Sunday, January 21, 2007

Author Comments on Thief!

Friends of ours: Lucky Luciano, Carlo Gambino, John Gotti
Friends of mine: William "Slick" Hanner

It's strange that our fascination with the mob centers so on top bananas like Lucky Luciano, Carlo Gambino and John Gotti when, as any crime beat reporter will tell you, the most incredible stories always involve madcap misfires by the lowliest flunkies, the truly clueless nostra.

Fort Myers author Cherie Rohn ran into just such a lovable screwball more than a decade ago in Albuquerque, New Mexico, when, after losing her job as a TV station manager, she enrolled in casino dealer's school. One of her instructors was a well-traveled man of action named William "Slick" Hanner. "He was walking around with his notebook of 20 hand-scrawled pages in his third-grade-educated hand of his life story, looking for somebody to write it," Rohn recalls. "No money, of course, but I looked at it and it was like an electric shock went through my body. Something about this guy grabbed me and I vowed to write his story."

A decade in the writing, "Thief: The Gutsy, True Story of an Ex-Con Artist" is the laugh-out-loud misadventures of a savvy Chicago street kid who managed to partake in the profitable mob trifecta of booze, gambling and prostitution without ever actually becoming a made guy.

Like some street-smart version of Forrest Gump, Slick went from rags to riches while drifting through America's hottest post-war entertainment scenes. Whether he was fleecing poker players aboard his yacht, the Knot Guilty, in Miami Beach, driving a limo for Nevada's infamous Chicken Ranch, serving as Jerry Lewis' bodyguard or managing the poker room at the Landmark casino in Las Vegas, Slick was where the action was for the last half of the 20th century. "He was an interesting kind of a screw-up adrenaline junkie con artist who goes through life like a speeding freight train about to derail at any minute," Rohn says of her colorful collaborator.

The project was no mere samba down memory lane. Hanner's third-grade education was one obstacle, but Rohn had her challenges as well. "Aside from a couple lurid love letters, I hadn't written anything," she says. "So I had three tasks: I had to learn to write, I had to learn to write as a guy, and I had to learn to write as a guy who hung with the mob."

Rohn does a wonderful job at all three, telling Slick's first-person tale with all the swagger and latter-day slang of a high-rolling con artist of the day. "We filled it out very slowly," she says. "I actually had to put words into his mouth."

She also found that time was of the essence if she hoped to interview Slick's running mates. "Through the nine agonizing years of writing this story, a lot of people died, mostly from unnatural causes," he quips.

At 74, Slick is still doing what he does best, playing poker and consulting with Las Vegas casinos on how to thwart card sharks.

Does the guy who knows where the bodies are buried fear that some associates may take offense at his candid biography? What are you, nuts?

"We had a few death threats," Rohn admits. "I'm not going to tell you where they came from but they were real. Slick isn't one to worry. His attitude is, 'Hey, if that happens, we can sell a few more books!'"

Thanks to Jay McDonald

No comments:

Post a Comment