Friday, August 24, 2018
Remembering Sidney Korshak - Fabled Fixer for the Chicago Mob
Sidney R. Korshak, a labor lawyer who used his reputation as the Chicago mob's man in Los Angeles to become one of Hollywood's most fabled and influential fixers, died on Saturday at his home in Beverly Hills. He was 88.
His death came a day after that of his brother, Marshall Korshak, a longtime Chicago politician who died in a hospital there at the age of 85.
Although the two brothers shared a law office in Chicago for many years, their careers diverged considerably. Marshall Korshak led a distinctly public life as a glad-handing Democratic machine politician, serving, among other things, as State Senator and city treasurer and dispensing thousands of jobs as a ward boss. But Sidney Korshak pursued power in the shadows.
It was a tribute to Sidney Korshak's success that he was never indicted, despite repeated Federal and state investigations. And the widespread belief that he had in fact committed the very crimes the authorities could never prove made him an indispensible ally of leading Hollywood producers, corporate executives and politicians.
As his longtime friend and admirer, Robert Evans, the former head of Paramount, described it in his 1994 book, "The Kid Stays in the Picture," Mr. Korshak could work wonders with a single phone call, especially when labor problems were an issue.
"Let's just say that a nod from Korshak," Mr. Evans wrote, "and the teamsters change management. A nod from Korshak, and Santa Anita closes. A nod from Korshak, and Vegas shuts down. A nod from Korshak, and the Dodgers can suddenly play night baseball."
Sometimes, to be sure, it took more that one call. At one point when police had him under surveillance, Mr. Korshak, who was careful not to make business calls on telephones that might be tapped, was seen entering a public phone booth carrying a paper bag full of coins.
Although Mr. Korshak generally made his calls to solve major problems faced by clients like the Los Angeles Dodgers, Gulf and Western, M.C.A., Las Vegas hotels and other large corporations, he also used his clout on lesser matters.
Among the stories circulating yesterday, for example, was one about the time the comedian Alan King was turned away at a plush European hotel by a desk clerk who insisted that there were simply no rooms available. Mr. King used a lobby phone to call Mr. Korshak in Los Angeles and before he hung up, the clerk was knocking at the door of the phone booth to tell Mr. King that his suite was ready.
The son of a wealthy Chicago contractor, Mr. Korshak graduated from the University of Wisconsin and received a law degree from DePaul University in 1930. Within months of opening his law practice, according to extensive research conducted by Seymour M. Hersh and Jeff Gerth for The New York Times in 1976, he was defending members of the Al Capone crime syndicate.
His reputation was made in 1943 when a mobster on trial for extorting millions of dollars from Hollywood movie companies testified that when he had been introduced to Mr. Korshak by a high-ranking Capone mobster, he had been told, "Sidney is our man."
That became even more apparent in 1946, when a Chicago department store chain faced with demands for payoffs from rival unions engaged him, and the problem almost magically disappeared.
Within months, Mr. Korshak, who had been shunned by the city's business elite, was in demand for his services as a labor lawyer who could stave off demands from legitimate unions by arranging instant sweetheart contracts with friendly unions, often the teamsters.
Mr. Korshak, who sometimes boasted that he had paid off judges, solidified his standing among Chicago's business, civic and social leaders by giving ribald late-night parties featuring some of Chicago's most beautiful and willing showgirls."Sidney always had contact with high-class girls," a former Chicago judge told The Times in 1976. "Not your $50 girl, but girls costing $250 or more."
Mr. Korshak moved to California in the late 1940's and found Hollywood executives as eager as Chicago businessmen to hire him to insure labor peace.
He added to his reputation and his usefulness when it became known that he could arrange loans of millions of dollars from the teamsters' infamous Central States Pension Fund, which, among other things, helped finance the growth of the Las Vegas casino industry, often with Mr. Korshak serving as the intermediary and sometimes as silent partner.
It was a reflection of his power that when Mr. Korshak showed up unexpectedly at a Las Vegas hotel during a 1961 teamsters' meeting, he was immediately installed in the largest suite, even though the hotel had to dislodge the previous occupant: the union's president, Jimmy Hoffa.
In an era when mob figures were forever being gunned down by rival gangsters or sent to prison by determined prosecutors, Mr. Korshak seemed to lead a charmed life. That was partly because his mansion was protected by extensive security measures, partly because he was adept at using his role as a lawyer as a shield against probing grand jury questions and partly because he was careful to distance himself from the fruits of his own activities.
He never, for example, served as an officer of the various corporations formed to carry out his complex schemes. Even his legal work left no paper trail. Never licensed to practice in California, he maintained no Los Angeles office and had bills mailed from Chicago. He was famous for never taking notes or even reading contracts.
As a result, he became so valuable to the mob and its corrupt union allies that lower-level mobsters were ordered never to approach him, lest they tarnish his reputation for trust and integrity.
At the same time, he was so valuable to more or less legitimate businesses that the executives who hired him would never breathe a word against him.
Mr. Korshak is survived by his wife, Bernice; three children, Harry of London, and Stuart and Katy of Beverly Hills, and five grandchildren.
Marshall Korshak is survived by his wife, Edith; two daughters, Marjorie Gerson and Hope Rudnick of Chicago; four grandchildren, and four great-grandchildren.
Thanks to Robert McG Thomas Jr. on January 22, 1996
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