My first interview on Dad, when I listen now it reminds me how liberating it was to talk about my family history.
Luellen Smiley is the daughter of reputed mobster, Allen Smiley. Smiley’s dad was a close friend and confidant of famous Las Vegas mobster Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel and he was sitting on the couch just feet away from Siegel the night he was murdered. While Luellen Smiley hadn’t been born at the time o…
AS I LOOK OUT THE WINDOW, the stark undressed trees and branches droop with the weight of snow. Footprints form a hopscotch pattern on the snowy driveway and sidewalks. January is the month that reminds me most of Casey. That’s when she wore a mink coat, hat, and gloves. Her appearance was consistently Vogue print material.
Casey was a woman that threw the dice all her life. She gambled on her instincts as if they were already tested and approved. She never told me much about herself. Casey lived in the present moment and considered her past a private matter. Once I learned of her struggles as a young woman and the life she’d chosen, she became more real than when I’d known her. During the years we were friends, she handed out selected stories, abbreviated and censored. Being the inquisitive character I am, the shallowness of her stories bated me. I had to pry the truth out from other people who had known her.
Casey’s first gamble was at sixteen years old. She sent in a photograph of herself for the Redbook Magazine modeling contest. If she’d won, the Powers Modeling Agency in New York City would grant her an audition as a model. Casey was living in East Orange, New Jersey with her mother and sister. Her father had died suddenly, leaving the family without a financier. Casey’s mother was lost without her husband and unsuited to join the workplace. Casey didn’t tell her mother about the contest until she received the letter of congratulations.
John Robert Powers met Casey in his office on East 56th Street and signed her on as a Powers Girl. She was stunning to look at, she photographed like a movie star, and she was modest. John Powers did not look for aggressive, pouty-lipped, fearlessness. The Powers Girls were captioned, “Long Stemmed American Beauties” because they were wholesome, beautiful, tasteful, courteous, and virtuous. They were so far from the runway models of today, it is almost a reversal of the industry.
The models of the thirties were ordained to set the highest example of classic good breeding and education. John not only schooled them in fashion, and individual taste, he instructed them in moral integrity, independence, and community service. Casey went to school at John Robert Powers and became one of the top ten models in New York.
She was a blue-black-haired Irish beauty, with emerald green eyes and perfect teeth. She stood only 5’ 7″ in those days that was fairly standard. When I knew her, she was still thin and beautiful but she did not fuss about herself or spend a lot of time at her vanity. As a Powers model, Casey had a long line of gentlemen callers. Powers Girls were invited to all the nightclub and dinner show openings, sporting events, community galas, and fund-raisers. Social engagements were part of her job. Casey was not a woman of idle chat, in fact, a lot of people thought of her as restrained and unfriendly, maybe even snobbish. I think it was more secrecy. People were always prying into her life because it looked glamorous. There was another side to that glamour she didn’t want to put in the mirror.
One evening Casey had a dancing engagement at the Copacabana nightclub in New York City. She was on stage with some other dancers when a certain gentleman noticed her. The next chapter of Casey’s life began that night. At twenty-two years old, she fell in love with a man thirteen years older, of the Jewish faith, who lived in Hollywood. The consequences of her love forced her to change and adapt to a new lifestyle and different people.
She did not bury or rescind her love after she learned his business. She asked him to reform his criminal activities. He agreed if only she would marry him. We all know at twenty-two a woman believes she can change a man, and a man lets her think she can. Without that dream, many lovers would not have found their mates.
Casey did marry her love and spent her life trying to keep her husband and children from pointlessness, and harm. I met her husband just after he tried to reform, and was beaten down by the FBI. I called him Daddy.
Thank you very much for allowing “CRADLE OF CRIME-A Daughter’s Tribute” to participate in a TaleFlick Discovery contest. Your date has been set!
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I am thinking about some of Dad’s answers to questions. You learn more by listening than telling. I remember if a friend or associate made some business proposition, Dad would answer, ‘I’ve been thinking along those same lines myself, and have a few ideas.’ Now, sometimes, he didn’t know but that gave him a shot into the game. The opponent would then tell Dad everything. The reason I say this is he said that to me. Not in those words, but the same move. Gangster’s do as much strategizing as politicians, maybe more. Coming out of court LA Times Photo. He loved sunglasses, and so do I.
I was writing a lengthy portrayal of Ben Siegel one day and it occurred to me that he had become a major character in my life. He played a role that someone else should have; a noted author, journalist, or poet. Ben Siegel changed my history because I had to learn to love him. Learning to love him, meant erasing everything I had read or heard. It is said he was a ruthless killer, a savage, violent, and he loved to kill. I turned to look at a photograph of my mother in my room. I was told that she loved Ben and I believe that is true from a very credible family member.
Where once I believed my mother was naïve and uninformed about Ben; now I know this wasn’t the case. She knew. I‘ve read the news articles of the day, the FBI files, columns, and I’ve spoken to people who were there. My mother traveled by train to New York with my father, Ben, and Esta, his wife, and the FBI were in the next compartment! The night of the murder Esta gave my father all the jewelry Ben was wearing. Ben and Dad were like brothers. Today marks the seventy-second year since he was murdered. Do you know, at least three times a week, someone writes about Ben. Today it was the reopening of the Formosa Cafe in Hollywood where Dad and Ben parlayed the day’s bets and business. If I could have met one man it would be Benjamin Siegel. Dad in Court.
CRADLE OF CRIME-A Daughter’s Tribute is a historical memoir that frames my father’s association with the American Jewish Mafia, and more specifically his devotion to Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel. It has taken twenty years to publish this book. After hundreds of agent rejections, I threw the dice on self-publishing. It has been a challenging and rewarding experience. I am writing my second book, CRADLE OF FRIENDS.