The Chicago Syndicate: Frank Sinatra
The Mission Impossible Backpack

Showing posts with label Frank Sinatra. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Frank Sinatra. Show all posts

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

The Week that Frank Sinatra Performed at the Villa Venice for the Chicago Mob

In 1962, at the height of his fame, Frank Sinatra gave a benefit performance at the behest of a British princess. He gave another for the head of the Chicago mob.

In February, he sang at a ritzy London fundraiser for a children's charity favored by Princess Margaret. Later that year, he did a week's gig at the Villa Venice, a gaudy but financially ailing nightclub near Northbrook in which mafioso Sam Giancana had a piece of the action.

Will Leonard, the Tribune's nightlife critic, reported that Sinatra and his pals, Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr., "croon, carol, caper and clown to the biggest cabaret audiences this town has seen in years." And no wonder.

Gossip columnists had bestowed the honorific "Chairman of the Board" on Sinatra, whose 100th birthday on Dec. 12 is opening a floodgate of nostalgia. Giancana was the flamboyant face of the Chicago Outfit. The linking of the two luminaries turned those seven days in November and December into a requiem for an older show-biz era.

Chicago's entertainment scene was changing. Comedian Lenny Bruce had brought his obscenity-leavened act to the Gate of Horn, a hip club where the Chad Mitchell Trio also appeared. Their kind of folk music was already sufficiently popular for the Smothers Brothers to satirize it at the State-Lake Theater. The Rat Pack, Sinatra and his friends, were strictly old-school but still a magnetic draw to nightlife veterans of a time when Rush Street was home to celebrated nightclubs, not dating bars.

"The old Chez Paree crowd has yanked itself loose from the TV sets just once more," Leonard observed in another account of the goings-on at the Villa Venice. "The old waiters and doormen are back, showing the same old palms of the same old hands. There's a great big band on the stand, playing great big music. The chairs are pushed so closely together you can't shove your way between them. Flash bulbs pop in the audience during the show. All that's missing is the girl selling the Kewpie dolls and giant sized postcards."

Herb Lyon, the Trib's gossip columnist, proclaimed the hordes of screaming fans "Madness at the Villa." He quoted Sinatra and his buddies (or perhaps their publicist) as saying: "We've never seen anything like it anywhere — Vegas, New York, Paris, you name it."

Indeed, the Villa Venice had been tricked out in a style imported from Las Vegas. Giancana reportedly spent upward of $250,000 to restore it and its canals plied by gondolas. The showroom seated 800, was furnished with satin ceilings, tapestries, and statuesque, lightly clothed showgirls. Nearby was the ultimate accouterment of a Vegas-like operation: a gambling casino in a Quonset hut a few blocks from the Villa. High rollers were whisked between the supper club and the dice and roulette tables in a shuttle supervised by Sam "Slick" Rosa, identified by the Trib as "the syndicate's chief of limousine service," and his assistant, Joseph "Joe Yak" Yacullo.

The Tribune reported that among the mobsters on hand for Sinatra's opening night were Willie "Potatoes" Daddano, Marshall Caifano, Jimmy "The Monk" Allegretti and Felix "Milwaukee Phil" Alderisio. It was noted that "Sinatra's gangland fans from other cities appeared too." For a week, the Rat Pack's presence turned Milwaukee Avenue at the Des Plaines River into the hottest address in show biz.

Shortly before the Sinatra show closed, the casino shut down under belated pressure from law enforcement authorities who told the Tribune that the gambling operation had grossed $200,000 in two weeks. That threw a monkey wrench into Giancana's business plan, which depended on recouping his investment by attracting gamblers with a parade of big-name acts. But how could he hope to book stars like Sinatra and his buddies into a scarcely known venue in the hinterlands of Chicago? What kind of money did he dangle in front of them? Wondering if there might have been a nonmonetary enticement, the FBI interviewed the Rat Pack during their engagement. Perhaps the feds took a clue from Dean Martin's rewording of the old standard "The Lady is a Tramp":

I love Chicago, it's carefree and gay

I'd even work here without any pay.

According to James Kaplan, author of the recently published "Sinatra: The Chairman," the question was put to Davis. "I got one eye, and that one eye sees a lot of things that my brain tells me I shouldn't talk about," Davis told the agents. "Because my brain says that, if I do, my one eye might not be seeing anything after a while."

Kaplan's verdict was that it was unclear whether the Rat Pack got paid. As a favor to Giancana, Sinatra had previously persuaded a reluctant Eddie Fisher to play the Villa Venice, reportedly for chicken feed. Sinatra owed Giancana for lending his muscle in the critical state of West Virginia when John F. Kennedy ran for president in 1960, according to Giancana's daughter Antoinette's memoir "Mafia Princess: Growing Up in Sam Giancana's Family."

Still, the Rat Pack's Villa Venice appearances were wildly successful, as the Tribune's Lyon reported: "It is now estimated that the total Villa loot for the seven-day Sinatra-Martin-Davis run will hit $275,000 to $300,000, a new night club record." But Dinah Shore, the next scheduled performer, canceled at the last minute, and Sheilah Graham, a nationally syndicated columnist, wrote: "I've been told that Sinatra picked up the hotel tab for his group, to the tune of $5,000. The whole business sounds somewhat odd."

In fact, the Villa Venice never again hosted big-name stars, operating thereafter as a catering hall, with a new management taking over in 1965. Two years later, it was destroyed by a spectacular, if mysterious, fire. The spot is now a Hilton hotel.

Giancana was gunned down in his Oak Park home in 1975.

To the end of Sinatra's days, he sang the Windy City's praises. But fellow Rat Packer Peter Lawford reportedly said the song was an encomium not to the city but to Giancana, calling the song "his tribute to Sam, an awful guy with a gargoyle face and weasel nose."

Either way, "Chicago" was Sinatra's theme song:

I saw a man and he danced with his wife in Chicago

Chicago, Chicago that's my hometown.

Thanks to Ron Grossman.

Wednesday, December 09, 2015

The Manchurian Candidate Original Movie Poster, Linen Backed, - 1962

The Manchurian Candidate Original Movie Poster, Linen Backed - 1962.

Vintage movie posters were normally printed in very limited quantities, often making them hard to find. The posters were not meant to be saved. After their initial use to promote the movie, they were supposed to be returned to the studio or destroyed. Almost all old posters before the mid-1980s were issued folded from the back to minimize fold lines. Folds are not considered defects. Accompanied with a certificate of authenticity from Brigandi Coin & Collectibles of New York City, a leader in collectibles since 1959.

Wednesday, December 02, 2015

Sinatra: The Chairman

Just in time for the Chairman’s centennial, the endlessly absorbing sequel to James Kaplan’s bestselling Frank: The Voice—finally the definitive biography that Frank Sinatra, justly termed “The Entertainer of the Century,” deserves and requires. Like Peter Guralnick on Elvis, Kaplan goes behind the legend to give us the man in full, in his many guises and aspects: peerless singer, (sometimes) powerful actor, business mogul, tireless lover, and associate of the powerful and infamous.

In 2010’s Frank: The Voice, James Kaplan, in rich, distinctive, compulsively readable prose, told the story of Frank Sinatra’s meteoric rise to fame, subsequent failures, and reinvention as a star of live performance and screen. The story of “Ol’ Blue Eyes” continues with Sinatra: The Chairman, picking up the day after Frank claimed his Academy Award in 1954 and had reestablished himself as the top recording artist in music. Frank’s life post-Oscar was incredibly dense: in between recording albums and singles, he often shot four or five movies a year; did TV show and nightclub appearances; started his own label, Reprise; and juggled his considerable commercial ventures (movie production, the restaurant business, even prizefighter management) alongside his famous and sometimes notorious social activities and commitments.

Thursday, July 02, 2015

US Attorney General and the Director of the FBI Battle over the Mob

In Washington, turf warfare can be blood sport. Colin Powell versus Dick Cheney in the W years. Nancy Reagan versus Don Regan in the 1980s. Henry Kissinger versus everyone in the Nixon and Ford days. But eclipsing these power feuds is the titanic clash between Robert Kennedy and J. Edgar Hoover. This grudge match entailed much more than personality or policy. It was, in a way, a fight over the meaning of justice in America.

In “Bobby and J. Edgar: The Historic Face-Off Between the Kennedys and J. Edgar Hoover That Transformed America,” Burton Hersh, a journalist and historian, chronicles a struggle that began years before Bobby Kennedy became attorney general in his brother’s administration and — in nominal terms — Hoover’s superior. The story is familiar. While Jack Kennedy thrived in the 1950s as a sex-crazed, drug-dependent, ailment-ridden party-boy politician, Bobby, the family’s complicated sourpuss, hooked up with the redbaiting Joe McCarthy, then spun off as a crusading and corners-cutting scourge of labor corruption. He pursued mobsters and was obsessed with Jimmy Hoffa. But there was a problem. Bobby’s father had built a fortune the old-fashioned way — by hook and by crook. As a banker and bootlegger, Joseph Kennedy had nuzzled with the not-so-good fellas Bobby wanted to hammer.

There was another problem as well. Hoover, the entrenched F.B.I. chieftain and pal of McCarthy, was not so keen on catching mobsters. He even denied the existence of organized crime and kept his agents far from its tracks, partly because, Hersh contends, Hoover knew too well that the mob had infiltrated the worlds of politics and business. Hunting the thugs could have placed Hoover and the F.B.I. on a collision course with the powerful. Communists were easier prey. So when Jack became president and appointed his ferocious brother attorney general, combat was unavoidable.

As Hersh describes it, this duel of leaks, blackmail and power plays occurred against the backdrop of Kennedy excess and pathos. The stakes were higher than the individual fortunes of Hoover and Bobby Kennedy. America was racked with crisis: the civil rights movement was challenging the nation’s conscience, a war was growing in Vietnam and an arms race was threatening nuclear war. Bobby may have had presidential prerogative on his side, but Hoover could wield files full of allegations about Jack and others. How this pas de deux played out helped define the nation at this transformational moment.

It was quite a story, with a supporting cast that was A-list — Martin Luther King Jr., Frank Sinatra, Marilyn Monroe, Sam Giancana, Gloria Swanson, Lyndon Johnson, Roy Cohn — history as a Don DeLillo novel. But sad to say, Hersh, who years ago wrote a much-regarded book on the origins of the C.I.A., fails his material.

Bobby and J. Edgar: The Historic Face-Off Between the Kennedys and J. Edgar Hoover That Transformed America” is little more than a recycling of previously published books. Hersh lists 54 people he interviewed, but about a quarter of them are authors and journalists who have tilled the overworked Kennedy field. The rest offer little that is new. Worse, Hersh appears to regard all sources as equal. If an assertion, particularly a sleazy one, has ever appeared in a book, that’s apparently good enough for him. Some eye-popping tales of Kennedy sex and corruption have indeed been confirmed by reputable authors. (Yes, Jack shared a mistress with Sinatra and the mob man Giancana. Yes, Bobby bent to Hoover’s request to wiretap King.) But mounds of Kennedy garbage have also been peddled over the years, and Hersh does not distinguish between the proven and the alleged (or the discredited). Did Bobby really tag along on drug busts in the 1950s and engage in sex with apprehended hookers? Well, one book said he did. Covering the death of Marilyn Monroe, Hersh maintains that she and Bobby were lovers and that the Mafia had Monroe killed hours after Bobby was in her company in order to frame him. For this, Hersh relies on two unreliable books, one written by Giancana’s brother and nephew, the other by a deceased Los Angeles private investigator. Monroe’s death remains an official suicide, and as Evan Thomas notes in his biography of Bobby, “all that is certain” regarding his interactions with Monroe is that he “saw her on four occasions, probably never alone.” But it’s when the book reaches Nov. 22, 1963, that it truly jumps the rails. The assassination of John Kennedy is the black hole of contemporary American history, and Hersh doesn’t escape its pull. He repeats the well-worn claims of the it-wasn’t-just-Oswald partisans and brings nothing fresh to the autopsy table. Citing one book of uncertain credibility, he claims former President Gerald Ford publicly confessed he had covered up F.B.I. and C.I.A. evidence indicating that Kennedy “had been caught in a crossfire in Dallas” and that two Mafia notables “had orchestrated the assassination plot.” An Internet search I conducted turned up no confirmation of such a momentous confession.

Hersh fares better when it comes to the bigger picture. Hoover and Kennedy, he notes, possessed profoundly contrasting views of midcentury America. For Hoover, Hersh writes, “America amounted to a kind of Christian-pageant fantasy of the System” that was threatened by “Commies and beatniks and race-mixers ... hell-bent to eradicate this utopia.” Kennedy saw “gangsters” undermining unions, corporate America and, yes, even politics. Here was the nub of their quarrel: subversion versus corruption. Though Hersh goes soft on Hoover toward the end, his book renders a clear judgment: Bobby Kennedy was closer to the mark than his rival. That he did not live long enough to better Hoover and, more important, prove the point compounds the tragedy of his sad death.

Thanks to David Corn

Frank Sinatra: The Man, the Music, the Legend

Frank Sinatra, the greatest vocalist in the history of American music, elevated popular song to an art. He was a dominant power in the entertainment industries -- radio, records, movies, gambling -- and a symbol of the Mafia's reach into American public life. More profoundly than any figure excepting perhaps Elvis Presley, Sinatra changed the style and popular culture of the American Century.

Frank Sinatra: The Man, the Music, the Legend, a long-awaited collection of essays gathered from a famed 1998 conference at Hofstra University and edited by Jeanne Fuchs and Ruth Prigozy, probes various aspects of Sinatra's influence in his long career (he was a national figure from 1939 until his death, in 1998). But it insists, both explicitly and in its editors' selection of subjects and themes, that the "proper historical setting" for its subject "is the fifties."

Although that point can be debated, the 1950s -- more precisely, the period from 1953 to the mid-1960s -- was clearly the era of Sinatra's supreme artistic achievement and deepest cultural sway. It amounted to the most spectacular second act in American cultural history. In the early 1940s, following his break with the Tommy Dorsey band, Sinatra had emerged, thanks largely to swooning bobby-soxers, as pop music's biggest star and a hugely popular Hollywood actor. By the end of the decade, he was all but washed up, having lost his audience owing to shifting musical tastes and to disenchantment over his reported ties to the Mob, and over his divorce, which followed a widely publicized affair with Ava Gardner, whom he married in 1951. He soon lost his voice (he would never fully recover his consistently accurate intonation and precise pitch), his movie contract with MGM, his record contract with Columbia, and Gardner -- their passionate, mutually corrosive entanglement plainly and permanently warped him. But in 1953, his harrowing, Oscar-winning performance as the feisty, doomed Maggio in From Here to Eternity made him a star again.

More important, in that year he also signed with the trendsetting, L.A.-based Capitol Records, a move that afforded him his greatest role: his own musical and stylistic reinvention. The 16 concept albums that followed, his most remarkable achievement and among America's enduring cultural treasures, defied public taste and redirected it toward what would be known as the Great American Songbook. With his key collaborator, the arranger Nelson Riddle, Sinatra jettisoned the yearning, sweet-voiced crooning of his Columbia years in favor of a richer voice, greater rhythmic invention, and more knowing and conversational phrasing. He had always said that Billie Holiday was his most profound musical influence, and at Capitol, accompanied by Harry Edison, the former trumpeter for Count Basie, he was even more deeply open to jazz influence, as he invested up-tempo songs (which he had rarely performed at Columbia) with a tough, assured swing. For their part, jazz musicians overwhelmingly selected him "the greatest-ever male vocalist" in a 1956 poll, and Lester Young and Miles Davis -- never partial to white musicians -- ardently praised him.

And now, apparently because of his tortured relationship with Gardner, Sinatra burned off all remaining affectations and sentimentality and sang his ballads with bitterness, directness, and masculine vulnerability ("Ava taught him how to sing a torch song," Riddle said). A midcentury artist with an admitted "overacute capacity for sadness as well as elation," Sinatra invested those largely decades-old ballads with a modern anxiety and ambivalence. In his album sequences and in such swinging songs as "Night and Day," "Day In, Day Out," "Old Devil Moon," and especially his greatest recording, the 1956 "I've Got You Under My Skin," he juxtaposed bravado and panic, ecstasy and uncertainty.

With this new sensibility, which Pete Hamill has aptly termed the "Tender Tough Guy," Sinatra created -- as several of the pieces in this collection illuminate -- the most important model of masculinity for a generation of Americans. He had transformed his persona from that of a skinny, boyish, even androgynous heartthrob with Brylcreemed curls, too-big jackets, sailor suits (!), and floppy bow ties into that of a suave man of authority and sensitivity in crisp, slim-line suits. He appealed not to teenage girls but to their mothers and fathers. The jazz critic Gary Giddins, one of the most astute writers on the singer, summed up the transformed Sinatra: "Above all, he was adult. He sang to adults."

In so doing, Sinatra held at bay the cultural changes that had helped bring about his earlier downfall. He came of age musically in a peculiar period: the only era in which jazz, as played by the big bands, was the most popular musical form. Since the 1940s, he had been recognized as the leader of a movement to establish the music of such composers as Cole Porter, Irving Berlin, Rodgers and Hart, and Jerome Kern as an art form, but postwar audiences turned away from Sinatra primarily because they no longer wanted to hear the music he wanted to sing. Ironically, his decision to embark on a solo musical career hastened the demise of the big bands and unmoored a mass audience from sophisticated popular music. While urbane songs would have appealed to audiences who danced to Benny Goodman and Artie Shaw, until Sinatra altered popular taste, the postwar soloists -- even such savvy chanteuses as Peggy Lee and Rosemary Clooney -- made their fortunes and kept their contracts by recording novelty songs. Sinatra saw this firsthand, when Columbia enjoined him to record the godawful "Mama Will Bark," with the busty comedienne Dagmar (it's as bad as you imagine -- complete with simulated barking).

On his hugely popular and artistically glorious Capitol albums, Sinatra expanded and enlivened the repertory of standard American songs (astonishingly, before his recording of it, "I've Got You Under My Skin" hadn't been a significant entry in the Porter catalog) and became its most commanding interpreter. With his clear, relaxed enunciation and sublime phrasing, he also codified the sound and rhythm of casually elegant spoken American English. The seamlessness, ingenuity, and rightness of that phrasing is readily apparent when you try to sing along with him and still can't foretell his stresses and caesuras in a recording you may have heard a hundred times. (David Finck and Samuel L. Chell dissect Sinatra's vocal artistry in two succinct and exceptionally precise pieces in this collection.)

Nonetheless, Sinatra's musical achievement -- which constituted perhaps the last sustained occasion when elite and mass musical taste would coalesce -- was really only a prolonged holding action made possible by his preternatural talent and charisma. As Will Friedwald, the most thorough analyst of Sinatra's musicianship, wrote, Sinatra was, for all his popular appeal, "completely out of touch with American culture as it evolved from [the late 1940s] onwards." Friedwald -- no surprise -- excoriates popular culture, not Sinatra, for this. But whether or not you agree, the fact that, as Giddins points out, Sinatra's artistic maturity coincided with the peak of Elvis's appeal shows the extent to which Sinatra's imperishable accomplishment was a cultural outlier. And though Sinatra's second act clearly represented the justifiably bemoaned final triumph of grown-up pop-cultural taste, Sinatra himself helped hasten the inevitable triumph of youth culture. His musical persona may have been "adult," but he insisted on merging that with his public face, which was too often anything but. You could hardly blame the kids for rejecting him.

To be sure, Sinatra, an exquisitely complicated man, was doggedly committed to racial equality long before it was a fashionable cause. He was also a consistently generous artist and capable of astonishing grace and thoughtfulness. But -- aside from consorting with killers; procuring for the doped-up, mobbed-up, and coarsely exploitative JFK (if anything, Camelot sullied Sinatra, not the other way around); and regularly displaying a potentially murderous temper -- he perversely made sure that his ardent listeners grasped that his juvenile, vulgar, and increasingly pathetic Rat Pack antics couldn't be reconciled with his carefully wrought musical reinvention. This was made clear on his 1966 album Sinatra at the Sands, which contains both his lovely and swinging renditions of "Angel Eyes" and "Luck Be a Lady," accompanied by the Count Basie Orchestra, and his notoriously cringe-inducing monologue that combined yucky corniness and mean-spiritedness. If this was mature urbanity, who needed it?

Sinatra gave Sammy Davis Jr. his career, and his fiercely loyal, public embrace of Davis, often in the teeth of bigotry, was principled and heroic. But in their Rat Pack shows, he made Davis the butt of race-oriented jokes, and Davis knew a Sinatra both vindictive and considerate, both scummy and courtly. Photo by Sammy Davis, Jr. assembles beautiful and revealing snaps that this gifted amateur took in the 1950s and '60s of the Hollywood elite at play (including a sad and sweet image of a little-black-dressed Marilyn tucking a small boy into bed as a late-night party hums in the other room), of Vegas showgirls, of politicians and mobsters, of Martin Luther King Jr. And of course there is Sinatra, in all his dangerous glamour -- joshing with Shirley MacLaine and the rest of his band of nocturnal carousers, brooding, on the phone in sharply tailored pajamas (no doubt after sleeping through a good chunk of the day). Speaking of that glamour, Davis said, "Only two guys are left who are not the boy next door: Cary Grant and Frank Sinatra."

Thanks to Benjamin Schwarz

Havana Nocturne: How the Mob Owned Cuba ... And Then Lost It to the Revolution

Cuban writer Jose Lezama Lima's description of Havana - "an unnameable feast" - fits the city's last great era like the flawless suits from Pepe Sastre fit the best-dressed mobsters of the glittering casino years.

Here was a posh gambling scene not glimpsed outside James Bond flicks, with hot dance music, seductive showgirls, fast cars, naughty pleasures and, if you cared to look, serious culture, all set in a beautiful city some called "the Paris of the Caribbean." But, as we know, all was not well. Even as revelers rumbaed in the nightclubs an escalating syndrome of rebellion and repression bloodied the streets, triggered by an illegitimate government's corrupt relationship with ruthless gangsters from "el norte." A firebrand politico put on fatigues, set himself and his guerrilla fighters in the mountains at the opposite end of Havana, and that unnameable feast headed for a hangover that would last at least half a century.

T. J. English's engaging book "Havana Nocturne: How the Mob Owned Cuba and Then Lost It to the Revolution" about the era covers the same ground as such novels as Mayra Montero's masterful "Dancing to Almendra" and Ace Atkins' intriguing "White Shadow," as well as films by Francis Ford Coppola, Sidney Pollack and Andy Garcia. A scene that bad was just too good to pass up. But English's brand of narrative is history, and he aims to set the record straight, even pointing out artistic liberties taken in "Godfather II."

Meyer Lansky, for example, was not the venerable old man of the underworld portrayed in the movie but frisky enough to carry a serious and atypical romance with a Cuban woman (an important aspect of Montero's novel). Still, Coppola was on point: gangsters from the United States set up business in Havana in cahoots with Cuban strongman Fulgencio Batista.

These mobsters were protected from U.S. law enforcement in Havana, but, even so, a cautious Lansky never appeared on the casinos' books as anything other than a minor administrator. And it was in Havana that U.S. organized crime got organized, English explains, becoming a de facto government in what was meant to be the first stage of a serious international empire. But in its nationalistic zeal, the Cuban revolution wrecked the mob's plans, as casinos, associated with government corruption, were first ransacked and finally closed down. The gangsters never recovered.

What English calls "the Havana mob" was composed, at different stages, of such gangsters as Santo Trafficante, the dapper Tampa kingpin whose experience with Spanish and Cuban culture in his native city gave him an insight his colleagues lacked. The mob also involved key figures in Batista's government, including the putative president himself.

A parade of characters moves through "Havana Nocturne": George Raft, who came down as a casino "greeter," acting out in real life the mobster roles he made famous on film; Frank Sinatra, already a mob favorite; Marlon Brando, a party animal loose in the greatest party city; John F. Kennedy, indulging his taste for orgiastic sex courtesy of his unsavory friends; Nat King Cole, Eartha Kitt and other top black entertainers. Also striking is the story of the lesser-known but fondly remembered showgirl who, in a strike of promotional genius, publicized her upcoming performance by parading through Havana in a transparent raincoat and little else.

English makes clever use of period pop-culture highlights, such as "La Enganadora" (The Deceiver), a hit song about a curvaceous woman who drove the street guys wild until people learned her form was nothing but cleverly placed padding. "I am not La Enganadora," the raincoat beauty told the authorities when they stopped her, claiming truth in advertising trumped indecent exposure.

"Havana Nocturne: How the Mob Owned Cuba and Then Lost It to the Revolution" is thoroughly researched. English's list of sources is impressive, and each chapter is as heavily footnoted as a doctoral thesis. Fortunately, the book doesn't read like one. English, the author of "Paddy Whacked" and "The Westies" and a college professor of organized crime (!), keeps the motor running on his narrative, in one case acknowledging an early nickname for the mixed-blood Batista, "el mulato lindo" (the pretty mulatto), and then using it instead of his name at different points to flavor the story.

Describing Raft's role in the Havana mob, English uses the phrase "gangster chic." Although there is plenty of ugly violence in the book, those words characterize the era's continuing appeal. Bad things ended with the downfall of the mob. But tropical architecture, the glamour of the Caribbean's most sophisticated city and bespoke tailoring would never be the same.

Thanks to Enrique Fernandez

"The Go-Between: A Novel of the Kennedy Years" by Frederick Turner

It is important that the reader recognize this is presented as a work of fiction, although there will always be a tremendous and probably natural temptation to treat all the details it presents as historical fact, for they certainly ring true.

The author's method is an exceedingly verbose and sometimes even tedious monolog. In sympathetic fashion he tells the story of the young woman who became notorious as the mistress of not only handsome young President John F. Kennedy and singer Frank Sinatra but also, significantly, of Chicago mob boss Sam Giancanna. Sinatra and other entertainers owed considerable loyalty to Giancanna, who was also was carrying on an affair with popular singer Phyllis McGuire.

Judith Campbell Exner also is remembered as the woman who, innocently or otherwise, served as the courier between the newly elected Kennedy in Washington and the mobster in Chicago. JFK and his brother, Robert - his attorney general - thought Giancanna could help dispose of the threat to national security posed by the revolutionary Fidel Castro in Cuba.

By the time Exner - who was a household name in the early '60s - died of breast cancer in 1999, she had long vanished from the nation's headlines. She's remembered as a woman who knowingly and willingly had a sexual relationship with a married president - a glamorous president at that. Hers was a shadowy presence at Camelot, although when that era is remembered the dominant female figure is always Jackie Kennedy, barely present in this novel.

If this fictional account is to be believed, Exner's liaison with JFK and her courier role preceded and contributed to his election. There has long been speculation that the vote results in Illinois and West Virginia, results that helped Kennedy win the Democratic primaries in those states and ultimately propelled him into the Oval Office in 1960, may have been "arranged" by the Chicago mob.

Giancanna and his goons were enlisted (if this novel is to be believed, the transaction was carried out in a Chicago courtroom) on the candidate's behalf by his father, former ambassador Joseph Kennedy, a notorious wheeler-dealer with heavy political ambitions for Jack. His first hope had been that an older son, Joseph, would become president; Joe, however, died in a World War II airplane crash in England.

The author's approach is deceptively simple and effective (despite his verbosity and his excessive use of the first person singular): He imagines he is a down-on-his luck newspaper hack who accidentally gains access to Exner's diaries. As he pores over them, he tells his readers, as if he's talking across a dinner table, what he thinks her sometimes cryptic entries in those diaries must have meant. The result is a narrative that will appeal to readers who have an interest in national politics and in particular the Kennedy administration.

Thanks to Al Hutchison

Barbara Sinatra's "Lady Blue Eyes: My Life With Frank"

Barbara Sinatra was her famous husband's fourth wife. Also his last. He died in her arms in 1998. They had been married 22 years.

It wasn't always pretty, although she says she was the "luckiest woman in the world" to be his wife.

Sinatra's widow, is telling what it was like living with Ol' Blue Eyes in her aptly titled memoir Lady Blue Eyes: My Life with Frank.

If you're interested in celebrity marriages, this memoir is the predictable dip into such shallow waters. If you're not, you can at least pass the time counting the names dropped. There are thousands.

Model, Vegas showgirl, wife of Zeppo Marx, Barbara had been out and about before she met Sinatra. He quickly won her over, but their long-term affair before their marriage did not please Sinatra's feisty mother, Dolly, who asked him, "Aren't there enough whores around?"

He was attentive, polite, but best of all he had a good eye "for stone," she writes. Meaning he could pick out amazing jewelry, including a famous Cartier necklace. And then there were the flights to Paris for dinner, the expensive cars, the suites in world-class hotels around the world. She calls it all "some candy jar."

There was a price to pay for all this, however. Sinatra could be a bully, screaming at Washington Post society columnist Maxine Cheshire and pushing a man into a phone booth, punching him before sliding the door shut.

She admits he was "definitely a Jekyll and Hyde" personality, recounting numerous evenings when he was overdrinking with his buddies, making scenes from New York to Hong Kong, ripping phones from the wall and throwing them into windows.

He also wasn't the most romantic. She had to accept that fact when a prenup was delivered to her on the morning of their wedding. She signed it.

Did he ever cheat? All she'll say is that she took Palm Springs neighbor Lee Annenberg's advice: Look the other way.

As for his connections to the Mob, she only says he got frustrated with the press for always alleging it. The press was not his favorite.

If you're a Sinatra fan, you'll learn he loved grilled cheese sandwiches, unfiltered Camels and Jack Daniels, but hated women who wore too much perfume. He also hated women who couldn't hold their liquor.

Barbara Sinatra could.

Thanks to Craig Wilson

Sinatra and Me: The Very Good Years

Pulitzer Prize-nominated author Franz Douskey released a book, "Sinatra and Me: The Very Good Years" (Tantor Media).

Walter Winchell, a popular and influential 20th century newspaper and radio commentator, once wrote: "The closest person to Frank Sinatra is Tony Consiglio." Tony’s full account of his relationship with the iconic crooner has never been revealed – until now. "Sinatra and Me: The Very Good Years" is based on dozens of hours of interviews over the span of eight years, concluding with Tony’s death in 2008.

"Sinatra and Me: The Very Good Years," which features dozens of never-before-published photos of Sinatra and Consiglio, and details a period of time that spans from the 1930’s into the 1970’s. It takes an up-close and personal look into the exciting world of one of America’s greatest icons.

Douskey’s work has appeared in nearly 200 publications, including: Rolling Stone, The Nation, The New Yorker, New York Quarterly, Las Vegas Life, and the Minnesota Review. His fourth book, West of Midnight: New and Selected Poems, reached number 24 on the Amazon Best-Sellers list in 2011 and was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize. Douskey, who taught creative writing at Yale University for five summers, served as president of IMPAC University, in Punta Gorda, FL. Douskey resides in Hamden, Connecticut.

The Crazy Story Of Frank Sinatra Playing A Club For A Week Straight Because Sam Giancana Was Mad At JFK

The Mafia detested the administration of John F. Kennedy as Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy raised the number of mob convictions from 35 in 1960 to 288 in 1963. But there may be a much deeper connection between the Kennedys and the mob, and legendary entertainer Frank Sinatra reportedly served as a key intermediary and whipping boy in one case.

According to "The Dark Side of Camelot" by Seymour Hersh, Joseph P. Kennedy, Sr. (JFK's father) set up a meeting with Chicago mob boss Sam Giancana to obtain Giancana's support for Jack Kennedy's run for the White House — thereby combining the sway of Chicago crime syndicate with that of Mayor Richard J. Daley's Democratic machine.

Hersh also reported, along with others, that Giancana also helped funnel cash to buy votes and endorsements for the West Virginia Democratic primary election in May 1960.

The book "The Kennedy Half-Century: The Presidency, Assassination, and Lasting Legacy of John F. Kennedy" by University of Virginia professor Larry Sabato highlights the connection by citing the story that Joseph Kennedy asked for Giancana's help over a dispute with another mobster, Frank Costello, and offered "the president's ear" in return.

Sabato also writes that "when JFK began having an affair with a black-haired beauty named Judith Campbell while he was still a U.S. senator, Giancana slept with her as well, reportedly so that he would eventually have a direct link to the White House."

It turns out, according to Sabato, that Sinatra introduced Senator Kennedy to Judy Campbell and also "served as the go-between for the West Virginia primary shenanigans."

After JFK reached the White House, however, the mob boss was not welcome near the president's ear. And Sinatra was the one that ultimately paid for it.

From "The Kennedy Half-Century":

When the Kennedys turned on Giancana once they were in the White House, Sinatra had to work hard to deflect the mobster's wrath at Sinatra on account of the Kennedys' unfaithfulness. In atonement, the singer played at Giancana's club, the Villa Venice, with his "Rat Pack" of fellow entertainers, for eight nights in a row.

Sabato notes that "Sinatra worked his way back into Giancana's good graces, but the Kennedys never did."

Thanks to Michael Kelly.

Johnny Carson - A revealing and incisive account of the King of Late Night at the height of his fame and power, by his lawyer, wingman, fixer, and closest confidant

From 1962 until 1992, Johnny Carson hosted The Tonight Show and permeated the American consciousness. In the ’70s and ’80s he was the country’s highest-paid entertainer and its most enigmatic. He was notoriously inscrutable, as mercurial (and sometimes cruel) off-camera as he was charming and hilarious onstage. During the apex of his reign, Carson’s longtime lawyer and best friend was Henry Bushkin, who now shows us Johnny Carson with a breathtaking clarity and depth that nobody else could.

From the moment in 1970 when Carson hired Bushkin (who was just twenty-seven) until the moment eighteen years later when they parted ways, the author witnessed and often took part in a string of escapades that still retain their power to surprise and fascinate us. One of Bushkin’s first assignments was helping Carson break into a posh Manhattan apartment to gather evidence of his wife’s infidelity. More than once, Bushkin helped his client avoid entanglements with the mob. Of course, Carson’s adventures weren’t all so sordid. He hosted Ronald Reagan’s inaugural concert as a favor to the new president, and he prevented a drunken Dean Martin from appearing onstage that evening. Carson socialized with Frank Sinatra, Jack Lemmon, Jimmy Stewart, Kirk Douglas, and dozens of other boldface names who populate this atmospheric and propulsive chronicle of the King of Late Night and his world.

But this memoir isn’t just dishy. It is a tautly rendered and remarkably nuanced portrait of Carson, revealing not only how he truly was, but why. Bushkin explains why Carson, a voracious (and very talented) womanizer, felt he always had to be married; why he loathed small talk even as he excelled at it; why he couldn’t visit his son in the hospital and wouldn’t attend his mother’s funeral; and much more. Bushkin’s account is by turns shocking, poignant, and uproarious — written with a novelist’s eye for detail, a screenwriter’s ear for dialogue, and a knack for comic timing that Carson himself would relish. Johnny Carson unveils not only the hidden Carson, but also the raucous, star-studded world he ruled.

"Sinatra with Love" #SignatureSinatra Collection Features Timeless Love Songs From His Capitol And Reprise Records Repertoire

Universal Music Enterprises (UMe) has released Sinatra, With Love, a 16-track collection of Sinatra’s romantic classics from his Capitol and Reprise catalogs. This is Universal’s second release under the newly launched “Signature Sinatra” imprint, a deal uniting Sinatra's classic Capitol and signature Reprise recordings.

Sinatra, With Love features timeless ballads and swingin' standards including Cole Porter classics “From This Moment On,” “I Love You,” and “Just One Of Those Things” . “Ol’ Blue Eyes” continues to keep the romance flowing as he puts his signature touch on the Gershwin classic “Love Is Here To Stay,” as well as “It Could Happen To You,” “Nice ‘N’ Easy,” “The Look Of Love,” “Moonlight Becomes You,” “(Love Is) A Tender Trap,” and “The Way You Look Tonight,” all arranged by the legendary Nelson Riddle. Also featured are treasured renditions of “My Foolish Heart,” “It Had To Be You (featured in When Harry Met Sally),” the Johnny Mercer- penned “Something’s Gotta Give,” with an arrangement by Billy May, and “Wave,” written by Sinatra’s long-time collaborator Antonio Carlos Jobim.

Frank Sinatra began the golden age in which American popular music became a universal language and this extraordinary creative genius is its most articulate spokesman worldwide. Throughout his 60-year career, "Ol' Blue Eyes" performed on more than 1,400 recordings, was awarded 31 gold, nine platinum, three double-platinum and one triple platinum album by the Recording Industry Association of America.  He was also awarded Lifetime Achievement Awards from the Grammys, The Screen Actors Guild, The Kennedy Center and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), as well as the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Congressional Gold Medal. His contribution to our life and times extends far beyond his music, to embrace an exuberance, a zest for life, a sense of style and a glorious self-confidence that define, for all time, what it meant to be young at heart and have the world on a string. His spirit and vision continue to be defined by the wisdom and insight from the legacy of work he left behind.

Only Daughter of Meyer Lansky, Writes Tell-All-Memoir "Daughter of the King: Growing Up in Gangland"

In this tell-all memoir, the only daughter of the man who was considered the "brains of the Mob" opens the door on her glamorous—and tragic—life. Sandi Lansky Lombardo, daughter of Mob boss Meyer Lansky, was raised in New York City in upper-class Jewish splendor and spent her childhood in the undeniable glitz of Havana and Las Vegas in Lansky's heyday in the 1940s, '50s, and '60s. She dined out with her father and his associates when she was six and was introduced to Frank Sinatra when she was eleven. She knew Bugsy Siegel and Uncle Lucky Luciano and met Howard Hughes and Joseph Kennedy. She was the Paris Hilton of her day: partying until dawn at El Morocco and the Stork Club, married at sixteen, romanced by Dean Martin at nineteen. She was pampered and protected, but her life was also full of tragedy: her mother was mentally ill and her eldest brother severely handicapped, and Mob violence repeatedly invaded the world of their friends and family.

Daughter of the King: Growing Up in Gangland, Sandi recounts for the first time the grandeur—and heartbreak—of her life as the daughter of one of the most powerful mobsters in America. Sandi takes listeners back in time to tell the story of her life—one lived in a glamorous but troubled world where nothing ever turned out to be quite as it seemed.

Wednesday, July 01, 2015

The Mob Mentality that Tried to Shut Down the Filming of The Godfather

Death threats, shootings, strikes and bomb-scares ... John Patterson explains how - and why - the mafia tried to shut down the filming of The Godfather

On June 28, 1971, Francis Ford Coppola was putting certain finishing touches to his costly, controversial adaptation of Mario Puzo's million-seller The Godfather.

That day Coppola was shooting parts of the film's famous climactic massacre, in which Michael Corleone takes power of the New York mob by executing his rivals in a blizzard of machine gun-fire and Eisensteinian cross-cutting.

As Joe Spinell, playing one of Michael's button-men, pumped six slugs into a fictional New York mob boss trapped in a midtown hotel's revolving door, a for-real, blood-on-his-hands New York mob boss called Joe Colombo Sr, was being gunned down at an Italian-American rally in Columbus Circle, not four blocks away from Coppola's location.

The hit was the opening salvo in a vicious gang war declared by a newly released mafia upstart and criminal visionary named Joey Gallo. But it was the end of the strange connection between Colombo (who lingered in a coma until his death in 1978) and The Godfather, a movie that couldn't have been made without Colombo's say-so.

As detailed in C4's documentary The Godfather And The Mob (which borrows heavily from Harlan Lebo's The Godfather Legacy), Colombo had insinuated himself between the producer of The Godfather, Al Ruddy, and his own home turf of Little Italy, promising that the mob would take tribute from the movie, or not a frame of celluloid would be shot. Knowing that the movie would lose all its authenticity if shot on studio backlots, Ruddy had no option but to acquiesce, and once the media got hold of the story - a sit-down, handshake deal with the devil - they flayed him with it for months.

All this was, of course, great grist for the movie's publicity mill, and some commentators like Carlos Clarens, in his landmark 1980 study Crime Movies, recalled certain time-tested publicity-agent gambits: "the filmed-under-threat routine had worked wonders back in the days of Doorway To Hell (1930: Jimmy Cagney's second movie)." If nothing else, Lebo's book and The Godfather And The Mob prove beyond a doubt that none of this strange tale was concocted by press agents.

The details are toothsome and delectable. The Godfather was written by Puzo, an Italian-American who grew up in Hell's Kitchen but who had never met a bona-fide mafiosi. Puzo learned his mob folklore mainly from croupiers in the golden age, 1960s Las Vegas of Moe Dalitz and the Rat Pack. That didn't prevent him from achieving such an impressive degree of authenticity that by the time the movie was a runaway hit, many real-life mafiosi had begun comporting themselves according to the rituals solemnised by Puzo and Coppola - the cheek-to-cheek kisses, the quasi-papal pledging of fealty to the Godfather's ring.

The total-immersion experience of the movie - achieved by the goldfish-bowl effect of keeping the audience emotionally intimate only with mobsters, by the subterranean browns and golds of its colour scheme, and by its period, ethnic and socioanthropological authenticity - traps us in 1945, and even now it is hard to imagine that a block away from the border of the set, it was 1971 and the real New York mob was undergoing the same upheavals as everyone else in those Martian times. Although The Godfather And The Mob hints at much of this, it has no real grasp of the richness and complexity of this period in mafia history.

Colombo was the head of what had earlier been the Profaci crime family, which he had inherited in the mid-1960s only because Joey Gallo was in prison for 10 years.

In Goodfellas' famous circularshot of teenage Henry Hill's "introduction to the world" in 1955, Hill's narration says, "It was a glorious time, before Appalachin and before Crazy Joe started a war with his boss ..." Appalachin referred to a famous FBI raid of the upstate New York estate of a leading crime boss in 1957. A mob summit was taking place and agents chased dozens of top mafiosi through the snow as they dumped guns, jewels and thousands of dollars in cash (the incident is alluded to in the final episode of season five of The Sopranos, as Tony escapes the Feds, but New York boss Johnny "Sack" Sacrimone does not).

Joey Gallo, meanwhile, saw drugs as the coming bonanza for organised crime and in the teeth of stiff opposition from the abstemious old "Moustache Petes" of the Corleone/Lucky Luciano generation, he had no compunction about forging distribution partnerships with black criminals in Harlem and Bedford-Stuyvesant and shipping major product.

The war that ensued in the late 1950s (obliquely alluded to in Godfather II - "Not here, Carmine!"), tore the mob apart, grabbed headlines, and encouraged new Attorney General Bobby Kennedy to prosecute the mob unmercifully after 1960 - focusing on such figures as Teamsters Union boss Jimmy Hoffa, and the mafia bosses of Chicago, Tampa and New Orleans (who may later have helped assassinate his brother John). So it was an exhausted, much harried New York criminal fraternity that greeted Coppola and Ruddy in 1971.

It was also a community that had little taste for publicity. At the movies, the words "mafia" and "cosa nostra" were rarely ever heard before The Brotherhood in 1968 (which sank faster than Johnny Rosselli in his concrete-filled oil-drum). Even J Edgar Hoover downplayed the importance of the mafia throughout the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s - while exaggerating the moribund red menace - probably because the mob's financial genius Meyer Lansky (Hyman Roth in Godfather II) had, presciently, blackmailed Hoover over his homosexuality as early as 1935.

Still, in an era highly conscious of matters racial and ethnic, Italians like Joe Colombo found a way to express their sense of ethnic grievance, too. Although the Italian community was well served by social groups like the Knights Of Columbus and the Order Of The Sons Of Italy, Colombo became involved in a new outfit, heavily mob-influenced and called, in the spirit of the times, the Italian-American Civil Rights League. And The Godfather's arrival in Manhattan gave the group a chance to raise its profile.

The league demanded consultation rights and got them from Ruddy in exchange for access to locations. Frank Sinatra - probably not pleased at Puzo's oblique references to the manner in which he secured his comeback role in From Here To Eternity - headlined a league fundraiser at Madison Square Garden, and local politicians attended the league's first rally in 1970, decrying anti-Italian prejudice (one hears the echo of Joe Pesci's plaintive wail in Goodfellas: "She's prejudiced against Italians. Imagine that - a Jew broad!").

They had a point - up to a point: Gangsters in the movies before 1970 were redolent of grotesque and venerable stereotypes about unwashed Italian immigrants pouring off Ellis Island. On the other hand - tell it to Sidney Poitier.

Or consider a contemporary figure like Anthony Imperiale, "the White Knight of Newark", namechecked by Tony Soprano in series four. Imperiale rose in the aftermath of the 1967 Newark riots as a streetcorner agitator exploiting Italian-American fears about black encroachment on hitherto white neighbourhoods - which he patrolled after dark with carloads of excitable, albeit unarmed young men.

Imperiale disavowed any racist intent, indeed he merrily hijacked the language of the real civil rights movement, despite talking of "Martin Luther Coon" and invoking a feral, spectral "them" whenever he mentioned blacks. You can breathe this toxic atmosphere of neighbourhood insularity and racism throughout Robert De Niro's A Bronx Tale, also set in those years.

A hunger for headlines and flashbulbs seemed to be part of Joe Colombo's motivation in entangling himself with the league and the Godfather shoot. It was to be his undoing. His secretive, camera-phobic criminal cohorts got fed up with him. Working in partnership with capo di tutti i capi Carlo Gambino, Joey Gallo, free again and no less crazy, had a black criminal associate, one Jerome Johnson, gun Colombo down at the Italian-American League's second annual rally at Columbus Circle.

A black triggerman in a mob hit was then unheard of, and totally alien to the mafia's modus operandi, but no one was fooled. Johnson was gunned down in seconds by an assailant who immediately vanished, but everyone suspected Gallo because of his Harlem connections.

By the time Gallo himself was killed a year later - gunned down in a Mulberry Street clam house while celebrating his 43rd birthday - he had acquired his own taste for publicity: he was feted by writers (he'd read Camus and Sartre in the can), and was pimping his own memoir, A-Block. After Joe Colombo's fatal experience with The Godfather, you'd think Gallo might have learned his lesson. As it turned out, he died the same way as Virgil "The Turk" Sollozo at the hands of newly-minted murderer Michael Corleone, in an explosion of blood and clam sauce - just like in the movies.

Thanks to The Guardian

Friday, June 19, 2015

The Dealmakers Behind the Chicago Mob

For most Americans, real racket power in the last century hovered somewhere over the Hudson River, and no wonder. They saw New York-area gangsters featured in the best books and movies about the Mafia. Flamboyant bosses like John Gotti grabbed headlines with good sound bites and flashy trials, or the occasional high-profile hit in a crowded restaurant. But while East Coast mob families splattered each other's brains in the marinara, the Second City's less-colorful Mafia, known as the Outfit, built a criminal empire that was truly second to none. Its tentacles stretched to the West Coast and wrapped securely around Las Vegas. Not that its members didn't whack their own wayward bosses along the way, but their executions were mostly private affairs, often dispatched with a few well-placed .22s to the back of the head.

Author Gus Russo has done yeoman's work in pulling the Outfit bosses from the shadows to show how their muscle and methods came to dominate organized crime. In his 2001 book, suitably titles "The Outfit," he chronicles the Chicago mob's rise to national power after Al Capone.

Now, he weighs in with "Supermob: How Sidney Korshak and His Criminal Associates Became America's Hidden Power Brokers." If you know about the short shrift the Outfit has received in the popular imagination, you can almost forgive the breathless title, but Russo pointedly uses the term "Supermob" to describe a band of Jewish lawyers, politicians and businessmen who acted as cat's-paws for some of the Outfit's most ambitious scams. Although he credits a Senate investigator with first using the term "Supermob," Russo takes it to a new level, suggesting a gang of white-collar kingpins as ruthless and tightly knit as a Mafia family. He is also serious about the "Super," claiming that the members of his "Kosher Nostra" would ultimately profit more from their "amoral, and frequently criminal careers" than did their Outfit allies.

Like all other Chicago gangster stories, Russo's starts with Capone, a criminal mastermind far more sophisticated than the brutal Scarface we know from the movies. Unlike gang leaders before him, he was not content with cornering the market on gambling and bootlegging. The "financial wiz" who showed him the way was Alex Louis Greenberg. He put Capone's money into real estate and service industries with free flowing cash, such as banks, entertainment venues and hotels. In the beginning, to protect the various investments, the mob used its excess money to buy politicians and its excess muscle to strong-arm unions. Eventually these inroads into the public sector and labor organizations would become lucrative sources of income themselves.

As the schemes got more complicated, the mobsters needed the help of lawyers, politicians and frontmen with relatively clean criminal records. It was a Faustian bargain, but it helped launch some of the most prominent names in Chicago's Jewish community. For example, according to Russo, Outfit funds and connections formed the foundation on which lawyer Abe Pritzker's family built the Hyatt hotel chain.

At the nexus of mob influence and political corruption was lawyer Jacob Arvey, the most important Jewish cog of the city's multiethnic Democratic machine. His clout with the Truman administration put a protege in charge of property seized from German companies and interned Japanese-Americans. Russo documents how these West Coast assets were sold for a fraction of their value to silent mob partners and the young lawyers, Arvey accomplices, who served as their frontmen. Some of these young lawyers then set up shop in California and duplicated Chicago's Democratic machine there, fueling their candidates' campaigns with money donated by the mob and its related unions. But the Outfit's insidious control of unions most drove its westward expansion. Back in the earliest days of moving pictures, Chicago mobsters used the threat of projectionist walkouts to shake down local theaters. These extortion schemes worked their way back to the studio lots. According to Russo, the movie moguls did not mind seeing leftist organizers pushed to the side by mob goons, who could at least be paid off to keep the cameras rolling.

Producers also got squeezed by the stars in front of the cameras, especially those managed by Jules Stein and Lew Wasserman of MCA, Hollywood's first powerhouse talent agency. Back in Chicago when Stein started the firm as Music Corporation of America, he was booking area bands and using a "union racketeer" to throw stink bombs in nightclubs that wouldn't take his acts. He was supposedly a silent partner with Outfit bosses in the hot spots where his bands played, and according to Russo, he would continue to blur the line between ownership and union influence throughout his career.

Later, when Wasserman client Ronald Reagan assumed the presidency of the Screen Actors Guild, he helped push through a waiver permitting MCA to be the only agency that could also produce programs for the burgeoning TV industry. This competitive edge helped Stein and Wasserman gain control of Universal Pictures and create Hollywood's first multimedia behemoth. In return for the SAG waiver, Russo asserts, Wasserman secretly cut Reagan into production deals (counter to SAG rules) and helped transform him into the ubiquitous TV presence that launched his political career.

The Outfit had its hooks in Las Vegas from the start (a Chicago mobster bribed Nevada legislators to pass the Wide Open Gambling Bill), but if the bosses hadn't had their fingers in the Teamsters pension fund, the city wouldn't be what we know today. From 1959 to 1961, they took $91 million from the union to build or improve one casino after another. Over the next decade, as Las Vegas' popularity soared, the Outfit was perfectly positioned to dominate the scene, with its control of corrupt politicians from both parties, its manipulation of the service unions and even its access, through Hollywood back channels, to the hottest entertainers, like Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr. Eventually millions in cash skimmed from the casino counting rooms would make its way to Chicago's mob bosses.

Members of Russo's Supermob were pivotal resources in each of the Outfit's connections to Las Vegas, but none more so than Sidney Korshak. An obscure labor lawyer from Lawndale, Korshak would ultimately be dubbed the most powerful man in Hollywood. By the mid-'60s, the same would be true in Las Vegas. His brother Marshall had gone on to a very public career in Chicago as a lawyer, Democratic politician and city officeholder. Though Sidney would have his own notoriety, the source of his power would lurk in the shadows. Working on a flat retainer of $50,000 per job, Korshak was anointed the official labor negotiator for almost all of the Outfit-connected businesses. With just a phone call he could spark or quell strikes--a fearsome power in the seasonal hotel industry or during the massively expensive process of film production. But the contacts with his clients went far beyond labor matters. Moguls like Wasserman called him virtually every day. He helped negotiate deals for casinos and even business conglomerates on the backs of envelopes, often keeping a small piece of the action for himself. No favors were too big or too small for his clients, whether a Chicago hotel room for Warren Beatty during the 1968 Democratic National Convention, or a pardon from President Richard Nixon for ex-Teamsters leader Jimmy Hoffa. Ironically, he may have even contributed to the success of the film "The Godfather" by prying Al Pacino away from another studio.

Many a Korshak miracle was worked from the corner booth at Bistro, a posh Beverly Hills eatery, where a private phone was brought to his table. Russo fails to note that this setup closely emulated the notorious corner table at Counsellors Row, a restaurant across from Chicago's City Hall where the Outfit's kingmaker, Pat Marcy, ruled supreme. Like Marcy, Korshak would walk guests outside the restaurant to talk about especially confidential subjects. Some of the best yarns in "Supermob" come from a book written by Bistro's owner, Kurt Niklas, who kept tabs on the strange bouillabaisse that simmered around Korshak: It could include producer Bob Evans, actor Kirk Douglas, Gov. Jerry Brown, coarse Teamsters and, on rare occasion, cursing mobsters. One later testified that an Outfit boss warned him to stay away from Korshak because " `he's our man, been our man his whole life. [But he] can't be seen in public with guys like us.' "

In other words, the mob had to keep him subservient and separate. This was one of many conflicts in Korshak's fascinating life. He went to great ends to quash any media coverage of his activities, but he gladly relented to fawning mentions by Joyce Haber, the Los Angeles gossip columnist who, Russo says, coined the term "A-list" to describe the celebrities in the Korshak inner circle. He was a doting husband to his glamorous, shopaholic wife and a serial philanderer, not embarrassed to be seen on the town with paramours like Jill St. John. He dressed and collected art with impeccable taste but still exuded a threatening though soft-spoken manner. At one moment he could lament the unbreakable ties to his Outfit overseers and in the next threaten a recalcitrant business executive with " `cement shoes.' " In the words of one producer, " `Sidney was a very loud man in a very quiet way.' " Unfortunately, Russo does not give us much insight into how Korshak or his friends could bridge such contradictions. While "Supermob" is long on anecdote, it's much too short on analysis. No doubt there was something different about either Chicago or its Jewish community to produce the players Russo writes about. He only scratches the surface in trying to understand the world they came from. The closest he gets is a quote about Greenberg: " `[L]ike almost everyone who became rich through racketeering, respectability was what he sought most.' " The words came from long-time Sun-Times reporter Irv Kupcinet, a close friend of Korshak's and another macho Jewish guy who loved rubbing shoulders with the mob.

In fact, most of the Supermob families Russo writes about did find legitimacy, if not for themselves then for their heirs; hence the shock some of us may feel at discovering the roots of their fortunes. The same is true for some Outfit clans as well. Perhaps there is something about the institutional memory in Chicago that has helped ease the transformation. Kupcinet was a gossip columnist but a nice one, the sort who never delved too deeply into the dark sources of power. When he spotted you on a prestigious perch, like Booth One at the Pump Room, a mention in his column brought some glow of fame without the painful questions about how you got there.

Thanks to Hillel Levin

Tuesday, May 05, 2015

Celebrate Frank Sinatra's 100th Birthday with a New 5-Film Collection on Blu-ray!

Celebrate Frank Sinatra’s 100th Birthday with a new 5-Film Collection, Frank Sinatra Collection (BD) [Blu-ray].

Featuring five classic movies on Blu-ray, this collection includes newly re-mastered releases of Anchors Aweigh, On the Town and Robin and the 7 Hoods on Blu-ray and Digital HD along with favorites Ocean’s 11 and Guys and Dolls.

ANCHORS AWEIGH: Frank Sinatra stars along with Kathryn Grayson and Gene Kelly in this wartime tale of two sailors on leave in Hollywood. Gene Kelly's history-making choreography and beloved musical numbers make this a milestone of movie fantasy. Sinatra's "I Fall in Love Too Easily", the exuberant Kelly/Sinatra "We Hate to Leave" and other musical highlights helped Anchors Aweigh weigh in with a 1945 Academy Award® for Best Scoring of a Musical Picture, plus four more Oscar® nominations, including Best Picture and Actor (Kelly).

ON THE TOWN: New York, New York, it's a wonderful town – especially when sailors Gene Kelly, Frank Sinatra and Jules Munshin have a 24-hour shore leave to see the sights…and when those sights include Ann Miller, Betty Garrett and Vera-Ellen. Based on the Broadway hit and set to an Academy Award®-winning* score, On the Town changed the landscape of movie musicals by blending brilliant location and studio production numbers to up-and-at-'em perfection. The Bronx is up and the Battery's down, but no one can be down after going On the Town.

GUYS AND DOLLS: Hollywood legends Marlon Brando, Jean Simmons, Frank Sinatra and Vivian Blaine (from the original Broadway cast) are dazzling in this Frank Loesser (How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying) masterpiece. Featuring hits like "Luck Be a Lady" and "A Woman in Love", this smash film version of one of Broadway's most popular musicals is guaranteed rip-roaring "four-star entertainment" (New York Daily News).

OCEAN'S 11: New Year's Eve in Las Vegas. When the lights go out on the Vegas strip, it's the perfect time to steal a kiss or a $25 chip. But for Danny Ocean (Frank Sinatra) and 10 partners in crime, it's the ideal moment to steal millions. Also starring Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., Peter Lawford and Joey Bishop, and packed with location-lensed glamour, suspense, comedy and a stunning twist ending, Ocean's 11 is a sure bet.

ROBIN AND THE 7 HOODS: Robin and the 7 Hoods gives the Robin Hood legend a Depression-era, mobtown Chicago spin. North Side boss Robbo (Frank Sinatra) sets himself up as a latter-day Robin Hood with philanthropic fronts enabling him to scam the rich, take his cut and then give to the poor. Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., Bing Crosby, Peter Falk and Barbara Rush join in the giddy, gangsterish fun. And the jazzy Sammy Cahn/James Van Heusen score (including Sinatra's classic "My Kind of Town") is the perfect match for this all-star cast.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Berkshires Organized Crime History

Over the past few decades, popular culture depictions in movies and television has helped elevate the idea that gambling rackets and mob crime are the sort of thing that occurs in places like New Jersey, New York, Nevada or Chicago.

The truth is, New England has seen plenty of it over the years, and some of it quite a bit closer to home than the locales in Scorcese's "The Departed." Over the course of the past century, central Berkshire County has several times been the site of organized crime activity, from petty book-making to major scandals involving local officials and prominent mafia affiliates.

As a center of population, commerce and government in the county, the city of Pittsfield has perhaps naturally also often been the epicenter of much of its major criminal conspiracies. Repeatedly, investigation of such wrongdoing has also been characterized by allegations of corruption among the city's police department, politicians and other influential citizens.

As early as the 1930s, such corruption had already been intimated, when then City Councilor Daniel Casey first sought to launch a probe of the local police department. In April of 1936, Councilor Casey introduced a motion stating that "an investigation is necessary to determine what manner various forms of illegal gambling flourish throughout the city without interference or suppression by the police department," petitioning the council to launch a probe of the department.

At the time, Casey's motion was defeated in a tie vote, though it was not the last time the budding politician would raise the issue.

"Something is rotten in Denmark," reiterated Casey 11 years later, as state representative, again in reference to the belief that corruption in the department had stymied efforts to crack down on a growing gambling trade in the city.

His comment came after the February 1947 acquittal of Daniel Caligian on the first charge of attempted bribery in the history of the Police Department.

Caligian, a counterman for North Street's Majestic Restaurant, allegedly tried to pay Sgt. Raymond Coakley $500 to look the other way on his "bookie" activities, for which he had two previous convictions already.

According to Casey, Coakley "probably didn't report the first alleged bribery offer to some superior officers at headquarters because he was afraid of a leak in the department."

The Berkshire Eagle also voiced concerns over the not-guilty verdict, suggesting that local law enforcement had become "politics-ridden" and "susceptible to corruption, and that the case amounted to "a sad commentary on respect for law and order, and a severe indictment of the Pittsfield Police Department."

Not long after, Caligian went into the pinball machine business with Peter G. Arlos, a controversial figure who would later become the city's longest reigning city councilor. Together, they ran Automatic Vendors Inc. until 1950, when Arlos severed ties to begin his own pinball machine distribution business, Pace Merchandising Co. When their respective licenses to sell the machines expired at the end of 1951, their re-application to the Licensing Board launched the dramatic "Pinball Hearings," which dragged on before the board for the first several months of 1952.

Pinball machines had been a matter of local controversy for a number of years at that time and the licensing authority had been a matter of some legal gray area. In North Adams, all pinball machines had been removed, along with slot machines, in 1937, but by early 1938 the popular entertainment devices were already creeping back into circulation there.

In March 1946, the Supreme Judicial Court had ruled that only pinball machines that did not have a cash pay-off of any kind attached were legal in the commonwealth, and in October of that year, Pittsfield's Chief John Sullivan issued an order to local establishments for the removal of such gaming apparatus, even five taverns that had been issued permits by the city's Licensing Board just three months earlier.

Subsequent legislation from Boston in 1949 further clarified the legality of non-gambling pinball machines, though local authorities were still very much of the opinion that the industry surrounding their use was being used as some kind of front for other forms of illegal gambling, probably because of the reputation of their primary distributor as a known bookie.

The administration of the time at City Hall was adamant about the need to crack down on such infraction fand, at the start of 1952, the local Licensing Board enacted a far-reaching policy that no permit to supply the machines would be granted unless the applicant was willing to submit all records of their business, and submit to any questioning the board saw fit.

A provision that any attempt by the applicant to invoke the constitutional 5th Amendment to such questioning would be grounds for denial gave these hearings a much broader leeway to conduct fishing expeditions than any court of law could have. It was thought that the implementation of such strict procedure would automatically drive Caligian out of the business. "But Mr. Caligian along with his former associate in AVI, Peter Arlos, astonished the trappers by swallowing the bait and applying for the licenses," wrote Roger Linscott in The Berkshire Eagle.

A series of proceedings commenced, with City Solicitor Francis Quirico summoning records from telephones and business transactions, and conducting probing questioning of a multitude of witnesses. Many stone-walled the attorney under examination, as unlike the applicants themselves, they were under no obligation to waive their right to silence.  Several of these witnesses would eventually be arrested on various charges by the anti-gambling vice squad formed by Mayor Robert Capeless later that year.

The Pinball Hearings, which played to packed audiences in City Hall chambers, lasted from February to early May. Sparks flew as Quirico repeatedly contended that the operations of the two applicants were being used as fronts for horse-betting and lottery schemes, while in response accusations of witch-hunting were lobbed by Thomas Noonan, a high profile Albany lawyer who'd won Caligian's case in '46 and joined these proceedings as additional counsel to local attorney Anthony Ruberto in March.

Considerable testimony from police officers and other witnesses alleged instances of book-making and other "questionable enterprises" had been occurring at places rented by Caligian and Arlos, and the board ultimately denied their permits.

Over the rest of the decade, local authorities continued efforts to rein in feared "organized gambling" in the county, with periodic raids on local businesses and private homes, such as one in Dalton in 1951 at which 31 high-stakes card players from around the Berkshires were arrested.

As the 1960s dawned, however, a new venture would introduce the involvement of major mafia figures to the Berkshires on a level never seen before.

In 1960, the Berkshire Downs racetrack was opened in Hancock by B.A. Dario of Rhode Island, who was also proprietor of the Lincoln Downs racetrack just north of Providence. Licensed pari-mutuel betting on horse races had been legal in the commonwealth since the 1930s, and at the time, state government permitted 90 days worth of racing in Massachusetts. The bulk of those days went to Suffolk Downs, but Berkshire Downs ran a 24-day cycle during its short period of operation as a track.

For most of its time in business, Berkshire Downs lost money as a venue, at least on paper, but it held a certain appeal for both locals and visitors and was often well attended. It also attracted the interest of some high-profile individuals, and a general reputation of being "mobbed up."

Within its first couple of seasons, the track had become the subject of investigation by state gaming authorities, who suspected that it was largely controlled by mafia don Raymond Patriarca Sr., boss of the New England "family" operating out of Providence and Boston. Later, FBI wiretapping helped substantiate Patriarca's involvement, and a 1973 congressional committee report ultimately concluded he was a key investor in the Berkshire venture.

Singer Frank Sinatra was another major investor, though he would later testify before the House committee that he had no idea the reputed mafia don was involved, and had withdrawn his $55,000 investment in the venue after finding he had been named vice president of the business without his knowledge.

The involvement of the New England mafia in Berkshire Downs may have helped, in part, to explain a perceived rise in apparent organized crime in nearby Pittsfield which would last throughout the 1960s.

Illegal activity was on the rise, ranging from the proliferation of bookies to the suspicious deaths of two Berkshire County men within a six-month period in 1962. Harold Boland, of Pittsfield, was found in a canal off Onota Lake in May, having had his wrists tied to a heavy stone. Joseph Klein, a West Stockbridge native who worked in Pittsfield, was found beaten to death outside his car by an assailant who had apparently struck after waiting for him to exit a bar in Canaan, N.Y. While the cases remained unsolved, suspicions ran high that the two men may have gotten in over their head in gambling and run awry of mob enforcers.

Local police were also under the lens again for possible corruption, with a state police probe initiated after three patrolmen were convicted in the robbery of a local hardware store, and allegations that other officers may have also been involved in illegal activities, including tips that had arisen from investigation of activity at the nearby race track.

The state police probe began in March 1963, and grew more intense as local media got wind of some of vague but sensational rumors stemming from the investigation. On April 3, the North Adams Transcript wrote that connections between the recent deaths and "a possible tieup between some city police officials and the criminal underworld stunned the city of Pittsfield today with the announcement that the alleged connections between gangsters, gamblers and city officials was under investigation by the Massachusetts State Police."

According to Commissioner Frank Giles, state police investigators had received information that more than one ranking officer had been taking bribes from bookies, and that a "high ranking police official" had been the liaison between the department and a "gaming rackets czar." After several months of surveying the department during which lurid headlines were rampant in newspapers from Pittsfield to Boston, the probe concluded that many of the tips had proven false, while others could not be substantiated.

In November, Giles admitted that there was no "positive information of wrongdoing by Pittsfield police." Later that month, the City Council approved a higher-than-requested raise for all department personnel.

Implied associations between law-enforcement officials and perceived underworld activity — particularly at the questionable racetrack — continued to trouble area residents, though, and the sense that corruption was still a problem would not soon dissipate. Even in 1976, when Berkshire Downs was all but dismantled, an editorial in The Eagle voiced concerns about this underlying perception.

"There is nothing illegal about Judge John A. Barry's serving as director and spokesman for a third-rate agricultural fair that serves as an excuse for a fourth-rate racing operation in Hancock. The same can be said in defense of Carmen C. Massimiano, the chief probation officer of the Berkshire Superior Court, who is evidently moonlighting at Berkshire Downs, too," wrote the Eagle's editor. "But there is a very serious question as to the good judgement of law-enforcement officials who allow themselves to be identified with any race track - and particularly a track so economically marginal that jockeys have to be saintly to stay honest."

While no indictments came out of the 1963 probe, not every cop on the force at the time turned out to be squeaky clean; in early 1968, a 17-year veteran of the force was charged as one of seven conspirators in a local stolen car ring connected to a major underboss in the Patriarca mafia.

Car thefts had been rampant throughout Berkshire County in the late '60s, and by 1967 authorities began to suspect a coordinated effort was involved in some of these. After months of investigation by state police and the FBI, they zeroed in on Edmund Crown, an automobile salesman from Lanesborough, arresting him on Dec. 21 in connection with the transport and sale of at least 31 stolen cars. Four more Berkshire residents were soon arrested in the stolen car conspiracy, including Pittsfield patrolmen Anthony Crea, and three eastern Massachusetts suspects, including Vincent Teresa of North Reading.

All but the latter were tried, convicted, and already paroled from jail less than two years later; though Crown had been charged with as many as 62 counts for which the maximum sentence could have been up to 20 years. Two and a half years was the maximum that inmates could be sentenced to the local House of Correction, which prosecutor William R. Flynn urged for Crown's safety "because of the people he has been involved with."

The sort of people he referred to were no doubt associates of Vincent "Fat Vinnie," Teresa, believed the be the ringleader of the car ring, who was also by his own admission the No. 3 man in the New England mafia.

Teresa's own trial in Pittsfield did not begin until July 1969, and ultimately resulted in a mistrial after it was realized that one of the jurors was a relative of the prosecutor. A new trial was planned for February 1970, by which time Teresa was already serving a brief sentence on an unrelated offence in Maryland.

Something changed in Teresa's perspective during this time, a change that was part of an emerging shift in the internal culture of the mob that would ultimately grow to become a serious Achilles' heel to its entire internal structure.

In earlier years, when a "made" man went to jail, he was well looked after by his associates.  His legal fees were paid, his family well looked after, and in the case of major players, his territory and financial interests were protected by colleagues on the outside. At the time of Teresa's incarceration, both Patriarca and underboss Henry Tameleo, who controlled the Boston branch of the New England family, were already serving time. With the organization in the hands of younger, less respectful mobsters, Teresa found his family neglected, his secretary the victim of an attempted murder, and millions of dollars he'd gathered in various scams taken.

This and the probable consequences of his impending retrial in Pittsfield was enough to make him turn state's evidence, one of the first accredited mafia members who opted to "rat," in what would soon become an epidemic for crime families around the country. A $500,000 price was placed on his head, and while his sentence was commuted in 1971, he and his wife and children spent the next few years under witness protection. Later, he published three books based on his days in the mafia.

While at the time, Lucchese family soldier Joe Valachi was the most prominent Cosa Nostra informant in the public mind, Teresa's decision to "sing" for the Feds was far more significant. From his position as one of Patriarca's key lieutenants, he provided information that devastated the Patriarca family and did damage to other mafia families as well. His testimony led to the indictment of at least 50 mob figures, and valuable leads in the pursuit of hundreds of others.

While Teresa's turn on his compatriots dealt a disastrous blow to the mafia in the Northeast, it was not the last time that mob influence would be felt locally, nor was it the last time Pittsfield officials would become implicated in illegal gambling activity.

In the mid-1980s, organized crime was still reaping major profits from gambling activity in Berkshire County, primarily in the form of sports betting. A multiple-year investigation coordinated by District Attorney Anthony Ruberto, in which the local DA's office utilized wiretaps for the first time, led to a number of indictments but narrowly missed netting "major sports betting figures in Massachusetts."

It did result in the 1983 arrest of Pittsfield Police officer William Zoitos and his wife, who authorities alleged had allowed their home and phones to be used for registering bets. The following year, Ruberto's office led a 13-home raid in which suspects were arrested across Western Massachusetts and into Connecticut.

Ruberto told The Eagle that the proceeds from these rackets "ultimately ends up in the coffers of organized crime, which uses that money to infiltrate other areas of society."

These profits fueled the booming narcotics trade, which by then was firmly established as the mafia's most lucrative enterprise, and left ample funds for exerting influence over law enforcement and political figures.

"If anybody in this town doesn't know that organized crime is here, then shame on them," Pittsfield Police Sgt. Richard Henault, head of the department's special investigations unit, told The Eagle.

Police Chief Stanley Stankiewicz concurred, adding that "mob related beatings" were not uncommon in the city.

According to newspaper reporting at the time, a bookie could be found as easily as hanging around any one of a number of local bars, and these individuals almost always paid a cut on to the larger latticework of the New England mafia.

In early 1986, one such bar in particular was the site of a police sting that sent major ripples through the community. On Jan. 11, the three-member SIU conducted a raid on the Beer Garden on Wahconah Street, during which then City Council President Angelo C. Stracuzzi was arrested along with several other members of his family on charges of allowing gambling on the premises.

Stracuzzi and fellow councilors denounced the raid as an act of political retribution for his push to disband the special unit and establish an independent committee to review the department's operation. The city councilor was ultimately acquitted of charges during a jury trial after testifying that he had sold his interest in the bar to his father and brother weeks prior to the raid. Three other family members plead guilty, with father Angelo R. and sister Donna Stracuzzi Smith paying fines, while brother Anthony Stracuzzi served a sentence of 10 days in the local jail.

The controversy following the raid made headlines in the New York Times, with allegations of racism, falsified pay records, and on duty drunkeness by its chief leveled at the Pittsfield Police Department. Chief Stankiewicz was hospitalized for chest pains during the ensuing scandal, ultimately resigning and moving to Florida later that year.

The SIU was immediately disbanded, and an ordinance establishing the Police Advisory Committee was passed by the council just days after the Beer Garden raid. According to the ordinance, the committee's role is "to advise the Mayor and the City Council on non-operational and non-investigatory matters relative to the Police Department in the City, and in advising with regard to rules and regulations in conformity with law."

By the late 1980s, the role of organized crime in Berkshire County was diminishing, as the New England mafia family has continued to decline following the 1984 death of Raymond Patriarca Sr., its most successful boss. Today, its membership of full-fledged "made" men has dwindled to less than a third of what it was during its peak, and those members that now remain are largely elderly, and increasingly being snapped up for prosecution. Patriarca family boss Peter Limone was placed on five years probation with an ankle bracelet in 2011, followed by the arrest of his successor Anthony DiNunzio the following year.  Antonio Spagnolo, the next acting boss in line, is currently awaiting trial following his arraignment this past fall, along with another longtime member, on extortion charges.

Occasional incidents of local gambling activity and alleged organized crime have occurred sporadically in recent years, such as the 1998 prosecution of Dalton resident Shaun Delmolino, and the 2003 money-laundering conviction of Giovanna Trotti, a Pittsfield man with purported ties to Springfield mob auspices. More recently, the owner of the former Hermann Alexander's bar was sentenced to probation for illegal gambling machines and conspiracy to distribute cocaine, following an April 2012 raid that also led to the arrest of eight other individuals.

Overall, though, the age of gambling rackets and traditional "mob" crime has all but died off in the Berkshires over the past quarter century. Today, concerns about mafia infiltration have been replaced by a new, arguably more troubling kind of "organized crime," in the form of youth street gangs. Affiliation with these, say many officials as well as local educators, has seen a dramatic rise of late, ushering in a new kind of danger which community leaders have only just begun to confront.

Thanks to Joe Durwin.


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