‘Mob’ still a hot topic

Oct 30, 2006 4:13 AM

For a while it was quiet. A new book on the mob turned up here or there but overall, interest had waned. With John Gotti dead and many an ex-Mafioso in the witness protection program or dead, who had anything to say in a book? Then, suddenly as 2006 moves to an end, four new titles arrive at Gambler’s Book Shop; organized crime is a hot topic again. What’s more, three of the new arrivals focus on Las Vegas. (The fourth covers the Toledo-Detroit area.)

The biggest of the four in size and price is Gus Russo’s Supermob: How Sidney Korshak and His Criminal Associates Became America’s Hidden Power Brokers (623 pages, hardbound, $34.95). Russo, who last focused on the Chicago Mob in The Outfit, is a top investigative reporter whose new book contains almost 100 pages of references, indexing and bibliography alone.

This generation may not know who Korshak was, but Russo soon reminds us, calling him the Mob’s "fair-haired boy," also known as "The Fixer, who from the 1940s until his death in 1996 was not only the most powerful lawyer in the world, according to the FBI, but also the most enigmatic, almost vaporous player behind some of the shadiest deals of the twentieth century."

Russo’s book covers immense territory including Las Vegas with material on Moe Dalitz (who Russo says considered Korshak his legal adviser), Allen Dorfman (manager of the Teamsters pension fund), Conrad Hilton (patriarch of the Hilton Hotel dynasty), Jimmy Hoffa, Howard Hughes; Murray "The Camel" Humpreys; Kirk Kerkorian, former Nevada Governor Laxalt and Abner "Longy" Zwillman. The book details the growth of Las Vegas and the Mob influence at the Desert Inn, Stardust and Riviera; it covers Korshak’s show business and Hollywood connections; and it reveals who investigated who (Kefauver, the McClellan committees) and who influenced who, legally and illegally.

An amazingly well-researched book, illustrated (although I wish the black and white photos were larger), you’ll love this if you liked The Money and The Power: The Making of Las Vegas and Its Hold on America, by Sally Denton and Roger Morris, published in 2001.

Sometimes "little books" on Las Vegas and the Mob get overlooked. Maybe that’s because authors who self-publish lack the money and time to promote their work.

Two such books that deserve attention are The Battle for Las Vegas (The Law vs. The Mob) by Dennis Griffin (234 pages, paperbound, $14.95) and Vegas”¦The Mob and the Dead Pig On The Dance Floor by Michael Broderick (239 pages, paperbound, $15).

The Battle for Las Vegas is written by a former New York State law enforcement veteran. Griffin’s indexed and illustrated book contains more than a dozen colorful chapters with research, memories and facts put together with assistance from former police and federal agents who worked in Las Vegas for decades.

The book clearly highlights the virtual tug-o-war for control of the city from the 1940s to the 1980s. Those who have heard or briefly read about the role of Lefty Rosenthal, Tony Spilotro, Johnny Rosselli, Jimmy Fratianno, Bugsy Siegel, Moe Dalitz, the rise to prominence of Mayor Oscar Goodman -- a former lawyer for some of the Mob -- will find a unique history here. It is/was in essence a true battle for control of the city.

Michael Broderick has a heck of a background and a way of presenting his material in a book. He may be the first to include a detailed resume of his activities for the past 40 years including being a dealer, supervisor, host, business owner, who his connections were, who he met and his "ups and downs" in Las Vegas and elsewhere.

Although not illustrated nor indexed, it’s an interesting read. Broderick takes you on a personal, colorful tour of the city by showing off its big shots, big names like Howard Hughes and Kirk Kerkorian, and he shares his experiences as a guy who’s seen a lot and done plenty.

The final Mob book has an unusual title: Nothing Personal Just Business -- Prohibition and Murder on Toledo’s Mean Streets (239 pages, paperbound $20). Written by Kenneth R. Dickson, it focuses on Toledo (but includes plenty on Detroit) and organized crime, but as the author says "”¦it is also the story of saloon keeper and bootlegger Jack Kennedy”¦who”¦stood up to the Licavolis." Much of the story takes place during the Depression. Indexed and illustrated, it picks up where the book Unholy Toledo by the late Harry Illman left off.

The book’s foreword is by Jack Kennedy Jr. who was four years old when his father was killed by members of organized crime.

Those who lived in Toledo or want more about the city’s history, in the 1920 and 30s will find this a fascinating read. It’s about people -- good and bad -- bootleggers, Prohibition, corruption, gambling operations, and survival in a bygone era.

Dickson’s book is a labor of love about a little city which became a bigger, respectable city two generations later.

Any item reviewed here is available from Gambler’s Book Shop (Gambler’s Book Club). The store’s web site is www.gamblersbook.com; the toll free phone is 1-800-522-1777.