Murderess Row Inspires the Musical “Chicago” – Drunk History

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– Hello. I’m Mae Whitman. – I’m Jane Levy. – And today, we will
be discussing… – Murderous Row.
– Oh. – You’ll like it, though. It’s very cool and stressful
and cool. – You like murder?
Me too. – [laughs]– It’s 1924.Maurine Dallas Watkins,she’s just graduated
from Yale,
and then she was like,
“You know what?
[bleep] this.
I want to tell the truth.”
She moves to Chicago,
this town of jazz…
– Jazz.
– Drink.
– Drink.
– Crime.
And she started working
for the “Chicago Tribune.”
And she was like, “Yeah.”
– [laughs]
– “I got a job
at the ‘Chicago Tribune,’
and I’m gonna investigate
what I gotta investigate.”
– That’s what she really
wanted to do. – Hell, yeah.
– Right?– And then she comes upon
this editor, who is a man.
The editor was like, “Maurine,
I’m going to assign you
to the Cooks County Jail
Murderous Row,
which is where they keep the
women who are awaiting trial.”
And he was like,
“You’re a woman.
“Nobody else wants to report
on this shit.
“It’s a little boring
for our male reporters.
“I care about the goods.So give me the goods, baby.”– And she was like,
“I got you, bitch.
I got you.”She goes to Murderous Row
in Cooks County Jail.
She meets Sabella Nitti,
an Italian immigrant
who is accused
of murdering her husband.
She says, “He hurt me.I-I did kill him,
but because he hurt me.”
And Maurine is like,
“This is it.”
Maurine went to her editor
and was like,
“I heard about Sabella Nitti.”And he was like, “No, bitch.Like, I don’t care
about Sabella Nitti.”
The problem was, he wanted
something juicy, this editor. – Loves juice.
– He said to her, “Look.“I need you to bring me
something juicy as hell.
Really, like, get excited
about Murderous Row.”
Like, you can say
some sexy shit. Like, you can, like… Yeah, you know what I mean? – [laughs]
– [laughs]And then all of a sudden,Belva Gaertner is arrested.She was a cabaret dancer.She was like, “Yes, my lover
was found sprawled out,
dead, as hell, across
the front seat of a car.”
She was like, “Look,
I’m just a woman,
and I was basically possessed
by the devil, which is jazz.”
Meanwhile, Maurine was like,
“Oh, my God. Yes, yes, yes.
“This is exactly what I need
to make my career.
“I love goss.
I love juice.
My editor’s gonna
eat this up.”
– Yeah. So that was
her first big break.
So then, within, like, I don’t
even know how many minutes. – Not many.
– Not many. She gets this other lady,
Beulah Annan.– Mm-hmm.
– And Beulah Annan’s arrested.
She has had a lover’s spat.– And they both reach
for a pistol,
and [bleep] our babe, Beulah,
was like, “Whew! Pow!”– [laughs]– And while he was laying
on the floor,
she played “Hula-Lu,”
and she danced
around his grave, and she mademultiple cocktails,
and she drank them.
Beulah said, “I was taken
ahold of by drinking alcohol
and listening to jazz music,
and like [bleep] me, I guess.”
– It was just, like,
a bunch of bullshit.
But Maurine is like,
“Oh, my God,
I’m getting the juice
that my editor
asked me for.Hell, yes.”– The newspaper comes out,
and these women realize
right away,
“We have got to look good,
because that’s what this shit
is about, is looking good.”
And they’re like,
“If I cut my hair
and I do my mascara right,”
“And I do my eyeliner right,”
“And I move my hips right,”“And I cry
at the right moment,”
“They are not going to
convict… [hiccups] …me.”
– So they start
a beauty school
within Murderous Row.– Did they call it anything?– They called it were ahead of their time.And they’re, like,
taking these womenthat are, like, “Ha-ha,
I just [bleep] ripped
somebody’s head off
and they’re like, “I know,but, like, sit down, sweetie.”– These women are actually
incredibly intelligent,because they know
how to work their angle
and they’re like…
[hiccups] Um… I forget. [laughs] So, it’s 1924 and Maurine goes
to Murderess Rowand she interviews the girls
before they go to trial.
– They were like, “I’m sorry,
but we love jazz and drink.”
“We love ourselves.
We love to do the thing.”
And they were like,
“A woman would never
“kill a man,
because a man would never
mean enough to a woman for her
to just murder somebody.”
– Obviously!– And Maurine is like, “These
women are obviously guilty.
“The evidence is laid out
on the table.
These women are guilty.”But she didn’t care
about that.
So she’s, like, writing
these stories
that are, like,
super tabloid-y, salacious.
Anything these women
had to say
got spun into this
big juicy circus.
– Okay, so we’re at the trial,after months of covering
this story,
and the girls have
their, like, sideways capsand their nice blue
[hiccups] …eyes
and their skinny little noses.And their lawyer, etcetera,
was like,
“My client is pregnant.”They weren’t pregnant,
but they were like,“I am pregnant.My lawyer told me
to say I’m pregnant.”
And the reporters are like,
“Oh, my God,
look at these girls
and their haircuts
and their manicures.Like, they could never
commit a crime,
“and on top of that,they might be carrying
a baby.”
And Maurine is like…
[imitating keys clacking] – Typing on the computer
that’s not invented yet? [both laugh] – She’s like,
“Sexy ladies do the thingthat you think
that they never could do.”
– I mean, Maurine
got caught up. Let’s not mince words.Maurine got [bleep] caught upin the sexiness
of the whole thing.
– Like, her agenda wasn’t
necessarily to sensationalize,
but the stories were so, like,
dramatic that she had to.– At the end of the trial,
they were like,
“Look. I was very ill
because someone named
came to me
and I feel concerned
and I feel taken advantage of.I feel that I was someone
who explored the realm
too heavily and I need help,” and like, that woman was like,
“I can’t, I… etcetera,“Altadena, etcetera.Pasadena, etcetera.”– [laughs] – And the boys were like,
“You’re right. You’re right.“We don’t care
whether you did it.
“You’re so hot.
We want to [bleep] you.
We don’t care.”– Which makes sense.Juries back then, all male.And the men
were basically like,
“Okay, let me just
tell you this.
“You have spent four months
in the system.
“Four months is too long.“Get the hell out of here!You better go home
and raise some babies.
You cuties.”– And they were like,
“I can’t wait to go!”
– And they were like,
“I will go, mwah.”
And they basically,
these women got off
after four months,
after these [bleep] women
murdered their lovers
in cold blood.Maurine, after this happened,
she took a step back,
and she said to herself,
“I have been a part of freeing
“these clearly guilty women
who used
“their feminine wiles
to get free.
That was my big fault.”– Meanwhile,
Sabella Nitti… got hanged. – And it was the first time
that Maurine was like,“I’m sorry.
I did the wrong thing.
This is [bleep] up.
I [bleep] this situation up.”
So, Maurine, women’s groups,
and Sabella Nitti’s lawyers,
came together
to change the laws,
and they made it possible
for women to be on juries.
And then Maurine was like,
“I gotta talk about this,
like, thing that happened
to me,”
and she wrote a play called…[both hiccup]
– You okay? – I can’t wait to release
my hiccups. – You can let them out. – Not yet. How am I ever–
not yet! – [laughs]– So she wrote a play…
It was called “The Brave
Little Women,” which…
[hiccups] It’s hard
to understand
because it sounds like
“Little Women,” but it’s not.
[hiccups]So years and years and years
after she died,
Bob Fosse got the rights
for her play
and then made it
into “Chicago,”
which turned into
the longest-running musical
on Broadway of all time.– What is the moral
of the story? – That’s a very good question. – [laughs]– Women can be villainsjust as much
as they can be heroes.
– However…
– However… – “Chicago” went to win
best picture at the mother[bleep] Oscars! Okay? So sit down,
shut up, and appreciate that.


  1. The drunk blond girl who’s narrating the story is that girl from The DUFF movie my movie culture is mindblowing I know

  2. Oh yes oh yes oh yes oh yes oh yes oh yes oh yes oh yes oh yes oh yes we both oh yes both reached for the gun the gun the gun the gun oh yes then we both reached for the gun

  3. Thanks for making me find out about Sabella Nitti, I'll do some research. And I'll try to pronounce her name the way that you do, but, even if I'm Italian, I'll need to get pretty drunk myself for that :p :p :p .

  4. Being completly honest, I've never seen Chicago and as a kid didn't see the appeal…. but after finding out the backstory and how it came to be can't wait to see it!!

  5. suddenly im pissed at the writers of Chicago for turning a play, which ive never read but im assuming is about the moral issues of letting and aiding murdering women go free, into a musical that hardly touches on that very important issue and instead focuses on sex, jazz, and the celebration of two murderers becoming free…and then they said Chicago was written by a man and then it all suddenly made sense.

  6. The ironic thing is that I’m watching this video as I sit at my desk… at the Chicago Tribune. (I work in the obit department LOL)

  7. It was Belle Gaertner's lover. It was her husband. And there was no beauty school. A lot of inaccuracies in the episode.

  8. The play was NOT called "the brave little women" it was called "Chicago", and was filmed twice before the musical was written.

  9. There is definitely a ' poor white woman corrupted by outside influences ' vibe behind this story with blaming jazz . Yikes.

  10. All it took was Beauty school??? I guess some female stereotypes/social standards can be really helpful… lol, like men paying for the bills or looking pretty and innocent so you're like-not accused of murder and sentenced to a lifetime in jail.

  11. 8:36 I'm pretty sure Phantom is the longest running Broadway play. Well… I guess they are drunk, so I'll give them a pass.

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