WRITING MY WAY HOME.


This is a previous post (2011) that I am re posting for new readers.

MY FAMILY  history was brought to life in an unpublished memoir.   The stories lived on during a long arduous journey of research and trying to get published.   Sometimes I read pages to get close to my parents.  I squeeze in between them like a ghost, hear their voices, and see their expressions.  If I remove the outside world, the hum of the hotel air-condoning , the delivery trucks, and speeding motorcycles,  I can remember swimming in the pool with my mother.  I see her bathing cap strap pulled down across her chin, her red lipstick, and her one-piece strapless bathing suit. I can see her freckles, and her long slender arms backstroking as she swam.scan0013

Early in 1960 my father decided to build a swimming pool in the backyard of our house on Thurston Circle.  I had just completed swimming lessons and asked my father for a pool. Years later he told the story: “My little girl asked for a pool, and I built her one.”   I think he built the pool for my mother.   He was under investigation with the FBI and Department of Justice, and spent most days in court defending himself against a deportation order to Russia.   Subpoenas, arrests, and trials were routine events that tied my parents together against a world of misunderstanding.  After eleven years of nail biting suspense, my mother just wore out.  The pool was built with the intention of removing my mother’s anxiety and sadness.   My father designed the shape of the pool around the original pool at the Garden of Allah, a highly scandalous Hollywood hotel apartment that attracted starlets and gangsters in the early 30’s.  I know this tiny detail from photographs I’ve seen of the Garden pool.   More obscure details surrounding the building of our pool were found reading his FBI files.

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My father accused the pool contractor of being an informant for the government.  One sunny afternoon he marched him out of the house. I was hiding behind a drape when the confrontation broke out.  I recall the big shouldered contractor running from my father’s threats.  Most likely an FBI agent was parked outside and  followed the man after he scampered out.

The pool was finally completed in mid 1961.   There are photographs of my mother and I in the pool; her smile is radiant and naturally composed.  She and I swam everyday.  My father  loved to swim too, but he was busy with court proceedings and meetings.  Before the year ended my mother filed for divorce, the house burnt down, and I was released from childhood. I don’t regret those events any longer.  They were steps that shaped my character, and what brings me back to the topic of growing up with gangsters.

The best memories of my childhood are in swimming pools and restaurants with gangsters and gamblers.  They were part of the family, and when they were around my father was on very good behavior, and my mother defenseless against their irresistible humor, pranks, and generosity.   She just sort of glided in and out of activities, and helped me ride the vibrations.   She didn’t laugh out of herself like I do, and she rarely yelled.   The older I get, the less I seem to be like her.  Maybe the passage of life experiences determines which parent you will take after. Had I married and had children, maybe I’d be more like her. Since I get into all kinds of tricky situations, and throw the dice, I need my father’s strength more.

Over the years, I have forgotten some of the dead reckoning discoveries I made about our family history.  Still nothing compares to reading about my Aunt Gertie.  She was my father’s sister. Until I read about her in the FBI file, I didn’t know she existed. I haven’t figured out why my father left her out of our life. According to the FBI files she was a remarkably loyal sister. Gertie was the one who confronted the federal agents when they arrived at the family home in Winnipeg, Canada.  She pushed my grandmother out of the interview, and spoke for the family.  The agents showed her a recent photograph of my father.   She told them that her brother left home when he was twelve and they had not seen him since.  She could not verify the identity of the photograph because almost twenty years had passed.  The agents left without any evidence and continued to search for the birthplace of my father. Every time he was arrested, he entered a different birthplace.  He named Chicago, New York, Detroit, and Los Angeles.  His origins were discovered through a letter that his mother had written when he was fifteen and confined to a boys reformatory.  The letter was turned over to the FBI, and that is how they discovered his parents lived in Winnipeg.  The government could not deport my father to Russia without verification from his family. Eventually my father won the battle. He was granted citizenship in 1966, two weeks after my mother died.

Gertie died after my father. I don’t know if they corresponded over the years.  I have learned enough about my father to know he was protecting her from further harassment.  Maybe if my father lived longer they would be coming after me.

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SMILEY & SIEGEL


THE SIEGEL SMILEY LEGACYReuniting with Millicent at the Mob Experience.
BY: Luellen Smiley
When I was eleven years old  our home burnt to the ground in the Bel Air fire, and everything we owned fell to ash. Shortly after my mother moved us to an apartment in Brentwood, a mammoth carton arrived and was placed in the center of the living room. My mother cut it open and urged me to look inside. I sat cross-legged on the avocado green carpeting and discovered bundles of garments; Bermuda shorts, blouses, sweaters, and shirts.
I quickly shed my worn trousers and stepped into a new outfit, dancing about as I zipped myself in. My mother watched, and echoed my childish yelps of elation.
“Mommy, who are these from?”
“They’re from your Aunt Millicent.”
“Who is she? I don’t remember her.”
“You were a little girl. She loves you very much.”
Years later, my father, Allen Smiley, called and told me to come over to his apartment in Hollywood.
“Why Dad?”
“Millicent is coming by; I told you she moved here, didn’t I?”
I’d learned Millicent was Benjamin Siegel’s daughter, and Ben was my father’s best friend. Dad was sitting on the same chintz covered sofa the night Ben was murdered.
“You mean Ben Siegel’s daughter?”
“Don’t refer to her that way ever again; do you hear me? She is Aunt Millicent to you.”
When my father answered the door, I watched as they embraced. Millicent had tears in her eyes. She walked over to me, and took my hand. I looked into her swimming pool blue eyes and felt as if I was drowning. She sat on the edge of the sofa and lit a long brown Sherman cigarette. I studied her frosted white nails, the way she crossed her legs at the ankles, her platinum blonde hair, and the way her bangs draped over one eye. What impressed me most was her voice; like a child’s whisper, her tone was delicate as a rose petal.
I spent the rest of that afternoon memorizing her behavior. She emanated composure and a reserve that distanced her from uninvited intrusion.
Over the next few years, Millicent and I were joined through my father’s arrangements, but I was never alone with her. When he died in 1982, she was one of only three friends at his memorial service.
As the years passed, and my tattered address books were replaced with new ones, I lost Millicent’s phone number. I had been researching my father’s life in organized crime, and had gained an understanding of my father’s bond with Ben Siegel. My discoveries were adapted into a memoir and recently into a film script about growing up with gangsters. During this time, I had reconnected with several of Dad’s inner-circle, but Millicent was underground, and now I understood why.
Last year I received an email from Cynthia Duncan, Meyer Lansky’s step-granddaughter. She told me about Jay Bloom, the man behind the Las Vegas Mob Experience, a state of the art museum that will take visitors into the personal histories of Las Vegas gangsters. Cynthia contributed her significant collection of Meyer Lansky memorabilia, and assured me Jay was paying tribute to the historical narrative of these men by using relatives rather than government and media sources. She wanted me to be involved.
Despite my apprehensions about the debasing and one-sided publicity that characteristically surrounds gangster history, I contacted Jay. In his return note, he invited me to participate, and added, “Millicent would like to contact you.”
A month later I was seated in Jay’s office waiting for Millicent. When she walked in, I stood to embrace her, and this time the tears were in my eyes.
Millicent’s voice was unchanged and so was her regal posture. “Our fathers were best friends, attached at the hip. Your Dad was at the house all the time. I’ll never forget when he and my mother met me at the train station to tell us about my father’s… death. Smiley was very good to us. My mother adored him too.”
Jay took me on a tour of the collection warehouse, and the history I’d read about unfolded before my eyes. The preview room was like a family room to me, because some of the men had been my father’s lifelong friends and protectors. I stopped in front of the Ben Siegel display case and saw an object that was very familiar.
“My father has the identical ivory figurine of an Asian woman. I still have it.” So much of their veiled history was exposed; between these two men was a brotherly bond that transcended their passing and was even evident in their shared taste in furnishings.
Jay showed me a layout of the Mob Experience in progress. I turned to him and asked, “Is it too late to include my father? All the rooms are assigned.”
“Millicent and I already spoke about it. She wants your Dad in Ben’s room.”
After I returned home, Millicent and I talked on the phone.
“Your father belongs in my Dad’s room. They’ll just have to make Mickey Cohen’s room smaller.”
“My father hated Mickey,” I said.
“So did mine! When are you coming back? I’ll kill you if you don’t become part of this.”

Reuniting with Millicent at the Mob Experience.

Reuniting with Millicent at the Mob Experience.

 

WHAT DO YOU GUYS KNOW ABOUT THE MOB


Benjamen Siegel

Benjamen Siegel

Dead Don’s, shopkeepers, policeman, government employees, drivers, wives, and sons are slaughtered every week. You won’t know unless you study it, like I do. They are in Calgary, Montreal, Sicily, Rome, the UK, Russia, India, Asia, Macao, …. You have no idea how different organized crime is compared to the founders. Read about Arnold Rothstein, and ask people who knew Benny, what kind of man he was.

COMFORT & GANGSTERS


Comfort….
From writing by hand at my tiny Eurasian desk facing the window to the west; framed by time and familiarity into the branches of JD’s pine tree, the black silky toned crows basking like prowesses on the branches, and waiting for La Posada to empty the day’s leftovers in the garbage cans. The silky drape of the winter sky sometimes adorned with lacy clouds, like today, softening the southwest blue to a faded jeans shade. From my desk, I write, without thoughts predefined, just a drain of emotional threads from my heart…

This year isn’t like last year, the absentee man, fussing with the fireplace, making me afternoon espresso, or drying dishes. It is not at all like last year, with Rudy and John intercepting my division of attention, laughing at the kitchen table, eating my blueberry pancakes.

I had the song of Judy Garland’s rainbow in my heart. It was a time I will never forget, or regret, because I was a very lucky lady for several years. Unabridged ecstasy poured out of body, and spread over my attitude, abundant spirit, mood, facial expressions, and my dreams were filled with amusement instead of nightmares.

That’s why now, is so different. The camp has closed, and I wander into these new woods unsteady, and steadier, juxtaposed between, acceptance and anger.

In the last few months, I’ve written my heart out, read Shepard, Colette, Durrell and my Creative nonfiction magazines. I’ve studied, and prepared for radio programs, and collected a bundle of columns to adapt into short stories. I started buying chocolates and jelly beans, so I treat myself, on breaks, when it’s too cold for my frail body to walk around town or up Palace Avenue to see the new for sale listings.

My steps inward resulted in accomplishments, break-troughs’ and a comedic sideshow trying to open boxes, make repairs, until Rudy shows up again, and rake the leaves, stuff that is mundane. More distant relations, and mafia threaded strangers knocked on my door, bolstering my faith in breaking the silence that ruled me, I let rule me.  Stepping inside the truth I must face isn’t nearly as harmful as pretending.

Mob on television, in the news, (gross sales global figure of $850 billion) websites, and bloggers, movies and books. They’re all coming out of the closet to inform, turn themselves in, give advice, consult on their own films, sign on for pubic speaking at Library’s, documentaries, and advertisements-the world is all mobbed up and it’s time for some horrific homogenization of the gangsters who wouldn’t break the silence.

If I had known that I was seated next to the Mafia Boss of Los Angeles, then I would have listened with sharpened ears, and repeated bits of explosive headline blood curdling stories to my girlfriends. That would have placed myself, my father and my friends in jeopardy. An informant from the government may tag me on the way home from school, or tag one of my friends, or an enemy of the Boss, may pick me up from school and not bring me back. Everyone is suspect: an informant, or weak enough to become an informant, a loose lipped wise guy, a bragging connected businessman, a friend of a friend, a cousin of a brother, and a daughter of a gangster. We are all potential targets of this organization known as the Mafia, Mob, syndicate, Costa Nostra, or our thing. Growing up in this circle of gamblers, killers, fixers, enforcers, bookies was like growing up in a novel, it was a fictional tale all the way, until the end of my father’s life. There is a drop down board that appears every time I write about our family business that reads, “ How dare you open my life to the world, what do you know? You know nothing little sweetheart, and that’s the way I planned it. “ “There’s no such thing as the Mafia! If you ever mention that word again, you’re leaving this house!” I melted down to the floor, and he was ominous as God standing over me. I would never mention the word again, I promised, and I would never believe in the Mafia. So, I became a writer of our secret interior life.


I REMEMBER


Frank Costello, American mobster, testifying b...

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I was a child of the fifties; when raising kids was easily defined. Mommy stayed home and made sure the kids didn’t burn the house down. Daddy went to an office to make money to pay for the house, and children waited until they were grown up to find out anything really useful. It was before the generation-gap was coined, or children knew how to be witty and sharp. In our air-tight neighborhood of Bel Air, Los Angeles, we were naïve, privileged, kids; bogged down with falling off bicycles, not being chosen for the school play, and bringing home the most candy at Halloween.

I believed in Santa Clause, the Easter bunny, and if I was good, Mommy would let me stay up and watch the Sunday night Variety Show.

America was threatened by the Russian Communists and Organized crime. Public enemy Number One was New York Mafia Boss, Frank Costello. Frank became super famous when he refused to testify on national television for Senator Estes Kefauver. The Kefauver Committee delivered explosive headlines between 1950 and 1951, as the government unveiled the hidden hand of the Mafia in the United States.

CONFESSIONS OF A MOB KID


SOME children are silenced. The pretense is protection against people and events more powerful than them. As the daughter of Allen Smiley, associate and friend to Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel, I was raised in a family of secrets.

My father is not a household name like Siegel, partly because he wore a disguise, a veneer of respectability that fooled most.

It did not fool the government. My father came into the public eye the night of June 20, 1947, when Benjamin Siegel was murdered in his home in Beverly Hills. My dad was seated inches away from Siegel, on the sofa, and took three bullets through the sleeve of his jacket.

He was brought in as a suspect. His photograph was in all the newspapers. He was the only nonfamily member who had the guts to go to the funeral.

When I was exposed to the truth by way of a book, I kept the secret, too. I was 13. My parents divorced, and five years later, my mother died. In 1966, I went to live with my father in Hollywood.

I was forbidden to talk about our life: “Don’t discuss our family business with anyone, and listen very carefully to what I say from now on!”

But one night, he asked me to come into his room and he told me the story of the night Ben was murdered.

“When I was spared death, I made a vow to do everything in my power to reform, so that I could one day marry your mother.

“Ben was the best friend I ever had. You’re going to hear a lot of things about him in your life. Just remember what I am telling you; he’d take a bullet for a friend.”

After my father died, I remained silent, to avoid shame, embarrassment and questions. But 10 years later, in 1994, when I turned 40, I cracked the silence.

I read every book in print – and out of print – about the Mafia. Allen Smiley was in dozens. He was a Russian Jew, a criminal, Bugsy’s right-hand man, a dope peddler, pimp, a racetrack tout. I held close the memory of a benevolent father, wise counselor, and a man who worshipped me.

I made a Freedom of Information Act request and obtained his government files. The Immigration and Naturalization Service claimed he was one of the most dangerous criminals in the country. They said he was Benjamin Siegel’s assistant. They said he was poised to take over the rackets in Los Angeles. He didn’t; he sold out his interest in the Flamingo, and he went to Houston to strike oil.

I put the file away, and looked into the window of truth. How much more could I bear to hear?

Born in Kiev, Ukraine, my dad’s family immigrated to Canada. He stowed away to America at 16, and was eventually doggedly pursued for never having registered as an alien. He had multiple arrests – including one for bookmaking in 1944, and another for slicing off part of the actor John Hall’s nose in a fracas at Tommy Dorsey’s apartment.

He met my mother, Lucille Casey, at the Copacabana nightclub in 1943. She was onstage dancing (for $75 a week), and my father was in the audience, seated with Copa owner and mob boss Frank Costello.

“I took one look, and I knew it was her,” was all he had told me on many occasions.

On a trip to the Museum of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences in Los Angeles, I was handed a large perfectly pristine manila envelope, and a pair of latex gloves with which to handle the file.

Inside were black and white glossy MGM studio photographs, press releases, and biographies of my mother’s career in film, including roles in “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty,” “Ziegfeld Follies of 1946,” “Meet Me in St. Louis” and “Harvey Girls.” She was written up in the columns, where later my father was identified as a “sportsman.”

The woman who pressed my clothes, washed my hair, and made my tuna sandwiches was an actress dancing in Judy Garland musicals, while her own life was draped with film noir drama.

My father wooed her, and after an MGM producer gave her an audition, he helped arrange for her and her family to move to Beverly Hills, where she had steady film work for five years. He was busy helping Siegel expand the Western Front of the Costello crime family and opening the Flamingo casino in Las Vegas.

They were engaged in 1946.

Still, the blank pages of my mother’s life did not begin to fill in until I met R.J. Gray. He found me through my newspaper column, “Smiley’s Dice.”

One day last year, R.J. sent me a book, “Images of America: The Copacabana,” by Kristin Baggelaar. There was my mother, captioned a “Copa-beauty.”

Kristin organized a Copa reunion in New York last September. I went in place of my mother, but all day I felt as if she was seated next to me. I fell asleep that night staring out the hotel window, feeling a part of Manhattan history.

Now, the silence is over.

I don’t hesitate to answer questions about my family. I have photographs of Ben Siegel in my home in Santa Fe, NM, just as my father did. Every few months I get e-mails from distant friends, or people who knew my dad.

It seems there is no end to the stories surrounding Ben and Al. I am not looking for closure. I’ve become too attached to the story.