The time James Karen punched a banker

The time James Karen punched a banker

Photo by Etienne Martin on Unsplash


Some moments are worth celebrating. The melting of a Nazi’s face in Raiders of the Lost Ark, for example. I recently watched the documentary, “The Scary Parallels Between The Great Depression And Today | When the World Breaks” on RealHistory, which you can find here:

In this film, actor James Karen talks about his family losing their house during The Great Depression:

We lost our house in 1933, and we were thrown out on the street. And it certainly is one of the most awful moments of my life, ever. My father was not a worldly man. When everybody was making money in the stock market, and people were saying “Gee, Joe. what do you do with your money?” “I got it.” He was keeping it in the house, hidden. “You know, that’s crazy. The house could burn down. Invest it.” Well, he didn’t know, so he invested in 1928. I think he invested in Electric Bond & Share and Anaconda Copper. And of course, he bought on the margin as everybody did. I mean, that’s what they thought, that was the way to do it. And they were encouraged to do it by the brokers, and when everything collapsed, we lost everything, and then my father was never the same man.

And we were having lunch, and a man that they knew– a man at the bank who had the mortgages– came in and he said, “What are you people doing here?” My mother said, “Mr. X, we’re having our lunch, would you like to sit down and having something to eat?” And he said, “You can’t have lunch here, this is not your house. This is my house.” My father just… by this time was just gone, and my mother said– my mother’s a very strong woman, very brave woman– and she said, “Well, Mr. X, it’s our house, we live here, it’s our house.” And he said, “Look, it’s not your house,” and he went and he spit on the rug. And with that, I mean, everybody just…the family just collapsed, and we were herded out of the house. Our furniture was taken out. Everything was taken out of the house and put on the street, most of which disappeared shortly thereafter.


Later in the documentary, he recounts his moment of revenge:

In 1945 in November, I came back from the war, and I was in my Air Force uniform. Still, I went back home to see my mother and father. We were driving around, and I suddenly look in the corner of the bank, and there I see Mr. X. And I said, “Hey, hold it up for a minute, will you?” I was 23 years old, and I was just in great shape. I walked into the bank and said, “Mr. X, do you remember me?” And he said, “No, no, what is it? I’m busy.” And I said, “Oh, just this,” and I spit. And he stood up and I hit him, and it was crazy. It was one of those crazy moments and I look around and I was smiling, and I looked. Nobody moved, nobody stopped me. He was on the floor and I said, “That’s what you did to my mother and father.” It was the most satisfying day of my life, ever, ever, still, to this day.


Picturing the story in my mind’s eye, I imagine Mr. X the banker looking rather like Lionel Barrymore as Mr. Potter in It’s a Wonderful Life.

The thing is: someone profits even during a downturn. When most people are suffering and times are tough, somebody is still making big bucks. My dad’s dad was born in September of 1928, so about a year before the stock market crash. He would talk about how he and his siblings would get an orange for Christmas and be happy for it. The 1930s was a hard decade for them, made even more difficult when his father died in 1935 from residual injuries he sustained in WWI. My dad’s mom grew up in an agricultural family and knowing how to farm and grow food proved to be a massively important skill set for them. So even as we juxtapose people living in poverty and being grateful for a single orange, somebody was raking in the cash.

“When the Great Depression hit its lowest ebb in 1933, the unemployment rate exceeded 20 percent and America’s gross domestic product plummeted by 30 percent. Not everyone, however, lost money during the worst economic downturn in American history.

Business titans such as William Boeing and Walter Chrysler actually grew their fortunes during the Great Depression. As the aviation industry took flight in the 1930s with the advent of regular passenger service, Boeing built a vertically integrated empire that manufactured aircraft and operated airlines until the federal government forced its breakup.” –

Ah. I shouldn’t wonder.

Business titans who already had money grew their fortunes even more. Didn’t we just see this same movie again?

“Richest 1% bag nearly twice as much wealth as the rest of the world put together over the past two years

Super-rich outstrip their extraordinary grab of half of all new wealth in past decade.
Billionaire fortunes are increasing by $2.7 billion a day even as at least 1.7 billion workers now live in countries where inflation is outpacing wages.
A tax of up to 5 percent on the world’s multi-millionaires and billionaires could raise $1.7 trillion a year, enough to lift 2 billion people out of poverty.” –

In the midst of the pandemic, the richies got richer. Imagine that.

Who else profiteered during The Great Depression?

“Joseph Kennedy, Sr. made millions in the unregulated stock market of the 1920s, in part due to insider trading and market manipulation.

Oil tycoon J. Paul Getty abided by a simple business formula: ‘Buy when everyone else is selling, and hold on until everyone else is buying.’ Having already made his first million dollars in the oil industry more than a decade earlier, Getty skipped a celebration of his parents’ golden wedding anniversary during the 1929 stock market crash to commiserate with Wall Street brokers, investors and speculators.”, Ibid.

Are there success stories? People with a scrappy idea that made it work? Yes, of course. Even in terrible economic times, opportunities still exist. Here’s the thing: a lot of people like Mr. X exist, too. Another sad irony is that James’ father’s money might very well have been better off under the mattress than in the stock market at that point in time. At least when the market crashed, he would have had immediate access to the money. In the same documentary, Art Linkletter talks about working as a typist in NYC when the market crashed and how people were sobbing and crying and were desperate to pull their money out, but they couldn’t. The money they had invested was gone, seemingly in the blink of an eye.

There’s a lot of things in this life I don’t know. One thing I feel extremely confident about is: fat cats who are already rich will profit from the current and deepening economic crisis.

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