Who Do You Think You Are, Diamond Jim Brady?


I've heard the name "Diamond Jim" Brady since I was very small. I just knew it meant someone with a lot of flash and easy money. No idea how my family would have heard of him; their references to "Coxey's Army" made more sense.
When I could read my animal books for myself, his name would show up in chapters about the passenger pigeon and the bison, as an example of the gaslight glutton who would eat whole boxcars of birds, or dine on buffalo tongue while the rest of the animal went to waste.
In my adult life, he shows up in Jim Harrison's food writing as a troubling, ambiguous figure-- was he glutton, or gourmand? And I still use his name to admonish the young against flash spending (do as I say, not as I do), although it turns out that it was Robert Mitchum, not Diamond Jim, who told his new bride, "Stick with me me, Baby, and you'll be fartin' through silk." (She did.)
Now there's a very entertaining article by some guy named David Kamp sorting out fact from fiction in the case of Diamond Jim's legendary gluttony. I didn't know that Diamond Jim kept company with Lillian Russell. Or that the Urological Institute at John Hopkins is named after him. Being as I am already fond of reading about La Belle Époque in Paris (let me recommend Elegant Wits and Grand Horizontals by Cornelia Otis Skinner), this inspires me to track down a book by H. Paul Jeffers called Diamond Jim Brady : Prince of the Gilded Age.

2 comments:

John Martin said...

Diamond Jim is sort of one of my heroes. They just don't make 'em like this anymore. But, there are a lot of thing that they don't make anymore. Unfortunately, today's liberally-spending playboys are all sleazy, or at least we think of them as sleazy because they pretend to be something other than sleazy bastards. Diamond Jim didn't pretend. He just was. Cheers to him.

Wayne Allen Sallee said...

As a kid, if any of my uncles were flashing money around, someone would comment about Brady. Then again, if that same uncle spent too much time combing his hair, he was accused of thinking he was Georgeous George. As it was, for a long time, I thought both were made-up names by my goofy aunts.