Tuesday, July 05, 2016

Sidney Korshak was The Myth, Mr. Silk Stockings, The Duke and The Fixer

Some mobsters get ridiculous nicknames.

The Clown.

No Nose.

The Weasel.

But others, like Chicago mob lawyer Sidney Roy Korshak, get nicknames more reflective of their importance.

To the rich and powerful, Korshak was "The Myth."

He was "Mr. Silk Stockings" and "The Duke."

And most appropriately, he was "The Fixer."

Korshak was the ultimate fixer, in Chicago and later in sunny California, where he thrived in the shadows.

Need a criminal case fixed? Call Korshak.

Teamsters threatening to cripple your business and they're not in a mood to negotiate? Call Korshak.

Looking for an investment to launder the blood out of your mobbed-up money?

You get the picture.

His life spanned much of last century, and in his heyday he was the ultimate bridge between big business, politicians, Hollywood, Las Vegas and the mob. When the mob needed a smooth operator to work in the worlds where rough-hewn Chicago mobsters wouldn't fit in, Korshak -- the brother of the late Chicago Democratic politician Marshall Korshak -- was the man of choice.

He was the velvet encasing the hammer.

He's now the subject of a new, exhaustive look at his exploits in investigative reporter Gus Russo's magnum opus:Supermob: How Sidney Korshak and His Criminal Associates Became America's Hidden Power Brokers.

Russo tackled the Chicago mob in his 2003 book The Outfit. In Supermob: How Sidney Korshak and His Criminal Associates Became America's Hidden Power Brokers he expands on that work of melding big business and organized crime.

Russo underscores the Outfit's desire to move a lot of its money into legitimate and quasi-legitimate businesses and investments, and the need of organized crime for legitimate-looking men to help smooth that transition.

No one would typify that more than Korshak, a product of Lawndale and DePaul University Law School who started representing mobsters in Chicago courthouses and ended up charging $50,000 a year as a retainer for "labor relations" for national businesses.

Early in the book, Russo does a masterful job of establishing the ethnic and political foundations for Korshak's beginnings in the Jewish section of the Lawndale neighborhood and in the 24th Ward of consummate machine politician Jacob Arvey.

In a neighborhood filled with young men hot for success, Korshak stood out. Russo shows how Korshak's friends from the same background would weave their way into Korshak's orbit again and again throughout his life, from MCA's Jules Stein to the Pritzker family, from mobster Alex Louis Greenberg to Appellate Court Justice David Bazelon.

Russo's ambition is to mark Korshak's place in the so-called Supermob of mainly Jewish lawyers and businessmen who often got a boost from mobsters early on in their careers and dealt with gangsters with varying degrees of involvement throughout their lives.

The amount of research in the book is staggering. It's a testament to Russo's doggedness to bring the full story to light, but it also turns into one of the book's main weaknesses.

Russo empties his notebooks into the tome. Some of the tales make for a good read but are ancillary. So his story, at times, gets away from him. Still other tales undermine the confidence one has in the reporting in the book. In one instance, Russo suggests Korshak is a man with a taste for teenage girls, with little to back it up. In another, Russo makes a convincing case for how former President Reagan had close ties to members of the Supermob, only to undermine it with innuendo.

Russo shows how Reagan carried out orders of the Supermob when he was president of the Screen Actors Guild and effectively betrayed his own members in the 1950s to the benefit of Lew Wasserman's MCA. But then, Russo provides an account from the actress Selene Walters, who contends Reagan raped her one night. Two weeks later, Reagan married Nancy Davis, the woman who would become the first lady.

There are no interviews in the book with any of Walters' contemporaries at the time to see if she told them a similar story. There's no mention of any police report.

The accusation stands alone unsupported, and it's not worthy of the excellent reporting elsewhere in the book. Because salaciousness aside, Russo pulls plenty of substantive dirty deeds done by Korshak into the light.

Korshak would have cringed.

Thanks to Steve Warmbir

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