Bonjourno, amici nostra! Welcome to UNDERWORLD, my spanking new blog about organized crime (“OC”) and the Italian-American Mafia, coupled with helpful hints about how to improve your own budding criminal career. Rather than waste time about my motivations for doing so, or about my bonafides as a self-proclaimed expert, let’s just get right to it.
Today’s topic is all about debunking the Tinsel Town-perpetuated myth that Mickey Cohen was the mob boss of LA back in the ’40s and ’50s. Admit it, people — most of you mouth-breathers out there actually believe this crap. Just know that it’s not your fault. After all, there has been no shortage of movies that portray “the Mick” as an all-powerful godfather of LA. The most popular, of course, is the brilliant 1997 flick LA Confidential, followed in descending order of quality and popularity by 1991’s Bugsy, 1996’s Mulholland Falls, and the atrocious 2013 debacle Gangster Squad. These films would have you believe that Cohen ran all the traditional OC rackets with an iron fist, cowering everyone, including all his Italian competitors, into meek submission. But that’s pure shite!
Now in all fairness, the Mick was a major player who did, in fact, run the most successful gambling syndicate on the West Coast. By 1947, his gambling empire was raking in almost a million dollars per week in today’s ducats. His goons even dropped a fair number of bodies around town. Cohen was also a media-obsessed fiend who loved nothing more than to land on the front page of the local tabloids with famous movie stars and celebrities on his arm.
So his reputation as a cock-swaggering shotcaller in the Life is certainly not undeserved. But let’s get one thing straight, chipmunks — although he was wealthier, Cohen never fucked with the true padrone of the LA Cosa Nostra family, then run by the legendary bad-ass Jack Dragna. His borgata (family) consisted of sixty made men and ten times as many associates.
By contrast, Cohen’s ethnically-diverse crew never numbered above a dozen, and their allegiance was based solely on money as opposed to a lifelong blood oath and membership in the most exclusive men’s club in the world. Ergo, he knew he could never outmuscle Dragna’s famiglia, which was connected to twenty-five other Mafia families across the US! Fuggedaboutit!
Conversely, Dragna went after Cohen with a vengeance to take over his gambling rackets. And although Dragna never did kill him, he did manage to snuff out plenty of Cohen’s henchmen. And not once did Cohen strike back, preferring instead to cower behind his ever-present sheriff’s deputy bodyguards.
I’ll get into the Dragna-Cohen “war” in detail in my gallows-humor, non-fiction, self-help book to be published by WildBlue Press this fall 2019 — it’s entitled UNDERWORLD: How to Survive and Thrive in the American Mafia. Although I dare say this title is fairly self-explanatory, the book provides a step-by-step guide on how to become a high-rolling Mafioso. Nuff said.
Fuck was I? Oh yeah, in several of these flicks, Cohen’s hitters are shown whacking “the two Tonys” — murderous desperados Anthony Trombino and Anthony Brancato. In reality, Dragna ordered them clipped for their regular shakedowns of Mafia-affiliated bookies.
On August 6, 1951, future LA acting boss Aladena “Jimmy the Weasel” Fratianno lured the two Tonys to North Ogden Drive near Hollywood Boulevard, and into the front seat of a Buick to discuss a score. The moment they closed their doors, Fratianno leaned forward, shoved a .38 revolver against the back of Brancato’s skull and — BOOM! BOOM! The slugs catapulted Brancato forward before his head snapped back. Blood, bone fragments, and brain matter sprayed the car. Fratianno then swiveled, emptying the other three chambers into Trombino’s brain.
The spectacular double-homicide attracted nationwide media publicity, and established Fratianno as the mob’s top executioner on the West Coast. This brought him maximum respect among mobsters across the US, as well as constant heat from the LAPD’s so-called Gangster Squad.
Interestingly, fellow LA goodfella Charley “Bats” Battaglia had been sitting right next to Fratianno when he clipped the two Tonys, but froze when it came to actually pulling the trigger himself. But Fratianno kept this shameful lapse of duty a secret, knowing that if it got out, Charles Bats would be next.
Fratianno was arrested the next day for the two murders but charges were eventually dropped for lack of evidence. However, the notoriety from this incident directly led to a six-and-a-half-year prison stint for extortion. In 1977, the Weasel became an official FBI informant. He was then the highest-ranking made guy to flip and to enter WITSEC.
In sum, Cohen, who had been in jail at the time, had nothing to do with the murders. I’ve given much thought as to why Hollywood has shoved the Cohen myths down our gullible throats for decades. You salad-tossing anti-Semites out there might crow that Jewish studio heads wanted to promote one of their own as the top hood in Los Angeles. But I think the real reason is that Dragna was a humorless, balls-ugly schlub who shunned the limelight, while Mickey was a glamorous, dashing bon vivant.
You guys decide — or not. Fuck do I care? (Um, JK, baby vipers — please email me your comments at firstname.lastname@example.org. I love hate mail!)