|Daniel Reiter||Breslin, Jimmy: The Gang That Couldn't Shoot Straight|
|Assignment 1: Bibliographic Description|
|1. First Edition Publication Information||Jimmy Breslin. The Gang That Couldn't Shoot Straight.
New York: Viking Press, Inc., 1969.
Published simultaneously in Canada by
The Macmillan Company of Canada Limited.
|2. First Edition in Cloth, Paper, or Both?||First edition published in cloth.|
|4. Pagination||128 leaves,  pp.[1,2]3-249.|
|5. Edited and/or Introduced?||First edition not edited or introduced.|
|8. General Appearance||Readability is fair with larger margins on the bottom of thebottom of the pages than the tops. The Chapters are numbered, but not titled. The text size is 90R. An icon that resembles a pointing hand appears next to the page numbers, pointing in the direction of the next page. Four of the same icons appear by the chapter numbers, two pointing left, two pointing right, as if to imply a distinct lack of direction.|
|10. Description of Paper||The paper is rough and cream colored, with an even texture. This particular book does not appear to have been read, as the binding is not yet broken, and the wear is minimal.|
|11. Description of Binding||Dust jacket is still intact. The book is bound in yellow stitched cloth. On the spine, stamped in black are the words: Jimmy Breslin / Viking. Below, stamped in light blue: The Gang That Couldn't Shoot Straight. While the binding is yellow, both the cover and the backside of the book are duo-colored and slightly beveled, with an inch of yellow from the binding side, followed by a smooth periwinkle coat that seems to be glued on.|
|12. Title Page Transcription||The Gang | That Couldn't | Shoot Straight | Jimmy Breslin | New York The Viking Press|
|14. Manuscript Holdings||N/A|
|Assignment 2: Publication History|
|1. Other Editions:||The book was originally printed in at least two editions, one of which was a Book Club printing.|
|4. First Edition printings or impressions?||There were at least 3 printings of the first edition. Viking Press worked with ARC Associated Reprinting Co.|
|5. Editions from other publishers?||1970 Hutchinson - London
1971 Bantam Books - New York
1971 Glydendal - Copenhagen (Hellere ramme ved siden af--)
1971 Buchet/Chastel (also 1993) - Paris (Le gang des cafouilleux)
1971 A. Mondadori (also 1972, 1976) - Milano (La gang che non sapeva sparare)
1972 Arrow Books Ltd. - London
1972 Zsolnay - Wien (Der Mafia-Boss hat Scherereien)
1972 Forum - Stockholm (Snedskjutarganget)
1979 Nieuwe Wieken - Uithoorn (De Mafiabende die er altijd naast schoot)
1982 Moewig (also 1985) - Rastatt (Der Mafia-Boss hat Scherereien)
1987 Penguin Books - New York; Harmondsworth, Middlesex, England
1997 Back Bay Books - Boston
|6. Last date in print?||February 2000|
|7. Total copies sold?||N/A
(Over 97,000 copies sold in the last month of 1970)
|8. Sales by year?||N/A|
|9. Advertising copy:||N/A|
|10. Image of sample advertisement||A210191000221182403.jpg|
|11. Other promotion?||N/A|
|12. Performances in other media?||Motion Picture 1971 - "The Gang that Couldn't Shoot Straight" - rereleased in 1996 and Didstributed by MGM/UA Home Video; Turner Entertainment - 96 min. color.|
|13. Translations?||Hellere ramme ved siden af--. Svendsen, John. Glydendal, 1971. Danish.
Le gang des cafouilleux. Duhamel, Marcel. Buchet/Chastel, 1971. French.
La gang che non sapeva sparare. Carano, Ranieri. A. Mondadori, 1971. Italian.
Der Mafia-Boss hat Schererein. (no translator given). Zsolnay, 1972. German.
Snedskjutarganget. (no translator given). Forum, 1972. Swedish.
De Mafiabende die er altijd naast schoot. (no translator given). Nieuwe Wieken, 1979. Dutch.
|15. Sequels or Prequels?||N/A|
|Assignment 3: Brief Biography|
|Jimmy Breslin, born James Breslin in Jamaica, New York, on October 17th, 1930 to James Earl and Frances Breslin, a high school teacher and a social worker. He got his first job working as a copyboy at the Long Island Press in 1948, and continued on with a career as a sportswriter for various newspapers in New York City. He became a columnist for the New York Herald Tribune in 1963, gained recognition and eventually began working on the New York Post staff in 1968 and eventually Newsday in 1988. His name is often mentioned along with the phrase "New Journalism," alluding to his personal style of writing on his political columns. In 1969, he ran unsuccessfully for president of the New York City council under mayoral candidate Normal Mailer. In 1977, "Son of Sam" killer David Berkowitz sent Breslin letters while in hiding. Breslin's first work of fiction was The Gang that Couldn't Shoot Straight, which made the bestsellers list. His other works of fiction include:
World without End, Amen
He Got Hungry and Forgot his Manners
Damon Runyon: A Life
and Forsaking All Others
Works of nonfiction:
Sunny Jim: The Life of America's Most Beloved Horseman, James Fitzsimmons
Can't Anybody Here Play This Game?
The World of Jimmy Breslin (collected articles)
How the Good Guys Finally Won: Notes from an Impeachment Summer
The World According to Breslin (collected columns)
A Slight Case of Amazing Grace: A Memoir
I Want to Thank My Brain for Remembering Me, based on his brain surgery in 1995.
Breslin married Rosemary Dattolico in 1954 (died in 1981) and he married Ronnie Myers Eldridge in 1982. He had six children from his first marriage and took on four children with his second wife.
Attended Long Island University from 1948-1950.
Jimmy Breslin has won numerous awards including the distinguished Pulitzer Prize in 1986.
|Jimmy Breslin was best known for his journalistic work, and THE GANG THAT COULDN'T SHOOT STRAIGHT, being his first fiction novel, could not help but be compared with his journalism pieces. Most reviewers tend to agree that the novel does not live up to the author's nonfiction work, although it is a humorous satire of the New York mob scene. The New York Times Book Review says the book "may be the best first novel written all year by a defeated candidate for President of the City Council," a tongue-in-cheek comment directed at the fact that Breslin ran with Norman Mailer for the office. Also, the same reviewer (Thomas Meehan) calls Breslin's style "more cinematic in its origins than literary," which led the book to be "sold for a bundle to Hollywood." Newsweek columnist Haskel Frankel recognized the comedy in the book, but stated, "Breslin has been reading the good guys -- mainly himself. He should be arrested for burgling from Breslin; he has lifted characters from his columns... We might have hoped for something a little fresher." Some of the best parts of Breslin's novel, most critics agree, are the small, journalistic details about New York City. The book did not receive high literary reviews on the one hand, and Breslin's reputation as a well-respected journalist may have hurt his credibility as a novelist, although it also may have helped him avoid a thrashing from the critics. On the whole, THE GANG THAT COULDN'T SHOOT STRAIGHT was reviewed as a quite funny satire, and typical Breslin fare.
Frankel, Haskel. Newsweek 74:127 (November 24, 1969).
Meehan, Thomas. New York Times Book Review (November 30, 1969).
|In 1971, Publisher's Weekly states:
"Not only couldn't they shoot straight, but they couldn't do anything right. This put-on of a novel about a rather incompetent Mafia family was a best seller in the hardcover edition. This very funny first novel is by the former columnist, who was the candidate for President of New York City Council on Norman Mailer's mayoralty ticket."
Publisher's Weekly (January 25, 1971).
|In 1968, Jimmy Breslin joined on the staff of the New York Post as a columnist. Breslin, a New York native, utilized a biting tongue-in-cheek style in his political columns and seemed to speak directly to the people of New York. He quickly became one of the most widely-read columnists in the city, and thus, in the country. Previous to working with the Post, Breslin worked with Newsday, and by the time his first collection of columns came out in 1967, Breslin already had quite a following. In late 1969, his first work of fiction, The Gang that Couldn’t Shoot Straight, was published. In early 1970, the sales rose high enough to put the book at number seven on the year’s bestsellers list. The Gang that Couldn’t Shoot Straight combined typical Breslin humor and New York savvy with the subject of the Cosa Nostra (mafia) and came together to form a comic satire of the Italian mob scene in New York in the late 1960’s. Some critics claimed that much of the book was stolen from Breslin’s columns, and that it was these sections that gave the novel its shining moments. As well respected as Breslin was in the field of journalism, this was his first work of fiction, so one would expect some critics to tip their hats to the journalistic moments in the book and toss the fiction attempts away as trash. However, most people agreed: The Gang that Couldn’t Shoot Straight was flat-out funny.
Perhaps it is not a coincidence that Breslin’s appearance on the bestsellers list came on the coattails of the most famous mafia book of all time, Mario Puzo’s The Godfather, which ruled the charts in 1969. While Puzo’s book was a serious drama and Breslin’s was a farce, both books offered a voyeuristic look into one of the most deadly and glamorous worlds in modern-day society. The theme of the mafia seemed to be a sure winner at the box-offices as well, as both The Godfather and The Gang that Couldn’t Shoot Straight were made into full feature films. Coincidentally, Robert DeNiro landed his first major acting role in the 1971 version of Breslin’s novel, one year before Coppola and Brando’s Godfather came out. But despite the obvious similarities between the two, The Gang that Couldn’t Shoot Straight and The Godfather were completely different types of books. For one thing, the Godfather was a behemoth of a novel – a 448 pager – while Breslin’s was a mere 249 pages, hardly the length one expects from a bestseller. The genre distinction between the two books is also noteworthy. Tales of drama and suspense are frequently on the bestsellers charts, while comedies are less popularly sought out and do not make the charts as often. Why then, did Breslin do so well with such a short, comedic piece?
To see just how much of an anomaly Breslin’s novel was on the bestsellers list, let’s take the other bestsellers on the list from 1970, the year The Gang that Couldn’t Shoot Straight hit the charts, and compare genres.
1 – Love Story, by Erich Segal – a melodramatic romance.
2 – The French Lieutenant’s Woman, by John Fowles – a Victorian romance.
3 – Islands in the Stream, by Ernest Hemingway – a posthumous melodrama with romantic undertones.
4 – The Crystal Cave, by Mary Stewart – an Arthurian romance.
5 – Great Lion of God, by Taylor Caldwell – a biblical drama.
6 – QB VII, by Leon Uris – a post-nazi drama.
7 – The Gang that Couldn’t Shoot Straight, by Jimmy Breslin – a bouncy Mafioso farce.
8 – The Secret Woman, by Victoria Holt – a romance.
9 –Travels with my Aunt, by Graham Greene – a contemplative road novel.
10 – Rich Man, Poor Man, by Irwin Shaw – a literary drama.
Against this list, The Gang that Couldn’t Shoot Straight seems to stick out like a sore thumb. In 1970 it seems that people were reading dramatic novels, and in particular, romantic dramatic novels. However, by glancing at the lists of the following years, it seems like one comedy usually seems to poke its head onto the list, suggesting that there might be a group of American readers that are partial to buying the ‘biggest’ comedy of the season. Breslin’s novel certainly adhered to that description.
It would be difficult to find the comedy pieces that The Gang that Couldn’t Shoot Straight was competing against in the early months of 1970, but the fact that Breslin’s name was so well known in New York City and that this was his first novel, it would not be surprising to discover that the publisher’s put some serious money into advertising the book. The New York Post, Breslin’s paper, has a large and influential place in daily advertising, and perhaps this had something to do with the fact that the book rose to the top of the comedy charts in 1970. Also, the book was seen as a perfect vehicle for a film, and it could be that the sales were influenced by all the screenwriters in Hollywood salivating over the pages and wondering who to cast in the role of Big Jelly. Either way, the Breslin name carried a great deal of weight at the time, and the fact that the book was not completely terrible was probably enough to appease the comedy crowd. Also, sales in New York must have given The Gang that Couldn’t Shoot Straight a boost, considering the large numbers of New York Post readers belonging to the Breslin faithful.
The Gang that Couldn’t Shoot Straight was Jimmy Breslin’s only book of fiction on the bestsellers list, although he wrote a few other novels. The fact that The Gang that Couldn’t Shoot Straight was Breslin’s first book would have contributed to the hype, along with the apparent Godfather correlation which may have helped sales along. Critical acclaim for the novel was lukewarm, with most critics pointing to the comedic aspects of the book as its best aspect. While it is a mildly funny book, The Gang that Couldn’t Shoot Straight is not terribly well-written nor cleanly written one, and it is interesting that the critics did not bash it completely. Perhaps this is another side effect of Breslin’s respected name.
The Gang that Couldn’t Shoot Straight had a middle-ranging lifespan on the bestsellers list, which is a behavior that can be expected from comedies, which are lighter reading than dramas and tend to have less staying power. Sales of the book tapered away until the release of the DeNiro movie in 1971 led to more printings. Due to the influence of the film, the book is still in print. It is safe to assume that Robert DeNiro substantially helped the sale of the novel.
Since Breslin remained on staff at the New York Post and continued his fine work in journalism, The Gang that Couldn’t Shoot Straight, his first work of fiction, may have affected his reputation less than a bestseller affects other authors. This stands to reason because, unlike some first time authors, Breslin already had a reputation before publishing his first novel. However, after the publication and subsequent movie career of the Gang that Couldn’t Shoot Straight, Breslin’s own career as a newspaper man flourished like never before, and in the infamous Summer of Sam in 1977, he became a figurehead of sorts for the press when David Berkowitz sent him personal letters detailing the tragic murders. Breslin’s connection to the murderer eventually led to the famous arrest, adding more to Breslin’s reputation than his best selling novel. Later, Breslin’s investigation of two Congressmen led to their indictments and pushed his journalistic career up another notch. When he finally received the Pulitzer Prize in 1986, Breslin was known more for his journalism than his fiction, but it still seems that The Gang that Couldn’t Shoot Straight is mentioned in all retrospectives of Jimmy Breslin’s work, which, considering all his achievements, is an attestation to the degree of notoriety placed on having a book on the bestsellers list.
While the genre of comedy may not be the most prolific on the bestsellers list, Portnoy’s Complaint, another comedy novel, rose to the top of the charts in 1969, the year before Breslin’s book hit number seven. The author, Philip Roth, seems more respected in literary circles than Breslin and, besides winning over the standard comic audience, Roth probably sold copies of his book to the elitist literati as well. (The Gang that Couldn’t Shoot Straight is not exactly something you would expect to find on a professor’s bookshelf.) Strangely enough, Breslin’s name is mentioned in the Portnoy’s Complaint, a clear reference to Breslin’s already growing reputation as a political newspaper man, and perhaps a harbinger of his oncoming success in the fiction world.
In 1969, the top two best selling novels were a comedy novel (Portnoy’s Complaint) and a gangster novel (The Godfather). Jimmy Breslin’s The Gang that Couldn’t Shoot Straight was both a comedy and a gangster novel, and while the 1970 reader seemed hungry for romance and drama, an audience still existed for comedy. This audience, plus the runoff audience from Puzo’s Cosa Nostra novel, provided a market for Breslin’s fiction. His name recognition allowed him to break into that market with little to no trouble, and in remaining within the stylistic boundaries of his journalistic background, Breslin became a best selling author for the first and last time in his fiction career. While The Gang that Couldn’t Shoot Straight is not a work of great literary merit, it gives glimpses of Breslin’s New York City savvy and provides a few laughs for the light reader. What The Gang that Couldn’t Shoot Straight will be remembered for, however, has nothing to do with Jimmy Breslin. In effect, the title will always be tied to the first starring role of a burgeoning young actor by the name of Robert DeNiro.
Graduate School of Library and Information Science
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