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An unexpected phone call came one day from Ms. Green, a woman I’d contacted with the INS about Dad’s files. She’d located them and agreed to give me copies of the five thousand pages! There was no going back now. Ed Becker told me that the INS most likely had copies of the FBI investigation, ‘Take it slow and remember the contents was written by your father’s enemies, the government! I had an appointment with Ms. Green the following week.
The split green metal door was closed so I knocked. A woman opened the door; she appeared the perfect clerk for a windowless metal room of paper. Long uncombed oily hair and a complexion untouched by sunlight.
“We’re closed,” she mumbled.
“How can that be? I have an appointment with Ms. Green.” The clerk looked at my despairing agony unwillingly.
“She’s not here.”
“My name is Lily Smiley and I’m here to pick up copies of the files on Allen Smiley. Would you take a look on the shelves in front of you? Maybe she left them on the front desk here.
“They’re not here.”
“Will you call her and ask where she left them?”
The clerk shut the door while I gripped the other side in case she tried to lock it.
“Ms. Green said they’re classified. We can’t release them.”
“Really? They’ve been classified in the last week?”
The door closed. I pounded on it and a tantrum sprouting from suspicion unleashed. I sensed the government stepped in and classified the files for a reason. As I descended the steps of the Department of Justice I saw my father standing with legs apart, arms crossed over his chest, seething with disapproval. I heard something like this, “You’re going to dig a little too far and sink in if you don’t stop this investigation.”
Westwood village where I lived with my mother sedated my defiance against the day’s disappointment. If I was in Los Angeles I’d stop and walk the streets where my puberty slowly blossomed in a college town with bookstores, two movie theaters, record shops, and the old Mario’s Restaurant where we used to order baskets of garlic bread and coca cola. Wandering through a kaleidoscope of the past, I walked into Walton’s Bookstore. I was intercepted by a prominent display of a newly released book; Contract on America, The Mafia Murder of President of John F. Kennedy. I opened the index and one of the first names I recognized was Gus Alex; my Uncle Gussie. He was a booming personality befitting his height, with jet black hair and bulky features. Uncle Gussie was married to my mother’s confidante Marianne; a statuesque blonde model and dancer. She held Grace Kelly poise. Even as a young girl I sensed she didn’t like me around. Marianne and Mom talked for hours in her bedroom.
Relief thickened with the absence of my father’s name in the index. Uncle Johnny ( Johnny Roselli) was written about extensively. I could only glance through the book; every page blurred into the murder of the most loved President in my lifetime. The allegation that Johnny was involved in the JFK murder strapped me to that book for hours; an unforgivable juxtaposition between inquisitiveness and apprehension. It was like playing scrabble with real names, photos, fiction or non-fiction I didn’t know.
EXCERPT: “West Coast Mobster Johnny Roselli was one of several underworld figures, chiefly associate of Carlos Marcello, Santo Trafficante and Jimmy Hoffa, whom Jack Ruby contacted in the months before the assassination of JFK. In the mid-1970s, an aging Roselli began telling associates, journalists, and Senate Investigators that Ruby was “one of our boys” and had been delegated to silence Oswald.” John Roselli
I could not believe what I was reading; anymore than I would believe my father was associated or informed of these events.
I’ve been subjected to scorn, disgrace, and dismissal during conversations about Johnny. Those of us kids who knew him as Uncle Johnny have our own stories.
Growing Up with Gangsters
By: Luellen Smiley
The memoir is written in the Creative Nonfiction genre and is ninety-two thousand words.
Writing my way home began as a compass to my secretive and dishonorable family history. This is the story of a woman whose survival was wedged between shameless love and immobilizing fear of her father.
After my almost perfect mother, Lucille Casey, an MGM musical actress died, Dad gained custody of me. I was thirteen years old. What followed was a nail-biting tumultuous father daughter relationship between Allen Smiley, a Hollywood gangster, and his teenage daughter, that I’ve named Lily.
As Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel’s best friend and business partner from 1937 until his death in 1947, Dad acclaimed Ben Siegel. He was seated next to him the night Ben was murdered. The fatal outcome was speculation of his involvement fed by the FBI to the media, death threats from Mob associates, and vicious harassment from the Immigration and Naturalization Service.
I’ve learned by this time Dad had amassed a weighty criminal record, was under indictment for false claim of citizenship, perjury, and an order of deportation. After demonstrating to the Mob he wasn’t going to seek immunity offered by the government; they honored and protected his life. Their methods are described in transcripts from the FBI files; amusing, violent,and illegal. Dad served the organization until his death in 1982.
Faced with an identity meltdown ten years after Dad died I implored his friends, associates, attorney, historians, FOIPA, Immigration and Naturalization Agency, and Archives of the Department of Justice, to build the branches of my family tree. Along this irreversible journey I suffered disgrace, rage, and Dad’s ghostly disapproval as I delved into the files and discovered the family secrets.
Simultaneous with the reading is a dissection of my reactions to his criminal activities, gambling addiction, attempt at reformation, and hatred for the government. The vendetta the government placed on him for not informing earned my mother’s silent devotion. In the end they won. She divorced him.
I could be mute about the subject, or expose what I know because I’ve made the family history mine.
Incorporated within stories of discovery are government surveillance records, newspaper articles, court testimony, and criminal activities that defamed his reputation and our family.
As the discoveries occur the reader is taken inside the transformation of my identity. Once liberated from Dad’s paranormal disapproval of my investigation, I break my silence and begin writing columns about growing up with gangsters. This opened the doors to unknown relatives, mob friends, and an identity that suits me well.
A startling yet an inspirational look inside the struggle of a gangster’s daughter to understand her father’s allegiance to the Mob.
Excerpt from Smiley’s Dice.
I don’t know how much more of this I can process. I don’t feel Dad’s disapproval as strongly; this expository involving my mother is deepening my resentment for the government. This is just one binder of two-hundred pages, and I have fifty binders. I’ll rearrange my dresser drawers or hand-wash sweaters for awhile. It’s too early to have a glass of wine! Two days have passed, as my resistance to more reading of these FBI files was due to a suspended state of melancholia.
April 13th- FBI file
“Smiley received a call from —— and told Smiley that he was thinking of going into business with —–who is making twelve thousand a month putting on stag shows. Smiley told him not to get into the business. —told Smiley that he had attended a ball game and noticed that George Raft was there. Raft is now sporting a mustache and his cheeks are all sunken in, making him look like a drowned rat. Smiley did not like this comment.”
“____ asked Smiley how his case was coming along, and Smiley replied,” They are going to ship me to Singapore”
After the forgoing call was made, the conversation continued concerning _______ between Smiley, paramour of Jack Dragna, and Lucille Casey. While Casey was getting ready to go out to dinner, this unidentified woman, became very cozy with Smiley, according to the informant, and stated,
“ Take my advice and don’t talk on the telephone. You can sit right here and they can listen to you from over that hill. I know this because we have been on the other side all the time.” Smiley replied he had an idea of that and she remarked that Smiley was a good guy, and she thought she should warn him.”
Signed R.B. Hood
Special Agent in Charge.
LUCILLE CASEY SMILEY
All my life people have asked me the same questions:” What’s it like knowing your father is a gangster? How old were you when you found out? Aren’t you afraid of his friends? You know they kill people.”
I live in a temporary tide-pool, a lily
floating against the current, weighted
down by a suit of armor that shields me
from the beauty, love and freedoms stirring in my bud.
What seemed insignificant at the time was the diving board into my Dad’s history. I was watching a Bugsy Siegel documentary on my television in San Diego during 1993. It was the first one I’d seen. Three historians joined in on the violence Bugsy honored and esteemed. Half-way through the celebratory lynching of Bugsy and his pals, a reporter made the statement that ‘It’s obvious Allen Smiley was there to set Bugsy up for the hit.’ Andy Edmonds stated that Dad conveniently disappeared into the kitchen during the time of the shooting. It wasn’t until a photograph of my dad appeared on the screen; a man with thick graying hair that I noticed an expression I’d never seen, horrifying misery. I moved closer to the television to see his face up close. A kaleidoscope of emotions rose to the surface: anger, shame, curiosity, and disbelief. I was forty years old.
The first time I’d seen those photographs of Ben Siegel slumped on that sofa; an eye bleeding down his face was a day back in 1966 at the age of thirteen. My best friend Dena lived in Brentwood with her divorced mother and siblings. We hooked in the unfamiliar and confusing imbalance of a broken home life. Dena was suffering depression after her parents divorced and I was dangling from my father’s fingertips hopelessly conflicted after my mother died. Dena wouldn’t let a day go by without calling me. ‘Are you all right?’ She didn’t like my father and her reasons were mature beyond her years, ‘Your father scares me.’ After school one afternoon we stopped in the Brentwood Pharmacy. Dena was looking at the book rack and I was following along.
“Lily, my mother told me your father is in a book, The
Green Felt Jungle. It’s about gangsters. Wanna see if they have it?” I agreed to look because Dena was interested, but it meant nothing to me. She twirled the book rack around as I stood behind her watching.
“That’s the book! Let me look first and see what it says,” she whispered. I could feel her arm tense up as I grasped it.
“Oh my God! There he is,” she said. We hunched over the book and read the description of my father, “Allen Smiley, one of Ben Siegel’s closest pals in those days, was seated at the other end of the sofa when Siegel was murdered.” Dena covered her mouth with one hand and kept reading silently.
“What does that mean? Who is Siegel?” I asked.
“Shush–not so loud. I’m afraid to tell you this. It’s awful.”
“What’s awful? Tell me.”
“Bugsy Siegel was a gangster in the Mafia. He killed people. Your father was his associate.”
“I don’t think I should see this.” I turned around abruptly to leave the drugstore. Dena followed me out.”
“Lily you can’t tell your father you saw this book. Please don’t tell him I told you.”
“My mother told me not to tell you. Swear to me you won’t tell your father!”
“I won’t. Don’t you tell anyone either.”
A few days later after Dad left for the evening I opened the door to his guarded bedroom. I walked around the bed to a get a closer look at the photographs on the wall. It was the first time I could read the inscription.
IN NOVEMBER OF 2005 I reserved a space at the San Francisco Writers Conference. I was nervous and edgy when I boarded the plane. My pitch proposal, pitch suit, and pitch necklace, were tucked inside my suitcase. The pitch convinces an agent or publisher, that you know your subject well enough to feel one hundred percent confident. It may sound irrational that a writer could work five years on a book and not know what it is about. As an emerging writer I view my work through a kaleidoscope lens. I see multiple themes, subplots, and messages, and they change with each reading. Then there are loose knots of personal misery, lost versions and rejections ringing in my ears. My pitch has to convince an agent, that at least 5,000 people will buy my book. The pitch suit is the outfit you wear for an interview; only for writers, the guidelines are very loose. Some writers wear their narrative. I brought my tailored, looking successful, pants suit. My pitch necklace is a gold Buddha medallion that my father had designed for my mother. I wear it for good luck and because I know the necklace has survived all the family tragedies. The conference is at the St. Francis Hotel at Union Square. From experience, I have learned that choosing a conference because of its alluring location is meaningless; I never pay attention to past experience.
It was pouring when I arrived. The staff at the front desk greeted me with musical familiarity. Every time I swished by they called out, “Hello, Ms. Smiley.” I imagined them as a chorus singing my name. I arrived one day early to pace the galleries, cafes, museums and Saks. After the first night, I had to switch rooms. I was directly above the street dumpsters, where for hours the chugging of trash kept me awake. I moved frantically, to scoop everything up and not miss a moment of San Francisco. After switching rooms, I dashed over to the Espresso Bar. It faces the corner of Powell and Sutter. Outside, the streetcars clanged by, passengers dangling from the bars like vines on a tree. In between the tracks, workers both blue and white-collar, and some without any collar at all, jammed the sidewalks on foot, bicycle, moped and skateboard. With phones and iPods attached, eyes alert, they buzzed on the vibe of Saturday, moving like musical notes in a symphony.
In the café an elderly woman wearing a SFWC name tag was seated next to me. I noticed she positioned her book on the corner of her table. She looked overwhelmed and frightened. As I introduced myself she smiled courteously, and said she was a neurotic housewife all her life and didn’t have much to write about, so she wrote about her husband’s war stories. I told her she should write about the neurotic housewife. Just as I was leaving, she stopped me and thanked me for speaking to her. “There’s always a guardian angel around.” Her voice lingered in my thoughts all weekend.
At six o’clock that evening, I was gliding around my room dressing for the gala. I reached for my jewelry bag. It was gone. The weekend was ruined! I would never get published, I’m too wired, too reckless, too distracted. I called the front desk. Heather said she would call me back. Bang, bang, bang, went my shoe against the bed frame. Then the phone rang.
“Hello, Ms. Smiley. I’m sending the bellman up with your jewelry.”
I answered the door recoiling with pained joy. The bellman listened attentively. I rushed upstairs to Harry Denton’s Starlight Room. There I began wine tasting with Maggie, Peg and George; three new comrades in a room of hundreds.
I spent the next day among more comrades, writers with unpublished stories, books, and works-in-progress. I listened to panels of writers; agents and editors discussed the fateful downward spin of publishing and upward battle towards reward. We sat in our chairs looking overly anxious, taking copious notes, and waiting for answers to our questions. At the end of the panel discussion we all lined up to meet the agents and editors. While we stood in line we met each other.
“What’s your story about?” the woman behind me asked.
“Growing up with gangsters,” I replied.
“ Oh well! That will get you an agent.”
“ I hope so.”
During the conference, I experienced a lucky throw of the dice. I met one of my mentors; Joyce Maynard. Her book, “At Home in the World,” is on my beside table. Joyce was published in the New York Times when she was sixteen years old. JD Salinger read the piece and invited her to live with him. Joyce’s story will send you back to reading Nine Stories.
As I progressed through the circle holding my pitch stick, the fear and apprehension subsided just a tiny bit. Three agents responded; ‘send me your manuscript.’ Naturally when I returned home, my hands were tied to editing. I rushed through, did not employ someone to copy-edit, and then ran about announcing my almost to be signed contract. Three months later I recovered from the rejections and began another rewrite and another until today, when I am on my fifth manuscript. This one feels right because I am not rushing through it expectant of publication; this time I know it will be published.
In the summer of 1994, infuriated from a broken affair, another job displacement, and skimpy funds to support me, I found myself in Beverly Hills, walking along with half-hearted interest in seeking employment.
I stopped in the shops Dad frequented; Geary’s, Schwab’s, and Nate ‘n Al Delicatessen seeking a root to hang onto.
Beverly Hills has the most powerful effect on me. As soon as I hit Beverly Drive I want to shop, need to shop, must shop! A rise of envy turns into jealously and my attention to wealth fades as Rodney Dangerfield crosses the street, his face contorted by some agitation. I walked past Jack Taylor’s Men’s Haberdashery and hesitated a moment. I had not seen Jack in ten years. The last time was 1982, at my father’s memorial service. Jack was the only friend Dad trusted outside of the Mob.
“Hi Jack, I was in the neighborhood, I wanted to say hello?”
“Jesus Christ! What a surprise,” he said rushing over to kiss me.
“Come in and sit down. My God, where have you been-what have you been doing?” Jack’s attention toward me was exacting and unavoidable.
“I’m in transition right now. I’ve changed careers-well, several times. I was in real estate in San Diego for a long time.”
“I knew you were in real estate, your Dad told me. What are you doing now?” Are you married?”
“No, not married. I’m living here now, and looking for a job.”
“What kind of job?”
“Well, something where I can use my skills in marketing and…”
“Why not come work for me?” he said leaning closer.
“Here, in the store?”
“Yeah, why not? You’ll be great.” he beamed.
“But I’ve never sold men’s clothes before.”
“So what! I’ll teach you. I need someone–my girl just left. I want to get out and play golf. I’ve spent my whole life in this goddamn business. Forty years for Christ’s sake. I’m tired, you know, I’m not a young man anymore,” he said without sentiment.
I hope he’s not doing this because he feels sorry for me, was what I was thinking. I heard my Dad’s voice, and he said, ‘Be grateful he offered you a job! You’ll be in the centerfold of high rollers.’ Dad still managed to interface my life in admonishment and disapproval. He was not just in my head. He was in command of my choices. His disapproval was still the beam I ducked from. Sometimes I felt his presence; like you do when a cat enters a room silent as snow.
The next day I called Jack and told him I could start the following Monday. Jack is a legend in Beverly hills; he cut cloth for the Rat Pack, Jackie Gleason, Tony Martin, Cary Grant President Truman and Allen Smiley.
A custom suit starts at three-thousand dollars. I stood by the front windows folding the finest cotton shirts, cashmere sweaters, and ties. Jack jogged back and forth, from the tailor shop to the retail shop, to the telephone, juggling all their demands with explosive keenness and a lot of cussing. This was a stage I wasn’t prepared for; the illustrious display of wealth on the street. I’d forgotten people still have their own drivers, and valets open the shop doors, and limousines double park in the middle of the street. It just dazzled me into a sort of trance.
“Lily! You’re standing there like a lick of honey in a hive of rich bees. Want me to introduce you to one of them?”
“I’m not ready.”
“For crying out loud! What are you waiting for? Stop looking out the window for Christ’s Sake. Get them to look at you!” Jack escorted me to the women’s collection and yanked out a suit.
“Try this on. You’re a six right?”
“Yes, how’d you know?”
“Whatta’ you think I do in this shop? Weigh turkeys.”
The best time of the day was four o’clock in the afternoon. Jack fixed himself a high ball, turned up the volume on a Frank Sinatra CD, and took off his mask. He poured me a drink, placed a bowl of mixed nuts on the coffee table and stretched out on the leather sofa.
We both wanted to talk about Dad.
“I watched a documentary on Ben Siegel; they alluded that dad had something to do with Ben’s murder.” I said.
“You’re lucky your father will never hear you say that. Dad spent a lifetime in fear that they’d take him out too. He tried to stay away from the business, he wasn’t even allowed back in Vegas after one incident. You know about the Ryan business?”
“No. What was that?”
“Forget it.” He stood up and filled his glass again.
“Your father had a temper, but he was a rose petal compared to Siegel. Anyway, Dad couldn’t leave this goddamn town; he was afraid they wouldn’t let him come back.”
“But he got his citizenship in 1966. Why couldn’t he leave after that?”
“It was you— he was afraid something might happen. These other guys like Meyer and Costello–they were afraid of nothing.”
“I met Meyer.” I said.
“Yeah, so you know.”
“I don’t know. Meyer was very gentle.”
“You’re Al Smiley’s daughter! That’s different. He wasn’t always so gentle.” Jack shook his head, private thoughts stirred.
“Your Dad tried to stay low, but he couldn’t walk away from the thing,” he said shaking his head.
“What thing?” I persisted.
“For Christ’s sake, what are we talking about? You know, the Mafia.”
“My father wasn’t in the Mafia!”
“Sweetheart I’m just telling you what I know. Maybe I’m wrong.”
“But he couldn’t have been. I mean my mother wouldn’t have married him.” Jack threw his arms up in frustration.
“He was Siegel’s partner, and then Roselli’s right arm! When Johnny was murdered your father changed.” Jack shook his head regrettably and continued.
“How did he change?” I asked.
Just then the door swung open and a distinguished man in a suit and overcoat walked in.
THANK YOU WORDPRESS. My odyessy of love stories have reached readers in Egypt, Western Europe, Eastern Europe, Mexico, South America, the Soviet Union and the USA. I cannot find time to read all the books on my shelves because I am reading the poetry, literature, and memoirs on WORDPRESS.
“As a dancer and prancer at heart, my feet are my hands, and my hands are my heart.” 2014
LIFESTYLES, GANGSTERS, LOVE
LIFESTYLES, GANGSTERS, LOVE