Ellsworth Raymond Johnson, or Bumpy Johnson as he was better known, was a notorious New York gangster in the 1950s, living a violent life which has inspired a brand new TV adaptation, Godfather of Harlem, now streaming exclusively on Stan.
The series will chronical some of Bumpy’s most criminal moments, some of which you can read about below.
Born in Charleston, South Carolina in 1905, Bumpy got his name from the unique bump on the back of his head. After his brother was accused of killing a white man and sent to live with relatives in the north, Bumpy’s parents became concerned with his disrespect towards whites, so he too was sent to live in Harlem with his older sister in 1919 when he was just 10 years old.
Bumpy dropped out of high school and worked odd jobs to get by, falling into a bad crowd along the way. This got him noticed by a gangster named William “Bub” Hewlett, who helped him become a notorious bodyguard for Harlem’s illegal gamblers. Bumpy’s criminal activity would soon gain him a decade in prison.
After his release in 1932, Bumpy returned to the streets of Harlem where he met a crime boss named Stephanie St. Clair, better known as “Madam Queen” or “Queen of the Policy Rackets”. Together, they waged war against rival crime bosses, including big-time bootlegger, Dutch Schultz.
Eventually, Bumpy gained control of all the rackets in the area and became known as the Godfather of Harlem – a feared but equally respected figure in the community who gave to the most vulnerable.
Bumpy served another 15 years in prison for conspiring to sell heroin, most of which was carried out at San Francisco’s Alcatraz. He died of congestive heart failure in 1968, five years after his release.
Bumpy has been portrayed in film and TV since 1971, including in movies like The Cotton Club, Hoodlum, Life, American Gangster, and more. Godfather of Harlem is the latest adaptation of his life, played by the Academy Award-winning actor, Forest Whitaker, and also stars Nigel Thatch, Vincent D’Onofrio, and Breaking Bad‘s Giancarlo Esposito.
Whitaker has starred in a number of blockbusters including Rogue One: A Star Wars Story and Black Panther, while Thatch is well-known for playing Malcolm X in the film, Selma.
The series takes place during Bumpy’s most notorious Harlem days and gives an interesting insight into his relationship with the iconic boxer, Muhammad Ali, as well as the racial justice activist Malcolm X. Godfather of Harlem also preludes the 2007 film, American Gangster, which chronicles Harlem drug dealer, Frank Lucas, and his rise to power in the 1970s.
Godfather of Harlem is now streaming only on Stan.
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