Only three books have been written about Jackie Wilson, one by American Doug Saint Carter and two by Australian Tony Douglas. Douglas wrote two because he was obliged to withdraw the first from the market. Although I anticipate writing a number of posts about these books in the upcoming months, today I am merely introducing them.
Doug Saint Carter’s book. Some Jackie Wilson fans despise Doug Saint Carter’s book for its title alone — The Black Elvis: Jackie Wilson. I have much in common with Carter, another devoted fan who is not a professional writer, who wrote his book from the same motivations that drive me to produce this blog: introducing Jackie Wilson to a younger generation of potential new fans, honoring this great artist’s achievements, and telling Jackie’s story within its context, American society and the entertainment industry in the Fifties and Sixties. I will argue that although this book has flaws, its writer respects both his subject and his readers and delivers on his promises.
Tony Douglas’s books. The Tony Douglas books are a very different matter. He promises the comprehensive biography of Jackie Wilson, and while the books are chock full of information, they are untrustworthy, badly organized, and highly problematic overall. At the time he wrote them, Douglas was a former journalist and manager of a bar in Thailand. Whatever his motives for writing them, he obscures at least as much truth as he reveals. Worse yet, he approaches both his readers and Jackie Wilson with utter contempt, manipulating his audience and Jackie’s life to create a monster and a set of victims, all the while concentrating on the most salacious details of any available fact or rumor.
Douglas did not know much about American culture, which no doubt accounts for some of his misinterpretations. He was also disadvantaged because a number of major figures in Wilson’s life would not cooperate with him and because a few of his sources actually manipulated him, rather than the other way around.
On the positive side, Douglas was able to secure interviews with Billy Ward, Billy Davis, and Carl Davis, all of whom have now passed away. Although Douglas did not make the best use of all those opportunities, these men were friends as well as Wilson’s professional associates, so their information and insight are valuable to Jackie Wilson fans.
Douglas also had conversations with Lynn Crochet and Joyce McRae (Moore), although his treatment of both these women is abominable.
The first Douglas book was entitled Jackie Wilson: The Man, the Music, the Mob (2001). It meandered, lacked an index, and was, overall, tacky. By the time he composed the second book, Jackie Wilson: Lonely Teardrops (2005), Douglas had moved away from any compassion for Jackie Wilson whatever and settled on what must have looked like a marketable formula: sex and drugs (forget the rock and roll).
The women who “loved” Jackie. Douglas audaciously declared Freda Hood Wilson, Lynn Ciccone, and Lynn Crochet to be “the women who loved Jackie Wilson” in the book’s dedication. He then let the first two of those three women establish the narrative for much of the second book. Judging by Douglas’s treatment of Crochet, I am convinced he would have just omitted her from his list if he could have gotten away with it, but it’s rather hard to hide the inconvenient fact that Crochet and Wilson loved each other and had been committed to each other for years at the time Wilson was stricken. (See Jackie Wilson Biography.)
Freda Hood Wilson was Jackie Wilson’s first wife, a woman Jackie married when he was sixteen and while, according to Freda as Douglas quotes her, Jackie was drunk. She and her father had to go looking for him when he failed to show up at their house for the ceremony, which had been arranged with borrowed identification for Jackie because his mother would not give permission for her minor son to marry Freda. Of course, this is just the delightful Freda’s recollection, so who knows? By the time Douglas conducted his extensive interviews with her, Freda had been a frequently non-functioning alcoholic for more than twenty years and, to say the least, was of questionable mental capacity.
For part of Freda’s interviews with Douglas, Freda and Jackie’s oldest child (she had many names but just I think of her as “Denise, the Daughter from Hell”) joined her mother, contributing her own litany of Jackie Wilson’s failures. No assertion either woman made elicited editorial comment from Douglas, no matter how absurd it was or how easily simple arithmetic would undermine it.
Lynn Ciccone, who must definitely not be confused with Lynn Crochet, was not married to Jackie Wilson. Lynn Ciccone was a woman married to another man when she introduced herself to Wilson by enclosing her photo in a lengthy letter that resulted in a tryst with him. She continued an off-and-on affair with Wilson for several years, giving birth to a daughter he fathered while she compiled notes for a tell-all book that no one wanted to publish. She ultimately turned the manuscript over to Douglas for a chance at a starring role in his book. Ciccone, by the way, did not tell her daughter that Wilson was the girl’s father, or even tell the child that she was half African American, until Wilson was incapacitated.
Douglas also interviewed this daughter, who, in the midst of her assertion that Jackie Wilson treated her mother badly, accidentally provides a glimpse of Wilson as a father (who was, of course, not allowed to be known as her father). Despite all her complaining, the incidents Ciccone’s offspring recalls from childhood visits with Wilson on the road serve only to make Jackie Wilson look like, well, a normal and loving old-fashioned daddy.
One day Jackie babysits her alone and plays a children’s card game with her. On another occasion, the girl assumes Wilson is asleep and kicks her mother, only to have Jackie leap off the bed, spank her, and admonish her (“Never again, got it?”). On another visit she refuses to eat, so he pulls her onto his lap and feeds her from his own plate, employing the old “into the mouth and over the gum, down to the tummy, yum yum yum” line again and again, giving her a kiss each time she swallows a mouthful. At age seven she is hanging out on the stage with him during rehearsal and breaks a leg while trying to imitate one of his famous moves. Here she acknowledges that he is the first person to her aid, holding her and comforting her while barking orders to get her needed medical attention.
What love is and is not. Front and center, page after page, Douglas foists the egos and animosities of these women on the reader to establish an image of Jackie Wilson as self-centered, selfish, vain, violent, irresponsible, and not much else. Douglas never seems to realize that readers know what love is and what love is not. Love is NOT grabbing your ten minutes of fame by trashing the man you just claimed to love.
But more on the Douglas books later. My next posts on these books will be on Doug Saint Carter’s The Black Elvis: Jackie Wilson.