On this page, you will find many of the primary documents–prison records, letters, unpublished writings, photos, and newspaper articles–that Gifford used as the source material for Street Poison. Each week, he will add new materials to provide fans, scholars, and everyday readers with the story behind the biography of Iceberg Slim.
Robert “Iceberg Slim” Beck (1918-1992) was an African American pimp-turned-author of bestselling paperback novels that influenced blaxploitation film, gangster rap, and street literature. He grew up running the streets of black Milwaukee, and he eventually became one of the most notorious pimps on the South Side of Chicago during the era of Duke Ellington and Joe Louis. After twenty-five years in the game and five bits in prison, Beck retired from a life of crime and became a writer of popular street literature novels. His influential autobiography “Pimp: The Story of My Life” and his many other books were sold in liquor stores, barber shops, and prisons, and they shaped the work of everyone from Ice Cube and Ice T to Chris Rock and Dave Chappelle.
Beck with Santa Claus at the age of 3.
After Beck published Pimp and many other books, he became a public spokesman on matters of race, class, literature, and radical politics. Here is his letter to the editor of Playboy in 1972, complaining of fellow black writer, James Alan McPherson’s representation of black revolutionaries in his recent work.
Beck and his first crime partner, Joe “Party Time” Evans. They teamed up in the mid-1930s in Milwaukee’s Bronzeville and robbed white men who came to the African American section of town looking for prostitutes.
1940 federal census showing Mary Upshaw (Beck’s mother) and Robert Moppins (Beck’s birth name) living at 811 Walnut Street in the heart of Milwaukee’s Bronzeville.
Beck and his first common law wife Mattie “No Thumbs Helen” Maupins sometime between 1947 and 1951. Mattie was a pickpocket and prostitute who lived with Beck in Milwaukee with his mother and then joined him on the road where they stole the wallets of marks across five states.
One of about 40 documents in Robert Beck’s FBI file obtained through a Freedom of Information Act Request. This rap sheet details Beck’s many arrests between 1937 and 1944, his first years in the pimp game. Click on image to see a larger version.