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.
As Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel’s best friend and business partner from 1937 until his death in 1947, Dad acclaimed Ben Siegel. “He was the best friend I ever had.”
Dad sat inches from Ben the night he was murdered. Why did he survive? He ducked! After convincing Meyer Lansky and Frank Costello he would not accept immunity from deportation, and five counts of claiming false citizenship, the Mob honored and protected him.
Faced with an identity meltdown ten years after Dad died I implored his friends, associates, historians, the Freedom of Information & Privacy Act, the Immigration and Naturalization Services, and the 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 FBI files and discovered the family secrets. Most startling was not his gambling addiction, criminal activities, or imprisonment. I learned my father’s attempt at reformation was thwarted by the FBI. A vendetta by Hoover for not cooperating as an informant. I expose what I’ve learned 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, the book was written.
This is a startling, yet inspirational look inside the struggle of a gangster’s daughter to understand her father’s allegiance to the Mob.
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.