Monday, March 25, 2013

Bugsy Siegel

“My friends call me Ben, strangers call me Mr. Siegel, and guys I don’t like call me Bugsy, but not to my face.”

Still the name Bugsy stuck—even if it was behind his back. It’s unknown whether the media—who loved writing about the violent and dangerous-- or his cohorts-- gave him the name. But whether he liked it or not, it was his during his lifetime and beyond.

            He was born Benjamin Hymen Siegelbaum on February 28, 1906. Although he was a contemporary of my bootlegging father, he lived to the ripe old age of 41 while my dad was murdered in a turf war with the mafia when he was 29.

            Siegel was known as the father of Las Vegas because of his early establishment of the Flamingo Hotel & Casino in the desert. He was the son of immigrants as were other Jewish bootleggers of the time, like Morris Kleinman, Abe Landau, Moe Dalitz and my father, Louis Rosen. Raised in the crime- ridden section of Williamsburg, Siegel met Meyer Lansky with whom he built an empire of bootlegging, gambling and murder, known as Murder, Inc. They became lifelong friends--that is, until Lansky ordered his friend’s assassination in 1947 for skimming mob money from the Flamingo Hotel.

            With an eye out for getting into the movies (Siegel was very handsome) he moved his operations to the West Coast. Maintaining an extravagant lifestyle in Beverly Hills he bought a palatial estate and established friendships with Hollywood moguls and movie stars, as well as a relationship with the infamous Virginia Hill.

            He was murdered in the house rented by her at 810 Linden Drive, Beverly Hills. She was out of town at the time--there are those who say it was highly recommended to her that she “leave town for her health.” He was buried in a $5000.00 casket in the Beth Olam section of Hollywood Forever Cemetery. Only five family members showed up for the service which took place before the cemetery opened. Among his possessions were a billfold with $408 in cash, a watch, a money clip, a key chain with 6 keys (one being for a hotel room) a ring and a pair of cufflinks.
Here is a great documentary about Bugsy!
And for you Boardwalk Empire Fans...


Next: Gun Molls

Monday, March 18, 2013

Meyer Lansky

Whoever said that crime doesn’t pay didn’t know about Meyer Lansky, the Jewish bootlegger, gambler and all around criminal, who, in 1970, was worth $300,000,000. He hid his money in a Swiss numbered bank account, whose anonymity was assured by the 1934 Swiss Banking Act.

            Unlike most criminals, Lansky reached the ripe old age of 81, while my bootlegging father, who was Lansky’s contemporary, was killed at 29 -- and whatever money was left to my mother was lost in the Great Depression.

            Lansky was born Meyer Suchowljansky in Russia to a Jewish family who, he claimed experienced vicious anti-Semitic pograms. In 1911 he immigrated to the US with his mother and brother. He met Bugsy Siegel on the Lower East Side when they were teenagers. They became lifelong friends—Bugsy saved Lansky’s life more than once -- and became partners in the bootlegging trade along with Lucky Luciano. Lansky was instrumental in Luciano’s rise to power by organizing the 1931 murder of Mafia powerhouse Salvatore Maranzano. (Get ready for that story, Boardwalk Empire fans!)

            By 1936 he had developed a gambling empire that stretched from Saratoga, New York, to Miami, to Council Bluffs, Iowa, and Las Vegas. He was into narcotics, pornography, prostitution, labour racketeering and extortion and also got control of legitimate hotels, golf courses and a meat-packing plant

            He organized mob funding for Bugsy Siegel’s Flamingo Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas. But when he kept its losing money, Lansky ordered his friend’s execution.

            Like Arnold Rothstein and Bugsy Siegle, he captured the imagination of authors, television producers and moviemakers. The character Hyman Roth in The Godfather Part 11 was based on Lansky. Max Bercovicz, the gangster played by James Woods in Once Upon A Time In America was inspired by Meyer Lansky, as well as in Havana, staring Robert Redford. Dustin Hoffman played Lansky in The Lost City

            Does that say something about our culture’s values?

            Lansky died of lung cancer on January 15, 1983, after spending a quiet respectable life in Miami. He was buried there in an Orthodox Jewish ceremony.

            He left behind a widow and three children.

Interview with Meyer Lansky, 1971


Next: Bugsy Siegel