Embezzlement, racketeering, mob enforcer, suspected killer … it’s no wonder Irish-American mobster Danny Greene was blown to bits by a car bomb on Oct. 6, 1977. But with gangsters from Chicago to New York making headlines for decades, the vast criminal enterprises in Ohio, in which Greene was instrumental until his death, have garnered few national headlines over the years.
As a student at Ohio State University, Manhattan Beach resident Tommy Reid, who grew up in north New Jersey, had heard stories about the nearly mythic figure of Greene from his friend who grew up in Cleveland. Back in 1995, when the Internet wasn’t a dominant source for research, Reid found little information about Greene. After he graduated and moved to L.A., he heard Greene was going to be a subject of a book. He hunted down its author, Rick Porrello, and eventually optioned the book, “To Kill the Irishman: The War that Crippled the Mafia,” in 1997.
After a long and winding road, two films that Reid produced about Greene will be released early next year. One is a documentary, “Danny Greene: The Rise and Fall of the Irishman,” and the other a feature film, “Kill the Irishman,” starring Ray Stevenson (HBO’s “Rome”), Christopher Walken, Vincent D’Onofrio, Val Kilmer, Paul Sorvino and Linda Cardellini. Anchor Bay, a division of Starz Media, is planning to release the film in North America, the U.K., Australia and New Zealand in early 2011.
While struggling to come up with funds for the feature film for 10 years, Reid said he became so specialized in his life history during his research that he tackled the documentary. He already had a screenplay that he had hired a writer (Jeremy Walters) to adapt the book into a feature, but the documentary seemed the best option in the hopes of bringing to light his aspirations in making a feature film.
“I had over 18 hours of interviews from all of these prominent figures that have had relationships with Danny Greene, his wife, a cop who went against him, the attorney who represented the mafia, a hitman who went after him, I had access to all of these guys and they were aging. Even since I made the documentary, a couple of the people have already passed away from natural causes. So Danny Greene was becoming an urban legend will in Cleveland.”
But the script began circulating and “got to the top shelf of Hollywood.” A “bankable” director, lead and supporting cast were attracted and Reid partnered with Code Entertainment. “Kill the Irishman” was filmed last year in Detroit, doubling for Cleveland, in an effort to get 40 percent in tax incentives.
Reid was still shooting his documentary when “Kill the Irishman” started filming in Detroit last year. The main challenge was raising money for post-production in order to get the highest quality facility to reach his vision. By putting production costs on a credit card and with the help of family money and a couple of private investors, one being Hermosa Beach resident William Fletcher, that project was finished. He said there are three different perspectives in the documentary - the Irish, Italian and the government side of the story. The other challenge was creating a compelling narrative so audiences would sit through an hour documentary on the life of a little-known figure. But Reid feels that Greene’s life story is compelling enough for two films.
According to Reid, “Kill the Irishman” chronicles the rise and fall of Greene, who muscled in on the Italian mob in 1970s Cleveland and set off a turf war that ravaged the streets of Cleveland and led to the collapse of the Mafia in a number of U.S. cities, including Kansas City, St. Louis, Detroit and Los Angeles.
Greene, a former Marine, rose to prominence in the early 1960s in the International Longshoreman’s Association. Kicked out for embezzling union funds, he soon became a henchman for mobsters like Alex “Shondor” Birns, who had his own rap sheet of extortion, murder and more. After a money dispute, Birns reportedly put a hit on Greene and had a bomb planted in his car, but he discovered it before it took his life. Soon after, Greene, who survived numerous assassination attempts, was suspected of planting a bomb in Birns’ car, killing him. A few years later, Teamster official John Nardi, an associate of Greene’s, was blown up, followed a few months later by Greene, after a dentist appointment in Lyndhurst, Ohio. The Cleveland Mafia, who had conflicts for many years with Greene, was reportedly responsible for the deaths.
“When you hear something about Ohio and Cleveland … why would they have the mafia there?” Reid said. “You find out that Cleveland is such a big hub for the boats coming out of the Great Lakes, down through the distribution centers of the Mississippi and all the way through all the other distribution and out to the west from Ohio … there’s lot of cargo coming off these big ships.”
Reid added, “It’s not just Cleveland. It’s Youngstown, Toledo, which leads you into Detroit. Those four cities, that’s a wide area of mafia. That’s equivalent of what you would think of the New York crime families, all the families that had their hands into organized crime. Cleveland was an area that never really got as much exposure as the eastern cities did, Boston and New York.”
With his vast criminal past, Reid said one thing he was surprised about when it came to the contradictory life of Greene was this almost Robin Hood-type figure and how much he “would extract just to give back.”
“He would take the money he would make ... and he would give it out to his neighborhood,” Reid said. “He would pay for kid’s braces that needed dental work. He would buy groceries for struggling families that couldn’t put food on the table.”
Thanks to Michael Hixon
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