May 26, 2009

The Self-Righteous Mobster

Brooklyn gangster Joe Gallo was once the toast of NY society.

Benjamin Samuel

The public has always loved its Hollywood-concocted bad boys, but Crazy Joe Gallo stole hearts and headlines as the bad boy gone Hollywood. Growing up in 1940s Brooklyn—Red Hook, to be exact—Gallo was inspired by B-movie gangsters such as Richard Widmark, star of the seminal film noir Kiss of Death, though years later he would exert his own influence well beyond the local shops strong-armed by him and his brothers. So embedded within the consciousness of the Manhattan intelligentsia was "Joey," he even earned an eponymous Bob Dylan ballad-eulogy of his own.

At the height of his fame, Gallo's photo of himself and his gang posing outside their Brooklyn hideout could be seen hanging in the post office or in the pages of Life Magazine. So writes Tom Folsom in The Mad Ones: Crazy Joe Gallo and the Revolution at the Edge of the Underworld, a portrait of an atypical criminal. Curious and possibly eccentric as Crazy Joe was, his era was a familiar one, an epoch when it "wasn't paranoid to be paranoid," a time when Hollywood sat firmly alongside the Mafia, when the glitz coexisted with the grit.

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Article by Benjamin Samuel

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