RECIPES WE WOULD DIE FOR: Italian Meatloaf: 1 lb. ground beef 1/2 lb. ground mild Italian sausage 1 small onion, finely chopped 1/2 C. chopped bell pepper (I used orange,...
HOW GOODFELLAS BECAME SCORSESE'S MOST MISUNDERSTOOD MASTERPIECE
BY MATTHEW ENG
It's not Scorsese, it's you.
Written on the occasion of Goodfellas' 25th anniversary.
In 2013, New Yorker television critic Emily Nussbaum posited a provocative but necessary theory on the joyless rise of the "bad fan," i.e. the die-hard viewers who have turned prestige-laden protagonists like Tony Soprano, Walter White, and Don Draper, among other middle-aged, middle-class, and — importantly — white male leads, into cultural idols. If these "bad fans" had their way, Breaking Bad would be comprised entirely of Bryan Cranston taking names and threatening competitors in huskily menacing whisper,The Sopranos would be nothing more than grisly offings and Bada Bing! scenes, and Mad Men would be reduced to an endless loop of Don Draper bedding nameless sixties bimbos in a pillowy cloud of Lucky Strike smoke. (And, needless to say, Skyler, Carmela, and Betty — that astonishing but oft-denigrated triptych of “Difficult” Wives — would be nowhere in sight.) This bluntly "badass" form of idolatry has threatened to scrub out the warts-and-all subtleties of these prodigious shows, diminishing these landmark one-hour classics to empty, reflex exercises in machismo.
Even though the "bad fan" phenomenon has gained traction as a TV mainstay in recent years with the rise of the cable drama antihero, its seeds have been deeply sown and its roots stretch as far back as James Cagney, that original toughie, smacking a grapefruit square into Mae Clarke's face in 1931’s touchstone gangster drama Public Enemy. That notorious scene — played straight but frequently misinterpreted as comedy — can be found on YouTube, with a hotbed of top comments that each grossly summarize typical "bad fan" reactions: "That was supremely funny," "Ah the good ol days hahaha," and, most chillingly, "She'll stay with him. And that's why men rule the world.” At what point does inappropriate appreciation become stomach-turning misogyny?
Of all genres, it is the gangster drama that most often attracts hero-worship of this troublingly hardline variety. Moviegoers have revered the gangster archetype since the dawn of Hollywood: these were the days when a pug-faced character actor like Edward G. Robinson could be a legitimate leading man so long as the role was a snarling heavy and Bogart was still playing the B-movie hood, an unsavory image he never entirely shed and which was indelibly emulated and further solidified by Jean-Paul Belmondo in Breathless. Viewers, mainly but not solely male, cling to these types as movie-certified masculine ideals, building a bridge that connects Bogie, Cagney, and Robinson to Scarface, The Untouchables, and the lad-land crime comedies of Guy Ritchie’s early oeuvre, not to mention the holy troika of Coppola's Godfathers.
But of all these films—many great, other less so—it’s Goodfellas, Martin Scorsese’s majestic mob masterpiece about real-life hood turned Witness Protected informant Henry Hill, that has gained the most unsettlingly off-base appreciation from some of its most avid loyalists, the type who know every named mobster’s nickname and can recite them in the order they’re introduced.
Goodfellas is one of my favorite films, a stylish, daring, and endlessly engaging tour de force that maybe isn’t Scorsese’s finest masterpiece — and with a résumé like that, who’s complaining? — but which nonetheless draws me in and reveals a little more of its nasty, hypnotizing self with each and every new viewing. ButGoodfellas is also the Scorsese masterpiece whose enduring pop cultural legacy leaves me the most frustrated, as many of its (loudest) fans continue to regard it as something like a pure comic diversion, which it occasionally is, but often connotatively so, as in that brilliantly sick non-sequential opening sequence, which acquires deeper, darker, and sharper significance once we catch up to it within the chronological frame of the film. Even worse than the straight-out comedy label, though, is the irksome tendency to view Goodfellas as nothing more than an “ultimate male fantasy.”
At least that’s the attitude that was assumed by New York Post film critic Kyle Smith, who back in June penned an infuriating piece entitled — and, honestly, I feel my eye twitch just thinking about this title — “Women are not capable of understanding ‘Goodfellas.’”Excusing the fact that the film was actually cut and shaped by awoman (that would be Scorsese’s longtime collaborator and editing legend Thelma Schoonmaker), Smith’s article basically suggests that what Sex and the City was for women (i.e. escapist, wish-fulfillment art, which it wasn't), Goodfellas represents for men, a dunderheaded argument so hoarily out-dated that I’m pretty sure it would make a caveman groan. It’s not a novel opinion and — to an extent — I understand it. What could be more desirous to the standard male viewer than a glitzy-gritty vision of virile power involving guns, gals, and an endless cascade of cash, unencumbered by care or consequence?
That’s an entertaining movie, but it’s also not Goodfellas, which fans like Smith seem intent on branding, with misplaced nostalgia, as some sort of “OG male buddy flick,” as though Goodfellas were a precursor to The Hangover or Scorsese had made Diner, but with whackings and wiseguys. Smith enthuses that, to guys, Goodfellas’ central trio of conspirators — Ray Liotta’s Henry, Robert De Niro’s Jimmy Conway, and Joe Pesci’s Tommy DeVito — are “heroes” and “[rulers] of the roost,” buying into the myth of lawless heroism that these men ascribe to themselves rather than what is being suggested with more subtlety by the filmmakers. This is Bad Fan Behavior 101. When it comes to reactions like Smith’s, one must always inevitably wonder if the director (or showrunner) is to blame for these dubious takeaways, as Breaking Bad mastermind Vince Gilligan recently had to answer for when actress Anna Gunn become the target of death threats over her intensely divisive performance as Skyler White, or when Boston Bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev claimed that the show had taught him to, among other things, successfully dispose of a body.
In instances like these, it’s hard to blame an artist like Gilligan, whose show never fully fed into the outlaw adulation that its fans so passionately projected on to Walter White and who can hardly be accused of creating a violent provocation, much less a criminal instruction guide. Scorsese, too, doesn’t warrant the blame for the chauvinistic vein in which Goodfellas’ bad fans have appropriated the film’s legacy to fit the superficially cool story they’d like it to be. (And between Taxi Driver and The Last Temptation of Christ, Scorsese has infamously seen his share of director-shaming misinterpretations.) Scorsese is, quite simply, far too talented and too intelligent a filmmaker to have made the movie Goodfellas is labeled as. In his eyes and in the eyes of those searching for more than just compulsive entertainment, which Scorsese provides in spades, Goodfellas is — in its most basic form — a gutsy and rigorous immersion into the life of a desperate, cantankerous man who continually goes to great and often dangerous means to achieve his all-consuming desire of money, power, and glory, which is a narrative that could be applied to any number of American movies, from Citizen Kane to Birdman.
There has always been a certain level of ornamental excess toGoodfellas and Scorsese’s filmmaking in general (that tracking shot! that soundtrack!) that often threatens to gloss over the ethical decrepitude that dwells at the film’s core with pop-colored, bullet-riddled grandeur. But Goodfellas isn’t a party. As Roger Ebert, who "got" Goodfellas and Scorsese better than almost any critic and famously trumpeted the film over The Godfather as a different but more accomplished depiction of organized crime, noted in his originalreview, “[The] camaraderie is so strong… But the laughter is strained and forced at times, and sometimes it’s an effort to enjoy the party…”
Even as Goodfellas coats a glittering sheen over most of Michael Ballhaus' marvelously multilayered images, Scorsese delves pretty deeply into the foolishly warped mind of Henry Hill, whom he pegs almost instantly as a craven, class-A manipulator. Liotta, who is truly the unsung hero of Goodfellas' success, is Scorsese’s invaluable accomplice in this regard. There is far too much bugginess in Henry’s eyes and too much flop sweat that accumulates on Liotta’s forehead throughout the film to make Henry a hero, not to mention the fact that he’s an abusive and unfaithful husband to his persistent wife, Karen (Lorraine Bracco), who isn’t merely the emasculating “ball-buster” that Smith pins her as, but rather a spunky, idealistic woman who unravels under her husband’s carelessness before realizing that blithe ignorance and casual culpability are her only possible options. Meanwhile, Henry’s relentless pursuit of criminal aims allows him to become the type of made man he deified as a boy, a transformation that is firmly rooted in the heroic images of his departed youth, when he was initially recruited into mob society. In many ways, Henry is the prototypical Goodfellas bad fan.
From there, Scorsese and co-writer Nicholas Pileggi are ultimately less interested in creating heroes than in deconstructing Henry and his friends. Tommy, the volatile live-wire immortalized by an Oscar-winning Pesci, has become Goodfellas’ iconic character, for better and for worse. Pesci’s classic “Funny how?” interrogation can be recited with stunning alacrity by any number of fans, who quote it like a comic routine when it’s a really a self-conscious tantrum.
Pesci’s character is always cited as “unpredictable,” but Scorsese and Pileggi patently delineate Tommy’s violent outbursts (the aforementioned monologue, the murders of Billy Batts and “Spider”) as excessive defense mechanisms against potentially humiliating forces that seek to call his authority into question. “Jimmy the Gent” is one of De Niro’s most understated characters, whom we too often misremember as a coolly elegant portrait of gangsterdom, even though Jimmy’s clearly enough of a frantic creep to gutlessly set up Karen near the film’s finish. And Liotta gets saddled with what has to be one of the most pathetic sights in cinema history, as Henry and Karen shrilly sob on their bedroom floor after the latter throws out some leftover cocaine that was their only source of profit. It’s an extended scene that Scorsese makes purposely uncomfortable, forcing an audience tempted to root for Henry to see what such “heroism” looks like in the harsh light of reality.
Scorsese possesses and expresses razor-sharp ideas about his characters and their riskily illicit circumstances, their despicable behavior, and their frequently self-imposed stresses, but he has never been a filmmaker particularly interested in passing decisive judgment on his characters, or, more specifically, gravely moralizing their actions so as to make his story totally edifying or disciplinary, which perhaps explains why so many viewers have frequently latched onto Goodfellas’ surface appearance, ignoring the ironic value beneath it all. In an essay appreciation of Pietro Germi’s Divorce, Italian Style, in which Marcello Mastroianni’s Sicilian sad sack attempts to off his suffocating wife, Scorsese described Germi's pitch-black comedy of errors, manners, and re-marriage as “a very moral film, but there’s nothing superior about it because it’s criticizing a whole culture rather than an individual,” a particularly trenchant task that Scorsese’s film also boldly tackles.
Underneath the polished photography and jukebox palette ofGoodfellas, lies a penetrating critique of the extremes of estrangement, chauvinism, cruelty, criminality, erotomania, and regression that certain communities, cultures, and countries will allow their men as they ceaselessly chase after their own selfish desires. It’s a brutally urgent analysis that I suspect will continue to be ignored by the film’s biggest and most oblivious admirers. Then again, maybe they aren't oblivious at all to the movie's permeating message. Maybe they’re just unnerved by how true it still rings.
But Eris Censori is still a step ahead of the system, after already beating a death sentence and order he remain behind bars for life over the murder of Perth man Michael Sideris in 1982.
Censori was ordered to face off with a Western Australian executioner over the murder, but the sentence was later commuted to life imprisonment. He started serving the term in Western Australia but was transferred back to Victoria in 1987 so he could be closer to his family.
Ultimately he was released on parole to end in 1999, and has been on a crusade since for complete freedom.
But in a major blow to his case legislative changes reforms in 2013 and 2014 forced him to be placed back on parole, and he has been fighting the decision since.
Earlier this year the Supreme Court dismissed his proceedings, and the Court of Appeal today dismissed an appeal of that decision.
Censori, who impressed Supreme Court judge Stephen Kaye with his legal nous, represented himself on both occasions.
Among a myriad of arguments Censori had argued that as a prison transferee the only sentence he could have been legally subjected to was the Western Australian death sentence.
But he said because death sentence was abolished in Victoria in 1975, he was no longer subject to any sentence in this state Eris and his older brothers, Edmondo and Leo, were a well-known crime family involved in drugs and an illegal gambling syndicate.
Eldest brother Edmondo, known as “Eddie Capone”, has convictions in Victoria for violence, including assaulting police, theft and threats. The small but thickset man has been involved in the amusement machine business in Melbourne and Perth.
Eddie has previously given his occupation as a bouncer, labourer, machine operator, fitter, billiard marker and cafe proprietor.
He arrived from Italy with his parents in 1960 and was known to hang around inner-suburban coffee bars in Melbourne as a teenager.
Eddie and Eris moved to Perth in 1981 and set up an amusement machine company.
Gambling identity Leo Censori has convictions for possession of a pistol and for possession of fully jacketed ammunition.
In 1982 he was convicted in the County Court in Melbourne on a charge of possessing a prohibited import (heroin) and sentenced to five years with a minimum of three.
He was also fined $5000.
His ex-wife detailed how he was behind a massive illegal gambling empire he has helped run for more than a decade.
In a series of interviews with the Herald Sun in 1991, she exposed the inner workings of the cartel, which controlled a large slice of the lucrative illegal gambling industry in Melbourne.
Ms Glascott said her former husband had made a fortune from illegal gambling.
“I have seen the money,” she said. “Leo can stack money better than a bank.” She said she had found rolls of money — up to $40,000 — hidden around their Alphington home. She recalled seeing about $60,000 sitting on their coffee table at home.
At one time Leo Censori accepted a police guard when detectives discovered a group of bandits planned to kill him.
Ms Glascott said things turned a little sour in Perth for the family after Eris was convicted of murder.
“Eris destroyed it with the murder. Within 24 hours, the police seized his machines and closed him up.
By George Knapp , Matt Adams | firstname.lastname@example.org
Actor Johnny Depp plays notorious gangster James "Whitey" Bulger in the movie "Black Mass" which opens this weekend.
The movie tells the story of his rise to power and his downfall, including his intimate ties to the FBI.
During all of those years when Whitey Bulger was on the FBI's most wanted list, he almost certainly slipped in and out of Las Vegas, but his ties to our community run deeper than that.
They go all the way back to the late 60s when two of his bloodiest henchmen lured another Boston mob figure out to the desert. It proved to be a one way trip.
The pantheon of notorious hoodlums at the Mob Museum in downtown Las Vegas made a point of saving space for one of the craftiest organized crime figures of all time -- James "Whitey" Bulger -- the leader of Boston's infamous Winter Hill gang.
Elsewhere in the museum are photos of some of the 60 or more murder victims of Bulger and his gang, but with one glaring omission -- Peter Poulos, a small-time Boston hood who knew too much about Bulger and his top assassin Steve "The Rifleman" Flemmi.
The ruthless Jack Nicholson character in the hit film "The Departed" is largely based on Bulger. His right-hand man Mr. French was inspired by Flemmi who, as a witness in several recent trials, has admitted involvement in 20 slayings.
Flemmi is one of a string of killers and crooks who've spilled what they know during Bulger's trial, including information about a cold-case murder near Las Vegas.
If you're going to kill someone and dump the body, the desert gulley just off of gravel-lined State Route 16 is as good a place as any.
"Both Jimmy and I thought it might be a mob hit because of how well he was dressed," said former homicide detective Chuck Lee, Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department.
It was October 1969 and homicide detective Chuck Lee, along with his partner Jimmy Dugan, had found an unidentified body in the desert, a man who did not die of natural causes.
"The cause of death was two gunshot wounds to the back and one to the back of the head," Lee said.
But the dead man had a mouth filled with gold teeth, which were removed, placed into a mold, and photographed. The photos were then sent to other law enforcement agencies around the country. Soon enough, Lee got a call from a police sergeant in the Boston.
"He said, 'I'm gonna tell you who your body belonged to, and I'm gonna tell you who killed him' which was really a bonus," Lee said.
The teeth were those of mob associate Pete Poulos who had fled Boston in the company of Whitey Bulger's two most vicious killers, Steve Flemmi and Frank "Cadillac Frank" Salemme.
Boston police told Las Vegas homicide that Bulger had been tipped off that Pete Poulos was ready to roll over and help the FBI - ironic since both Bulger and Steve Flemmi were secretly working with the FBI as well.
"So Bulger ordered them to assassinate him, take him out before they got back to Boston," Lee said.
In Los Angeles, evidence was found that put Flemmi, Salemme, and Poulos in the same apartment. Flemmi and Poulos decided to head for Las Vegas to party, but Poulos only made it to the outskirts of town off Route 16.
Lee secured a murder warrant and went to ask District Attorney George Frankling for the okay to arrest and extradite the suspects.
"He said, 'I've got bad news for you fellas. I'm not going to permit you to go back there.' And I said I didn't understand, what are you talking about? And he said, 'I've got information that they are working with the authorities back there.'"
Lee soon learned from Boston police that the real life situation was as complicated as the movie. Whitey Bulger was giving the feds information about rival mobsters but was also paying FBI agents and police for protection for his own rackets. Lee's boss, Sheriff Ralph Lamb, also tried to help but their case was stymied at every step.
"We could not get cooperation," Lee said. "Everything came to a stop."
Lee's suspicions about the Boston FBI were confirmed to a degree when Bulger received a heads up he was about to be arrested and went on the run.
It is likely Bulger's path led to Las Vegas. He stayed on the lam for 16 years, though he was listed as one of the FBI's most wanted fugitives. When he was finally caught in Long Beach, agents found an arsenal of guns in his condo, including a few that had been purchased at Las Vegas gun shows.
The pantheon of notorious hoodlums at the Mob Museum in downtown Las Vegas made a point of saving space for one of the craftiest organized crime figures of all time -- James "Whitey" Bulger, leader of Boston's infamous Winter Hill gang.
Elsewhere in the museum are photos of some of the 60 or more murder victims of Bulger and his gang, but with one glaring omission, Peter Poulos, a small-time Boston hood who knew too much about Bulger and his top assassin, Steve "The Rifleman" Flemmi.
The real irony in this story is that during that same time period, the FBI looked at Las Vegas as being totally corrupt and local law enforcement as being untrustworthy. As it turned out, it was the FBI that was in bed with the mob, at least with Whitey Bulger.
There is no such thing as a closed murder case, so if someone wanted to go after the two hit men involved in the killing of Pete Poulos, there is still a solid case to be made against them. Flemmi is in prison. Salemme is believed to be living in the Witness Protection program somewhere.
By Associated Press September 17
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — The latest on the case involving Anthony “Big Tony” Moscatiello in the mob-connected 2001 slaying of a prominent South Florida businessman during a battle over control of a fleet of gambling ships (all times local):
A judge has agreed with a jury’s recommendation and sentenced Anthony “Big Tony” Moscatiello to life in prison without parole for orchestrating a 2001 mob hit on a prominent businessman.
Broward County Circuit Judge Ilona Holmes sentenced Moscatiello on Thursday after he apologized for the killing but insisted he had nothing to do with it.
The 76-year-old Moscatiello was convicted in July of first-degree murder and murder conspiracy in the fatal shooting of Konstantinos “Gus” Boulis during a dispute over the lucrative SunCruz Casinos fleet of gambling ships. Trial evidence showed Boulis was shot by a hit man hired by Moscatiello, a reputed member of New York’s Gambino crime family.
A Florida jury has recommended life in prison for Anthony “Big Tony” Moscatiello for orchestrating a 2001 mob hit on a prominent businessman.
The jury’s recommendation of life instead of the death penalty is advisory only to Broward County Circuit Judge Ilona Holmes, who will make the final decision. But the judge gives “great weight” to the jury’s decision.
The 76-year-old Moscatiello was convicted in July of first-degree murder and murder conspiracy in the fatal shooting of Konstantinos “Gus” Boulis during a dispute over the lucrative SunCruz Casinos fleet of gambling ships. Trial evidence showed Boulis was shot by a hit man hired by Moscatiello, a reputed member of New York’s Gambino crime family.
Co-defendant Anthony “Little Tony” Ferrari was also convicted and is serving a life sentence.
Boulis also founded the Miami Subs restaurant chain.
A jury has reached a decision on whether to recommend a life prison sentence or the death penalty for Anthony “Big Tony” Moscatiello in the 2001 mob-connected slaying of a prominent South Florida businessman.
The recommendation will be announced shortly and goes to Broward Circuit Judge Ilona Holmes, who will make the final decision.
Moscatiello was convicted in July of hiring a mob hit man to kill Konstantinos “Gus” Boulis during a dispute over control of a lucrative gambling ship fleet. Moscatiello is a reputed member of New York’s Gambino crime family.
The Wee Book of Irish-American Gangsters: Ireland's Costa Mafia's blood bond is the envy of ...: By Nicola Tallant THEIRS IS A BOND OF BLOOD ENVIED BY THE RUSSIAN, BRITISH, EASTERN EUROPEAN, MOROCCAN AND COLOMBIAN CRIME SYNDICATE...
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RECIPES WE WOULD DIE FOR: Pizza Rustica - Pizza Chena: Recipe Time: 21/2 hours, plus time for cooling FOR THE DOUGH: 6 cups all-purpose flour, plus more as needed 1/4 teaspoon sal...
The Prohibition Gangsters in Pictures: The Rienzi Hotel: The Rienzi Hotel, NE corner of Clark, Diversey and Broadway (then called Evanston Blvd), Lake View, 1908, Chicago. The Rienzi is most reme...
The Wee Book of Irish-American Gangsters: Irish barber's bond with gangster Reggie Kray: Thursday 10th September 2015 ● CRIME DESKBy Lynne Kelleher An Irish barber has revealed for the first time how he was one of the...
The New England Mafia: Boston Mobster Buddy McLean's Son Pens THE IRISH K...: The new crime film "Black Mass," set to open Sept. 18, was filmed in Boston and is based on the 2001 book "Black Mass: ...
The New England Mafia: A Strange, True Story of the FBI and Organized Cri...: Whitey Bulger is the name you know, but things were far bigger and more complex than you might imagine. BY T.J. ENGLISH Excerpted ...
BY MARIA KONNIKOVA
Mobsters are often portrayed as men who care about their communities and who live by their own codes of honor and conduct, impervious to the political whims of the establishment.
In 1947, when Elaine Slott was sixteen, she travelled with her mother and sister to visit her aunt and uncle in Florida. The day after they arrived, however, Elaine and her aunt boarded another plane by themselves. Elaine soon found herself speeding to Cuba, where the family had business interests. Elaine remembers that night well. After they landed, she and her aunt left Havana and drove for several hours into areas that seemed increasingly remote. It was very late and very dark when they finally arrived at a stately house. Along with a few guests, a number of family members, including Elaine’s uncle, had gathered there for a dinner party. Their host, who had been cooking pasta, emerged from the kitchen wearing a white apron. He introduced himself to Elaine as Charlie.
Over dinner, Charlie was charming. He personally brought out and served all of the food. After appetizers came the pasta, and Elaine found herself staring down at a plate she had assumed was meant to be shared by everyone at the table. “I could never eat all this!” she declared. Charlie laughed and proposed a wager: he’d give her two dollars if she ate it all. Another guest immediately joined in: another two dollars for the girl. Elaine had no pocket money, and wanted to buy some souvenirs for her sister, who was still back in Florida. So she ate the whole plate. There were cheers. She was paid in full. On her way home, she bought the souvenirs. She didn’t give it another thought.
Several weeks later, a photograph in a newspaper caught her eye. It showed a man who seemed intriguingly familiar. Above it was a headline about the infamous Charles “Lucky” Luciano. He’d been captured in Cuba and was being deported to Italy. “Ma, why didn’t you tell me who it was?” Elaine demanded. “It’s not important that you know everything,” her mother replied. Elaine shouldn’t have been too surprised: the uncle she visited in Florida was Meyer Lansky. That night, he’d sent his niece and his wife to see his best friend.
A few weeks ago, Slott, a diminutive, delicate octogenarian, recalled those days wistfully over steak at the première of AMC’s “The Making of the Mob,” a docu-drama about the early years of organized crime, when Lucky, Meyer, and Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel ruled the land. She remembers Charlie as a gentleman and her uncle as a charismatic, loving person who cared deeply for his family. Meyer Lansky’s grandson, Meyer Lansky II, a fifty-eight-year-old former casino operator who was sitting at the same table, said that he felt the same way. He remembers walking with his grandpa on the beach in Miami and listening to his business advice. His granddad was a kind, peaceful man—and, Lansky II is quick to stress, he never got his hands dirty. (Or so it’s said.)
It’s no surprise that family members paint idyllic pictures of their mobster ancestors. Every mobster was also a father, brother, uncle, or grandfather, and—at least theoretically—his villainy didn’t spill over into those roles. The real question is why so many other people feel the same way. We don’t glamorize all violent crime; no one holds the Son of Sam or Charles Manson in high regard. (It’s hard to imagine their descendants gathering for a celebratory dinner at a steakhouse.) So why are Al Capone, Lansky, Arnold Rothstein, Luciano, and their ilk held up as mythic figures, even heroes of a sort, not just by their families but by the general public? Why are members of the Italian mafia treated more like celebrities than unsavory criminals?
Part of the answer is historical. According to James Finckenauer, an emeritus professor at Rutgers University and the author of “Mafia and Organized Crime: A Beginner’s Guide,” the glamorization of the mob started with Prohibition. In the early years of the twentieth century, mobsters were just small-time operators. Then came the Volstead Act, which outlawed alcohol. “One of the side effects was to solidify organized crime and create a real, international organization out of what was, in essence, small criminal groups,” Finckenauer told me. Because Prohibition was hugely unpopular, the men who stood up to it were heralded as heroes, not criminals. “It was the start of their image as people who can thumb their noses at bad laws and at the establishment,” Finckenauer said. Even when Prohibition was repealed and the services of the bootleggers were no longer required, that initial positive image stuck. Books like Mario Puzo’s “The Godfather” communicated the idea that mobsters were men who cared about the happiness of their communities and who lived by their own codes of honor and conduct, impervious to the political whims of the establishment.
The specific immigrant identities of the original mobsters also made them easier to admire. With the significant exceptions of Meyer Lansky and Arnold Rothstein, the original high-profile mafiosos were, by and large, Italians. And, even as late as the nineteen-twenties, Italians and Italian-Americans were often considered “other” by much of the rest of the country. In fact, many people subscribed to what criminologists call the alien conspiracy theory of organized crime—the idea, as Finckenauer puts it, that “Southern Italians came to us with evil intent to create criminal enterprise on our shores.” (Today, Donald Trump advances a similar theory about immigrants from south of the border.) That outsized sense of Italians’ otherness, combined with the idea that the mob’s rigid rules precluded the involvement of outsiders, made mobsters less threatening. “By and large, people are under the impression that if they don’t have any dealings with stuff the mob deals with—no drugs, no borrowing money, no illegal gaming—they have nothing to fear from organized crime,” Finckenauer said. Because their violence seemed directed at their own communities, not anyone else’s, it was easy to romanticize.
Social psychologists have long distinguished between “in-groups” and “out-groups.” Out-groups come in different guises. There are some with whom we feel absolutely no affinity; often, we separate ourselves from them by putting them down. But other out-groups are enough like our in-group that, although their identity remains separate from ours, they seem like less of a threat, It is to this second category that the mafia belongs. People who see themselves as “all-American” can be fascinated by Italian mobsters, and even admire them, without worrying that their lives will come into contact with mobsters’ lives. It’s no coincidence that the other glamorized mob figures in the U.S. are Irish: from “The Departed” to the forthcoming Whitey Bulger biopic “Black Mass,” they’re presented as similar enough for sympathy, yet different enough for a false sense of safety to creep in. For reasons of language, culture, and race, members of the Chinese and Russian mob have proven harder to romanticize.
Ultimately, the mob myth depends on psychological distance, a term coined by the New York University psychologist Yaacov Trope to describe the phenomenon of mental distancing that takes place when we separate ourselves from events, people, emotions, or concepts. In some cases, that distance comes naturally. As painful events recede into the past, our perceptions soften; when we physically remove ourselves from emotionally disturbing situations, our emotions cool. In other cases, we need to deliberately cultivate distance—to “gain perspective.” Trope likens it to the old cliché of missing the forest for the trees: you can wander around in the trees forever or, through training or external intervention, realize that you need to step back to see the full vista.
Once attained, psychological distance allows us to romanticize and feel nostalgia for almost anything. It provides a filter, eliminating some details and emphasizing others. We speak of the good old days, hardly ever of the bad. Psychological distance is, among other things, a coping mechanism: it protects against depression and its close cousin, rumination, which pushes us to dwell too long on unpleasant details from the past instead of moving forward. When, instead, we smooth the edges of the past, remembering it as better than it was, we end up hoping for an equally happy future.
But psychological distance doesn’t require time. Under the right conditions, it can flourish in the moment. The psychological distance provided by “otherness” mimics the distance provided by time. It’s not a phenomenon unique to the mafia. It’s easy to glamorize warfare when there is no draft, or to idealize anyone whose life style seems risky and edgy without putting you, personally, at risk—spies and secret agents, rebels without a cause, the beatniks of Jack Kerouac’s “On The Road.” As long as there isn’t an easy-to-recall, factual reminder that brings us down out of the clouds of romanticism, we can glamorize at will. The lives of serial killers offer those concrete reminders: they lurk in neighborhoods like ours, threatening people who could be us. The mob is more abstract: it’s a shadowy, vague “organization” whose illicit dealings don’t really impinge on us. Abstraction lends itself to psychological distance; specificity kills it.
We grant mobsters dignity because we enjoy contemplating the general principles by which they are supposed to have lived: omertà, standing up to unfair authority, protecting your own. Those principles are what you see and hear when you watch Lansky and Luciano’s golden years reënacted in the “The Making of the Mob,” or when you follow Whitey Bulger’s takeover of Boston in “Black Mass.” In the same way, when Meyer II or Elaine Slott speaks to me about the past, I hear echoes of greatness—of lofty ideals and grand ambition, of important principles that the cold world didn’t always uphold. That dinner in Cuba is recalled as an illustration of friendship and family: Lucky was just a man making good, torn from the people he loved so the U.S. could make a political statement. Because they’re related to him, Lucky Luciano’s familiars see him as a principled man worthy of our admiration instead of a criminal deserving of our disdain. Psychological distance allows us to see him this way, too. It makes us part of the family.
The daughter of mafia boss Vittorio Casamonica, who was last month given a lavish funeral in Rome, has sparked more outrage after comparing him to Pope Francis.
Vera Casamonica has further enraged Italy’s politicians by appearing on a show aired by the state-owned TV station, Rai, to defend her father’s funeral while comparing him to the much-loved leader of the Catholic Church.
She said on the show, Porta a Porta, that her father was “a good father, like Pope Francis".
The ostentatious send-off in August included a horse-drawn gilded carriage and a live band which played the theme from ‘The Godfather’ film, as rose petals were thrown from a helicopter overhead.
“I would do the same again,” she said.
The helicopter pilot was suspended for flying low over the city and dropping the petals.
“How were we to know he couldn’t do that? It was up to him to tell us it was forbidden.”
Of the choice of The Godfather theme music, she added: “My father liked that film and the song, we just carried out his wish.”
A picture of her father, seemingly dressed like a pope, was also pinned to the wall of Don Bosco church, where the funeral was held.
"He was not dressed like a pope. He was wearing blue trousers that maybe you didn't see. Perhaps you misinterpreted that image."
His grandson, Vittorino, also appeared on the show, and denied Casamonica was a mafia boss.
"He was only head of our family, not anyone else's."
Politicians from Italy's Democratic Party demanded to know how the family came to appear on state-owned TV and called on leaders in Rome and Lazio to investigate.
In a statement published by Ansa, they said: “It was a disgraceful and offensive spectacle for Rome citizens in the first place, and now to all Italians, who had to listen to members of the Casamonica family on a TV show funded by taxpayers, make comparisons with Church leaders.”
The statement added that the funeral was an insult to all those trying to “fight against the mafia and illegality” and who risk their lives in doing so.
The funeral, held on August 20th, infuriated leaders of a city already embroiled in a mafia-linked corruption scandal.
Interior Minister Angelino Alfano and Rome Mayor Ignazio Marino said it was a “ despicable spectacle”, while the city’s police chief admitted at the time to a “failure in the system”.
A day before the funeral a judge had set the date for the trial of 59 people charged in relation to graft around the awarding of city contracts.
Although he was never convicted of being a mafia don, the 65-year-old - who died of cancer - was the alleged head of Casamonica clan, which reportedly runs drugs, fraud and extortion rings in Rome.
The clan - which has its roots in the Roma community - is one of crime networks accused of infiltrating the city's government and influencing politicians in a spiralling corruption investigation.
The Prohibition Gangsters in Pictures: Secret gadget to bust prohibition-era speakeasies: By Mark Frauenfelder Robert Tetro patented this gadget in 1930 to help prohibition-era enforcement agents surreptitiously take d...
Ron GrossmanContact ReporterChicago Tribune
Who needs Capone and Dillinger when you have the Polish Robin Hoods of Chicago?
Newspaper editors long indulged Chicagoans' fascination with bad-guy anti-heroes like Al Capone and John Dillinger. Yet few got as much ink as the Panczko brothers, the self-styled Polish Robin Hoods.
Joseph (Pops), Edward (Butch) and Paul (Peanuts) were a trio of burglars, adept at picking locks, popping car trunks, and getting charges dropped and trials postponed. From the 1940s through the 1980s, they generated headlines like: "Panczko Tries to Buy His Way Out of Jam," (1958), "Once Again Pops Panczko Beats the Rap" (1959) and "Butch Panczko Arrests Hit 78" (1960). The Chicago Crime Commission calculated that Pops got 119 continuances on felony charges in a 21/2-year period.
In fact, all of the brothers spent time behind bars: Peanuts served 26 years, and Pops was sent to prison 12 times. When they were scheduled to be released virtually simultaneously, the Tribune headlined the story: "Lock All Doors, Here Come the Panczko Boys."
Butch was in the clinker for only 10 days, suggesting he had the most adroit lawyers.
The mountain of pilfered goods they piled up was all the more remarkable considering those court-ordered timeouts. Summing up his career in 1986, Pops told a hushed courtroom: "All my life, I stole. That's what I do."
The brothers' heists were legion. They stole 12,000 electric razors from an Oak Park warehouse. Peanuts robbed a Florida jewelry shop, attempting to flee in a motorboat with $1.75 million worth of diamonds, rubies and emeralds. Butch got caught trying to redeem 6,254 stolen trading stamps in a department store. Ever the Teflon brother, he was fined $1 for the caper. Arrested for a tavern brawl, Butch and the patron he was wrestling with told the judge they weren't fighting, they were dancing a waltz.
The son of Polish immigrants living on the Northwest Side, Pops, the oldest brother, came to his trade helping his parents make ends meet during the Great Depression. As an 11-year-old, he stole chickens at the Fulton Street market and peddled them to hard-pressed neighbors, three for a buck. Over the years, those childhood adventures ripened into the Chicago legend of Polish Robin Hoods.
U.S. District Judge Brian Duff didn't buy into it. He scoffed at the notion that Pops was "some sort of Robin Hood character" when sentencing him in 1986 to four years for stealing $250,000 worth of gems from a jewelry salesman's car.
Still, if the judge disdained Pops, the brothers were neighborhood celebrities. In 1957, a detective spotted Pops at Ricky's, a delicatessen at Division and California. When the cop tried arresting him, Pops responded with a shove to the chest. Butch happened upon the scene and joined in the fray. Customers and a waitress rooted for the bad guys and jeered the detective. The waitress tried to free Pop's arm from the grip of the cop, who told a Trib reporter: "I barely restrained myself from taking out my pistol and clouting her with it."
Years later, Peanuts married another waitress who worked at Ricky's, explaining that she sent him salamis while he was doing time in Tennessee. After her, he took a fourth wife, telling the Tribune: "She doesn't want anything from me. She just wants me out of crime."
Puzzled by Pops — "He bemoans his arrests but seems eager to boast about them" — a judge ordered a psychiatric examination. The shrink pronounced Pops a "sociopathic personality ... not amenable to treatment." Pops did exhibit wild, emotional swings. Escorted into one courtroom, he lightheartedly told a bailiff: "If you see a coat in here that you like, let me know and I'll steal it for you." Convicted of burglary, he left court morbidly thinking he'd die in prison. "You see me again at my wake," he called out to a relative.
The years were increasingly unkind to Pops. He was constantly tailed by the police and booked on the slimmest of evidence. It was said that the one name every Chicago cop could spell was P-A-N-C-Z-K-O. Once Pops was picked up because his car was parked in front of a jewelers convention. Another cop found a ring of auto ignition keys in Pops' pocket. At the time, he didn't have a car or a driver's license.
"The cops are driving me goofy, tailing me so I can't make a living," Pops complained to John O'Brien and Edward Baumann, Tribune crime reporters who chronicled the Panczko brothers.
Pops' family life went south. Butch died in 1978. Peanuts "flipped," testifying in 1986 against Michael Karalis, an accomplice of his and Pops in a jewelry robbery in South Bend. Pops also became a prosecution witness, explaining Karalis had denied him a fair share of the loot. "If he had given me the right cut, I wouldn't be here today," Pops said on the witness stand.
Peanuts disappeared into the federal government's witness protection program. Pops was sentenced to four years; Karalis got a suspended sentence, despite two previous convictions.
Pops emerged from prison in 1989, not so much determined as compelled to be an honest man. "I'm over with crime," he told O'Brien and Baumann. "I'm getting too old. My feet hurt."
Pops, who died in 2002, suffered a final indignity. He was living with a sister in 2000 when robbers posing as gas company workers conned their way into the home. A nephew chased them out, and the police theorized that Pops was targeted as being old and infirm.
"What goes around comes around," said Sgt. Richard Rybicki. "There is a God."