SWIMMING WITH GANGSTERS


300px-Ella-fitzgerald-lullabies-of-birdland

Ella blew out tunes like a smoke stack and with each soulful sound, her face drew more sweat. By the second song, the sweat was pouring down her face and into that gorge like cleavage that heaved with each breath.  I didn’t understand the emotions that distorted her eyes and mouth. Ella, crowned by a sizzling hot spot light overhead, transmitted every flaw and feeling on her face.   I hadn’t seen a singer suffer before. I looked up at my mother and started crying.

“ What’s wrong sweetheart?”

“ I’m afraid she’s going to die.”

My mother whispered assurances that Ella was not going to die.  I kept crying. She then excused us from our table and I followed her into the Powder Room.  She sat me on a chaise lounge, and wiped my tears.  The expansiveness of the Powder room compared to the ones today, was like being in someone’s bedroom. Soft cushioned chairs, a long dressing table speckled with ashtrays, perfumes, and miniature toiletries. We stayed there until Ella finished her show. Mom didn’t show her disappointment, she rarely showed despairing emotions, or caused me to feel ashamed of my behavior. Looking back fifty years later, I’m reminded of my mother’s selflessness, and how a legend can drop down into your path, and you don’t even know it.

Again looking back fifty years later, my succession of travel diaries, dim by comparison to the Vegas memories.  Swirling amongst the élan of prohibition era abandonment, gangsters were the Rothchilds, the royalty of the scene, and the non-members loved it. That’s why the woman behaved  roaring twenties ZaZu Pitts and Louise Brooks emancipated. Everyone was free of their wrappings, an0287_0019(small) ENTRATTER & SINATRAd responsibilities. They were partying with the men who they’d first met on screen played by Bogart, Robinson, and Cagney. I remember them now as being childlike. The outsiders may have been living the childhood that was stolen by WWII, and the depression. Their veiled heroes were gangsters who’d been breaking rules since being ripped from their mother’s breast.

Then one day the in 1963 the Rat Pack landed in Vegas, wearing black Tuxedos and intercepted the public’s fancy imitations of living vicariously.  Joey Bishop, Peter Lawford, Sammy Davis and Frank Sinatra invited Vegas to drink, make love, and gamble. And they did. If you find anyone over seventy in Vegas today, ask them about the Rat Pack, Johnny Roselli, or Jack Entratter, and you’ll know I’m not exaggerating. Vegas was the time of their lives. The drugs were minor, an upper or a downer to sleep, but no one came to Vegas to OD or commit suicide.  The deaths were in the desert, between the gangsters’. This was al before Tony Spilotro got wheels on his greed and went speeding into his own death.  TO BE CONTINUEDAT THE COPA ROOM

AT THE COPA ROOM

PART TWO: SWIMMING WITH GANSTERS


“ Mommy the door knocked.’ I said

“ Okay, let me get it.”

The valet reminded me of the munchens in Wizard of Oz, because of their berets, and tightly fitted double breasted coats. But it wasn’t the valet or room service, or anyone that I recognized.

“Lucille, darling is everything to your satisfaction?”

“Hello Jack. Yes the room, flowers, and fruit basket are so lovely. Thank You.”

by Ronzoni

It was the smiling big faced, former bouncer of the Copacabana New York whose name I knew only as Uncle Jack.

Jack was subtle as a semi-truck; and if the world was coming to an end, I’d follow Jack. He had fingers thick as sticks of dynamite and he squeezed my blubbery cheeks until they turned purple. I knew a cheek squeeze meant the person loved me, so Jack didn’t frighten me. I learned thirty years later it was Jack Entratter; a man of chest heavy bullying, dinosaur New York threats, and answered to Frank Costello. I don’t believe he pulled out the Casino movie style butcher chopping that we always see. I just think Jack did what Frank asked, and Frank didn’t randomly demand nail stripping, ball butchering violence you see in the movies. Remember it is a movie.

My mother dressed up with a fur wrap (they wore furs in Vegas) and dressed me in a Pixie Town ensemble that was so starched I couldn’t bend my arm, and we went to the Copa, for the dinner show. Ella Fitzgerald was the feature entertainer of the night. If I wasn’t in a room at La Posada tonight, listening to Tito Puente and Johnny Pacheco, tipping a glass of Chilean wine, without all my files, and notes, I could reference many things about that night. I rented the house for the twelve days of Christmas and I cannot access anything other than what I brought. I could go googling all night, but it is close to time to eat, and parlay my chances in the lobby, meeting and greeting, as I feel I should do, because hotels are the only socially invasive venues left. I greet everyone who knows how to walk without revealing their miserable or self congratulating lives. I really like people who keep their triumphs and sorrows until the second or third time we meet. I don’t like digesting four courses unless I ordered them.

Ella, came out on stage, and we were seated under her heaving breasts, the first row, the closeness was dressing room intimate. There were others at our table but they were sort of like faded ghosts after Ella started her fireworks. TO BE CONTINUED.

SWIMMING WITH GANGSTERS IN LAS VEGAS


1961

I held my mother’s hand, as she led me through the casino, stopping to accept embraces, cheek kisses, and an occasional wink, before opening the door to our suite. The patio view to the pool was a kaleidoscope of flashing jewelry because back then women wore their jewelry everywhere. Umbrellas, stacks of white towels, shiny Ban de Soliel arms and legs, silver platters of cheeseburgers, dripping with blood, because back then rare was bleeding, and little toy poodles, that men smoking Cuban cigars and wearing Gucci loafers held up for the world to see. A bit of Mad Men in the desert, only the men were gamblers, celebrities or gangsters, who’d invite their wives to soften the martini’s and manage the children.

Ben Siegel

Ben Siegel


To be continued.