Don’t forget to buy me a shot and a beer on my @ganglandwire Venmo app. This week I am joined by Larry Henry, the Mob in Popular Culture blogger for the Las Vegas Mob Museum. He and I discuss “Handsome Johnny” Roselli who was an influential mobster for the Chicago Outfit who helped that organization control Hollywood and the Las Vegas Strip. Larry recently wrote about author Lee Server’s 2018 biography, Handsome Johnny: The Life and Death of Johnny Rosselli: Gentleman Gangster, Hollywood Producer, CIA Assassin.
Roselli was born in Brooklyn and traveled around the country as a young man. He made some connections ion Los Angeles and ended up working in a bootlegging business during prohibition for a Los Angeles mobster named Tony Cornero. This operation was under the control of Jack Dragna, the mafia boss of southern California. He would gravitate into working on the off-shore gambling boats operating out of Santa Monica and helped run a race wire. He first met Al Capone in Los Angeles when the police gangster squad was trying to run Capone out of town. He would become a western representative for the Chicago Outfit over his lifetime and would probably be called a member of the Outfit and not a member of the Dragna crime family.
Meanwhile back in Chicago, a man named Willie Bioff was extorting money from n Chicago area movie theaters by controlling the Stagehand’s Union. When the Outfit learned of this they incorporated Bioff’s scheme and expanded it to the actual studios themselves in Hollywood. Johnny Roselli was already involved in Los Aneles and Outfit boss Paul Ricca, Roselli’s mentor, appointed him to oversee Willie Bioff major extortion plots against the major film companies like Fox, Universal and Warner brothers.
Bioff would get indicted by the IRS after the famous actor Robert Montgomery tipped them off about these extortion activities. Bioff became a witness and testified against Paul Ricca, Tony Accardo, Roselli, and other Chicago mobsters. The government convicted them in 1943, and the judge handed down ten-year sentences. The Outfit had backed Harry Truman in the 1948 election and his Attorney General, Tom Clark, helped them all get paroled after serving only three years.
After the government released Roselli from prison, he returns to Hollywood, and he finds work in the film industry where he helps produce Film-Noir gangster movies before moving on and becoming involved in a plot to kill Castro and become embroiled in the rumors of the Outfit’s involvement in the assignation of President John F. Kennedy.
Larry Henry worked in television and newspaper media in 1970’s Nevada before changing careers to become a journalism professor and then headmaster at the Haas Hall academy in Fayetteville Arkansas. He has been blogging about the Mob and Las Vegas for the past several years. Larry organized the Mob World Summit that was held in the Las Vegas Mob Museum in 2018 and in the Hot Springs Arkansas Gangster Museum in 2019. We are hosting the 2020 Mob World Summit in Kansas City next June.
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