Ed Devlin, pal of ‘Boardwalk Empire’ boss Nucky Johnson as a teenager, dies at 89

By Wayne Parry, AP
Thursday, September 30, 2010

Ed Devlin, pal of ‘Boardwalk’ boss, dies at 89

ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. — In the weeks before the premiere of HBO’s “Boardwalk Empire” series about Prohibition-era Atlantic City, Ed Devlin got to tell all his stories about palling around with the real-life star of the show, political and rackets boss Enoch “Nucky” Johnson.

It would be the last time he did. Devlin died Monday in an Atlantic City-area hospital of lung cancer. He was 89.

He was featured in a Sept. 17 profile by The Associated Press detailing his teenage association with Johnson, getting his first small tastes of vice courtesy of the boardwalk boss, running numbers and chatting up the local ladies of the evening.

“He was so thrilled at that,” his wife, Debbie, said. “He couldn’t imagine that he could go on the computer and his name was all over the United States!”

The Devlins owned two gift stores on the Atlantic City boardwalk, where he came to be known as “The Baron Of The Boardwalk” both for his longevity and his uncanny sense of the next big gimmick.

“He was way ahead of the times,” said local radio show host Pinky Kravitz, noting that Devlin’s store, Irene’s, was the first sponsor of his radio show 53 years ago.

“He would be the first one to sell things,” Kravitz told the AP. “You remember those empty leashes, where people would walk around with what looked like an invisible dog? He was the first one around here to sell that. He knew what was going to be the hit of the summer before anyone else.”

Devlin was also a longtime stalwart of the Democratic Party in and around Atlantic City.

In 1940, while at the University of Alabama, Devlin made nationwide headlines when he delivered a 66-hour, 15-minute speech in support of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s re-election. What was supposed to be a talk lasting a few minutes went on and on, and crowds gathered to hear Devlin ramble on about FDR. Finally, national radio personalities got wind of the story, and it became national news.

But it was his friendship with Nucky Johnson that provided some of Devlin’s best stories. His high school yearbook lists his name as Edward “Nucky” Devlin — a nickname he earned because everyone knew Devlin had the ear of the biggest man in town.

Devlin told of the time he and his uncle, an Atlantic City police officer, were together and the uncle saw a car make an illegal U-turn. His uncle pulled the car over, and Devlin watched in horror as the officer wrote a ticket to the most powerful man in Atlantic City.

Within a few weeks, his uncle was out of a job — and his family was irked at him for having the gall — or the naivete — to ticket the boss of Atlantic City.

“He was such a colorful character,” his wife said. “He always loved his stories. Even the guy who brought the oxygen tank would sit down and listen to him. He said, ‘I can’t wait to come back here, ’cause I know I’m always gonna hear a great story!’”

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