THIEF! The Gutsy, True Story of an Ex-Con Artist

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THIEF! character, Vince Eli

Monday, May 31, 2010

Sergeant Smack Interview Udate

Mob Speak's exclusive interview with Ike Atkinson (Sergeant Smack), the man who operated the largest drug smuggling enterprise in the 1970s, has definitely been rescheduled for June 2010.

Don't miss this Q & A!

Yours truly...

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Slick's Las Vegas Then & Now: 21st in Series

El Rancho Vegas: First Strip Casino

When you think of old Las Vegas, two casinos always pop up: Bugsy Siegel’s Flamingo and the El Rancho Vegas because of its history. On April 23, 1941, the $25,000 western-themed El Rancho Vegas opened on 66,000 acres. It was the first hotel on what would become the Las Vegas Strip.

I went into the army at 15 years old and got discharged at 17. The year was 1949, just two years after Bugsy Siegel was murdered. One of the biggest U.S. singing sensations was Frankie Laine who was appearing at the El Rancho while I was stationed in Las Vegas. Frankie was on every jukebox in the country.

Well, I was from Chicago and Frankie hailed from the windy city too, so I decided to introduce myself to him. I got a lift from Las Vegas Air Force Base (now Nellis) 15 miles away to meet my idol. I saw Frankie talking with some people and I walked over to shake his hand. Instead of brushing me off, Frankie realized I was just a homesick kid and befriended me.

Frankie was appearing at the El Rancho with his longtime friend and pianist, Carl Fisher. One lucky day, Frankie invited me to go with him and Carl Fisher to visit Las Vegas High School. At the time it was the only high school in Las Vegas. Here I was 17, in uniform and hanging out with one of the biggest entertainers of the time. I broke a lot of young girl’s hearts.

Other entertainers appearing at the El Rancho were Pearl Bailey, Milton Berle, Ben Blue, Billy Daniels, Lena Horne, Joe E. Lewis, Kay Starr and Betty Grable along with her husband, Harry James. Young folks probably never heard of any of them.

The resort hosted the weddings of Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gorme (who at one time worked as a United Nations interpreter), and also Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward.

In 1960, I heard from close friends that fearsome Outfit enforcer, Marshall Caifano, burnt the El Rancho down because he was kicked out. But who knows? The first to notice the flames was none other than Betty Grable who ran outside with husband Harry James. El Rancho owner at the time, Beldon Katleman, didn’t get too upset since he collected a nice insurance settlement on the place. The El Rancho Vegas was losing money due to the opening of the Sahara across the street. An empty lot is all that remains of the legendary resort.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Chicago Outfit Headquarters

Slick and I were talking the other day about the old Devonshire and Berkshire hotels. (Pictured at right and below.) Back in the 1950s they were headquarters for the Chicago mob. He lived there for a while with his friend, Bob Mauro, who was connected. Slick said,

"Everyone has heard of Rush Street, a famous area in downtown Chicago known for its sensational restaurants and nightclubs. But how many have heard of Ohio Street, mob headquarters?"

In our book, THIEF!, Slick describes this colorful neighborhood and it's zany characters:
"These weren't your run-of-the-mill hotels. I guess it took pull to stay there--pretty much by invitation only.

On the first floor of the Devonshire, a coffee shop occupied one side. Across from the coffee shop was a bar loaded with prostitutes. The Berkshire next door resembled the Devonshire except, on the left, it had an Italian restaurant called Valentino's, on the right a bar loaded with prostitutes. A little guy, Davie Fuch, made tough decisions as the doorman at Valentino's. If he didn't know you or you weren't okayed by someone important, you didn't get in, period.

It was Valentino's where the mob-run Rush Street nightclubs like the Chez Paree, Mr. Kelly's and The Living Room quietly dropped off the nights' receipts in brown paper bags to Jimmy "the Monk" Allegretti. The balding, round-shouldered mob soldier ran the place for the Outfit. He had the say about what went on at the two hotels. When Jimmy barked, all the dogs jumped. He left most of the barking to his underlings like Big Joe Arnold, his bodyguard-enforcer-collector. The last table in the narrow, well-lit Valentino's was permanently reserved for Jimmy and Joe to conduct business...

A lot of goofy things went on around the neighborhood. Living there certainly had its perks. Every morning a guy who worked for city hall would systematically collect all the parking tickets on the cars in front of the two hotels and have them fixed. In the summer Handsome Joe, a four-foot-tall ex-fighter with his nose plastered all over his face, drove a carload of strippers out to Calumet City to turn some tricks. It was sort of a "shopping center" for hookers."

Slick went on to say,
"You knew that, if the front door to Valentino's was busted, some guy tried to get in who wasn't cleared by Davie the doorman and was thrown out. The restaurant had pictures of movie stars on each wall. The long room had 11 tables--5 on one side and 6 on the other. Me and Bob could tell what "noodles" the chef was cooking by the stains on Jimmy Allegretti's white tie. Jimmy came out of the kitchen with bread dipped in red sauce or white and some of it always landed on his tie. We had a hard time not staring at that tie. Jimmy's table was a who's who of the Chicago Outfit."

Well, all that's gone and the Devonshire's now a cheap joint called the Tokyo Hotel. (Pictured below.) Wonder what Tony Montana would say?

[The above excerpt is taken from THIEF! The Gutsy, True Story of an Ex-Con Artist. All rights are reserved by the authors.]

Friday, May 14, 2010

In Passing...

Slick recalled the following when he learned of Lena Horne's passing on May 9 of this year:

"Few People know that Lena Horn was a good friend of Ben 'Bugsy' Siegel and one of the first entertainers that Siegel brought to the Flamingo, his hotel and casino in Las Vegas."

If you're not familiar with this ground-breaking, gorgeous black star of stage and screen, check out this site:

Monday, May 10, 2010

Biggest Drug Dealer in U.S. History: "Sergeant Smack"

How can a kingpin who doesn't carry a gun, doesn't work with La Cosa Nostra and doesn't kill anybody become the biggest drug dealer in U.S. history? True Crime author Ron Chepesiuk has the answer and much more about a guy they call "Sergeant Smack," Ike Atkinson.

We'll be interviewing Atkinson later this month before his book hits the stands in June. Here's a preview:

Crime Author Ron Chepesiuk Pens “Sergeant Smack: The Legendary Lives and Times of Ike Atkinson, Kingpin, and His Band of Brothers”

84-Year Old Ike Atkinson Challenges
So-Called “American Gangster” Frank Lucas to a Dialogue About the Truth
Behind the Asian Heroin Connection