Bang! Bang! You're Dead

Dueling at the drop of a hat was as European as truffles, and as American as mom's apple pie

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The mahogany cases of pistols went to the attic. As the 20th century dawned, politics became less central to our emotional lives. Manhood could be exercised in making money. Legions of lawyers sprang up to defend our good names in libel suits, less colorful but safer and more profitable. Maybe the Founding Fathers would be proud of us. Maybe they’d feel we’ve made great strides in honorable behavior. On the other hand, maybe they’d feel we’ve degenerated into a nation of greedy poltroons without spirit or conviction, unworthy to meet a true gentleman at ten paces.

Here and there, though, the tradition lingered on. In 1959, in Hollywood, Barney Silva, co-owner of a chain of Los Angeles restaurants, experienced irreconcilable differences with jazz musician Jack Sorin over one Dorothy Simon. Resolving to do the thing right, the two men marked off ten paces in Silva’s living room, wheeled, and fired. Both died.


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