Showing posts with label Al Capone. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Al Capone. Show all posts

17 December 2017

Gangsters Move to the Big Screen



The old adage, art reflects life, was never more true than with the rise of the gangster film in the 1930s.  Thanks to years of Prohibition, crime, corruption and gangland violence were at an all-time high and this was reflected in the gangster pictures released by Warner Brothers. Though a Hollywood cliche now, guys in fedoras blasting away at each other and men being mowed down by Tommy-guns was very real for the movie goer of the time.

What modern film fans might not realize is that plenty of the characters and events in these early gangster films were inspired by real gangsters and events from the era. Let’s take a look at some of the most famous of the films. We'll start the series with:


Little Caesar  Starring Edward G. Robinson and Douglas Fairbanks Jr. - released January 25, 1931.

Spoilers!

There's not a lot that was ripped from the headlines for Little Caesar but there are a few things that seem familiar to anyone who has immersed him or herself into the gangsters of old. Perhaps it's reaching but, what the hell, it's the movies lets reach.

Little Caesar was first a book loosely based on a Chicago hoodlum named Sam Cardinella, who headed a gang of bandits and extortionists during the years just prior to Prohibition. It was written in Chicago, in the late Twenties and so shadows of Al Capone, who was at the height of his career when the book was published and the film  released, can also be seen.

Robinson plays the title character Caesar Enrico “Rico” Bandetto aka Little Caesar. Rico is a small time hood with big ambitions to move to Chicago and become that City's top gangster. To this end, he and his partner in crime, Joe Massara, played by Fairbanks Jr., move to the Windy City where Rico begins his underworld ascent.  First he takes over the small gang from Sam Vettori, next he moves up another notch by displacing Diamond Pete Montana. Along the way he kills Crime Commissioner Alvin McClure.

Like the cinematic Rico, Capone was an out-of-towner who showed up in Chicago as a low level hood and had a meteoric rise to the top. Within five years of his arrival in the Windy City, Capone was running the town’s largest criminal enterprise. Unlike Rico, Capone wasn’t a small town hold-up man, he came from Brooklyn, New York where he was already involved with the Italian underworld. 

Rico or Capone?
Another incident in the film that mirrors Capone’s career is the murder of the Crime Commissioner Alvin McClure. In the film McClure shows up at a night club and, when he learns that it is owned by gangsters, he starts to leave just as Rico and his gang show up to rob it. The commissioner ends up getting killed by Rico. In real life an Assistant District Attorney William McSwiggin was bumped off in Chicago while exiting a tavern with some hoodlum pals and it is believed that Capone was one of the machine gunners who did him in.

The stuff movies are made of.
Regarding Rico’s pal Joe Massara, it may simply be a coincidence but at the time of the film’s release the most powerful Mafia kingpin in New York  was a Capone ally named Joe “the Boss” Masseria. Unlike Massara in the film, Joe the Boss would not have a happy ending. About four months after the release of Little Caesar Masseria was gunned down in a Coney Island restaurant. 

Joe Massara- Movie gangster
Joe Masseria- Real Gangster

One of Rico's early bosses is the rich and successful Diamond Pete Montana, Rico at first admires  and then surpasses him. In 1928 wealthy Chicago gangster/politician Diamond Joe Esposito  said to have been a Capone nemesis, was bumped off.

With the popularity of Little Caesar at the box office, Warner Brothers went into high-gear and mined Chicago and New York's underworlds for box office gold. 

Have you seen Little Caesar? Did you notice any other scenes or characters that the writers "borrowed" from the underworld?

12 May 2017

Sam Hunt Loses a Friend



Harry Hyter was a gangland sort dating back to at least the early 1920s when he was involved with a bootleg gang operating out of Gary, Indiana. His record also consisted of a handful of arrests for robbery. By the early Thirties he was known as a “hanger-on” of the Capone gang and was a pal of ranking Capone gunman, Sam Hunt.

 Harry Hyter

On this date back in 1931, somebody(ies), for some reason, fired  bullets into Hyter’s head and chest. His body was then driven out to an area called “Jaranowski’s woods” and dumped. While searching his body, police found a number of cards listing amounts of gallons so figured that Hyter was still actively engaged in bootlegging.

13 December 2016

Book Spotlight: Organized Crime in Miami by Avi Bash


A picture is worth a thousand words, they say, the latest release from Arcadia Publishing's 'Images of America' series showcases such photographic storytelling - this time the focus is Miami and Mobsters.


Where did all the gangsters go when it was cold and blustery?  Where it was warm of course, and Avi Bash's new book Organized Crime in Miami covers everything from the 'land boom' of the Roaring Twenties to the flow of both liquor and mobsters that drenched 'Magic City.'
Bash, a lifelong resident of Miami and longtime collector/researcher of organized crime history and relics, filled the 127 page book with rare photographs and documents culled from his own collection, all detailed and accompanied by fascinating anecdotal information.  The narrative takes readers through the who, what, why and when of the underworld's foray into the tropical paradise.

  
Interestingly, Bash points out that although it was Al Capone's vacation presence that garnered much of the world's attention on an underworld presence in the region - in reality, vice lords had been there for quite some time.  Not only did Big Al bring on a hurricane of media attention, but he also often brought in his cronies from Chicago, New York and beyond.  This wasn't all rest and relaxation of course, and as Bash demonstrates through mugshots and arrest reports - most of these guys were operating the gambling empire both in Miami and nearby Cuba.

Among the 191 amazing photographs in Organized Crime in Miami, readers will see a very rare Benjamin 'Bugsy' Siegel mugshot, family photos of various mob associates (Meyer Lansky's brother Jake for example), and stunning examples of the architecture from Capone's Palm Island estate to the majestic Biltmore Hotel where Thomas 'Fatty' Walsh was gunned down.
Organized Crime in Miami is available from Amazon, Arcadia Publishing, and Avi Bash's author site

22 November 2016

Blonde Ambition - The Tale of Galina Orloff: Broadway Starlet, Gangster's Girlfriend - Part Two

Part Two in a Three-Part Series on the true story of Gay Orlova - Read Part One


Gay Orlova, from Vanities Photo book, Ninth Edition
The immigrant Russian girl with big dreams of Broadway fame had achieved success within the first five years of entering the United States. Now calling herself Gay Orlova she earned a coveted spot in Earl Carroll's Vanities show, and received regular hype from the press. By 1932, Carroll even gave her a few speaking roles in sketches opposite Andre Randall (Ironically, Orlova was never a top billed cast member in any of Carroll's productions).  Even her mother Antolina adopted the 'Orlova' surname. On the surface, life was grand.
"Earl Carroll, famed nudie tycoon of the-girl-in-the-bathtub episode." - The Philadelphia Inquirer, 1935.
Despite the high times of life in the fast lane, a lingering concern had apparently been haunting her.  Though barely out of her teens, Orlova was worldly, savvy and street smart. In order to avert any immigration problems that could arise, the dancer determined a quick marriage would automatically make her a U.S. citizen.  Edward Finn, the nineteen year old, second balcony usher of the Majestic Theater was her mark.  To the dismay of his friends and mother (who warned the situation was a 'gold brick'), Finn accepted Orlova's proposal and the two were married on March 1, 1934.  There was to be no honeymoon bliss though, as Orlova insisted Finn immediately go inform his mother of the marriage. "You must go home and spend the night with her and square yourself," she commanded.  Finn agreed but suggested they spend a few hours together before her show that evening, to which his bride quickly dismissed -"I'm going shopping with a girlfriend."  Orlova explained they'd have little time to meet up at the show, handed him a ticket so he could at least attend, and closed the conversation with - "Call me up tomorrow."


"If you had to marry an usher, why from the second balcony?" - Earl Carroll, in a memo pinned to backstage bulletin board, 1934.


The following day, Mrs Finn sailed for England, telling hubby she'd see him in a few months. Odd as the entire situation seemed, Finn reminded himself how thoroughly incredible, unbelievable really, that someone of his status - $10 a week salary earner - could be wed to this stunning superstar. She had indeed assured him the arrangement would be worthwhile.  Then he recalled Gay's comforting promise, "That doesn't matter," she cooed. "You move right In here with me. I have Influential friends who will get you a Job with big money."  It was a statement young Finn would not forget, and one that would come back to haunt Orlova. Oh, and as for those 'friends?'  Yes, she already had one on her arm, stockbroker J. Theus Munds.  Like the men before him, Munds would not last.  Orlova's breathtaking allure could only be matched by someone with a truly sinister charm.  She was about to meet him... in Miami of all places!

Gay Orlova had returned from several months of performances at the Dorchester Hotel in London, summer of 1934 had morphed into fall and still Edward Finn's marriage to her was, as the press mocked, "Kiss-less." Earl Carroll had been planning to take his Murder at the Vanities show on the road, and promised to be all the flash and grandeur one would expect from his troupe of chorus girls.  Orlova was on the roster, and headed south to perform a 'fan dance' for the grand opening of Carroll's Palm Island Revue, scheduled to open on New Year's Eve. Tagging along... the stockbroker boyfriend.

"3/7/1930. Operating a gambling device. Ten deputy sheriffs conduct a raid within a resort hotel in Miami. Upon entering the top floorof the hotel, they discover tables filled with gamblers and cash. A total of $73,575.05 was collected. Sheriffs took $60, 090 from one gambler and a pittance of twelve cents from another. Deputies identified two of the gamblers as Joe “The Boss” Masseria and Charles Lucania. Lucky was allegedly the ‘banker’ and the only person armed. He had a revolver. All were charged with vagrancy and gambling. Lucky was fined $1000 and released." - Christian Cipollini, Lucky Luciano: Mysterious Tales of a Gangland Legend.

Palm Island... also the location of Al Capone's grandiose estate.  The significance of this real estate factoid?  Al's house was a frequent winter getaway spot for several of the nation's top gangsters. Call it fate, but on December 28th, Charles "Lucky" Luciano arrived in Miami to hang out with Al's brother Ralph 'Bottles' Capone.  Because Charlie had been arrested in Miami in 1930 (he was in possession of a revolver, but charged only for gambling), he was required to register with police, which he promptly did.  He and Ralph decided they would attend the Earl Carroll show to ring in the New Year. 
Al Capone's Palm Island Estate, circa 1930.
Continue on to read Part Three


http://www.ganglandlegends.com/


Sources:
Cipollini, Christian, Lucky Luciano: Mysterious Tales of a Gangland Legend, Strategic Media Books, 2014, p. 57-69.
Donati, William, Lucky Luciano: The Rise and Fall of a Mob Boss, 
Modiano, Patrick, (translated by Mark Polizzotti), Pedigree: A Memoir, Yale University Press, 2015, p. 13.
Raines, Robert K, Hot Springs: From Capone to Costello, Arcadia Publishing, 2013, p. 56-57.
"Luciano's Ex-Sweetheart Escapes Death as a Spy," The Philadelphia Enquirer, October 24,1939, p. 2
"Another Lucky Escape for Unlucky Lucky's Girl," Albuquerque Journal, December 24, 1939, p. 15.
"Lucky's Dear Friend," The Morning Herald, April 24, 1936, p. 1.
Sell, Robert. “Another Lucky Escape for Unlucky Lucky’s Girl.”
"Arabian Nights Adventure of the Poor Theater Usher." The American Weekly, June 13, 1937, p. 3.
Henderson, W. J., "In Vanities," New York Sun, 1932, p. 26.