Feature Articles

April 23, 2001
Album for an Age
Unconventional Words and Pictures from the Twentieth Century

Books Worth Buying

Book Review

By John William Tuohy

John William Tuohy is a writer who lives in Washingon, D.C.

     John Tuohy's book, The Last Gangster; The Life and Times of Roger Touhy and the Chicago Mob, released by Barricade Books.

Album for an Age: Unconventional Words and Pictures from the Twentieth Century. Written by Art Shay with a forward by Garry Willis. Published by Ivan R. Dee, Chicago, Ill. $29.95, 320 pages. Hardback. With index. With photographs. Available on Amazon.Com or the publisher at or at your local book dealer.

     The book is edited by the author's wife of 40 years, Florence Shay, a rare and antiquarian book dealer "and the most forgiving woman I've ever known." Available through Amazon.Com

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     Tony Accardo, Abe Fortas, Khrushchev, Truman, Sinatra, Charlie Finley, Marlin Perkins, Kurt Vonnegut, Mark Spitz, Elizabeth Taylor, Joe McCarthy, Moe Dalitz, Marlon Brando, Ernest Hemingway, Jimmy Hoffa, Judy Garland, Hugh Hefner, James Jones, Deborah Kerr.... They're all here in Art Shay's book,"Album for an Age: Unconventional Words and Pictures from the Twentieth Century."

     It's about damn time somebody published a book like this. The increasing power of political correctness has produced two decades of formula-books; weak-kneed mush guaranteed to sell and not offend, enlighten or produce thought. However, in the midst of this social tyranny, God, in his wisdom (okay, and the publisher too) has given us Art Shay and his work "Album for an Age," a sort of memoir with pictures, each of them snapped by Shay, one of the world's leading photographers of the past fifty years.

     This is an uncomplicated book with a heart, a soul, a mind and a pair of balls. It's raunchy, fun, intimate, irreverent, informative and fair-minded.

     This is a uniquely American book. Its subjects are beautiful and ugly, heroic and tragic, told in Shay's own blunt, easy to digest words. And that's what I enjoyed about this book the most, the stories. Shay does and says the things to his celebrity subjects that I, or any other average person would do and say...he gets an autograph from McDonald's founder Ray Kroc, he throws rocks and chews the fat with a young, slender Marlon Brando ("We talked about girls") and he stands in disbelief that he is discussing a manuscript with Papa Hemingway.

     I read the book because I figured Shay, who took the photos of bootlegger Roger Touhy in Stateville Prison, would have some good mob stories (he does) but I was sidetracked by the war stories, even if they are horrific, as Shay's are, they fascinate me. (One of his commanders, by the way, was the actor Jimmy Stewart.)

     War stories have always fascinated me too, ever since my father marched me through his days as an infantryman with the 103 Yankee Division during the war in Europe. My father could tell a good story too because his were accounts, like Shay's, of the common man in uncommon circumstances and how they reacted to them. And they reacted in ways that I could feel and understand...they were scared, they were brave, they were human. In fact, the most moving sentence in the book comes from Shay's account of the infamous Army Air Corp raid over Kassel, Germany: "We lost 25 or our 35 Liberators, and 117 kids like us were killed."

     And they were kids too. Valiant kids, but kids nonetheless. You got that right, pal.

     There is plenty of mob stuff here too, and there should be, after Shay has lived in Chicago for most of his 78 years. There's a telling story of a short tempered, foul mouthed, legendary Mob boss Tony Accardo that is a glimpse of what the real Accardo was like. Moe Dalitz is here too, in his domain as the leading front man and flunky for the deviated-septum crowd, who tries to buy Shay and his camera off with two free tickets to a floorshow.

     Shay passed on the ticket but got a snapshot of the holiest of Vegas holies...the counting room.

     It's all here and it's money well spent. Go on out and buy a copy of this book.

Mr. Tuohy can be reached at

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