Source – northjersey.com
- “… In November 1963, found himself heading down to New Orleans on an important assignment for his mentor. He was, he relates, to carry a sealed envelope, hand it to “Little Man” — a.k.a. Carlos Marcello, a Louisiana mafioso — in a creole restaurant, and get a verbal message in return…he met Marcello and got the message to give to his boss: “Tell Frank it’s on.”…as show biz bios go, this is the wildest ride since Chuck Barris, in his 1984 autobiography “Confessions of a Dangerous Mind,” claimed to be a CIA assassin”
‘Godfather’ actor claims to know how Kennedy died, why Marilyn was killed
Gianni Russo had a supporting role in “The Godfather.”
He also had a supporting role in just about everything else — if his entertaining new book, “Hollywood Godfather: My Life in the Movies and the Mob,” is to be believed.
The J.F.K. assassination? He had a walk-on role.
The death of Marilyn Monroe? He was a bit player there, too.
The 1979 Iranian revolution? He had a meaty subplot.
He also says he had a food fight with Liza Minnelli, saw Elvis Presley and his “Memphis Mafia” shoot up a hotel room, socked one of Siegfried & Roy’s tigers, told Frank Sinatra he’d rip his arm off, watched then-Sen. John F. Kennedy snort cocaine from a starlet’s stomach, laundered money for the Vatican, was tortured by Pablo Escobar, and personally advised Marlon Brando on how his son could beat his 1990 murder rap. Oh, yes, he also killed two guys.
“I vouch this is 100 percent of my life,” Russo says. “I lived it, and I stand by what I say.”
To be clear: Russo, who will be signing copies of “Hollywood Godfather” at Bookends in Ridgewood on Wednesday at 6 p.m., doesn’t claim to be a witting participant in either Kennedy’s or Marilyn’s death.
Both, he says, were buddies. Or, in Marilyn’s case, something more — they had, he says, a four-year relationship, starting when he was 16 and she was 33.
“You had to meet Marilyn to know her,” Russo told NorthJersey.com and the USA TODAY NETWORK New Jersey on Friday. “She believed in everybody, and wanted to give everybody a hug — and anything else they wanted.”
Also, to be clear: None of his claims has been vetted — and most are not vettable — by The Record and NorthJersey.com’s fact-checking department. We’ll only say that as show biz bios go, this is the wildest ride since Chuck Barris, in his 1984 autobiography “Confessions of a Dangerous Mind,” claimed to be a CIA assassin.
“Hollywood Godfather” (284 pp., St. Martin’s Press, $29.99), written with Patrick Picciarelli, comes out Tuesday.
One thing is provable, because it’s on film: Russo appeared in one of the all-time classics of Hollywood history.
In “The Godfather” (1972), he’s Carlo Rizzi, whose wedding and murder bookend the three-hour saga of the Corleone crime family. It’s Carlo, you’ll recall, who marries Don Corleone’s daughter Connie (Talia Shire), with the expectation that he’ll be brought into the family business. When his hopes are crushed, he turns traitor.
“That’s the setup,” Russo says. “This guy has ambitions to get into the mob. And you’ll remember [Don Corleone] says, ‘Don’t give him any business, make him earn a living.’ Well, that’s not what I got in for.”
The movie launched Russo’s secondary career as a film actor and producer: “Seabiscuit,” “Any Given Sunday,” “The Freshman” and “The Godfather: Part II” (he had a walk-on role) are some of the films in which he’s appeared.
” ‘The Godfather’ changed my life,” he says. “It opened doors for me in so many ways — socially, and in every other way.”
He made “The Godfather” happen?
Though, in fact, “The Godfather” might not have been made without him, according to Russo’s book. This week marks the 50th anniversary of the publication of Mario Puzo’s “Godfather” novel (March 10, 1969).
The film version, while in pre-production, was not popular with the wise guys. “They didn’t need the attention brought to the mob,” Russo says.
Director Francis Ford Coppola’s staff was harassed when they tried to film in Little Italy. Mobster Joe Colombo, head of the Italian American Anti-Defamation League, was especially incensed. It was Russo who, according to the book, ran interference, arranging a meeting between Colombo and the Paramount brass.
“I know these mobsters,” he says. “Money talks … I said [to Colombo], ‘What you’re gonna ask for, if you sanction the movie, you want the world premiere in every major city. The night before or the night of, you’re gonna do the big gala. You get $100 a ticket.’ Let’s say the theater had 400 seats. That’s 400 tickets, $100 a head, in 14 major cities. That’s big money. They agreed to that.”
Russo was on speaking terms with Colombo because he was on speaking terms with mobsters generally.
From the age of 13, Russo traveled in mob circles — though he says he was never a “made” man. Of the important “Godfather” actors, only he and Lenny Montana (Luca Brasi) had significant mob connections, he says.
“They all knew me as The Kid,” he says. “I was allowed everywhere.”
Born in 1943, raised in Little Italy, Russo contracted polio as a 7-year-old and spent five years in Bellevue Hospital. That was where, according to the book, he killed his first man — Harold, a ward pedophile he stabbed in the bathroom (the hospital hushed up the case, he believes).
As a teen, selling pens in front of the Waldorf-Astoria hotel, he was befriended by mob boss Frank Costello. The mobster used to rub Russo’s crippled shoulder for luck, until Russo told him hands off. Costello admired his guts — and took the boy under his wing.
The J.F.K. plot
Which is how Russo, in November 1963, found himself heading down to New Orleans on an important assignment for his mentor. He was, he relates, to carry a sealed envelope, hand it to “Little Man” — a.k.a. Carlos Marcello, a Louisiana mafioso — in a creole restaurant, and get a verbal message in return. After bumping into some skinny guy coming out of the restroom, he met Marcello and got the message to give to his boss: “Tell Frank it’s on.”
Days later, on board ship, he heard the news of the Kennedy assassination. He also saw a familiar face staring at him from a photograph. It was the man who had bumped into him at the restaurant.
“I didn’t realize who that guy was until I was on the ship and it came over the Telex,” he says. “It was Lee Harvey Oswald in that bathroom. I was all broken up, because I had gotten very friendly, very early on, with senator John F. Kennedy, at the Sands hotel.”
Friendly enough, he says, to watch the future president of the United States snort cocaine from the stomach of movie sexpot Juliet Prowse. “I was surprised,” he says. “I’d never taken a drug in my life. And I said to myself, ‘This is going to be the president of the United States?’ ”
Again, not verifiable. But it’s in the book.
Russo also claims to have been present during the fateful moments, in Lake Tahoe, when Marilyn Monroe refused to assist in a mob blackmail scheme aimed at the Kennedy brothers. “She was screaming from the bungalow,” he says. “She was done with the Kennedys. She was going to the press.”
The mob, he says, had wanted compromising photos of Marilyn, J.F.K. and R.F.K. in order to pressure the Kennedys to lay off their organized crime investigations. When Marilyn threatened to go to the newspapers, she signed her death warrant, Russo believes. She had risked sparking a huge scandal about the Kennedys’ sex lives — and that was something that could not be tolerated. Days later, she was dead — and not by suicide, Russo believes.
“They felt that if she did go, it’s gonna get a lot of negative publicity,” he says. “These are two Catholic boys who are married. They’d lose the Bible belt. He was the first Catholic president, and he won by a very small margin. All they needed was this thing going on.”
Among Russo’s alleged later escapades: helping the shah of Iran get his money out of the country, in advance of the Ayatollah’s 1979 revolution, and hooking Marlon Brando up with the lawyer who helped his son beat his 1990 murder rap. But his most harrowing adventure may be when he crossed paths with Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar.
“He was the most scary guy I ever met in my life,” Russo says. “Forget John Gotti. Forget all these other wannabes.”
That was right after Russo killed his second man.
The final scene
It happened in 1988, when Russo was running a Las Vegas nightclub, Gianni Russo’s State Street. He tried, he says, to get between an abusive customer and his date. The thug went after Russo with a broken champagne bottle. Russo shot him.
“I feel good about the people I killed, because they were dangerous people, they were harmful people,” he says.
What Russo didn’t know is that the guy he killed was an operative in the Escobar crime empire. And Escobar was likely to come after him and his family, unless he took drastic action. Russo went down to Colombia to explain to Escobar personally.
“I had taken out this very powerful guy, this guy who was supposed to be setting up Vegas for them,” Russo says. “They had been working on that for a year. I didn’t know that.”
In Bogota, Escobar’s men tortured Russo for a while. Until, that is, Escobar discovered that Russo was Carlo Rizzi from “The Godfather.”
Escobar, it turned out, was a huge “Godfather” fan. So much so that he made Russo reenact his climactic scene from the movie: the one in which Michael (Al Pacino) sweats Carlo about his role in the killing of Sonny (James Caan), leads him to believe that he’s off the hook, and then has him strangled as soon as he gets into the car.
Escobar played the Michael Corleone part: “I want to square all the family accounts tonight. So don’t tell me you’re innocent; admit what you did.”
And Russo, as he was reading his Carlo lines, began to believe he was enacting his own death scene.
“I said, is this guy playing me, or what?” Russo remembers thinking.
“When they said they wanted to do that scene, and then they took me down to the car, I said, oh, [expletive], I’m dead. They’re gonna take me to the jungle and I’m done. Then they all started laughing.
“When I got to the airport, I was so relieved I couldn’t believe it,” Russo says. “I just wanted to get out of there.”
Like those stories? Russo’s got plenty more.
“They’re asking me to write another book,” he says. “You’re gonna hear some other stories you won’t believe.”