the rules on which he was raised by his father in the County of Queens:
Never use your own money. Steal a good idea and say it's your own. Do anything to get publicity. Remember that everybody can be bought.
The trouble with Trump's father was that he was a totally naive man. He had no idea that you could buy the whole news reporting business in New York City with a return phone call.
The following column by Jimmy Breslin was published in Newsday on May 2, 1989.
It has been reported by reliable people, and my own ears, that Donald Trump says, "Between you and I." Of course this is the unmistakable line between those who care enough about their own language to learn the object of a preposition and those in need of remedial. When the unwashed get to the word "between" while speaking, the first thing their ear tells them is that "Between you and I" is right because it has a tonier sound to it, almost regal they imagine, than "between you and me." Therefore such people as Donald Trump say, "Confidentially, between you and I . . . "
And the listener, ears flinching, immediately learns quite a bit about Trump.
This also provides Trump with his proper name in this city. From this point on, he shall forever be known as "Between You and I" Trump.
Knowing this, one recoiled, but was hardly suprised to find in the newspapers this morning a full-page advertisement by "Between You and I" Trump in the insolent, cruel words one would expect of him for, of course, lack of knowledge of a language always breeds words of thuggery.
The ad for the first time reveals all the rest of the things that anybody would want to know about Donald Trump.
In his ad, which ran in all four of the city's newspapers, "Between You and I" Trump practically called for the death of the teenagers arrested for the rape and attack on the 28-year-old jogger in Central Park.
As the young woman is not dead and those arrested for her attack do not as yet even have a trial date, much less guilt established, his scream for vengeance could be considered premature by some.
At a time of shocking crime, it seems best to have authorities who in low, cold voices will persist, persist, persist and see that the guilty are surely and as swiftly as possible given proper punishment. Outside the courthouse, beware always of the loudmouth taking advantage of the situation and appealing to a crowd's meanest nature.
And here yesterday is what "Between You and I" Trump had in his ad in every paper in this city:
"Mayor Koch has stated that hate and rancor should be removed from our hearts. I do not think so. I want to hate these muggers and murderers. They should be forced to suffer and, when they kill, they should be executed for their crimes . . . Yes, Mayor Koch, I want to hate these murderers and I always will. I am not looking to psychoanalyze them or understand them, I am looking to punish them . . . I no longer want to understand their anger. I want them to understand our anger. I want them to be afraid."
Such violent language sounds as if it were coming from someone who walks around with bodyguards.
Let us now turn to how the legitimate tough guys speak of violence. We had in Metropolitan Hospital the other night, at the bedside of the 28-year-old victim of the attack, the following:
Her badly wounded mother, father and two brothers. Officer Steven McDonald, paralyzed forever by a bullet. McDonald was shot by a 15-year-old at a spot in Central Park only a hundred yards away from where the young woman was attacked. Also present was Father Mychal Judge, a priest who spends all his time with those dying with AIDS. All stood around the young woman's bed and held hands and prayed.
The family of the young woman did not stop expressing their gratitude for all those who pray for their daughter.
"Forgiveness," Steven McDonald said in a wheelchair he can never leave.
"We must forgive or we cannot be," Father Mychal Judge said.
The language of those who know.
The curious thing about "Between You and I" Trump is not that he destroyed himself yesterday, for all demagogues ultimately do that, but why he became so immensely popular with the one group of people who are supposed to be the searchlights and loudspeakers that alert the public to the realities of such a person. That would be those who work in the news business. Even the most unhostile of eyes cannot say that his buildings are not ugly. Yet all news stories say "imaginative" when common sense shouts "arrogant." Always, the television and newspapers talk of his financial brilliance, when anybody in the street knows that most of "Between You and I" Trump's profits come from crap games and slot machines in Atlantic City, the bulk of that, the slot machines, coming from old people who go down there with their Social Security checks.
It also is an undeniable fact of life that gambling keeps bad company.
Yet with the one quality Trump has, amazing brashness - "I just bought the sky!" - he has overwhelmed the newspapers and television more than any one we ever have had in this city. Barnum or Mike Todd used guile and chicanery, but Trump understood that this year, you can blind their minds by showing them a diamond. During a celebration of greed he became toastmaster.
It would be comforting if "Between You and I" Trump was doing it the old way, by having half the reporters on a payroll someplace. But the news business today is so utterly dishonest that the people are below taking bribes. Instead, Trump buys them with a smile, a phone call or a display of wealth that so excites these poor fools that they cannot wait to herald his brilliance.
"He let me see his yacht!"
And so "Between You and I" Trump, who runs crap games and slot machines, became an all-news person. Trump today bought a man a wooden leg! All candidates stand with sides lathered with excitement as they wait for Donald Trump's endorsement!
His thinking on anything was accepted. One paper - I think it was the Times, but I have all these piles of clips around me and to tell you the truth I cannot read them - ran four separate stories on Donald Trump in one day.
Finally yesterday, in order to cash in on a young woman in a coma, to make an unedited statement, he ran his ad and showed himself for all to see what he was.
A New Set of Planes For a Master of Air
The following column by Jimmy Breslin was published in Newsday on October 13, 1988.
Yesterday, I went to inspect for possible purchase a couple of the apartments Donald Trump has up for sale in his building on Central Park South called the Trump Parc. I was shown this first studio apartment - oh, a hovel, a nook with one window and one wall made out of glass to try and give you the feeling of being on a prairie. The Trump full-page ad for his building was bigger than the apartment.
Of course Donald Trump himself didn't show me the apartment; he was out announcing that he was going to buy the Eastern Airlines shuttle for, what is it, three-hundred million? The wonder of Trump is that he almost never uses his own money. Yesterday, Bob Seavey, former chairman of the Battery Park City Authority, said: "He will get $ 310 million of somebody else's money, buy the airline and have $ 10 million left over for himself."
And now, standing in one of his apartments in the Trump Parc building, in this cell on the seventh floor, I asked the young woman showing me this prison cell for the price. "Three twenty five," she said brightly, which meant $ 325,000.
"It has a southern view," she said. I pulled the shade on the one window aside and looked out at the southern view, which was of the wall of an ugly building on 58th Street.
I followed her to another studio apartment, this one with higher ceilings but down on the third floor, where you can hear with more clarity the truck horns on 58th Street. I looked out the southern view window and this time I saw the same ugly building, but now I also could see the marquee of the Helmsley Windsor Hotel. I asked the price. "Two hundred sixty nine."
Not quite, I told her. I thanked her profusely and I left. I walked from the Trump Parc to Fifth Avenue and then passed the Trump Tower, this brown glass building whose cheap architecture bawls one word into the sky over a once beautiful avenue: greed.
Yet the man whose name is on it, Donald Trump, can stand and say that it is one of the wonders of the eye and everybody in this city of rich sheep cries out that, most certainly, the Trump Tower is true grandeur. Trump, in the crinkling of an eye, senses better than anyone the insecurity of people, that nobody knows whether anything is good or bad until they are told, and he is quite willing to tell them immediately. His instinct appears to tell him that people crumble quickly at the first show of bravado, particularly members of the media, which is the plural of mediocre. Trump cannot be blamed for taking advantage of people who love to be victims of press agentry. He will tell the shoe-shine boys of the press that he plans to have his Eastern Airlines shuttle fly into space, and they will treat it as exciting news. As far as getting publicity whenever he wants it, Trump is the white Al Sharpton.
He comes out of Jamaica, in Queens, and while he essentially runs crap games, the public associates him only with the highest buildings, the most fantastic dealings, personal presidential abilities, and with the heavyweight champion lounging in the outer office. In this, he becomes the second man from Jamaica who was able to maintain himself in a higher strata while conducting a common crap game. You must hear about the first. He was Dr. Phillip Lambert, who had a dental office on the second floor of a building under the el on Jamaica Avenue. Trump comes from the north side of Jamaica Avenue. Dr. Lambert regarded cavities as a nuisance. "I got the best hands in the world, what am I doing sticking them into some guy's mouth?"
His hands could make a pair of dice pirouette upon command. When a sucker would be steered into the waiting room, the Doc would throw his patient out and lock the door. In the waiting room, he had two magazine racks, whose sides would magically fold out and form a table, one end of which he jammed against the wall. Inside a magazine, Dr. Lambert kept a green felt cloth, which hewould throw on the table. When the sucker threw the dice down the table and up against the wall, he found he could not quite reach the dice by himself. Lambert, who kept a set of dice under his thumb, would oblige and throw dice back to the shooter. Dice that you could lose with. Lambert kept in the trunk of his car at least 3,000 sets of bad dice, for matching the dice in any game anywhere.
Yet at all times, Lambert was considered a professional man. He was "Doctor Lambert" in the Three Star Diner downstairs, at the American Legion Hall, the Jamaica Jewish Center and at Knights of Columbus bazaars.
If passersby on Jamaica Avenue heard howls coming from Lambert's upstairs office they would assume that Lambert perhaps had just drilled through somebody's tongue. Actually, he was doing something much worse to a man, fleecing him of all he had. Once, a diner owner who claimed he had made over 4,000 ham and cheese sandwiches in his career, went up to Lambert's office for an hour and the Doc didn't even leave the guy with his rye bread.
The second crap game operator from Jamaica, Donald Trump, left Jamaica and found a place, Atlantic City, where a crap game is legal and can be conducted honestly. Trump has a boardwalk joint whose casino is open to retired postal clerks, New Jersey wise guys and half the cocaine peddlers on the East Coast. Yet Trump walks around Manhattan as a magnate. Yesterday, he was busy buying an airline. And I was in one of his apartment buildings, where, if you first look at the advertisements, then at the apartments and ask the price, perhaps you receive a better idea of who he is than you do from newspapers or on television. The man is the best boaster of his time.
Jimmy Breslin, chronicler of wise guys and underdogs, dies
Jimmy Breslin scored one of his best-remembered interviews with President John F. Kennedy's grave-digger and once drove straight into a riot where he was beaten to his underwear.
In a writing career that spanned six decades, the columnist and author became the brash embodiment of the street-smart New Yorker, chronicling wise guys and big-city power brokers but always coming back to the toils of ordinary working people.
Breslin, who died Sunday at 88, was a fixture in New York journalism, notably with the New York Daily News, and he won a Pulitzer Prize for pieces that, among others, exposed police torture in Queens and took a sympathetic look at the life of an AIDS patient.
"His was the triumph of the local, and to get the local right, you have to get how people made a living, how they got paid, how they didn't get paid, and to be able to bring it to life," said Pete Hamill, another famed New York columnist who in the 1970s shared an office with Breslin at the Daily News.
"Jimmy really admired people whose favorite four-letter word was work," said Hamill, speaking from New Orleans.
Breslin died at his Manhattan home of complications from pneumonia, according to his stepdaughter, Emily Eldridge.
It was the rumpled Breslin who mounted a quixotic political campaign for citywide office in the 1960s; who became the Son of Sam's regular correspondent in the 1970s; who exposed the city's worst corruption scandal in decades in the 1980s; who was pulled from a car and nearly stripped naked by Brooklyn rioters in the 1990s.
With his uncombed mop of hair and sneering Queens accent, Breslin was a confessor and town crier and sometimes seemed like a character right out of his own work. And he didn't mind telling you.
"I'm the best person ever to have a column in this business," he once boasted. "There's never been anybody in my league."
He was an acclaimed author, too. "The Gang that Couldn't Shoot Straight" was his comic account of warring Brooklyn mobsters that was made into a 1971 movie. "Damon Runyon: A Life" was an account of another famous New York newsman, and "I Want to Thank My Brain for Remembering Me" was a memoir.
Breslin was "an intellectual disguised as a barroom primitive," wrote Jack Newfield and Wayne Barrett in their book "City for Sale."
He acknowledged being prone to fits of bad temper. After spewing ethnic slurs at a Korean-American co-worker in 1990, Breslin apologized by writing, "I am no good and once again I can prove it."
But under the tough, belligerent personality was someone else - a son whose hard-drinking father left home when he was 6 to get a loaf of bread and never returned, Hamill said. Breslin's mother supported the family by working as a welfare system administrator, raising the boy along with her two sisters.
"The gruff personality was a mask a guy would don to get through the day," Hamill said. "Under the mask, what you found at his core was being raised by women, so life is more complicated than a punch in the jaw."
In the 1980s, he won both the Pulitzer for commentary and the George Polk Award for metropolitan reporting. The Pulitzer committee noted that Breslin's columns "consistently championed ordinary citizens."
A few days after the 2001 World Trade Center attacks, he wrote of the dwindling hopes for families.
"The streets have been covered with pictures and posters of missing people," he wrote. "The messages on the posters begging for help. Their wife could be in a coma in a hospital. The husband could be wandering the street. Please look. My sister could have stumbled out of the wreckage and taken to a hospital that doesn't know her. Help. Call if you see her. But now it is the ninth day and the beautiful sad hope of the families seems more like denial."
In other columns, Breslin presented an array of recurring characters - Klein the Lawyer, Shelly the Bail Bondsman, Un Occhio the mob boss. They seemed to blur the line between fact and fiction, until the first pair became key figures in Breslin's 1986 exclusive on the multimillion-dollar Parking Violations Bureau scandal.
"Of course I would betray a friend for the biggest story of the year," he said after doing just that on the last manual typewriter in the News' old 42nd Street newsroom.
After such successes, he held court in Costello's bar in midtown Manhattan - until he quit drinking in his post-Pulitzer years.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo knew Breslin as a fellow Queens native and a close friend of the family.
"He was irascible, tough, but he was an authentic voice for New York," Cuomo said. "He was the people's voice."
Breslin demonstrated few early skills as a wordsmith, graduating from high school before a brief, undistinguished stay at Long Island University starting in 1948, while he was already working at the Long Island Press.
As a sportswriter, he bounced between papers until he landed at the New York Herald Tribune.
He became a news columnist in 1963 and quickly found a story when none seemed left to tell. As reporters from around the world arrived to cover President Kennedy's funeral, Breslin alone sought out the presidential grave-digger, Clifton Pollard, and began his report with Pollard having a breakfast of bacon and eggs at his apartment on the Sunday following JFK's assassination.
"Pollard was in the middle of eating them when he received the phone call he had been expecting. It was from Mazo Kawalchik, who is the foreman of the gravediggers at Arlington National Cemetery, which is where Pollard works for a living," Breslin wrote.
"Polly, could you please be here by eleven o'clock this morning?' Kawalchik asked. 'I guess you know what it's for.' Pollard did. He hung up the phone, finished breakfast and left his apartment so he could spend Sunday digging a grave for John Fitzgerald Kennedy."
Breslin later covered Robert Kennedy's assassination, in 1968, from a much closer angle. He was standing 5 feet away when Sirhan Sirhan struck at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles.
In 1969, Breslin joined author Norman Mailer on a twisted political ticket: Mailer for mayor, Breslin for city council president. After their predictable loss, Breslin observed, "I'm mortified to have taken part in a process that has closed the bar for the better part of the day."
By then, he was a successful author with a second book, "Can't Anybody Here Play This Game?" It was praised for its tales of the sad-sack New York Mets.
Breslin dabbled in television and magazine writing but returned to the newspaper business in 1976 as a Daily News columnist and became part of one of the city's most horrifying stories, the "Son of Sam" killings in 1977. David "Son of Sam" Berkowitz sent Breslin several letters and impressed the columnist enough for him to observe: "He's the only killer I ever knew who knew how to use a semicolon."
He jumped to New York Newsday in 1988, signing a contract for more than $500,000 a year. During the Crown Heights riots in 1991, the then-61-year-old columnist commandeered a cab and ordered the driver to head directly into the action. About 50 rioters yanked Breslin from the taxi, robbed and beat him. He was left with only his underwear and his press card.
Three years later, he underwent successful surgery for a brain aneurysm - an episode that led to his memoir.
While Breslin had crowds of admirers, he created an equal number of enemies. One of his most enduring feuds was with ex-Mayor Edward I. Koch, who once promised to "give the eulogy at Jimmy Breslin's funeral." Koch died in 2013.
Breslin had two daughters and four sons with his first wife, Rosemary, who died of cancer in 1981. He later married Ronnie Eldridge, a former New York City councilwoman.
On Sunday, just hours after her husband's death, she summed up their life together, saying: "We were married for 34 years and it was a great adventure."