Mobsters muscle in on America's fascination with gangsters Books, films feed public's imagination

March 17, 1992|By New York Times News Service

NEW YORK -- That ominous fellow in the black trench coat carrying a violin case outside federal court in Brooklyn during John Gotti's murder trial Wednesday was, purportedly, "a face."

A "face," said Douglas LeVien, a former New York City police detective who worked undercover investigating the mob, is "a guy who looks like a mobster's supposed to look."

"They send him to scare the hell out of someone, like 'Go send a face,' " Mr. LeVien said.

But the man in the trench coat was an actor, hired by a publicist, and the violin case was stuffed with copies of "Goombata: The Improbable Rise and Fall of John Gotti and His Gang," by John Cummings and Ernest Volkman -- one of at least two dozen books about the Mafia published in the last five years.

"He started shouting, 'Read the story behind the headlines!' " said Tip Stevens, the publicist. "We went through 200 books in 10 minutes. Courthouse employees started pouring out to get free copies."

With books and movies and long lines of would-be spectators outside the courthouse, it seems that the American public's fascination for the underworld is unquenchable.

Never shy of muscling in on a good thing, some mobsters have put down their guns -- or stuffed them into their belts -- and picked up pens to write books and film scripts. Gunmen turned informers are hiring agents to peddle their prose.

"I sold two scripts; me and Peter Doyle," said Henry Hill, the centralfigure in the movie "GoodFellas," based on the best-selling book, "Wiseguys," which Mr. Hill wrote with Nicholas Pileggi.

"I was a nefarious individual, never worked a straight job in my life," Mr. Hill said, speaking from an undisclosed location because he remains under federal protection since testifying against his mob partners 12 years ago. "Now I'm working all the time."

Mr. Hill said he had made "close to a million plus" as co-author of "Wiseguys."

From the Englewood Federal Correctional Institution in Colorado, mob figure, Michael Franzese, has been a co-author of "Quitting the Mob: How the Yuppie Don Left the Mafia and Lived to Tell His Story."

With fellow convicts in line behind him waiting to use the phone, Franzese said: "England has their Queen. The Italian mob is like theroyalty in this country. It's the power, the big cars."

The fascination with the Mafia, said Ivan Fisher, a lawyer who represented mobster Salvatore Catalano in the so-called "Pizza Connection" trial, boils down to a simple, basic instinct -- revenge: "They do things that parts of us have all wanted to do, but have not had the guts to do," Mr. Fisher said.

"Those of us who manage to restrain ourselves on the LIE at 55 mph when the Ferrari whisks by at 90, we have this terrible tension," Mr. Fisher continued, referring to the Long Island Expressway. "The biggest part of us admires the guts. The little parts of us hope and pray that as we turn the next bend we find that sucker pulled over and getting ticketed -- if not worse."

Mr. Pileggi agrees: "We wait 11 hours to get a driver's license. We watch the garbage pile up on our streets. We can't get cops to come to our houses when we've been burglarized. So the myth is, 'If I had somebody like this on my side, all of these terrible injustices would not have happened."

"Remember," Mr. Pileggi continued, "the 'Godfather' begins when a man whose daughter has been raped goes to him for justice, because the law let the rapists walk out of court."

Mr. LeVien, the former undercover detective, is also writing a book, with Robin Moore, the author of the "French Connection."

"You know the 'Preppie Handbook?' " said Mr. LeVien. "This is going to be the 'Mob Handbook.' Where they go on vacation. Where they go for entertainment. It's going have maps of where they are all over the world -- a poster like the New Yorker poster. A calendar, when they have birthdays, when they got killed."

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.