19 of 19 people found the following review helpful
on October 28, 2008
In Bob Evans iconic Hollywood autobiography "The Kid Stays In The Picture", frequent mention was made of his mentor, who he would refer to as simply "The Myth".
The Myth bailed him out of situations in his life caused by his own self-destructive behavior, and also "fixed" situations for him by getting him certain actors to star in his Paramount movie vehicles.
It turned out this mythic fixer cut his teeth with Al Capone, and became a central figure in the emergence of the Mob. Sidney Korshak became the conduit between the Jewish cerebral approach to organized crime, and the Italian approach, which was more muscular.
Theodore Roosevelt was often quoted as saying "Walk softly, and carry a big stick."
This was an accurate description of Sidney Korshak. Almost anonomous outside of his massive sphere of influence, Korshak bridged the power of the unions, knew and influenced Presidents Truman, Nixon and Reagan, and insured vast sums of wealth for many of the biggest underworld figures of the 20th century.
Along the way, Korshak earned millions and invested huge sums of money in real estate ventures in Las Vegas, and around the World. Born a first generation American in a Jewish section of Chicago, Korshak radiated a quiet toughness that served him through the upper strata of business and down through the lower tiers of gangsters.
This a fascinating look at a complex character whose reach gravitated into the farthest reach of our society, as bad money became legitimate, and amoral gangsters assimilated into the mainstream business fabric of our society.
Russo comprehends this transformation and grasps Korshaks character.
This is highly recommended reading for anyone trying to get an understanding of the 20th century mob.
15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
on November 13, 2007
America loves mob melodramas, guys getting whacked because they crossed somebody or other. No one much cares whether the culprits get caught since it's all part of the underworld game. No one in authority much cares either, that is, until some hoodlum tries to beat his income tax after the gov't has demanded its cut. Then the bloodhounds of the IRS come calling and the careless capo gets a federal number.
Economists call the early stages of capital accumulation "primitive accumulation". Few academics may call 20's style bootlegging primitive accumulation, but illegal whiskey sure raised a lot of money for the Capone-led Chicago gang. And like most rising business ventures, much of that money was used by astute managers such as Murray "The Camel" Humphreys to buy influence into the over-world of politics and law. What does it matter if the money's dirty, since it's still money, as any number of corrupted Illinois officials shows.
But what happens when even a big city like Chicago becomes too small for the sums flowing into gangster coffers. Well. if you're a wizard like Humphreys, you start looking for new opportunities, especially where there is little or no competition. You also look for somebody who can pass for respectable, since you're past the primitive stage and now have the money to go legit. Enter attorney Sidney Korshak, discreet, smooth, and, above all, a protege of Jake Arvey, Chicago's master ward healer and political go-between. As Russo's lengthy account shows, the mob could not have made a better choice.
Horace Greeley's famous directive was to, "Go West, young man," and that's just where Korshak took the mob money and contacts, helping to turn dusty Las Vegas into the underworld's Glitter Gulch, and Los Angeles real estate into a permanent citadel of mob influence. Along the way, he picked up such powers in their own right as MCA's talent impresario Lew Wasserman and Democratic party power-broker Paul Ziffren, along with numerous union bigshots. Together, theirs was an underworld shadow cast across two big states with a network of contacts reaching all the way to the nation's capital.
But muscling in at the top means knowing how to cut deals with others at the top. Here Korshak proves to be the guy to go to whether the public knows his name or not. Want top talent for your TV show, see Sid; want no union trouble at the studios, see Sid; want a good deal on a tax scam, see Sid; want a big donation for a charity fund-raiser, yeah, see Sid. And all the time, there's the whispering in the background about the guy's connections with other guys, guys with guns. But then, isn't Sinatra's Rat Pack a really cool bunch of Hollywood swingers. Yeah, just ask the public or even President Kennedy.
To me, it's not a pretty picture, all the way from the yawning silence of the LA Times to the hobnobbing with Pat Brown and Ronald Reagan, plus a Hollywood establishment that could apparently care less. Scattered investigations go nowhere, while whistle-blowers like Steve Allen get black-balled for their civic duty. But then, maybe this is just another success story of primitive accumulation working its way to the top and learning to get along, even as the top learns to get along with them. I believe it was Victor Hugo who said that behind every great fortune lies a great crime. Maybe then, the Chicago mob was just more obvious than those others like old Joe Kennedy, an Irish bootlegger reborn into the white-collar world despite the sinister origins. Disturbing or not, the book is well worth the read.
As a general reader, I'm in no position to gainsay any of Russo"s facts, so I try to keep an open mind toward detractors. It's vital, however, that critics not simply denounce the work in unsubstantiated fashion. Chapter and verse should be cited in order to gain credibility. Of course, the text casts aspersions onto a number of prominent and reputable people, which places a heavy load on both the book and its detractors. Nonetheless, if Russo has to follow the rules, so should the critics.
18 of 20 people found the following review helpful
on December 25, 2006
Certainly mob and corporate super-lawyer Sidney Korshak would'nt rush out and buy this book -that is if he was still alive. But then, thats one of the main reasons author Gus Russo could go ahead and write about him somewhat freely and in good health. A lot of people who knew Korshak, contributed to this epic of crime and corruption, both alive and dead. From Chicago to Hollywood, the State house to the White House, Las Vegas to Beverly Hills, it's all here in great detail and chronological reference. Russo has dissected with clinical skill, the man behind all the deals and dealings. The man who could end a strike or start one. The man who could get someone elected or buried. It's a far better story than "The Godfather" which incidently he played a vital behind the scenes part in, only it's for real. He played the unions against their employers, the Republicans against the Democrats and the Hollywood studios against themselves.
This is a must-read for not just any serious student of power in America in the last century, but for anyone even slightly interested in who really runs our illusion of democracy. It's detractors may say who cares and how could any author dare to trash the cherished reputations of so many "distinquished" politicians and social crusaders. But the evidence is there and it all ties in -as in "follow the money". To the law he was "hands off", an "Untouchable" that even an army of Elliot Ness' could'nt catch. Yet to a beautiful starlet, he was more than touchable.
Wherever Sidney is now, he probably be laughing at all those ignorant and naive people, who still refuse to believe in how things really get taken care of in this everso "politically correct" world. He'd certainly want to broker the deal that would get his life story made in Hollywood. Of course it would have to be a three-picture deal and maybe if De Niro was free... Well -they've already done "The Godfather" saga, but then that was a mob fairy tale. "Casino" on the other hand, was more to the point and like all the other parts of Korshak's "wonderful life" -is fully illuminated in this super-book!
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on May 28, 2009
I've read Russo's previous work "the outfit" and
in the "Supermob" he repeats a lot of the same concerning Factor and humphreys.
The book could have been better edited because it
contains to much detail, sometimes not related to any Korshak interference.
The character outset of the book and conspiracy tendencies leans towards
anti-semitism, but perhaps not intentionally.
His scoop mentioning the october 1965 'Palm Springs Apalaching'contains a factual error. Russo states: "mob bosses from around the country, including ('.),longy Zwillman". As far as i know Abner 'Longy'
Zwillman died in februari 1959.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on November 24, 2008
I have little to add to existing Amazon reviews except to say that I found some information that I had not seen elsewhere. However, there are glaring inaccuracies that even a casual student of the general topic of organized crime in America can spot -- one off the top of my head is the mention Ben Siegel being engaged in activities in 1948, certainly precluded by his death the previous year.
The bottom line is, since those engaged in crime tend naturally to be tight-lipped about it and, on the other hand, authors want to sell books, there is a tremendous amount of misinformation present in books about the mafia, etc.
Whether Russo's effort is a particularly egregious example, I am not qualified to say. For entertainment value, the book is worth looking at although it is certainly mean-spirited in parts.
19 of 26 people found the following review helpful
on January 13, 2007
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
Russo's huge discombobulated collection of random research notes is a nice example of how difficult it is to figure out who really runs anything in America. He has clearly investigated the Chicago Mob and its connection to the growth of the Los Angeles and the Las Vegas economies with the greatest diligence.
But he has made little sense of it all. His notes go from topic to topic, more or less in chronological order, but there are gaping holes in every story where he could not find out what happened because no one wrote anything down ( on purpose....you don't leave trails of your law breaking....), and where he just gets lost and confused.
Time and again, he tells the same stories, with facts that differ a bit each time, probably because the FBI files, or trial transcripts, or oral histories, differ --- to his credit, he 'sources' everything, so you know where each alleged "factoid" came from, but knowing how inaccurate FBI files can be about anything, reporting every ridiculous rumor an agent hears, and knowing how peoples' memories can 're-shape' events recalled decades later, one is left with more questions than answers about just how the Chicago Mob 'washed' their money by first investing in the Democrats in California, and then later in Ronald Reagan and the Republicans.
Perhaps someone will one day take all these notes and try to figure out what they mean. In other words, perhaps someone will take the next step of sifting through this pile, separate the rumors, legends, and just good stories from real facts, the chaff from the wheat, and analyze just why we should know all this and how/why it may matter to us now.....
Sidney Korshak was obviously a guy who could "fix" a lot of problems, but there's no real insight into his role in modern labor history, his role in Kevin Starr's California history, his real role even in Hollywood history....he's a good subject still waiting for a good biographer.
Or perhaps the point of this whole pile of notes is that no one can ever tell the story because the players are gone now, and they covered up their story so well that this is the best we can get--- half stories not well told with big holes in them.
(For example, ---- he suggests that Circuit Court Judge David Bazelon had something to do with Japanese farms being expropriated by the government and then by white California farmers after Japanese internment, but then he just tells about 2 or 3 pieces of property, mostly German/Axis property, and we really learn nothing about 99.5% of the Japanese land and what actually happened to it and what Bazelon really did or didn't do...this stuff is all available in property records etc...but Russo didn't go the length...
etc...Obviously this could go on and on. The point is simple --- interesting bits and pieces lying in a heap don't equal any kind of edifice worth walking thru.
Think twice before even starting into this --- read it as a collection of somewhat collected anecdotes, not as a tightly woven well reasoned analysis of much of anything....
14 of 19 people found the following review helpful
on October 31, 2006
There is an old saying that, "every great fortune begins with a crime." As an avid reader of American economic history, I have noticed how the saying is apparently drawn from fact. Whether it is the Robber Barons of old, the stock manipulators in every era, or even Bill Gates' selling IBM an operating system for their newly designed PC (a system he didn't actually have), there is certainly a long list to support this view of "great fortunes." In his new book, Supermob, Gus Russo does it in spades. The main character, Sidney Korshak, and his relocated Chicago mobsters were able to use mob money and influence to partner with a host of West Coast movers - and to kick-start the careers of many wanna-be movers.
With exhaustive sourcing, Russo has shown how a number of the Fortune 500 exploited mob connections and mob money build their empires. Far from the "hack job" described by an earlier reviewer, Supermob relies on previously unearthed real estate records, forgotten Congressional investigations, IRS records, FBI investigations, and interviews with insiders to show how the Supermob was built. Russo convincingly tracks the genesis of a number of fortunes that started as beneficiaries of crime. Not since Lundberg's The Rich and the Super Rich has any writer worked so hard to penetrate this world. As an added bonus, it is also a worthy successor to David Cay Johnston's Pulitzer Prize winning exposé of tax "avoiders," Perfectly Legal.
I can't recommend this book enough for anyone interested in US history, sociology, and organized crime. I am certainly no conspiracy buff - and I know that Russo's book is going to be oversimplified as such by those who wish to deny the inherent greed and weaknesses in the American system - but there have always been two Americas (one for the rich and another for everyone else). Few writers have shown the courage to lift the veil of hypocrisy about our real history, name names and let the chips fall where they may.
23 of 32 people found the following review helpful
on September 18, 2006
Gus Russo has again produced a massive criminal volume with Sidney Korshak as the featured figure. Having anxiously awaited the release of this book I expected more focus on Korshak but found frequent mentions yet little substance inregard to Korshak in the first few chapters. Istead the author uses much of the early going to lay the foundation for the introduction of the socalled Supermob which sprang from Chicago's Jewish community. In detailing the activities of the Supermob Mr. Russo seems to include every member of the old Lawndale Jewish community who managed to rise above their humble start to acheive wealth, power and or influence. Jacob Arvey, Jules Stein (MCA founder), Paul Ziffren, Alfred Hart, Alex Louis Greenberg, Abe Pritzker (founder of Hyatt Hotels), William Paley (CBS founder), Benny Goodman, Gloria Swanson, Tom Mix, Arthur Goldberg and many many others are listed as having participated in a vast conspiracy by a close knit group of Russian Jews to takeover America.
In telling a story which involved Arnold Rothstein and Jacob Factor, it quickly became apparent that the author was taking liberty with fact. Mr. Russo details a scheme perpetraited by Rothstein and Factor which Mr. Russo says resulted in a $8 million dollar payout split between the Brain and Jake Factor in 1930. Unfortunately Rothstein was shot to death in November 1928. I guess the author is not aware that Dead men not only tell no tales but collect no debts either.
Mr. Russo goes on to claim these men conspired to control Presidential elections and institute the laws and policies such as those which led to the detention of Japanese Americans and the massive selloff of their assets at bargain basement prices. Undoubtably there was some influence in the political realm "as is always the case with anyone with money," but to say these men specifically organized and ordered this action is ridiculous.
Other dubious statements made in this book include "Las Vegas owes everything to Murray Humphries." As Mr. Russo continues where he left off in "The Outfit," with his promotion of the Chicago Italian organized crime group as the single most powerful entity in 20th century America. I found it interesting that the author could claim the Supermob controlled politicians from the local level all the way up to the White House yet the power consortium never challenged the wishes of their Italian counterparts.
Once the action began to focus on Korshak the authors desire to hammer home just how powerful he believed his subject to be becomes apparent. Without explanation he details Korshak masterminding many Hollywood deals with movie moguls who "according to the author," owed their allegiance to the Supermob. Little if any attention was paid to the fact that many of the men had ties to organized crime figures in New York established long before Korshak arrived in Los Angeles. To make a long, long, long story short, Mr. Russo's telling of events and facts are constructed in a way which simply does what he obviously intends to do. Promote Chicago organized criminality to an unchallenge plain above law and order and logic.
You can find much of the information contained in this book in Captive City, The Last Mogul, When Hollywood Had a King, Mr. and Mrs Hollywood and a number of other earlier released titles. Despite its shortcomings you have to admire Mr. Russo's enthusiasm in telling the story and compiling the information he did. Only if he would have paid more attention to Korshak's activities as an FBI informant instead of dismissing them as part of his routine in wielding power.
16 of 22 people found the following review helpful
on September 20, 2006
It's 490 years since Sir Thomas More wrote Utopia, a model for any society desiring to live rightly. The Utopians have little interest in money or the false pleasures of jewelry and high fashion. They disdain gambling and the pursuit of "empty and worthless honors," and anybody arrogant enough to run for public office can never gain it. The legal profession is absolutely banned, as is private property. Everybody works for the greater good of all. There is no "conspiracy of the rich," in which a few prey on the many and amass wealth through crooked schemes.
America is not a utopia, but it continues to be a magnet for those who seek to prosper. Gus Russo's latest book, which was scheduled for release last spring, details the rise of a group of first-generation Americans who strove to fulfill the new land's promise. Focusing on some members of the Chicago Jewish community, he initially uses laudatory language about their energetic escape from Old World oppression and the fervor with which they sought to flourish in the U.S. He must hope the spare praise will insulate him against charges of anti-Semitism. And he's safe from libel suits, as his main subjects have passed on to the Great Country Club in the Sky.
These folks were unabashed capitalists who followed Al Capone's dictum to "give people what they want." For Korshak, Ziffren, Wasserman, Pritzker, and Stein, it was Las Vegas and other luxury resorts, the movie industry and labor peace. They backed Democratic candidates for whom most working people voted, and they were ascendant when unions weren't the pale shell that they are today. Despite Russo's negative spin, I finished the book with some respect for Sidney Korshak. A longtime supporter of United Farm Worker boycotts, I was delighted to learn that Korshak facilitated the UFW's first contract with a grower and later got the Teamsters off their backs.
Russo is meticulous to a fault; people are reintroduced numerous times, facts and figures are repeated, and some early quotes reappear later in the book. Another sour note is Russo's moral outrage at the end of the book over Joe Six-Pack patriotically paying his taxes while these alleged tax dodgers went unpunished -- even after millions were spent on FBI surveillance -- for bilking the government out of billions. Why was Korshak never charged with anything? Russo's easy answer is that the fix was always in. ... Convicted swindler Robert Vesco, who makes a brief appearance in this book, once dubbed American democracy "mob rule." Is it any better now, with sweetheart deals going to companies profiting from the blood-sucking, tax-wasting, budget-busting misadventure in Iraq? The Dow may be skyrocketing but so are housing, health care, and fuel costs; Joe Six-Pack's manufacturing jobs are going offshore and he never had it so bad.
The four stars reflect my interest in the subject matter more than my appraisal of the writing and editing. My parents came from the Chicago community featured in the book. They knew people who knew people who knew these people, and they were rarely happier than after an evening at the allegedly mob-controlled Chez Paree nightclub.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on December 16, 2013
Format: Kindle EditionVerified Purchase
This is one of the few books that I have read twice. I read it a few years back in hardback and could not get it out of my mind. I bought it on Kindle, and reread it carefully, and it reads like a novel, and it is not. The power of the Supermob and it's affect on our country and our system of government is unbelievable, and how they fix everything they want the way they want, all the way up to selecting and electing the President of the US. Sidney Korshak and his co-harts really do run the country, and take large sums of money illegally, and give back less large sums to charity, and are held forth as philanthropists, when in essence they steal and con and give some back, and even Attorney General Kennedy would not touch them, as they were in ways connected to his father, and they were useful in supplying 'entertainment' for Bobby and Jack Kennedy. Wow, what a group, and the book can only be bought used, and the asking price is 198.00. We have Chicago, General Dynamics, Hollywood, Las Vegas, and worlds of continuing corruption, thanks to Supermob, and they are smooth, and very talented. They do control the country. An unbelievable read, and not fiction. Fear not the mafia, fear the Supermob.