If you watch HBO’s Boardwalk Empire, you’re familiar with the character Chalky White, played by Michael Kenneth Williams. On the show, White is the unofficial leader of the black community in Atlantic City—but was he really that gangster in real life? A Boardwalk Empire blog notes that the real Albert ‘Chalky’ Wright was “a boxer who fought 200+ matches in a long career that spanned through the 20s, 30s and 40s . . . he fought often enough that his involvement in bootlegging was probably peripheral (hired muscle), if anything.”
When we dig a little deeper, we find other interesting tidbits about Chalky Wright, including his involvement with Hollywood actress Mae West. It appears, according to a July 1974 Jet magazine article, that West was an “angel to black boxing gladiators.” She blessed Wright with the chance to enter the ring again and he eventually won a world featherweight title. Mae West: An Icon in Black & White provides even juicer gossip, stating “. . . West had showered Wright with elaborate gifts, purchased a house for his mother, and financed a divorce . . . Chalky White came up and lived with Mae West for a year” (Watts, 275). Now, honestly, do you think the American Movie Classics network and Bio channel are providing details like that? I’m guessing not.
The most interesting factoid for me is that Chalky Wright wrote a book. Now, don’t go rushing out trying to buy or read it—cause you probably won’t find it (actually, there was once 1 used copy on Amazon for $25, if you’re that interested). A 1954 Jet magazine mentions that Wright also shared information with friends concerning an upcoming book. Wright does not, however, use his real name for it. Rather, he uses the name Jay Caldwell and titles the book Me an’ You: A Two-Fisted Negro Challenges the White World. Don’t you just love the cover? I’m guessing he challenges the white world with an interracial love affair with a Hollywood actress. Maybe that’s too easy, but he said the book’s based on his life, right?
If you’re a fan of Chalky White, the Boardwalk Empire character that is, know that his character on the show is mostly fiction. But without him, we’d probably never have taken the time to research the real guy.
Happy reading, y’all.