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Mayor Walker in 1926

James John Walker, often known as Jimmy Walker and colloquially as Beau James (June 19, 1881 – November 18, 1946), was the mayor of New York City during the Jazz Age. During a corruption scandal he was forced to resign.


Life and career

Walker was the son of Irish-born William H. Walker, a Democratic assemblyman and alderman from Greenwich Village, belying certain accounts of Walker's childhood that stated he grew up in poverty. Before entering politics, the young Jimmy Walker worked as a songwriter, his most popular composition being "Will You Love Me in December (as You Do in May)?" He attended Xavier High School (New York City), Laurinburg Institute, and New York Law School.

Walker was a member of the New York State Assembly from 1910 to 1914, and of the New York State Senate from 1914 to 1925. He was President pro tempore of the New York State Senate from 1923 to 1924.

In 1926 he became Mayor of New York City, having defeated incumbent John F. Hylan in the 1925 Democratic primary with the help of Governor Alfred E. Smith and Tammany Hall. The initial years of his mayoralty were a prosperous time for the city, with many public works projects. However, Walker's term was also known for the proliferation of speakeasies during the Prohibition era. His affairs with "chorus girls" were widely known, and he left his wife, Janet, for showgirl Betty Compton without impairing his popularity. He managed to maintain the five-cent subway fare despite a threatened strike.

Walker won re-election by an overwhelming margin in 1929, defeating Republican Fiorello H. La Guardia and Socialist Norman Thomas. Walker's fortunes turned downward with the economy – due to the stock-market crash of 1929. Patrick Cardinal Hayes, the Archbishop of New York, denounced him, implying that the immorality of the mayor, both personal and political in tolerating "girlie magazines" and casinos, was a cause of the economic downturn.

Increasing social unrest led to investigations into corruption within his administration, and he was eventually forced to testify before the investigative committee of Judge Samuel Seabury, the Seabury Commission. One of the specific allegations against him was an extortion scheme which utilized the court system as its enforcer. Innocent people were pulled off the street and accused of crimes they had not committed. "Professional witnesses" would testify falsely to their guilt, forcing the victims to either pay bribes or go to jail.

Facing pressure from Governor Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Walker resigned from office on September 1, 1932, and promptly left for Europe until the danger of criminal prosecution appeared remote. There, he married Betty Compton.

The grave of Jimmy Walker in Gate of Heaven Cemetery

After his return to the United States, for a time Walker acted as head of Majestic Records. He died at the age of 65, in 1946.[1] He was interred in the Gate of Heaven Cemetery in Hawthorne, New York.

In popular culture

A romanticized version of Walker's tenure as mayor was presented in the 1957 film Beau James, starring Bob Hope.[2] The film was based on a biography of Walker, also titled Beau James, written by Gene Fowler. This same book was also the basis for Jimmy, a stage musical about Walker that had a brief Broadway run from October 1969 to January 1970, starring Frank Gorshin as Walker and Anita Gillette as Betty Compton.[3] There is also a song about Walker in the stage musical Fiorello!, "Gentleman Jimmy".[4]

See also


External links

New York Assembly
Preceded by
John Eagleton
New York State Assembly, New York County 5th District
Succeeded by
Maurice McDonald
New York State Senate
Preceded by
James McClelland
New York State Senate, 13th District
Succeeded by
John J. Boylan
Preceded by
Jacob Koenig
New York State Senate, 12th District
Succeeded by
Elmer Quinn
Political offices
Preceded by
James A. Foley
Minority Leader of the New York State Senate
Succeeded by
Clayton R. Lusk
Preceded by
Clayton R. Lusk
President pro tempore of the New York State Senate
Succeeded by
John Knight
Preceded by
Clayton R. Lusk
Minority Leader of the New York State Senate
Succeeded by
Bernard Downing
Preceded by
John F. Hylan
Mayor of New York City
Succeeded by
Joseph V. McKee


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