Writer’s Room: Just Desserts

Series writer Kevin Deiboldt talks fruitcake.

Writing the fruitcake murder was a fun challenge – lighter in tone than most of our other cases, much more absurd. And, just past our halfway point of the season, we hoped it would allow the viewers to take a breath (albeit small) before we charge down the stretch towards the finale. The cap to this fruitcake murder, of course, is the big explanation scene – one of my favorites in the script.

In the original outline, it was much simpler – O’Brien going over his notes at the Precinct, realizing that Devery poisoned himself. Even with Corcoran there to discuss it with him, I had a hard time giving the scene any energy. It read way too expository. So I moved it to the bar, with the hope that letting them relax a bit (one thing we rarely see) would add some life. Better, but still dull. Having O’Brien go over the notes was making our detectives look slow – only figuring out the case after they went back over everything. We needed a third person to explain the case to. Enter Maguire.

Now, we had some verve. Adding Maguire allowed Corky and O’Brien to mess with him – to laugh and smile (two things we never see) as he struggled to follow along. The only thing holding the scene back was the explanation itself – an extensive, static, monologue. I needed to make it more dynamic, more interesting to watch. It occurred to me: we should use the drinks. (The poetic version of this story has me figuring out the sequence in person, some late eve – whiskey, beer, glasses in hand. This may or may not be accurate.) Once the props and pantomime were added, the scene finally clicked.

It was a blast to watch the guys film it. Dylan – who we put through the wringer in this episode, doing a masterful job the entire time – nailed it, which was no mean feat. Tom brought up Byrnes’ dead brother, so I added that in. Kevin struck the right balance of puzzled, amused and annoyed. They made it look a breeze, laughing and drinking as they wrapped up the case. Just as I hoped.

Now, there are GIFs of it on the internet. Tare an’ouns.

Have questions or comments for Kevin? Leave them below! And for more of Kevin’s ‘Copper’ musings, check out his personal blog, Ithaca Mafia, and follow him on Twitter at @Kluv32.

Episode 6 Recap: Let Them Eat Cake

The date is October 16, 1864, and we open at Gillis Devery’s Five Points Dentistry, where everyone is happy, because everyone is high. Andy O’Brien needs some dental work done, and we’re not talkin’ fillings or bridges or porcelain veneers. In 1864, a trip to the dentist involved a few hits of happy gas and a sturdy pair of pliers. Gillis is too blitzed to pull Andy’s rotted tooth, so his wife Ethel gives it a go. She gives a mighty pull and – oops! – yanks the wrong tooth, which earns her a beating from her husband.

And you thought your trip to the dentist was bad.

Later Andrew retells the whole jolly tale to his wife Sybil, having a good chuckle over the hilarity of spousal abuse, until Sybil shuts him up with her fist. She’d kick sh*t outta Devery if he ever laid a hand on her, which is probably true, and just think of the money Morehouse would make off tickets to that fight. But we’ll never see the dentist and Sybil throw down, because Devery? He’s dead.

The first officer on the scene is Sergeant Padraic Byrnes, who does a real bang up job preserving evidence. He picks through the entire lot – stealing money, pocketing gold fillings, drinking the wine, eating the fruitcake… all the while feeling pleased as punch to make such a profit off the dentist’s death. And just when you start wishing that the good Sergeant would do everyone in Five Points a favor and drop dead, well, Byrnes leans over, pukes, and dies. Later, boyo!

Doc Freeman confirms that the fruitcake killed the dentist and the Sarge – the special ingredient was arsenic-based rat poison. Yum. So who poisoned the fruitcake? The cake box has a handwritten card, and Corcoran matches the handwriting to Devery’s landlord, Lunsford. Lunsford admits he gave Devery the cake – but he didn’t mean to kill the guy. The fruitcake was a REGIFT. This is why you never, ever regift. Ever. Turns out Lunsford got the cake from a butcher named Hans Elek.

Are you still following? It gets more complicated.

Corky pays the butcher Elek a visit, who confesses he’s been having an affair with Devery’s wife, Ethel. Ethel used to bake Elek fruitcakes, but when Elek owed his landlord Lunsford money, he put one of her fruitcakes in a new box and regifted. So how did the cake get poisoned in the first place? Turns out Devery KNEW his wife was having an affair, so he poisoned the fruitcake himself, hoping to kill Elek! In other words, the dentist murdered HIMSELF! Are you totally and completely lost? Let’s take a look at this sequentially:

Ethel bakes her lover Elek a fruitcake. Devery, Ethel’s husband, knows she’s baking secret love pies for Elek, so he poisons the cake with arsenic. Elek gets the cake, puts it in a new box, and regifts it to his landlord, Lunsford. Lunsford visits the dentist and regifts to Devery. Devery digs into his own poisoned cake, and boom, dies. Boyo!

So Copperheads, remember, never regift, and NEVER regift fruitcake. Poisoned or not, fruitcake is always gross.

Five (More) Points

Five Points Fight Club
A note to Morehouse: If you’re gonna have a rigged fight, make sure one of the fighters agrees to lose. Jasper, channeling Rocky, kicked the Irish outta “Irish” Jake for 71 rounds until a ref had to step in and cold-cock Jasper.

Problem Child
In a last ditch effort to set Annie on the righteous path, Elizabeth calls in the big guns – a Monsignor. It goes really well! Annie tries to seduce him, flips out, shoves Elizabeth against a wall, and bolts for the door. God: 0 Annie: 1

The Return of John Reilly

It’s a shame Corky didn’t kill John Reilly when he had the chance. Dead-beat John’s back, and looking to collect his ten-year-old wifey. He dupes Elizabeth into believing he’s Annie’s father, so Elizabeth hands Annie over. When Corky finds out, he’s gonna lose it.

Don’t Lie to A Detective
Elizabeth’s screwed.

And For Dessert…
Dig in to that delicious “Washington cake” that Andrew O’Brien was plowing through: Temptations of the Washington Cake

So Copperheads, what did you think of the show? Leave your reviews and commentary in the comments below!

Temptations Of The Washington Cake

From our partners at Gothamist: A fruit cake from Nellis’ Bakery becomes part of the (double) murder mystery Detective Corcoran is trying to solve, but another offering from Nellis’ caught our attention: The “Washington cake” that a very hungry Detective O’Brien buys to immediately devour.

While O’Brien buys what looks like a two-layered white cake, it turns out there are a few different recipes for “Washington cake,” which appears to pay tribute to President George Washington. During the 19th century, Washington was a towering figure in the American psyche and there were celebrations during his birthday. In 1862, a Missouri Democrat said after one such event, “One thought, one sentiment, a single impulse, appeared to move our population on Saturday. It was to render heartwarm homage to the Father of his Country.” And when there are parties, there must be cake!

The oldest “Washington cake” recipe is from his wife Martha, who made him a huge cake for their anniversary in 1759 and then would make it for their later anniversary and Christmas celebrations. An 1862 book recounted that a former slave of Washington’s, Mary Simpson, who lived in New York City would bake the cake every year on his birthday.

Here’s Mary Washington’s recipe: “Take 40 eggs and divide the whites from the yolks and beat them to a froth. Then work 4 pounds of butter to a cream and put the whites of eggs to it a Spoon full at a time till it is well work’d. Then put 4 pounds of sugar finely powdered to it in the same manner then put in the Yolks of eggs and 5 pounds of flour and 5 pounds of fruit. 2 hours will bake it. Add to it half an ounce of mace and nutmeg half a pint of wine and some fresh brandy.”

That’s a big cake! The curatorial staff at Mount Vernon, the Washingtons’ home, replicated the recipe (“Where the recipe called for 5 pounds of fruit, without specifying which ones, 2 pounds of raisins, 1 pound of currants, and 2 pounds of apples were used”). There’s also a 1780 recipe, as well as some other modern variations.

Another version, in an 1852 recipe from “The Ladies’ New Book of Cookery: Practical System for Private Families in Town and Country,” sounds much lighter, as it doesn’t have the fruit (though it does include alcohol) and it includes baking soda. Baking soda would have been a new innovation for American kitchens, as Dr. Austin Church and John Dwight began to manufacture “saleratus,” also known as baking soda in 1847. Church and Dwight built a factory in Manhattan, at 25th Street between 10th and 11th Avenues, and that was the birth of the company that makes Arm & Hammer baking soda.

There’s an alcohol-free cake recipe (but with yeast) from 1860, but a version that involves at least some spices remains the most popular. As for today, there’s a Philadelphia bakery, Haegele’s, that still makes a beloved Washington cake with a chocolate frosting that makes people reminisce.

For more about American cake history, take a look at this timeline from America’s Test Kitchen—the Baked Alaska was created at Delmonico’s, the classic New York restaurant that opened in 1837, in honor of the new American state.

Writer’s Room: Blowing Smoke

Kevin Deiboldt offers a glimpse inside the ‘Copper’ writer’s room, where they’re reviewing…fart sketches?

A constant source of joy on Copper was watching other departments bring aspects of the scripts to life. Even the smallest detail was something they took great pains to faithfully capture.  Take, for instance, this scene between our gangs from episode five – the O’Connell Guards and the Rodrick Gang:


CARWYN, SMILING HUGH and MEMBERS of both gangs crowd around the lockbox. CARWYN shoots the lock, opens the box. He looks inside: a drawing of a man bending over with a puff of smoke emanating from his butt. Nothing else.

That drawing you saw on screen (done by talented Art Department Apprentice Julii McMillan) was just one of about ten different options we were presented with – all equally hilarious, by the way. We settled on these two finalists:

This is the beautiful absurdity of my job – I get to have in-depth conversations about which sketch worked the best (the top one, there’s just something whimsical about the way his arm flails and the arched back raises the butt into the air), while learning about the actual history of “fart drawings” (Julii showed us 200-year-old Japanese paintings of fart battles called “He-gassen”), and discussing which of our heroes would have been the one to actually draw the picture (O’Brien, natch).

Still makes me grin to visualize Andrew – sitting at his desk in the precinct, pencil in hand, taking the time to make sure the drawing looked juuuuuust right.

Have questions or comments for Kevin? Leave them below! And for more of Kevin’s ‘Copper’ musings, check out his personal blog, Ithaca Mafia, and follow him on Twitter at @Kluv32.

The Bowery Boys, One Of The Toughest Gangs Of New York

From our partners at Gothamist: As Corcoran tries to outwit Rodrick, he, Maguire and O’Brien consider the various factions ruling New York City’s underbelly. The Bowery Boys are mentioned as a possible threat, and in real life, the gang’s members were known for killing people “without the slightest provocation.”

The Bowery Boys were known as a nativist gang, since they were anti-Catholic and anti-Irish. They staked out ground on the Bowery, just north of Five Points, along with other gangs such as the American Guards, O’Connell Guards, and True Blue Americans. Five Points was where Irish gangs like the Plug Uglies, Forty Thieves, Shirt Tails and the Dead Rabbits resided.

Gotham: A History of New York to 1898 describes the scene, “Neighborhood frontiers crackled with border wars. Combatants fought with bludgeons and brickbats, clubs and hobnail stomping boots, and occasionally, though still rarely, knives and pistols. At times, local rivals would league together into a giant horde and sally forth to challenge a gang-combine from some other part of town.”

Herbert Asbury’s seminal book, The Gangs of New York, said that the original Bowery Boy was a “burly ruffian with his chin adorned by an Uncle Sam whisker,” usually a butcher or a carpenter. “On his head was a stovepipe hat, generally battered, and his trousers were tucked inside his boots, while his jaws moved constantly on a chew of tobacco as he whittled on a shingle with a huge knife which never left his possession.”

As years went on, the Bowery Boy would wear more fashionable garb, like an “elegant frock coat, and about his throat…a gaudy kerchief.” Not unlike Daniel Day-Lewis as Bowery Boy Bill “the Butcher” Poole.

While gangs would fight amongst each other, they all exploited the Draft Riots of 1863 to loot buildings. By the end of the 19th century, the Bowery Boys broke up into many different factions and ceased to exist, leaving their violent tendencies to our imagination.

America’s First Multimillionaire

From our partners at Gothamist: In last night’s episode, Elizabeth Haverford and Norbert Morehouse – actually, make that Norbert Morehouse and Elizabeth Haverford – hold a fancy fundraiser in the Morehouse mansion to raise money for the 21st United States Colored Infantry Regiment (fundraisers for Civil War causes were very popular in 1864). When Morehouse warns Elizabeth not to invite that “salamander William Backhouse Astor,” he is referring to the second-oldest son of John Jacob Astor, America’s first multimillionaire.

John Jacob Astor built the family fortune through the fur trade and buying New York City land that would soon become valuable, and it’s believed that the $20 million he left at the time of his death in 1848 would be equivalent to over $110 billion in 2006 dollars. William Backhouse Astor Sr. inherited most of the family’s money and he managed to more than double it, by furthering the family’s investments in real estate.

According to Appleton’s, he followed the “example of his father” and “invested in real estate, principally situated below Central park, between 4th and 7th avenues – now known as Midtown – which rapidly increased in value. For about thirteen years prior to 1873 he was largely engaged in building, until much of his hitherto unoccupied land was covered by houses, mostly of the first class. He was said to own in 1867 as many as 720 houses.” Naturally, he would be a rival to Norbert Morehouse, who has real estate designs of his own! And his son, William Backhouse Astor Jr., and his wife Caroline would build the grandest NYC mansion known at the time – its ballroom could accommodate 1,200 guests – perfect for future extravagant gatherings of the city’s richest.

Another invitee to the Morehouse-Haverford fundraiser is Cornelius Vanderbilt, the “Commodore,” who turned his modest Staten Island-to-Manhattan business into a shipping and railroad empire. It’s believed that his fortune, $100 million at the time of his death in 1877, would be worth be around $168 billion in 2006 dollars.

‘Copper’ Press: A Little Something for Everyone

Hey Copperheads! Here’s the latest news that’s fit to print on your fave 1864 drama.

TV.com reviewed the first four episodes of Copper, proclaiming the series “a solid police drama, with all the genre’s hard-boiled one-liners, gruesome crimes, and tortured heroes, covered in soot and caked in the blood of our nation’s legacy.” We agree – Tom Weston-Jones wears dirt and blood quite well.

Crave Online loved last Sunday’s episode, “The Empty Locket,” noting, “Copper has definitely got its hooks in” and the episode “had a little something for everyone.”

Ato Essandoh chatted with Suite101 about nabbing the role of smartest Doc in 1864, Matthew Freeman. “When I got that audition,” Essandoh told Suite101, “I couldn’t believe it – this has got to be a joke, there’s no way there’s a character this rich. And then I got the job, I could not believe it. So I’m really honored and excited to be part of this project.” Read the full interview here.

And that’s the latest in the world of Copper. Get excited – Sunday’s almost here!

Writer’s Room: Kicking Off A Bar Brawl

Series writer Kevin Deiboldt reveals how one of ‘Copper”s most memorable bar brawls went from script to small screen.

I’ve noticed that a lot of folks absolutely loved the opening to episode four. Personally, it’s my favorite opening in the series – Kyle was able to kick it off (literally) with a truly memorable moment of excitement and absurdity. More often than not on television, scenes change from the page to the screen – whether through editing, staging or performance, it’s just part of of the collaborative process. The final version of the opening you saw ended up a bit shorter than it was on the page – but still carried the same *ooomph* as the original. (Although I do lament the loss of my favorite Morehouse line: “I can jockey a downtown whore just as well as either of you two needle-dicks…” ). Here’s a peek at the written version, for those interested:


Watch the scene from Copper below:

Have questions or comments for Kevin? Leave them below! And for more of Kevin’s ‘Copper’ musings, check out his personal blog, Ithaca Mafia., and follow him on Twitter at @Kluv32.

Five Points: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Matthew Hale Smith, Sunshine and Shadow in New York (1868)

Was Five Points Manhattan truly a downtrodden, inner circle of hell filled with degenerates, whores and criminals? Or was the Lower East Side slum home to those like ‘Copper”s Kevin Corcoran, citizens with a moral compass and…basic hygiene?  Bowery Boogie’s resident historian Allison Siegel takes a closer look at the notorious New York neighborhood.

Five Points, the Manhattan locale where Park (Cross) Street intersected with Baxter (Orange) Street and Worth (Anthony) Street, is no longer intact today. Some streets have been renamed, others gone, but Five Points’ imprint remains, immortalized in the works and words from such luminaries as Charles Dickens, Walt Whitman, Herbert Asbury, and Tyler Anbinder. In 2002, Five Points was resurrected for a new generation with the release of Martin Scorsese’s The Gangs of New York, a film adaptation of Herbert Asbury’s historical work. In Scorsese’s Gangs, the character of Bill “The Butcher” offered a poignant description of the area:

“Mulberry Street… and Worth… Cross and Orange… and Little Water. Each of the Five Points is a finger. When I close my hand it becomes a fist. And, if I wish, I can turn it against you.”

Tyler Anbinder, Five Points (New York, The Free Press, 2001)

Five Points also touted a less flattering nickname, Bloody Ould’ Sixth, thanks to its location in the Sixth Ward and the area’s alleged murder a night. A reporter for the New York Evening Post wrote of Bloody Ould’ Sixth:

“They had a dreadful fight upon last Saturday night,
The papers gave the news accordin';
Guns, pistols, clubs and sticks, hot water
and old bricks,
Which drove them on the other side of Jordan.
Then pull off the coat and roll up the sleeve,
For Bayard is a hard street to travel;
So pull off the coat and roll up the sleeve,
The Bloody Sixth is a hard ward to travel I believe.”

New York Evening Post, “The Dead Rabbits Immortalised,” July 10, 1857

Manhattanites weren’t the only ones balking over the escalating violence and unsanitary conditions plaguing the Lower East Side. On a tour of America, Charles Dickens wrote of a particularly scathing review of his visit to Five Points, detailed in American Notes for General Circulation:

“This is the place [Five Points], these narrow ways, diverging to the right and left, and reeking everywhere with dirt and filth. Such lives as are led here, bear the same fruits here as elsewhere. The coarse and bloated faces at the doors have counterparts at home, and all the wide world over. Debauchery has made the very houses prematurely old. See how the rotten beams are tumbling down, and how the patched and broken windows seem to scowl dimly, like eyes that have been hurt in drunken frays.”

But not all notable writers and journalists portrayed Five Points as America’s black hole – an entire community of lost causes. In 1842’s Aurora, New York native Walt Whitman came to Five Points’ defense, arguing that residents were “not paupers and criminals, but the Republic’s most needed asset, the wealth of stout poor men who will work.”

So was Five Points America’s most corrupt neighborhood, or a cultural melting pot with a bad rap?

In the early 1990’s prior to the construction of a new federal courthouse, the United States General Services Administration (GSA) conducted a full-scale archaeological dig in Five Points. Their findings proved Five Points wasn’t entirely a community of lost causes.

Take a look at the GSA’s report here.  The opening line reads, “To outsiders, Five Points was a frightening slum; from the inside it was a thriving working-class neighborhood.”

The GSA recovered several artifacts, most of which were unfortunately destroyed in GSA’s archaeology lab in the basement of 6 World Trade Center on 9/11. A few finds:

GSA Artifacts: Sewing related objects (right), Medicinal bottles (top left), Umbrella part, collar stay, buckle (bottom left)

A tannery, a saloon, an oyster house, and New York’s first garment district – all places of business – were discovered beneath the land where Five Points once stood. Still, there is no doubt that Manhattan’s Lower East Side was a dangerous, and at times truly horrific place to live. If Five Points represented the age old struggle between good and evil, in this place, evil won.

Want to learn more about the rich history of Manhattan’s Lower East Side? Check out Allison’s historical blog at Bowery Boogie.

Writer’s Room: Old Irish Folk Tunes

Love the music of ‘Copper?’ Series writer and music buff Kevin Deiboldt talks setting a scene with the perfect old Irish folk tune.

At the end of episode four, we needed a song for the Irish Tenor (played by the talented Ryan Tilley) in Eva’s Paradise to sing. One that would take the audience up and into Eva’s room, setting the tone for her scene with Molly. As a huge music buff, I got kick out of things like this – the chance to sift through old Irish folk tunes. The one Kyle (Bradstreet, writer of episode four) ended up selecting was a mournful song called “Avenging and Bright” by Thomas Moore. It was written in 1811 as a poem, and set to the melody of an old Irish air “Crooghan A Venee.”

Avenging and bright fall the swift sword of Erin
On him who the brave sons of Usna betray’d! —
For every fond eye he hath waken’d a tear in
A drop from his heart-wounds shall weep o’er her blade.

By the red cloud that hung over Conor’s dark dwelling,
When Ulad’s three champions lay sleeping in gore —
By the billows of war, which so often, high swelling,,
Have wafted these heroes to victory’s shore —

We swear to avenge them! — no joy shall be tasted,
The harp shall be silent, the maiden unwed,
Our halls shall be mute, and our fields shall lie wasted,
Till vengeance is wreak’d on the murderer’s head.

Yes, monarch! though sweet are our home recollections,
Though sweet are the tears that from tenderness fall;
Though sweet are our friendships, our hopes, our affections,
Revenge on a tyrant is sweetest of all!

Based on the ancient tale of Diedre and the betrayal of the Sons of Usneach, it has been used by the Irish as a patriotic number ever since Moore penned it (to criticize George IV for not supporting Catholic emancipation). And though we do not hear the song in its entirety, I think it does a nice job – even in melody – of foreshadowing what’s to come.

Have questions or comments for Kevin? Leave them below! And for more of Kevin’s ‘Copper’ musings, check out his personal blog, Ithaca Mafia., and follow him on Twitter at @Kluv32.

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