Songbird for Moe Dalitz

Songbird for Moe Dalitz

“We’re bigger than US Steel. -Hyman Roth to Michael Corleone in THE GODFATHER II

There is a scene in the movie Bugsy, in which Benjamin Seigel is standing in the middle of the Nevada desert taking a leak and as looks around, reading the landscape; he sees it. . .his future and the future of the American mob.  There is not a goddamn thing out there other than scorpions and sagebrush, but is his mind’s eye, Seigel can see it; a Utopia for sinners and gamblers, servicemen in need of relaxation, a neon-lit Sodom and Gomorrah where “we the people” could indulge our darker and more libertine impulses.  And to Bugsy Seigel, Moe Dalitz, and other members of the Chicago, Cleveland, and Kansas City mob, it was a place about a fundamental American thing–freedom.  You want to gamble away the rent? Eat cheap prime rib? Get blown by a showgirl? Welcome Sir, your room is ready.

After WWII, the American male was ready for a little R&R.  The decades of conformity and the straight and narrow was for squares.  In Vegas, you were free to do whatever the fuck you wanted, as long as you didn’t bother anyone else.  Gone was the moralizing about what was proper and what wasn’t.

Moe Dalitz was one of those brainy, visionary outfit guys of the Meyer Lansky mold; a tough Jew from Cleveland who bootlegged, racketeered, and otherwise muscled  his way into the inner sanctum of the American mafia.  He was a builder of alliances between the world of entertainment and the underworld.  He had done much to help the careers of Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin early on, and was good at being an architect of the mob’s ambitions from behind the scenes.  He was a gentleman gangster who eventually owned the Desert Inn.  He also was one of Vegas’s primary philanthropists, building schools and raising money for the indigent and for hospitals and orphanages.  He was also one of UNLV’s primary benefactors.  Whatever rep he had as a mobster had certainly been out shined by his reputation as a community leader later on.

In The Godfather II, Hyman Roth explains his love for Moe Green (a character based on Bugsy Seigel) and thunders at Michael Corleone: “He was a tough Jewish kid with a great dream and that dream became Las Vegas and nowhere in that town is there a statue or a plaque to remember him.  And when they shot him through the eye, I accepted it because I told myself, ‘This is the business we’ve chosen.'”

History is almost always written by the victors and their narrative is what must pass for the truth.  The victors designate for the rest of us just who was good and who was evil.  History is the lie we’ve all agreed upon.  I learned a long time ago that the American story owes as much to “bad” men as it does to the virtuous ones, in fact, maybe more so.  American history has always painted the Mob as the bad guys, when in fact this country in embracing the idea of  freedom and revolution, became our first Mob.

Some will read that thought as subversive, and they would be about half right.  Ask the English and the Hessian and he will tell you about the dishonorable way the settlers fought their revolution; from trees and behind rocks, rather than marching in the middle of a field with a bright red, easy-to-shoot jacket on like a fucking moron.

This one is for the bad men.  They are at least half of the story, whether you like it or not.

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