Here’s something that kicks ass: There’s an HBO Films project in the works dedicated to the life of Stephanie St. Clair, the legendary Harlem numbers runner. Basically she ran a version of what we know now as the lottery, only it was under the table—and that meant going toe to toe with the mob.
Deadline reports that Ride Along director and very successful producer Tim Story is working with HBO Films on the project, based on The World of Stephanie St. Clair: An Entrepreneur, Race Woman and Outlaw in the Early Twentieth Century Harlem. More detail:
Nicole Asher has been hired to script the story about the woman who was an immigrant from the Caribbean and ended up running something known as the Policy Bank — which really was the precursor to the American lottery system.
Yes, it was in the time of organized crime and the money flowed, but when mobsters Dutch Schultz and Lucky Luciano and a corrupt police force tried to take over her criminal enterprise she fought fiercely against them and won those battles.
Asher also wrote the Madame C.J. Walker project currently in the works, starring Octavia Spencer. Deadline notes that there was at one point recently another St. Clair series in the works at Lifetime, and that Cicely Tyson played her in the 1997 movie Hoodlum. The source material is rich, to say the least; in 2010, PopMatters ran an excerpt from Playing the Numbers: Gambling in Harlem Between the Wars that contained this passage:
There was something magnificent about the way Madame Queen fought the good fight. Desperately outnumbered and outgunned, she used every conceivable stratagem at her disposal. She leaked details of Schultz’s operations in Harlem to anyone who would listen, including the police, the newspapers, the district attorney, and the federal authorities, who, as a result, would make the Dutchman’s life a misery as they pursued him for unpaid income taxes. On several occasions, a black Carrie Nation, she had stormed into one of the countless white-owned and white-run stores on Seventh Avenue that wrote numbers and, as the Amsterdam News recorded, “smashed plate glass cases, snatched and destroyed innumerable policy slips, and warned the operators to ‘get out of Harlem.’
Until the premiere, please enjoy the Wikipedia entry for “numbers game” and the many, many names it went under.