Saturday, October 26, 2019

The Mob, Little Italy, and Me...

I'm pleased to join the contributors roster for the website CrimeReads, which is part of lithub and does a tremendous job covering crime fiction and nonfiction.

My first story is about two writers who've made fine careers out of writing books on "the Mob": Anthony DeStefano and Nicholas Pileggi. In Pileggi's case, two of his books have been turned into Martin Scorsese films: Goodfellas and Casino.

In telling their story, I also wrote about the Mafia itself and its connection to Little Italy. Honestly, this is something I've been interested in for years. My feature opens at the San Gennaro Festival, which attracts many thousands of people to Mulberry Street every autumn. Sharing a photo I took of the parade here:

The Mulberry Street parade, with the band wearing the colors of Italy

My story begins....

It was the second week of September, but a cool, fitful rain spattered those who’d turned out for the opening of the annual San Gennaro Festival in New York, a stretch of days beloved of sausage-and-peppers food vendors and cannoli-eating contestants. It was the 93rd annual celebration of the feast, and there was no question that, despite the weather, the stately parade would make its way down Mulberry. A quartet of men pushed down the street the tablecloth-covered wheeled bureau which supported the statue of the martyred patron saint of Naples, followed by a marching band wearing green, white, and red, the colors of the Italian flag.

Over time, Little Italy has shrunk from 50 densely populated Lower Manhattan blocks to a three-block tourist-saturated radius around Mulberry Street. In a roughly parallel decline, the New York mafia, whose most feared members once plotted elaborate crimes in the neighborhood while meeting for dinner, has lost its grip. The heads of the famed five families died—some of them while in prison—and haven’t been replaced with vigor.

The San Gennaro Festival has figured in some of the most iconic films telling dramatic stories of the mob. Robert De Niro, playing a young Vito Corleone, shoots Don Fanucci, a “black hand” extortionist, during the festival in Godfather II, directed by Francis Ford Coppola in 1974. The festival features in Godfather III too, with another young Corleone, played by Andy Garcia, impersonating a NYPD copy on horseback and dispatching Joey Zaza, played by Joe Montegna. The festival serves as a setting for scenes in Mean Streets, directed by Martin Scorsese. As for television, the Italian American festival appears in everything from CSI: NY to a recent episode of the Showtime series Billions.

The same drizzly September evening as the festival’s opening, the New York mafia was actually the topic of a deeply informed discussion nearby. The talk was held at McNally Jackson on Prince Street, though the neighborhood that the independent bookstore lays claim to on its website is Nolita, not Little Italy. The occasion? A talk with two writers known for their mastery of nonfiction that chronicles the most infamous mobsters of our time: Anthony M. DeStefano, author of the newly published Gotti’s Boys: The Mafia Crew That Killed for John Gotti, and Nicholas Pileggi, author of the acclaimed books Wiseguy (1985) and Casino: Love and Honor in Las Vegas (1995).

To read the CrimeReads article in its entirety, please go here:

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