A Silver Screen Version of an 85mm Life: How the story of an LA cop wound up a major motion picture, as told by his granddaughter

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Reddit: Thank you to all who have taken the time to read this article. I had no idea it would get so huge, I’m quite surprised! A few people have been commenting about a change of tone between this blog and the title of my Reddit post. To make it clear, I wrote this blog before I’d seen the movie, before I knew just how violent and inaccurate the movie was.  When I wrote this article, I’d had some idea about how much they changed the story, but I had no idea HOW much. It may be a few gunshots to you, but seeing a man playing your grandfather kill people is a weird feeling. I plan on writing a review of the movie soon, as well as an account of the premiere. I’ve written a short update here.

It’s 9pm and I’m still on the plane. I’ve finished my book and played as many iPhone games as humanly possible before going crazy and I have no new photos to edit so I’ve decided I may as well get started with the blog I’d promised I’d keep about this week.

As those who are reading this probably know, I am off on a twelve day trip with my mother to California. This is not the first of this kind, I have been to California at least thirty times in my life. This trip is different because we are not doing one of our usual formatted California vacations. We’re going to California not for a road trip or to see family or even go to Disneyland- we’re going because we’re going to a movie premiere. No, I’m not some heiress of a producer or the cousin of a director. This is all new to me. We’re going to a movie premiere because Warner Brothers pictures is releasing a star studded blockbuster about a squad of undercover LA cops in the 1940’s, lead by a cop named John “Jack” O’Mara.

And Jack O’Mara happens to be my grandfather.

Maybe you’re really curious as to how this all happened. Or maybe you really do not care at all all and just want to read the part where I meet the famous people (which has not happened yet, by the way.) But If I’m going to write this and tell you everything I may as well start at the very beginning.

It all began when I was seven. Or eight. Or nine. I really do not remember. All I remember is my mom mentioning that a journalist named Paul Leiberman was writing an article about grandpa and he was going to interview her. I vaguely remember him coming over and talking to my mom. And for about a week it was a really big deal in the house, with phone calls and discussions about the article and excitement. But then the next week, and the eight years after that, it wasn’t mentioned besides the occasional “I wonder how that article is going” or “is it ever going to get finished?”

My grandfather Jack passed away when I was ten.

Fast forward to Junior year of high school. I came downstairs one morning and my mom was on the phone with one of her cousins in California. And she was incredibly excited. She was pacing around the house, saying things like “NINE PARTS?” and “we need four copies of each”. I was confused. When she got off the phone she excitedly explained to me that the little article about grandpa had finally come out. Except it wasn’t a little article. It was a nine part historical special for the LA times, and it was on the front page. The LA Times Online even had a special section dedicated to the articles, complete with interactive charts of everyone in the stories and their photos.

It was called “La Noire: Tales of the Gangster Squad” (you can read it here). In the 1940’s there was a very powerful Jewish gangster called Mickey Cohen who terrorized Los Angeles. The LAPD, trying to combat his actions, created a team of undercover cops to take him down. They included my grandfather, Jack, his partner Jerry Wooters, and a handful of other men. These men were brilliant. They went undercover, without badges. They pretended to be TV repairmen and planted bugs (tiny microphones) in Mickey Cohen’s television. They threatened his allies. They were the most ingenious cops of their times. And, I would like to mention, they never killed a single person. They hardly used their guns at all. In fact, my mother has stated to me that my grandfather shot one bullet in his whole career in the LAPD. And that was a warning shot. I’m going to get more into the violence thing later when I talk about the movie.

A few months after the articles came out I went downstairs to a similar scene with my mom. Except instead of her being really excited she was more confused. She was on her laptop and she was reading an article on TMZ. The title read something like “Gangster Squad article rights bought by Warner Brothers producer”. The only details of the article I really remember is that some producer was in an airport, picked up an LA times and read one of the Gangster Squad articles. He decided right then and there that, as he put it, “the stories were meant to be movies.” And a few days later he bought the rights. And that was that.

For a while my mom was really skeptical. “It probably won’t even get made” my mom said. “Movies get picked up all the time and never made. It’s cool…but really, I don’t think anything is going to come of it sweetie.” I was more hopeful.

From then on I turned out to be more and right and my mom’s speculations turned out to be more and more false. First they set a release date. Then they cast the director, then the actors. It really seemed real when they cast the character of my grandfather as Josh Brolin and my grandmother as Mirelle Enos. Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone and Sean Penn were cast next.

After they finished casting was when it all hit me that this movie about grandpa was actually happening. I tried so hard to tell people because I thought that’s what you’re supposed to do. Except I found that it was hard to talk about to those I wasn’t really close with. Because whenever I did I had to explain so much. And people didn’t understand. I don’t blame them. This whole situation is weird, it’s so unreal and bigger than I can comprehend. All I can describe it as is that I imagine this is how people feel who have a famous best friend. Suddenly something you love and treasure is being written about in glossy magazines and advertised in the cinema. There isn’t a way to explain how it feels to see something so personal plastered on posters all over New York City. That the strikingly handsome man on the billboard next to Ryan Gosling is portraying the man who raised your mother. That he’s the man you remember eating ice cream with at the retirement home. The one who you got to see every time you got on the big plane to California, at least twice a year from when you were two to the year he passed away. And that even though I was so young when my grandfather passed and I didn’t get it at the time all this premiere has made me want to do is go back to the retirement home and remember all the things he said to me.

I would feel my first post to be incomplete if I didn’t mention something that’s been in the back of my mind since I first saw the trailer, and when I was alluding to when I mentioned the gun thing. You probably figured that the movie was Hollywood-tized, but I feel like it’s my duty to confirm that fact. (Most of) the characters are real, yes, the situation is real, yes, but the violence in the movie is outlandish and bears no accuracy to the reality of the Gangster Squad’s actions. My mom likes to say “they didn’t use bullets. They used their brains.” Yet violence sells more than cleverness, so unsurprisingly violence won. I guess this is why my mother is a little reserved about the movie, and while I am ecstatic to see the premiere and to experience everything to come, I am too. It is weird knowing millions of people will watch a movie and all of a sudden think your grandfather was a ruthless gun lover when that couldn’t be farther from the truth. It does help a little bit that in the movie they call grandpa by his formal name, John, instead of his nickname, Jack. I think that detail gives my family a little piece to keep for ourselves. I encourage you to be as excited about this movie as I am. Yet all I ask is to keep that in the back of your mind: the real Jack O’Mara fired his gun once. And only once. 

I also need to mention that Paul Leiberman, the author of the articles, had been working on the book version of the Gangster Squad’s stories ever since he released his series to the LA Times. It’s called, you guessed it, Gangster Squad (here’s a link to the book). It’s the accurate depiction of Jack O’Mara’s life, and is described on the cover as “the book that inspired the movie!” with an extra emphasis on “INSPIRED.” It’s really good. Maybe I’m biased because it’s about my grandparents and my grandad’s crime fighting adventures and even my MOM’s childhood but hey, I think the book is quite interesting. I encourage everyone interested in LA Noire and crime and American history to read it. It’s been under the “bestsellers” shelf of every bookstore I’ve visited in the last three months, which is a good sign I think. I hope just as many people read the book as watch the movie. Maybe that’s too much to ask…but I can hope, right?

The next five days leading up to the premiere is going to be a lot of nerves, shopping, excessing, and pretending to be fabulous and jaded to the world of celebrity when in fact my palms are sweaty and my recurring daydreams of shaking hands with Ryan Gosling have not gone away.

How do you explain properly in a blog post all the emotions you are feeling? I’m trying my best, but I still feel I fall short. I guess the only thing I can do is wait and see.

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John O’Mara as depicted in the Gangster Squad

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grandpa Jack during his days as an LAPD member (center)

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Grandpa Jack as I remember him: Grandpa, me and my brothers at my house

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The “book that inspired the movie” The Gangster Squad by Paul Lieberman

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I am Gerald: OCD and The Harm of Ableist Language

There is never a classroom that exists without someone, anyone, who tells everyone they have OCD.

I am sure you know that person. Straight A student, immaculate transcript and a stuffed pencil case. She sits next to you in class, pulls out her Macbook and her notebook. She places two yellow #2 pencils next to her blank paper and meticulously arranges her pencils to be parallel.

“Sorry”, she giggles. “I’m just so OCD about stuff like this.”

That girl, however, is NOT the one with OCD. If she was, she wouldn’t be telling you she had OCD. Instead, she would be the girl arriving five minutes late, running behind schedule because she couldn’t get the door to close just right. She would be the girl who you notice takes forever to get out of her seat at the end of lecture. You attribute her touching the pull-out desk so many times to an itch or exhaustion, but something seems off. This girl- the one who moves around in her seat, speaks with panic in her voice, spends every waking moment in panic- she is the one with OCD. That girl is a lot of people, and that girl is me.

OCD isn’t cute. It’s not quirky and it’s not fun. It’s something I have lived with every single living day of my life, day in and day out. Your pens may be in order, but my brain never will be. It is painful. It hurts. When you have OCD, you feel like Mario running through a level on a gameboy. Your life stops being about pleasures and fulfillment and starts being controlled by impulses and needs. Walking, eating, exiting a room is a struggle. There is an idea in our society that OCD, or Obessive Compulsive Disorder, is a quirky little disorder, which consists of a massive fear of germs, an immaculate room and lots of hand washing. These attributes often make their ways into OCD, but are only a few ants in a colony of thousands. Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is a demon of many faces.

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is defined as a disorder which consists of an impulsive need to indulge oneselves in obessive thoughts, habits or rituals. While it manifests for some in the form of neatness and cleanliness, others it can manifest itself in little habits and tics. This umbrella diagnosis can include behaviors such as obsessive thoughts like the constant panic about the demise of wildlife, or a bizarre fascination with eye color. It can also include rituals: the need to turn lights on and off, the need to check a door multiple times before leaving a room, the need for ritual, habit and symmetry.

The problem in American culture and OCD is that it isn’t taken seriously. Valid representation of the disorder comes few and far between. Monk, a long lived series about a detective with OCD, often played deep into stereotypes and only scratched the surface of the disease. While the show did a great job focusing on his outside behaviors- his quirks, cleanliness and orderly life, they hardly ever took a look inside his head.

The common trope for someone with OCD always falls under two categories: young, intelligent, high strung woman and the quirky, overweight, balding man who lives alone well into his 40’s. Both of these characters, when played in TV and movies, are always white and always loners. The truth is, OCD is not something only “weird” people get. OCD exists in all types of people- from those whose whole lives define it to those who hide it deep within themselves. Yet regardless of how one presents their OCD on the outside- the inside is what brings those with OCD together.

When I talk about my OCD, I describe it as a little troll living in my head. For the sake of this post, let’s call this troll Gerald.

Gerald controls my actions. He makes me turn lights on and off seven times in a row. He makes me turn my head back and forth until he feels it has sufficed. He tells me how many exclamation points I can use in my texts and what words I am required to ommit from my text messages. Gerald tells me what numbers I can like and what numbers I must avoid. For the last few months, Gerald has loved the number eight. Recently, it changed to seven and nine. Now, the pleasure Gerald used to get from the number eight (eight potato chips, eight words in a sentence, eight people sitting in a row) but now he cannot stand that number.

One time, Gerald told me I wasn’t allowed to swear in my texts for an entire week. If I did, my boyfriend would break up with me. He gave no reason why. Gerald never gives a reason why.

The best representation I have seen of OCD is in the HBO show GIRLS. Lena Dunham, who plays Hannah, channeled her real life struggles with OCD into her character which gives a really accurate description of OCD:

 

This Poem by Neil Hilborn also does a wonderful job describing OCD in its real, purest form: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vnKZ4pdSU-s

 

Yet, despite rising depiction of honest and true OCD, American culture still has not opened their arms to those living with OCD in a way that makes it feel okay to be out about it. Whenever someone attributes something like organizing their pencils to OCD, they minimize the real effects of the disorder and silence those actually living with it. 1 in 100 children have OCD to some extent, yet those who have it rarely speak up. It’s still unintegrated into modern conversation and not understood the way other mental illnesses are. It is uncharted territory, something that needs a lot more attention and a lot less of a wisecrack used to make fun of little quirks that everyone has.

 

The only solution to this problem is to destigmatize OCD. To talk about it. To cut out the harmful language and light play people make out of OCD and start treating it for what it is- a disease that affects all kinds of people. Because the girl with the pencils may want them perfect. But the second class ends, they’re right back in her brain. But Gerald does not go away. He will be here for the rest of my life. And that is something that deserves respect.

21 things I’d love to say to/ask my 15 year old self after reviewing my five year old facebook conversations:

looking through old inbox messages is like deep sea diving. the deeper you go the more terrifying it gets.

1. why do you always end sentences with so many lettersssss?

2. your instincts are right, you don’t know that boy that friend requested you. leave him alone.

3. the Jonas Brothers are not that important. Stop obsessing and go to bed.

4. Everyone thinks you’re so nice and innocent but you’re actually kick ass. How do you do it? Can you reteach me? I am impressed.

5. I’m so glad your idol is Miley Cyrus and that you don’t watch the CW.

6. why are you so obsessed with camp?

7. you are not single because you’re ugly. you’re single because you are annoying.

8. in six years the boy you’re so in love with will still be living with his parents. You’ll also date his best friend. Stop while you’re ahead.

9. I can’t remember having 95% of these conversations you are engaging in. This terrifies me.

11. That girl didn’t ask you to hang out because SHE’S the mean one. Why are you so self defeating? Have I taught you nothing?

12. Collecting converse may seem like the coolest thing to do, ever, but in five years you are going to be left with 12 pairs of converse. Have fun with that.

13. I have no idea what party you’re talking about, and I know it sucks your mom made you come home at 11, but you’ll get your time to be crazy. Enjoy being obsessed with the Jonas Brothers while you still can.

14. Why didn’t you anser so many of these messages?! This guy seems pretty set on getting you to answer and you’re not giving him the time of day.

15. …would it be weird to answer this message five years later?

16…if so, how weird?

17. Why are you crying?

18. Why are you telling this girl you’re crying?

19. THIS message is ironic because in three years you will awkwardly be prom dates. Now it’s just about homework.

20. THIS message is ironic because you’re acquaintances but then go on to be best friends.

21. You’re a mess of a 15 year old, but somehow who you are then made me who I am now, so thanks for that. Whatever you did, you did right.

Five Signs I am (possibly) on my way to becoming a functional adult

1. I’m twenty

Even if I was the biggest screw up in the world, my age is something I have indefinitely. I could be working at McDonalds and have a butterfly tattoo on my hip bone but it wouldn’t be able to take away the fact I am technically, by default, a real life adult.

2. I have friends in New York City

Nothing says “grown up” to me quite like having friends in New York City: the kind you phone and say “Honnneeeyyy! Dahling! It’s been so long! Shal we meet later today for a coffee, lunch and maybe a mani-pedi? I know the CUTEST place!” Your New York friends are always pretty, always interesting, and always wearing black. They always know the cutest place to get dinner and have all the most exciting stories to tell.  There’s something so adult feeling about having friends in a cosmopolitan city, especially when you choose to ignore the fact your New York City friends always have their shit together a little more than you do.

3. I’m in a healthy, long term relationship

There is something to be said about the fact that I am in a happy, grown-up relationship. Due to my “taken” status I no longer participate in youthful activities that involve heavy amounts of drinking and minimal amounts of clothing. My “fun nights out” now include much less tequila and a lot more wine. Instead of prancing around campus in a little more than my underwear looking for a frat boy to sweatily dance with in a sketchy basement I now choose to do things like binge-watch arrested development with my boyfriend while eating chinese takeout in my footie pajamas. Nothing says “sexy, adult couple” like Grubhub, Netflix and oversized children’s loungewear.

4. I’ve met Ryan Gosling

Yes, I went to a movie premiere. Yes, it turned into a 15 minutes of fame, and it was really cool. Yet it is almost a little sad, because for all I know that could be it. And let me tell you, my 15 minutes aged me. I feel so disconnected from the ultimate female fantasy: meeting Ryan Gosling. It happened to me. It’s over. It will never happen again. The thing is…it really isn’t supposed to happen. That’s the point. Ryan Gosling is something women are supposed to have in their heads as an aspiration. Someone to dedicate your sexy underwear to that nobody is going to see that day. Someone to set as your phone background when a tangible, datable man in your life is nonexistent. Someone to cry about while watching The Notebook alone in your room. Now that I’ve met him, all of those fantasies have popped and turned into a single fond memory.  Now that I can’t participate in the intangible Ryan Gosling worshipping I am forced to leave my girly squeals and passionate daydreams behind and focus on real things…like my resume. God, I wish resumes had abs……

5. I dress like a big girl

I bought lipstick the other day. Not cheap, $5 lisptick from CVS, but a tube of Stila lipstick from Sephora. All my life I’ve seen lipstick as something my mother wore to “brighten up her face.” Now it is something I actively am purchasing and am interested in, along with other grown up things, like interview clothes, neutral manicures and shoulder length haircuts. My change in interest seemed to happen overnight…one day I was wearing t shirts from the sale rack at Urban Outfitters and the next stalking the J Crew website for markdowns on nude flats. Along with my new found love for the 35 year old teacher look I’ve also found a love for finding things to go with these oh-so-fabulous additions to my wardrobe: such as my dream job, dream home office, and dream apartment to fit all of these things in. I’m not sure if I have my inner motivation to thank or should send a thank you card to the CEO of Pinterest…but regardless, those goals are in my head.

And that is a great, grown-up place for a goal to be.

Accomplish.

by sierramargaret

Wednesday night at two am I had this crazy idea to put my blog on Reddit.

I’d been avoiding it for weeks. I’d thought about it, yes, but the idea terrified me. Then two nights ago at two am I just did it, didn’t think about it, and went to bed.

I woke up to a message from a friend. “Hey, congrats on Reddit.” What!? Congrats on what? I went to the front page and saw: my blog had made it to the front page of Reddit.

I’m honored and excited. I’m also kicking myself for not writing a second piece sooner: my experience at the premiere itself and my review of the movie once I’d seen it. That is the next goal. 

The last few days have been filled with a lot of media attention. I interviewed with the Loop, talked with CNN, and found myself to be the center of a Yahoo article as well as various other articles around the net. It was weird. The point was not to get fame for myself- I couldn’t care less. It was about doing everything in my physical power to tell the world that the true Jack O’Mara was an amazing man. And that’s what I accomplished.

In the last 24 hours, the Gangster Squad books on Amazon have almost sold out. More people have been interested in learning about my grandpa than ever before.

Today I talked to my dear friend Marlees about this crazy whirlwind of a 24 hours.

“Do you think Jack would be proud of me?” I asked.

“Sierra he one hundred per cent is.” she said. “You’re fighting with your brain!”

That, dear readers, was my goal.

And that goal has been accomplished.