Monday, November 19, 2018

Elliott J. Gorn's "Mother Jones"

Elliott J. Gorn is Joseph A. Gagliano Chair in American Urban History at Loyola University Chicago. He is author of several books, including Dillinger's Wild Ride: The Year that Made America's Public Enemy Number One. His latest book is Let the People See: The Story of Emmett Till.

Here Gorn shares some ideas for the lead in an adaptation about his book, Mother Jones: The Most Dangerous Woman in America:
I just finished a book about the 1955 murder of Emmett Till in Mississippi. Let the People See tells the story of the racist lynching of the fourteen-year-old who whistled at a white woman, the trial of his killers, and how the memory of those events changed over the years. I won’t ever make a movie about Emmett Till because good documentaries have already appeared, and now Hollywood is producing a feature film.

But I would love to help make a movie about a book I wrote a few years ago, Mother Jones, The Most Dangerous Woman in America.

Who? Mother Jones was one of the most famous Americans back in 1910 or 1920. She was an old woman, an Irish famine immigrant, widowed, poor. Yet she knew presidents and captains of industry. She was the Johnny Appleseed of activists, especially organizing workers, especially coal miners. Her friend the author Upton Sinclair, described her at the podium: “she had force, she had wit, she had the fire of determination; she was the walking wrath of God.”

She regaled her audiences with stories. She’d describe the prisoner who told her that he’d stolen a pair of shoes; you should have stolen a railroad, Mother Jones said, then you’d be a United States Senator. She told how, when asked her address by a Congressional Committee, she replied my address is like my shoes, it follows me wherever I go. She’d admonish women audiences not to be ladylike, because God Almighty made the women, but the Rockefeller gang of thieves made the ladies. And she’d tell them all to pray for the dead and fight like hell for the living. Tough men wept, their wives cheered, and all stood up for the union.

We keep hearing that Hollywood has no good roles for older women. The role of Mother Jones is made to order, not some historical romance or mythical figure, but a real flesh and blood woman, straight out of history, who faced prison, armed guards, and the army in defense of workers’ rights. Some friends of mine have even written a fine script about Mother Jones in the Colorado Coal Wars. Here is a great role about a great woman, just waiting for a great actress. Meryl? Frances? Judy? Helen?
Learn more about Mother Jones.

--Marshal Zeringue