Iceberg Slim

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For other people named Robert Beck, see Robert Beck (disambiguation).
Robert Beck
Born Robert Lee Maupin
August 4, 1918
Chicago, Illinois, U.S.
Died April 28, 1992 (aged 73)
Occupation Author, pimp

Robert Beck (born Robert Lee Maupin; August 4, 1918 – April 28, 1992), better known as Iceberg Slim, was an American reformed pimp and author.

Early life[edit]

Slim was born in Chicago, Illinois. He spent his childhood in Milwaukee, Wisconsin and Rockford, Illinois until he returned to Chicago. When his mother was abandoned by his father, she established a beauty shop and worked as a domestic to support both of them in Milwaukee.[1] In his autobiography, Maupin expressed gratitude that his mother didn't abandon him as well. She earned enough money working in her salon to give her son the privileges of a middle-class life like a college education, which at that time was not an option for the average person.

Slim attended Tuskegee University in Tuskegee, Alabama, but having spent time in the "street culture," he soon began bootlegging and was expelled as a result. After his expulsion his mother encouraged him to become a criminal lawyer so that he could make a legal living while continuing to work with the street people he was so fond of, but Maupin, seeing the pimps bringing women into his mother's beauty salon, was far more attracted to the model of money and control over women that the pimps provided.

Pimping[edit]

Slim started pimpin' at 18, and continued to be engaged in pimping until age 42, after a final 10-month prison stretch in solitary confinement in 1960. At that point, he decided he could continue making money off pimping by writing about it instead. Slim moved to California in the 1960s to pursue writing under the Iceberg Slim pen-name, but in normal life, changed his name to Robert Beck, taking the last name of the man his mother was married to at the time.

Slim was the pride of his neighborhood. During his career, he had over 400 women, both black and white, working for him. He was known for his frosty temperament, and at 6'2" and 180 lbs, he was indeed slim. He also had a reputation for staying calm in sticky situations, thus earning the street name Iceberg Slim. When verbal instruction and psychological manipulation failed to keep his women in line, he beat them with wire hangers; his autobiography makes no bones about being a ruthless, vicious man.

Slim had been involved with several other popular pimps, one of whom was a man named Sweet Jones, a man born in the 1880s who had been pimping for well over 60 years of his life before shooting himself and leaving a note that said "goodbye squares, kiss my pimping ass!" Another pimp, the man who had gotten Slim hooked on heroin, went by the name of Glass Top and was a major drug figure in Eastern America.

Slim was noted for being able to effectively conceal his emotions throughout his pimping career, something he states he learned from Sweet Jones: "A pimp has gotta know his whores, but not let them know him; he's gotta be god all the way."

Writing[edit]

In 1967, his first autobiographical novel was Pimp: The Story of My Life, published by Holloway House.

Reviews of Pimp were mixed; it was quickly categorized as being typical of the black "revolutionary" literature then being created. However, Beck's vision was considerably bleaker than most other black writers of the time. His work tended to be based on his personal experiences in the criminal underworld, and revealed a world of seemingly bottomless brutality and viciousness. His was the first insider look into the world of black pimps, to be followed by a half-dozen pimp memoirs by other writers. Of his literary contribution, a Washington Post critic claimed, "Iceberg Slim may have done for the pimp what Jean Genet did for the homosexual and thief: articulate the thoughts and feelings of someone who's been there."[2]

Pimp sold very well, mainly among black audiences. By 1973, it had been reprinted 19 times and had sold nearly 2 million copies.[3] Pimp was eventually translated into German, French, Italian, Portuguese, Spanish, Dutch, Swedish, Finnish and Greek. Nevertheless, the book's audience remained predominantly black.

Following Pimp, Beck wrote several more novels: Trick Baby (Los Angeles: Holloway House, 1967), Mama Black Widow (Los Angeles: Holloway House, 1969), Naked Soul of Iceberg Slim (Los Angeles: Holloway House, 1971), Long White Con (Los Angeles: Holloway House, 1977), Death Wish: A Story of the Mafia (Los Angeles: Holloway House, 1977), and Airtight Willie & Me (Los Angeles: Holloway House, 1985). He sold over six million books prior to his death in 1992,[4] making him one of the best-selling African-American writers (after Alex Haley). All his books were published exclusively as paperbacks. Iceberg Slim also released an album of poetry called Reflections in the early 1970s.

Recordings[edit]

  • Reflections (first press 1976, ALA Records); producer: David Drozen; executive producer: Louis Drozen; music: Red Halloway Quartet; photography: Robert Wotherspoon
  • Reflections (reissue 1994, Infinite Zero/American Recordings/Warner Bros. Records)
  • Reflections (reissue 2008, Uproar Entertainment)

Film adaptations[edit]

In 1972 Iceberg Slim's third novel, Trick Baby, was adapted as a movie of the same name, directed by Larry Yust. The movie was produced independently for $600,000 with an unknown cast. Universal Pictures acquired the film for $1,000,000 and released it in 1973 to a considerable amount of Iceberg Slim fanfare. The movie grossed an impressive $11,000,000 at the US box office.

As of 2014, Mama Black Widow is in active development with Marshall Tyler attached to direct from an adapted screenplay written by Tyler and William De Los Santos. Chris Hanley and Dave Mortell are producing. Mama Black Widow is Robert Beck's critically acclaimed story of a sharecropper family's migration from Mississippi to Chicago during the early 1930s.

A movie adaptation of Pimp has been tried for a long time. There were announcements of a movie to be directed by Bill Duke and starring Ice Cube in the early 1990s. In 2009, television executive producer Rob Weiss of the HBO show Entourage, and Mitch Davis, purchased the film rights to produce Pimp.

Death[edit]

Slim died of complications from diabetes on April 28, 1992; he was 73 years old.[5]

Influence[edit]

Slim was an important influence on hip-hop artists and rappers such as Ice-T and Ice Cube and Pittsburgh Slim, who adopted their names in part from reading the author. Iceberg Slim's last book, Doom Fox, which was written in 1978 but not published until 1998, contains an introduction written by Ice-T. Ice-T's third album, The Iceberg, was another major homage. Most of the currently popular references to pimp culture, for example in the work of Too Short and Snoop Dogg, ultimately can be traced back to Iceberg Slim. Rapper Jay-Z also refers to himself as "Iceberg Slim" whenever discussing his adventures with women.

The Eddie Murphy character Velvet Jones from Saturday Night Live was a spoof of Iceberg Slim's character.

Comedian Dave Chappelle often talks about Iceberg Slim during his stand-up routines. According to Chapelle, Iceberg Slim got his name by keeping ice-cold in a shoot-out when he stayed at the bar, drinking his drink, even though a bullet pierced his hat, a story told at the end of chapter 13 in Slim's Pimp.

At the conclusion of Chappelle's stand up routine, he compares how Slim used to blackmail his hookers, thereby forcing them to stay loyal to him. Chappelle would close his show with the saying, like Slim used to say, "Don't ever leave me."

Iceberg Slim: Portrait of a Pimp[edit]

In 2013, Ice-T produced the documentary Iceberg Slim: Portrait of a Pimp told through talking-head admirers,[6] including Chris Rock, Snoop Dogg, Ice-T, Henry Rollins, Quincy Jones and others. The documentary was directed by Jorge Hinojosa and premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival.[7]

Bibliography[edit]

  • Pimp, Novel (1967)
  • Trick Baby, Novel (1967)
  • Mama Black Widow, Novel (1969)
  • The Naked Soul of Iceberg Slim, Nonfiction (1971)
  • Long White Con: The Biggest Score of His Life, Novel (1977)
  • Death Wish: A Story of the Mafia, Novel (1977)
  • Airtight Willie & Me, Stories (1985)
  • Doom Fox, Novel (written 1978, published posthumously 1998)

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ The Biography Project article
  2. ^ West, H. (1973) Washington Post
  3. ^ Contemporary Authors Online. Gale, 2008.
  4. ^ "Iceberg Slim." Contemporary Black Biography, Volume 11. Gale Research, 1996. Reproduced in Biography Resource Center. Farmington Hills, Mich.: Gale, 2008. http://galenet.galegroup.com/servlet/BioRC
  5. ^ Dead or Alive? - Iceberg Slim
  6. ^ Miriam Bale (July 18, 2013). "Movie Review: The Lessons of a Pimp - Ice-T Produces a Documentary About Iceberg Slim". The New York Times. Retrieved November 11, 2013. 
  7. ^ IMDb.com: Iceberg Slim: Portrait of a Pimp page

External links[edit]