Life
by Gideon Levy on June 14, 2013

So, for Father’s Day we’ve listed the five most interesting Father/Son relationships in Mob history:

5. Umberto & Joe Gallo

Umberto Gallo was a Sicilian immigrant who made a good living as a 1920’s bootlegger. At the end of the roaring 20’s, he settled down in Red Hook, Brooklyn and raised a family. By the time his three boys Larry, Albert and Joey had come of age, Umberto did nothing at all to discourage them from taking up with the Mafia. When Joey started a war by kidnapping his own boss in 1961, he famously told his brothers that they all had to “go to the mattresses” (meaning go into hiding.) Rumor has it that while the boys were hiding out, old man Gallo cooked for all of them, inspiring the famous scene in Godfather I of Clemenza teaching Michael Corleone how to cook meat sauce for twelve guys.

4. Meyer, Bernard & Paul Lansky

Meyer Lansky was the highest-ranking non-Italian in the American Mafia. Although he could never be a “made man,” Lansky was the unofficial “consigliere” (advisor) to mob chairman Charles “Lucky” Luciano. To the Italians, being a Mafioso was a thing of honor. To the Jews it was a dirty and shameful business. This is why Lansky insisted that his sons study hard in school and become something respectable. Meyer’s first-born son Bernard or “Buddy” suffered from cerebral palsy and was a failure in everything he tried, depending on his father’s support his whole life. Paul Lansky however, attended West Point University and ended up working for the U.S. Government, a fact that his dad was enormously proud of. Tensions in the family were always high, and after Meyer died in 1983, the rifts became permanent as his surviving kin tore each other apart over what was a very meager inheritance.

3. Monk Eastman & The Eastman Gang

On the Lower East Side in the 1890’s, if you were a Jewish boy that got into fights and stayed out rolling dice on a Friday night, you would be beaten and kicked out of the house by your stern and unforgiving father. So what was a young Jewish boy to do when he was turned out? You would go to Monk. Monk Eastman was a huge, gorilla brute of a gangster who would beat people to death with a club and keep count by putting a notch on the club for each victim. He was also a father-figure to hundreds of young Jewish boys who wanted to be tough and not be seen as bean-counters and bookworms. Monk would take them in, give them shelter and teach them how to fight, pick pockets, and stand up for themselves. Until 1904, he ran the biggest Jewish street gang in New York history. The biggest irony? Eastman himself wasn’t Jewish.

2. Arnold Rothstein & Charles Luciano

In 1907 a young boy named Salvatore Lucania arrived on the shores of America and the world of crime would never be the same. He knew that he’d never make it in America by maintaining Sicilian tradition and identity, so he changed his name to Charlie Luciano. Pretty soon the young tough learned the street trade of dice, cards, shakedowns, and even dealing heroin on the corner of 14th Street. His street smarts and attitude caught the attention of a wealthy uptown gambler named Arnold Rothstein who in turn took Charlie in and taught him how to act, dress, speak and think like a savvy American businessman. The mentor and protégé were like father and son, but their vast gap in upbringing maintained a tension that lingered till the end. In 1928 Rothstein was shot and killed over a gambling debt that he allegedly refused to pay. Rothstein didn’t become the most successful gambler in American history by welshing on his bets. More notably, after he died, Luciano took over his vast connections in the liquor and drug industries.

1. John and “Junior” Gotti

John Gotti rose to power by breaking all the rules. Dealing drugs against the orders of his boss Paul Castellano, and then killing Big Paul in 1985 after the other bosses explicitly told him not to. As the leader of the Gambino family, he was known for his flamboyant style, expensive suits and movie-star lifestyle. When he was brought down by federal indictment in 1992, his son John “Junior” Gotti stepped into his fathers shoes, though they were far from the same man. Junior grew up as a spoiled suburban kid and became the youngest captain in Gambino family. (Nepotism much?) His brief and shaky leadership of the Gambino family ended in 1997 when the FBI raided his home and found a list (a LIST???) of made men and $350,000 in his basement. After a few federal indictments and a few years in prison, Gotti Jr. left the life all together. They say once you get in this thing, there’s no getting out. Looks like Junior was able to break some rules too.

Gideon Levy runs NYC Gangster Tours—New York's premier tour of the crime underworld. Follow him on Twitter.

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