If, like me, you are more than a bit obsessed with cultural references, one of the fun aspects of reading Mark Binelli's novel is tracking down all of the public figures Binelli cites and wondering precisely whether they do, in fact, match their real-life counterparts. Such a question must be answered on a case-by-case basis. The book's frequent references to "Supplementary Material" only takes the reader so far.
Here then is a helpful list of resources, avoiding such obvious references as Buster Keaton, Ezra Pound, and Fatty Arbuckle, for all those currently reading Sacco and Vanzetti.
Andrews, Maxene and LaVerne: Part of the Andrews Sisters, a popular musical trio of the 1940s. (286)
Balbo, Italo: A one-time bank clerk who became a Fascist Party gang organizer, also known for shooting, beating and killing people over a two-day period in June 1921. Presumably, Mussolini also liked him for his conversational skills. (188)
Barbette the Enigma: He was a kid from Texas who began cross-dressing and became a Paris sensation, often receiving as much as $2,000 a performance. (114)
Borrah Minevitch: The oldest all-harmonica group. The idea behind BM was to hire a dozen or more boys, teach them harmonica basics, and dress them up. The Harmonica Rascals, as they came to be known, appeared in many films. (114)
Bunny, John: Weighing over 300 pounds, John Bunny was one of the earliest silent film comedians. (230)
Carnera, Primo: Carnero was the world heavyweight champion of 1934. This made Mussolini very happy, until he joined an anti-Fascist resistance group. He did indeed go onto a string of roles playing a giant in the many Italian Hercules movies. (54)
Ching Ling Soo: An Englishman by the name of William Ellsworth Campbell who impersonated a Chinese conjurer. He actually modeled himself after another conjurer named Ching Ling Foo. (114)
Chupacabra: This may be the name of a kangaroo in Binelli's book, but the real reference is an animal unknown to science. (60)
El Brendel: He emerged from vaudeville and appeared in many films with a clipped Swedish accent. (114)
Fregoli, Leopoldo: Beyond being a "quick-change artist," Fregoli had an uncanny gift for mimicry and impersonation. The great filmmaker Georges Méliès employed him in l'Homme-Protée, where he played twenty different characters. (122)
Gardella, Tess: An Italian-American singer who played in blackface in numerous films. (114)
Hamilton, Sir William: Referenced in a "Supplementary Material" note on p. 45, he was an ambassador at the court of Naples thought Hot Peas N Butter's Danny Lapidus, who is a musician based in New York City. Maybe Binelli will spill the beans. (107)
Lorenz, Edward: A bona-fide meteorologistwho first recognized chaotic attractors. (31)
Montgolfiers, The: The real-life family was known for its ballooning, but Binelli reimagines the French aeronauts in a painting "depicting a skyful of hot-air balloons, in a race." (35)