Posted: August 19, 2021 in Uncategorized

The Life and Death of Johnny Rosselli: Gentleman Gangster, Hollywood Producer, CIA Assassin

by Lee Server • Review by Tony Bulmer

Handsome Johnny Roselli is the most famous gangster you never heard of, and the crimetastic Lee Server biography on the handsome one’s rise and fall is perhaps one of the greatest ever biographies on both Rosselli, and the history of the American Mafia.

Rosselli [born Fillipo Sacco] made his mafia bones on the mean streets of Boston and New York, but his career really took off in the roaring twenties when he hooked up with the Chicago Outfit and became the last protégé of Al Capone. After fast years of bloodshed and bootlegging at the height of prohibition, Rosselli became the Mob’s man in Hollywood.

With film star looks, the silver-tonged charm of a career diplomat, and the ruthless drive of a career criminal, Rosselli ran through the Hollywood set like a dose of amebic dysentery. He corrupted studio heads like foul-mouthed Mussolini fan, Harry Cohen of Columbia Pictures fame, extorted film studios, and labor unions for millions of dollars, and insinuated himself into a “producer” role, seducing fledgling starlets like Jean Harlow and Marilyn Monroe. The scale of Rosselli’s Hollywood plunder has been described by law enforcement as the biggest extortion plot in history.

Lee Server’s low-down on the dirty history of Roselli and the City of Los Angeles is essential reading for crime fans everywhere. If you are a fan of James “devil dog” Ellroy’s famous factional tales of the Los Angeles crime scene, in such novels as L.A. Confidential, you will be truly staggered at the extent of political and police corruption. Amazed how Rosselli and his close associate Jack Dragna ran an entire city. Not satisfied with ruling L.A. Jack and Johnny ran the national “racing wires”. Making millions for the American Mafia in the process.

Then there was Vegas. Many associate hair-trigger crazy, Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel, with the birth of modern Las Vegas, but throughout the fifties it was Rosselli who was running things in Sin City: cajoling, strong-arming, schmoozing at the Tropicana and Desert Inn, and indulging in the Rat Pack nightlife with fast pals like Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin.

There comes a turning point in every career. For Rosselli his increasingly high-profile crime career and association with Chicago boss Sam Giancana [Al Capone’s former driver] was to prove instrumental in his downfall. On Giancana’s orders, Rosselli became point man and go-between in the CIA plot to assassinate Fidel Castro. All the connections are laid out here, Crimeziners—the nexus between Giancana, Santo Trafficante Jr, Carlos Marcello, Jack Ruby and the assassination of JFK. The common thread between of them all—Handsome Johnny Rosselli. You may know the denouement. If you don’t, Server lays it out in detail.

Based upon years of research, this book is written in an engrossing and propulsive fashion. You are going to love it, yes you are. The anecdote filled Handsome Johnny is American Crime writing at it’s very best. If you are going to read one book on the history of the American Mafia, make it this one, dear Crimeziner. Buy it today. Tell them Crimezine sent you.

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