Tuesday, August 4, 2015

The Making of The Mob: New York

     For the last eight weeks, my family and I have been engrossed in AMC's new docu-drama mini-series, The Making of the Mob: New York. Sadly, it ended last night, but I like to believe I've walked away with more knowledge of the American Cosa Nostra (The Sicilian term for the mafia/mob which translates to "Our Thing") prior to what I knew eights weeks before. While there are actors portraying the real life men and woman of the story, there are also interviews with authors, historians, professors, actors, former mob associates and family members that also give insight to the world of the mafia from it's inception in Sicily and it's resurrection in America.

      All I really knew about the mafia was from basic study and interest that I delve into after seeing The Godfather for the first time and then from actually reading the book. As I said in my review for the Godfather Trilogy, Mario Puzo'z novel was the first time the doors of the Mafia were opened and outsiders were given a small understanding of life within the 'family business' (a more personal term for the mob which was probably coined by Luciano) as well as the family life that extended outside of the mafia. 

     How much of this mini-series is accurate, I'm not sure. I'll have to re-watch the series and do research on each episode, but until that time and from what I've gathered so far, I'll say that Making of the Mob is roughly 70% accurate. Some artistic liberties may have been taken to condense certain historical events for story flow and of course budget limits and time constraints. I will also say that AMC did not downplay the violence of the mob (which definitely contributes to the accuracy) and there is quite a bit of blood and gory deaths, so if you can't handle that, then don't bother watching.

~ ~ ~

Charles 'Lucky' Luciano
L-R: Rich Graff as Lucky Luciano and Charles 'Lucky' Luciano 
     In 1907, 6 year old Salvatore Lucania arrived on the docks of New York with his family, immigrants from Sicily. The American dream of prosperity they had been hoping for though, was really nothing but a dream. Growing up in the Lower East Side of Manhattan in what was known as Little Italy, Salvatore, who eventually changed his name to Charles, was raised around other Italian immigrants who brought with them the the customs of their cultures, one of the being the mafia which had started centuries back in Sicily. After dropping out of school at 14, Charles began running with other street boys regardless of their nationality or beliefs. 

     By the time he reached adulthood, Charles or Lucky and his two friends, Myer Lansky and Benjamin 'Bugsy' Siegal, two Jewish boys he had grown up with, were on their way to become mob material. Starting at the bottom working for another boss (leader of a crime family), Lucky, Myer and Benjamin through sheer willpower, determination and really just plain luck began making a name for themselves as a united front of intelligence, brawn and tactics. 

     Enter Frank Costello and Vito Genovese, both slightly older more seasoned mafia associates, and you get a perfect mix of the all American crime family. During the Prohibition Era was the golden the age for the mafia of which Lucky took gross advantage of and started to make his rise. By the 1930s, streets mobs and gangs were running New York through bootlegging, bookkeeping, prostitution rings, drug trafficking and getting away with all of it through paying off (or threatening) the police force, judges and lawyers (except one, but more on him later). 

     When the crime rate becomes too public and the murder too rapid, Lucky (by this time the head of his own family) takes matters into his own hands and calls a meeting of the heads of the crime families or the Five Families. There he institutes the traditional laws of the Scicilian Cosa Nostra and creates the Commission, the ruling group of the heads of the Five Families who will make all decisions regarding the work and livelihood of the New York mafia. 

     At 37 years old, Lucky Luciano's American dream has finally come to light. He is the most powerful man in New York, respected (and feared), wealthy and completely incorruptible. That is until he is nailed for prostitution rings and sentenced to jail for fifty years. While serving time, Lucky continues to run his family business through Myer, Vito and Frank. In a desperate effort to get out, Lucky helps the FBI track down a member of Murder Inc. (a lethal hitman group made up of Jewish men) and even aids in WWII. 

      After ten years, Lucky is finally released, but is exiled to Italy where he can never return to America. During exile, Lucky starts new business operations in Havana, Cuba where he takes the drug trafficking to a whole new level, but once again is busted by the police. Eventually, Lucky takes a huge risk and turns over his family business to another mob head. Lucky lives the rest of his life in Naples, Italy where he dies of a heart attack in 1962. Over three hundred people in Naples attended his funeral service his and final wish was granted when his body was brought back to America to be buried in New York. An astonishing 2,000 people arrived for the burial and eulogy.

      Throughout the series, you admire and loathe Luciano with equal measure. The man is first and foremost a criminal who craves power, wealth and dominance and will lie, cheat, steal, manipulate and kill to attain all of it. At the same time, he did genuinely care about his family business, his associates and friends. He was not a bloodthirsty killer (as most mobsters are portrayed as), but to rise in the ranks, you have to extinguish who is already above you. Lucky never wanted to make the world a better place, he never wanted to change the world, he didn't even care about the world, but the world will always remember him as one of the greatest mobsters of the twentieth century.

~ ~ ~

Myer Lansky
L-R: Ian Bell as Myer Lansky and Myer Lansky
      A genius mathematician who never graduated from high school, but was immensely influential in the rise of the Luciano family as well as it's prosperity for over 30 years. Myer was friends with Lucky from the time they were young teenagers involved in illegal activities. Practical, intelligent and always cautious, Myer is Lucky's right-hand-man who never falters in his loyalty to Lucky. Myer is also one of a handful of mob members that escapes with little to no destruction to their name. He could be ruthless one moment and completely engaging the next and was a man who knew the power of money and how to possess and control that power.

      Due to Sicilian law, Myer is unable to take over the Luciano family when Lucky is in prison, but he pretty much ran most of it anyway. Nothing is ever done without his consultation and his advice and strategy tactics are almost always successful. Myer knew how to work people, how to get inside their minds and understand their psyche which made him a brilliant negotiator and business man. By the time of his death, Myer manages to escape most of the accusations brought against him throughout his life in the mob (the man was that brilliant because he was involved in some dirty and dangerous business) and died quietly of lung cancer in Miami Beach where he had retired. 

~ ~ ~

Vito Genovese
L-R: Craig Thomas Rivela as Vito Genovese and Vito Genovese
      A bold and brash mobster who craves power more than Lucky himself, but where Lucky believes in negotiation, Vito believes in manipulation or just killing people. Vito is the closest antagonist we get in the story and completely betrays Lucky and the rest of the family all for the sake of become head of the Luciano family. When Lucky is in jail he makes Vito his acting boss which turned out to be a terrible mistake. Vito's power goes to his head and almost destroys the family in less than 6 months. His ultimate disaster came when he fell in love with his beautiful cousin Anna who was married at the time, so to get Anna, he murders her husband. 

     Shortly after he and Anna are married, Vito's trouble begins to stack on him. Murder charges, drug charges and eventual deportation to Italy where he worked with drug trafficking during WWII. Vito is caught by the police and brought back to America on murder charges of which Lucky gets him out of. After Lucky's release from jail, Vito becomes upset at Lucky's resentment of him and eventually betrays him and the family by trying to assassinate Frank Costello, the acting boss of the Luciano family. Eventually, Vito served the rest of his life in jail on drug charges. Vito's ruthlessness and lust for power became his downfall as well as turning his back on one of his oldest friends and the man who gave him the power that he wanted only to see that power wasted away by selfishness, arrogance and betrayal. 

~ ~ ~

Benjamin 'Bugsy' Siegel
L-R: Jonathan C. Stewart as Bugsy Siegel and Benjamin 'Bugsy' Siegel
     Way back when the name Bugsy meant you were crazy or insane so it's understandable how Benjamin Siegel, a violent killer, would come by such a nickname. Bugsy is one of Lucky's oldest friends and is part of the Jewish and Sicilian mobs working as a crack hitman with a beastly temper. Because if his attractive looks and charming personality, Bugsy very easily became known as 'celebrity gangster.' During Lucky's jailtime, Bugsy is sent to California to begin business relations with the film reel union as well as numerous other unions that the Luciano family can have control over. 

     In 1946, Bugsy came across a desert area in the Midwestern America where it had one prospect that the mafia could legally dig their claws into, gambling. Bugsy was influential in the construction of Las Vegas with its first casino The Flamingo. It was literally a risky gamble that had a shaky start, but became very successful thanks to Bugsy's determination and the funding by the five Families. Unfortunately, Bugsy's happiness and his life were short lived when his girlfriend ran off to Switzerland with over a million dollars in her luggage leaving Bugsy virutally penniless and unable to pay back the Five Familes. In June 1947, Bugsy was assassinated, but to this day no one knows who was responsible and it remains a constant mystery, but Bugsy did leave behind the legacy of the creator of the Las Vegas mob.

~ ~ ~

Frank Costello
L-R: Anthony DiCarlo as Frank Costello and Frank Costello
      Lucky probably wouldn't have gotten anywhere had it not been for Frank Costello. Frank gave Lucky, Bugsy and Myer their start in the Mafia after they helped Frank get out of a difficult situation that he clearly didn't want to be in. Afterwards Frank became part of Lucky's inner circle and was known to be extremely intelligent and easy to deal with. He was loyal to Lucky and relied heavily on Myer's advice, especially after Vito is surprisingly named acting boss while Lucky is in jail. Lucky explains to Frank that if he had named him acting boss that would make him a target for power hungry Vito and Lucky needed Frank alive. So for months Frank worked quietly behind the scenes, cleaning up after Vito's messes and trying to hold the family together.

     After Vito is deported to Italy, Frank becomes acting boss and finally gets the family business under control. Over the years, the stress of running the family business and having to live in constant fear of his life, Frank begins to crack underneath the pressure. After a failed assassination attempt (commissioned by Vito Genovese) Frank is allowed to retire after heading the Luciano family safely and successfully for over twenty years. With the exception of Myer, Frank seemed to be the most humane of all of the mobsters and although he was brilliant as an acting boss, Frank really did want a life of legitimate businessman and to simply live, not survive from day to day.

~ ~ ~

Thomas Dewey
L-R: Adam Jonas Segaller as Thomas Dewey and Thomas Dewey
(Remember that lawyer that couldn't be paid off?)

       Thomas Dewey, a successful lawyer and aspiring politician who is the only person in New York who will not be paid off by the Mafia or will have nothing to do with the Mafia at all. In the 1930's Dewey takes an the unthinkable mission to bring down New York's criminal underworld. Starting with notorious hitman Dutch Shultz who is eventually killed by the mob because of his careless tactics, Dewey then moves on to take down the most powerful man in New York, Lucky Luciano. 

      Lucky managed to evade Dewey in his illegal businesses of bookkeeping, alcohol, racketeering and drugs, but makes a detrimental mistake of taking on prostitution operations (pimping). Finally Dewey nails Luciano on charges of running prostitution rings as well as using prostitutes to sell drugs to their customers. In an incredible attempt, Dewey manged to to get more than 60 prostitutes to testify against Lucky Luciano saying that he was responsible for putting them on the streets and the brothels. This was something that had never been done before and the most powerful mobster is put behind bars by the testimonies of prostitutes. Even though Lucky is now in incarceration, that doesn't stop Dewey from continuing to hunt down mobsters. After WWII, Dewey starts getting pressure from the military to release Lucky from prison due to his help in the war. Reluctantly Dewey signs his release, but demands that Lucky Luciano will never return to American soil. 

     To be honest, Dewey is characterized as a hero in this series and seems rightfully so. It's obvious he hated the mafia, the underworld and what they represented and he is portrayed as genuinely caring for the prostitutes that Lucky used. Dewey went on to be governor of New York and lost a presidential election, but to the New Yorkers of the 1930s, he was considered a hero and the first man to crack open the underworld. 

~ ~ ~

       This was a thoroughly engaging mini-series on a era of American history that I knew nothing about. I had never heard of Lucky Luciano or Myer Lanksy before Making of the Mob and now I've spent eight weeks learning about their fascinating lives and how every single man made their name in history. The whole series was actually filmed in West Virginia! I was completely shocked, but the locations and the cinematography were beautiful. Because it's a male dominated show that takes place in the 1930s-1940s, all men dressed the same way, but the period accurate costumes manged to take already attractive men and turn them into even more attractive men, just in a historical setting. 

      Making of The Mob: New York is great to watch as well as listening to the authors, historians and actors who were interviewed for the series and getting a better understanding of the history of the mafia, the creation of the American mob and the men who went down in history to make it happen.

~ ~ ~

The Cast
Top: Rich Graff (Lucky), Ian Bell (Myer) and Craig Thomas Rivela (Vito)

Bottom: Jonathan C. Stewart (Bugsy), Anthony DiCarlo (Frank) 

and Adam Jonas Segaller (Thomas Dewey)

Because the number one reason I continued watching this mini-series is I'm fascinated by the mob and the history of Cosa Nostra and it has nothing, absolutely nothing, to do with the all male cast.

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