Boardwalk Empire's Atlantic City Consultant

To fans of Boardwalk Empire, Nucky Thompson is the morally complex protagonist they’ve come to love and hate in equal parts since the show, created by Terence Winter and executive produced by Martin Scorsese and Mark Wahlberg, debuted on HBO in 2010. For Atlantic City native Vicki Gold Levi, he’s a fictional version of Nucky Johnson, the city’s very real former political boss whom she had occasion to meet as a youngster. She has hung with Meyer Lansky and Frank Sinatra, too.

Call it one of the perks of being the daughter of Al Gold, Atlantic City’s official photographer for 25 years beginning in 1939, who instilled a love of the city in Levi that only true locals can understand. It’s this same passion for her hometown’s golden age that led Levi to co-author Atlantic City: 125 Years of Ocean Madness and to become one of Hollywood’s go-to resources for re-creating America’s Favorite Playground. Which is how she landed a consultant gig on Boardwalk Empire, where she works with research adviser Edward McGinty to ensure that every detail of her beloved Boardwalk is exactly as she remembers it.

How did you come to get involved with Boardwalk Empire?

I co-founded the Atlantic City Historical Museum, which is on the Boardwalk at Garden Pier, over 30 years ago. But it all started when I co-authored a book with [former Esquire Editor-in-Chief] Lee Eisenberg called Atlantic City: 125 Years of Ocean Madness in 1979, which is still in print. That was kind of the bible of Atlantic City history, but a more popular version of it. It’s a photo book and it’s written from a fun and glamorous perspective. And then I also did a documentary for the museum called Boardwalk Ballyhoo. Since I did all of that, I have been one of the go-to people for [projects related to] Atlantic City. I worked on Disney’s BoardWalk [attraction], I worked on the Broadway show Steel Pier, and I worked on Louis Malle’s movie Atlantic City. I’ve been sort of in the thick of things down there and so I was a logical person for them to explore.

What are some of the projects or episodes you’ve helped with?

Let me tell you how it works: I have a person there, Ed McGinty, who’s the head researcher at the show. He’s from Atlantic City and has been working on the show since the beginning and he’s kind of my go-to person on the show.

There are three ways that I have evolved in working on the show: I’m a consultant, so I don’t really see the scripts, because they keep all of that very private—sometimes even the actors don’t see the whole script because the surprise element is so important. So I am either asked a specific, historical question, which might be something like “What was the name of King Neptune in 1923 in the Miss America Pageant?” That’s one thing that happens. Another thing is that sometimes I feel there’s something they should know about, so I make up a portfolio of things that I think are important in that year... So I might say, 'Well this is the year the Miss America Pageant started' or 'This year they built this hotel' or blah, blah, blah. I funnel all of that info to Ed McGinty, and then he gives it to the writers. So sometimes I see things that I know I sent in, but I can’t be 100 percent sure that I’m the only person who sent it in. But I know I’m on the right page.

For example, [the character of] Jimmy Darmody: When they shot him—which was a big thing and they’re still talking about it—they shot him in front of the All-War Memorial monument on Albany Avenue that was just going up. Now I don’t think someone in Dubuque, Iowa knew what it was, but I knew what it was. (Laughs) And although it may have come from other places, too, I sent a portfolio in on that monument being opened that year.

The other thing I started to do, which I’m going to start doing again in January, is to come in once a year and talk to the writers. That way, if I have some very specific things I want to tell the writers directly, I can do that. I can tell them, ‘This is really a great visual’ or ‘This is a really great historical idea,’ and then it’s up to them. The show has expanded. It’s now in Chicago, it’s in Philadelphia and New York and now it’s in Tampa, which is kind of creeping down to Cuba. If the show goes long enough that Meyer Lansky actually does go to Cuba, I can offer a lot.

Did you ever meet any of the characters portrayed on the show?

I actually met Meyer Lansky in New York when I was very young. Of course, I had no idea who he was; he looked just like Lee Strasberg in The Godfather. I knew his daughter and at one point there was a fire in the building where I lived in New York and I got smoked out. Meyer’s daughter had a big apartment on West End Avenue, so she invited me to stay there until the smoke was cleared from my apartment. And her father would come to visit his grandchildren. He was an old man and was perfectly nice, but it is kind of funny.

And of course I met Nucky Johnson, but I was very young. Because he was the former political boss of Atlantic City and my father was a city employee, everybody knew him. I remember meeting him as a little girl. I didn’t know him intimately, but I always remembered his wife. He married a showgirl, Flossie Osbeck, before his trial so that she couldn’t testify against him. But she had these long, red, dragon lady nails that as a young girl I was very impressed by and I still remember them.

Have you spent any time on the renovated boardwalk set in Brooklyn?

Much of the set comes from the pages of my book. It was extremely exciting to see incubator babies, Abe Klein’s restaurant, Fralinger’s Salt Water Taffy, and all that stuff just sprung from the pages of my book in 3-D. They did such a brilliant job, I was actually in tears. I was so moved by the re-creation and the colors and the arches and the signage and even the Boardwalk. Ed McGinty and I even talked about this when they were building that boardwalk they have in Brooklyn: the Atlantic City Boardwalk is unique in a couple of ways. One is that along the railings it has knuckles. In Coney Island, it’s just straight railing with up and down, but in Atlantic City the up and down have knuckles on them. I remember when I was a consultant on the movie Beaches, which was filmed in Brooklyn, I was adamant that ‘You have to make these knuckles,’ and they made it out of some polymer. In this one, the railings have those knuckles.

Also, the Boardwalk in Boardwalk Empire isn’t straight boards; it’s got a herringbone pattern. And that’s very Atlantic City; not many boardwalks have that. So the whole thing was so authentic, even when you walked into the stores, it just told me from day one that this was going to be a production of perfection. And it’s been that on every level—the writing, the action, the clothing, the re-creations.

In the book that you co-wrote, the photo book, did you use your father’s photos?

I have some, but I also have my own major collection. A lot of my father’s pictures were destroyed, unfortunately, in hurricanes and stuff at the Convention Hall. People think I have a ton of my father’s pictures, when really I don’t have enough. I have some, but I’ve been collecting Atlantic City pictures for years, so I have my own collection. And most of my memorabilia collection formed the Atlantic City Historical Museum. But I haven’t donated my photos because it allows me to have my own reference department right here in my house. And I have a big Atlantic City library—every book that ever mentioned Atlantic City. And sometimes I get old phone books and things like that.

You’ve been living in New York City since the 1960s. What keeps your ties to Atlantic City so strong?

That’s an interesting question. A lot of my best friends are still from Atlantic City; some live there and some live here. We have a saying in Atlantic City: “sand in your shoes.” There is something about growing up in Atlantic City that really ties you to it, at least in the era that I grew up. Because it’s a big town little town. In the winter time, it’s a little town and if you have a sorority dance you can have it at the biggest hotel in town, because business is slow. And in the summer you’ve got Frank Sinatra and all the other big stars there and everyone’s got a summer job and you’re all mixed up in the ballyhoo and the hoopla of the town. And I also was a child actress down there; I was a disc jockey at the age of five. I had my own radio show.

At five years old?

Yeah, I had a show called “Views by Vicki.” And when Bess Myerson was crowned Miss America, I was her page every night, carrying her big red velvet train down the runway. And I was Miss Hydrangea. I had this little child actress celebrity life in Atlantic City, so I had an unusual childhood down there. I was always on the floats for Miss America and things like that. We were very big Atlantic City Boosters...

It’s not like any other place in New Jersey. It really isn’t. It’s not the Jersey Shore, it’s not Snooki. Atlantic City was once considered for the United Nations, it had one of the first air-cooled theaters, it had one of the earliest postcards, it had a Ferris Wheel before the Ferris Wheel… There’s so much history and it really was a place where everyone went. There’s so much history to tell and it’s a place that really grabs you and we all remember it fondly.

Your father was clearly a big influence on your love of Atlantic City, and dedication to keeping its history alive. What do you think he’d say about Boardwalk Empire?

He was born in 1902, so I don’t know how he would feel about the nudity, but he would be thrilled about this national TV show. He was an Atlantic City booster. He would be telling Nucky stories—the real Nucky stories—because he knew him well… He would be telling you the inside scoop on different characters on the show that are local. They’d want him as the consultant instead of me!

People look at Atlantic City today and they think: Gambling! Do you think that people’s interest in the history of Atlantic City from an historical and cultural perspective has changed as a result of the show?

Oh, yeah. People are really interested in the show, everywhere I go. I was in Cuba and people said to me, “Oh, you know Nucky?” They were referring to Steve Buscemi, of course, but people are watching the show down in Cuba. This show has a real grip on the people who are fans of it. I myself cannot wait for Sundays to see the show.

What is it that draws you to the show, separate from working on it?

I can work on something and not love it; I could do that and just do my job. But I’m a big fan of the show. The acting is so good and the clothes and the authenticity. Nucky often drives in a blue Rolls-Royce like the real Nucky did. Nucky Thompson is not Nucky Johnson; it’s a prototype. It’s historical fiction, and that’s really important to establish. That doesn’t mean that they don’t say that the right person was in office. Edward Bader was Mayor of Atlantic City at that time—they’re accurate to that. But a lot of people ask me, “Oh, was Nucky Johnson a murderer?” Not to my personal knowledge. But Nucky Thompson is. So it’s historical fiction based on the prototype. It’s not the actual story of Nucky Johnson and it’s important to delineate that. I think people understand that by now, this is its fourth season… I can’t say enough about the show and the experience. There are enough references to let you know that there’s been research done.

Yes, you can tell that what you’re watching is authentic and meticulously researched rather than just thrown together based on someone’s idea of what a particular time and place looked and/or felt like.

When I hear them mention Rendezvous Park, that’s just so “inside.” You might hear of Miss America, but you’re not going to hear of Rendezvous Park unless you’re paying attention to the research. And of course Rendezvous Park was the site of the Convention Hall—I know that history. So I can see that they’re putting their ducks in a row.

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Animals
Inside the Pet Prosthetics Company That's Changing Animals' Lives
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When Chi Chi the dog was found on the side of the road in South Korea, animal rescuers weren’t sure if she would survive. She had been badly abused and suffered severe blood flow loss to her legs, rendering them immobile. The normal course of action in that situation would have been euthanization, but Chi Chi made it clear that she wasn’t ready to give up. “I always say that her smile saved her,” Derrick Campana, founder of Animal OrthoCare, tells Mental Floss. “She was just so friendly and lovable that she got noticed.” The decision was made to amputate all four of her legs, and it wasn't long before a viral video telling Chi Chi's story caught the attention of a couple in Arizona. Shortly after moving to her new home in the U.S., Chi Chi was outfitted with prosthetics designed by Campana that allowed her to move around freely for the first time since she was rescued.

Campana and the work he does for disabled animals like Chi Chi were the focus of the first episode of Dodo Heroes, a new Animal Planet series that highlights inspiring stories of animal strength and survival. The prosthetics designer fell into the veterinary field by chance: He was working as a doctor specializing in prosthetics for people when a canine patient was brought in to his practice. The doctor the dog was supposed to see wasn’t in, so Campana decided to build an artificial limb for the pooch himself. “I got so much satisfaction and fulfillment out of it that I knew it was something I wanted to do forever,” he says. He launched Animal OrthoCare, his animal bracing and prosthetics company, one month later.

There aren’t many options out there for pet owners looking to provide comfortable, effective prosthetics to their disabled animals. A dog amputee might be fitted with a canine cart, while larger wild animals with missing or dysfunctional limbs are often put down. And when prosthetics are available, the choices are usually limited, sticking pets with something that can exacerbate their pain and discomfort.

Derrick Campana builds a custom leg brace for Jabu the elephant.
Derrick Campana builds a custom leg brace for Jabu the elephant.
Animal Planet

Animal OrthoCare is different: It’s the only company in the U.S. that offers custom animal braces, and it’s one of only a handful of custom animal orthotics companies on earth. Animals in need around the world can take advantage of its services. For most requests, Campana mails out a casting kit to the owner or veterinarian of the animal patient. After a cast is made of the patient’s limb, it’s mailed back to Animal OrthoCare’s shop in Virginia, where Campana and his team use it to build a custom prosthetic from medical-grade foam. It takes about a week on average before the final product is ready to ship to the customer's home, where they can attach it to their pet themselves using a hook-and-strap system that can be adjusted for maximum comfort.

In addition to being convenient, the treatment is also relatively affordable, with dog prosthetics starting at $750. Since founding Animal OrthoCare, Campana has helped roughly 20,000 animals walk again—and walk more comfortably.

Chi Chi the Golden Retriever and Jabu the elephant, the two patients featured in Campana's episode of Dodo Heroes, represent two of his biggest challenges to date. Chi Chi is a survivor of the South Korean dog meat trade, and she had been hung upside-down by her legs for so long that it cost her all four of her limbs. According to Campana, quadriplegic dogs are very rare, and dogs with four prosthetics are even rarer. By visiting Chi Chi in her home and adjusting the fit of her artificial limbs, he makes sure she can walk freely without doing any further damage to her body.

Jabu, a 31-year-old elephant living in Botswana, is another extreme example of the animals Campana gets to work with. After Jabu fell into a ditch and injured his leg, the caretakers at the wildlife preserve where he lives reached out to Animal OrthoCare for help. Campana says the leg brace he constructed for the 6-ton creature is likely the world’s first elephant brace. Without it, Jabu may not have survived even another minor injury. “A dog can have this type of injury and live a fine life, but for an animal like Jabu in the wild, it's life-threatening,” he says. “If you're lame out in the African bush, you're not going to live.”

Jabu the elephant.
Jabu the elephant.
Living With Elephants

Chi Chi and Jabu are two extraordinary cases, but the impact Derrick Campana had on their lives is typical of the work he does for animals on a regular basis. You can watch the full episode here.

Tune in to Dodo Heroes on Animal Planet on Saturdays at 9 p.m. ET.

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20 Things You Might Not Know About Garfield
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Everyone’s favorite lazy, lasagna-loving cat made his debut 40 years ago, but Garfield is still just as popular today. The comic strip spawned a TV show plus a number of video games, feature films, books, and, of course, holiday specials—not to mention one very memorable car window craze. We sat down with Garfield creator Jim Davis to nail down a solid list of 20 things you might not know about the wisecracking feline.

1. JIM DAVIS ORIGINALLY INTENDED TO FOCUS THE STRIP ON JON.


Courtesy of Jim Davis

“I ran some early ideas at a local paper,” Jim Davis tells Mental Floss, “to see how I felt about it and I called the strip Jon. It was about him, but he had this wise cat who, every time, came back zinging him. He always had the great payoff. At the time, I worked for T.K. Ryan—the cartoonist for Tumbleweeds—and I showed it to him and told him how every time I got to the punch line the cat zings him. And T.K. said, 'Well, what does that tell you, Jim?'" he laughs. “The strip must be about the cat. Go with it.”

2. JON WAS A CARTOONIST IN THE VERY FIRST COMIC STRIP, BUT IT WAS NEVER REALLY MENTIONED AGAIN.

“I didn’t want to tread on the fact that Jon’s a cartoonist because my biggest fear was getting a little too inside," Davis says. "That it would be a little too easy for me to write. I didn’t want to lose the readers just for my own enjoyment, or for a handful of peers. Also, I purposely gave him a job right off the top for the reason that The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet never explained what Ozzie did for a living. Nobody ever knew because he was always in the house with Harriet and Ricky and David. Just hanging around. So I thought I would give Jon a job right off the top to avoid being asked what he does for a living in interviews.”

3. GARFIELD WAS NAMED AFTER DAVIS'S GRANDFATHER, JAMES A. GARFIELD DAVIS ...

... who was named after President James A. Garfield. That’s quite a connection. Now just imagine a fat, wisecracking, lasagna-eating cat as the President of the United States of America. (Sounds like a dead-ringer for William Howard Taft!)

4. GARFIELD IS SET IN DAVIS'S HOMETOWN OF MUNCIE, INDIANA, BUT THAT'S ALSO MOSTLY LEFT UNSAID.


Courtesy of Jim Davis

“I would like for readers in Sydney, Australia to think that Garfield lives next door,” Davis says. “Dealing with eating and sleeping, being a cat, Garfield is very universal. By virtue of being a cat, really, he’s not really male or female or any particular race or nationality, young or old. It gives me a lot more latitude for the humor for the situations.” The farm that Davis grew up on reportedly had 25 cats, several of which he based the Garfield character on.

5. DAVIS MAINTAINS COMPLETE CONTROL OVER GARFIELD'S FINAL PRODUCT, BUT HE NO LONGER DRAWS THE DAILY COMIC STRIP.

“I’m sitting here working on the writing right now,” he says. “I see gags and I work with assistants on the strip and stuff like that. We do roughs and it all filters through me so that it has one voice. We all get together occasionally in the same room and draw and work on shapes of fingers and gestures and expressions and things like that so that if any one of us draws it, you can’t tell which one did it.”

6. HE REGRETS AT LEAST ONE LICENSED GARFIELD ITEM.

According to Slate, Garfield merchandise brings in $750 million to $1 billion annually. Davis’s creation has been adapted and licensed more times than anyone could probably count, and of all of those items, there's one that Davis isn't thrilled with. “A few years ago there was a Zombie Garfield,” he says. “It was really gnarly and I thought, 'Oh, this will be fun.' So I did it and it sold okay. It was really interesting. But then I looked at it later and I go, ‘It did nothing for the character’s advancement.’ I figured I just did it because it was cool and everybody was doing it at the time. I just didn’t have a warm, fuzzy feeling after doing it. But those T-shirts go away," he laughs.

7. GARFIELD HOLDS THE GUINNESS WORLD RECORD FOR BEING THE WORLD'S MOST WIDELY SYNDICATED COMIC STRIP.

Garfield is syndicated in more than 2500 newspapers and journals. The cat also has more than 16 million fans on Facebook. That’s one seriously popular feline.

8. GARFIELD'S CHARACTER DESIGN HAS CHANGED MANY TIMES OVER THE YEARS.

There's one constant, though: The fat cat has always been—and will always be—fat. “If he lost weight, that would effectively end Garfield as we know it,” Davis says. “Garfield sends a healthy message in that he’s not perfect. He knows that and he’s cool with that. He’s happy with himself. If everybody were, there would probably be fewer disorders of all natures. He’s not perfect. In fact, he’s the imperfection in all of us underneath. I think that makes him probably easier to identify with than a slim, athletic character in the comics.”

9. DAVIS REALLY ENJOYED SCARING KIDS WITH GARFIELD'S HALLOWEEN ADVENTURE.

"It was such a challenge to try to think of something that could be scary, but fortunately we got to work with animation—we could marry scary sounds with scary music and scary images, and set the stage for a scary experience," Davis says. "Even down to the use of the actor’s voice. C. Lindsay Workman [who voices the old man that tells Garfield and Odie about the vengeful ghost pirates] was just a great character actor. I think we took our time to build to a scary scene where the ghost pirates invaded the house to look for the buried treasure. We tried to throw as many elements together as possible to create a situation where, at least for a few minutes, it could create a scary situation for the young viewers."

10. CREATING THE GHOST PIRATES IN THE HALLOWEEN TV SPECIAL WAS MUCH MORE DIFFICULT THAN YOU MIGHT THINK.

“We did it in our own art department (here at Paws, Inc.) because we wanted to make it just right,” the Garfield creator told us. “It was done with a white, chalky pencil on a rough texture so that everything would be really grainy. Back then, we animated on real film, so in order to get that glow we did what’s called a double burn. We exposed the film twice to overexpose the ghosts, and that gave it that eerie glow. We were totally in control of the process and the results turned out very well.”

11. IN 2011, A FULL-LENGTH STAGE MUSICAL CALLED GARFIELD LIVE WAS STAGED IN MUNCIE.

The musical was supposed to start touring the United States in September 2010, but was delayed until January 2011, when it premiered in Muncie. Davis wrote Garfield Live, while Michael Dansicker and Bill Meade handled the music and lyrics.

12. DAVIS LOVED THE CASTING OF BILL MURRAY AS THE VOICE OF GARFIELD IN 2004'S GARFIELD: THE MOVIE.


Muncie Magazine

“It was because of Bill Murray’s attitude [that he was cast],” Davis tells us. “It wasn’t really so much his voice. It was the fact that he embodies the attitude that Garfield has always displayed in the strip. Lorenzo [Music] obviously wasn’t a choice since he passed away years ago, and when the producers said, ‘Bill Murray would like to do the voice,’ I thought, ‘Oh, cool.’ My biggest concern about doing a CGI Garfield with live action was that people wouldn’t buy into the fact that this was our Garfield—the Garfield we’d known all these years. But I thought that as soon as they heard Bill Murray’s voice they’d get it. There will be that emotional tag going with his voice. That will establish the fact that, ‘Yes, this character has attitude.’”

13. THERE'S A GREAT LINK BETWEEN GARFIELD VOICE ACTOR LORENZO MUSIC AND BILL MURRAY.

Lorenzo Music provided the voice of Garfield in all of the cat’s TV specials from 1982 to 1991, as well as during the 1988 to 1994 run of Garfield and Friends. Music also provided the voice of Peter Venkman in The Real Ghostbusters. Murray, of course, played Venkman in the Ghostbusters films and would, in 2004, provide the voice of Garfield in Garfield: The Movie. “I didn’t know about the relationship with Ghostbusters until years later."

14. THE MACY'S PARADE ONCE CITED SHAMU THE WHALE AS THE PARADE'S LARGEST BALLOON, BUT DAVIS SAYS GARFIELD WAS LARGER.

“In the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, they had published that their biggest balloon ever, by volume of gas, was Shamu the Whale with over 18,000 cubic feet," Davis says. "The fact is that the Garfield balloon was filled with 18,907 cubic feet of helium. So we just confirmed that the Garfield balloon, in fact, was the largest one by volume of gas.”

15. THERE ARE ONLY THREE COUNTRIES IN THE WORLD WHERE GARFIELD IS NOT NAMED GARFIELD.

“In Sweden, Garfield is known as Gustav,” the Garfield creator says. “There are only three countries in the whole world where he’s not Garfield and they’re all in the Nordics.” The other two are Norway and Finland.

16. THE STUCK ON YOU GARFIELD PLUSH WITH SUCTION CUPS WAS THE RESULT OF A MISUNDERSTANDING.


Amazon

In the 1990s, it wasn't unusual to see a number of cars with little Garfield plushes stuck to the windows with suction cups. But that wasn't the original design—or the intended use. “I designed the first Stuck on You doll with Velcro on the paws, thinking that people would stick it on curtains,” Davis says. “It came back as a mistake with suction cups. They didn’t understand the directions. So I stuck it on a window and said, 'If it’s still there in two days, we’ll approve this.' Well, they were good suction cups and we released it like that. It never occurred to me that people would put them on cars.”

17. THE GARFIELD COMIC STRIP BOOKS HAVE BEEN HUGE HITS.

“The 11 Garfield comic strip books have all been number one on the New York Times Bestseller List,” Davis says. “At one time there were seven on the list simultaneously. At that point, they changed the way the list was done because other publishing houses were complaining that their authors couldn’t get on the list because of Garfield. Garfield at Large (1980) was number one for two solid years. Over 100 weeks.” The title of every compilation book is a reference to either food or Garfield’s weight.

18. STEVEN SPIELBERG AND STEPHEN KING ARE AMONG THE MANY CELEBRITIES WHO OWN ORIGINAL GARFIELD STRIPS.

They both contacted Davis personally for the strips; the cartoonist happily obliged.

19. DESPITE GARFIELD BEING INSANELY POPULAR FOR DECADES, DAVIS IS STILL MOSTLY ANONYMOUS.


Muncie Magazine

“Being a cartoonist, you really enjoy a lot of anonymity,” he says. “You take a half-dozen of the biggest cartoonists and walk them down any street, nobody would notice them. They only know their characters. So I just hide behind Garfield. The only time anyone knows the name or spots me is if I’m out on book tour and I’m meant to do publicity. We don’t suffer any of the kind of attention problems that I think people do on TV or in movies. It’s not a big deal. I’m sitting here in the countryside of East Central Indiana, so it’s pretty quiet.”

20. DAVIS'S FATHER'S FAVORITE COMIC STRIP WASN'T GARFIELD.

Davis's father and namesake, who passed away in 2016, liked Garfield but preferred another comic strip: Beetle Bailey. “Nobody else knew that until today,” Davis tells us.

This article originally appeared in 2014.

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