Crazy Joe Gallo – Mafia’s Greatest Hits – Volume 2, is a story well-told. Joe Bruno writes with humour and dedication about Joe Gallo and his crime family cohorts in 50’s/60’s/70’s New York. Gallo acquired his nickname after being diagnosed with schizophrenia following an arrest in 1950. It was a name he used to his advantage.
In this atmospheric and well-researched book, the writer introduces us to some of the most colourful crime characters of the era. People like Albert Anastasia, Joe Profaci, Joe Colombo – Mafia Don turned Civil Rights campaigner. Colombo was gunned down at one of his own Italian-American Civil Rights League rallies. He died at the hands of an Jerome Johnson, a street hustler but the consensus was that long-time rival Joe Gallo was the true perpetrator of the crime. The murder sparked an underworld war between the Gallo brothers and the Profaci (now Colombo) crime family. It was a war that ended in Joe Gallo’s brutal death at the age of 43. Gallo was shot while celebrating his birthday at Umberto’s Clam House in Little Italy, New York. He was in the company of his new wife Sina Essary, her daughter Lisa, his sister Carmella and his bodyguard “Pete the Greek” Diapolous.
Gallo was an irrepressible character, with an enormous lust for power. Born in 1929, and raised in Red Hook, Brooklyn, little Joey Gallo was a tough guy from the outset. At age four, he took a razor and shaved his head to rid himself of his cute, blonde curls.
Gallo’s father, Umberto Gallo, was a small time hood, with ambitions for his three sons, raising them to be hoodlums and killers.
In his early years, Gallo was inspired to kill Albert (Mad Hatter) Anastasia, the head of Murder Inc. which gave him enormous standing within the Profaci family. However, Gallo’s lust for power soon saw him turning his back on Profaci and carving a niche for himself as a gangster of note.
The book takes us on a colourful romp through Gallo’s progression from tough teenage enforcer for Profaci to a maverick celebrity gangster within NYC. The book depicts Gallo as a complex personality with a love of publicity. His early onscreen role model was Tommy Udo, the vicious psychopath depicted in the 1947 gangster movie, Kiss of Death. As Bruno makes clear throughout, Gallo was the epitome of the Italian-American mobster. Gallo’s union racketeering brought him to the attention of Robert Kennedy, who called upon him to testify at a Senate committee hearing. Unfazed, Gallo walked into the hearing looking like a Grade B Hollywood gangster (Kennedy’s words) and played to the galleries. Earlier, he had strutted into Kennedy’s office and said, “nice rug you got here kid, be great for a crap game”.
Bruno leads us through the maze of mafia activity throughout the 50’s/ 60’s, and early 70’s up to the time of Gallo’s death. I particularly enjoyed the droll passage dealing with the making of The Godfather and the often tortuous negotiations between the producer Albert Ruddy and the Italian-American Civil Rights League headed by Joe Colombo. In one contentious section of the script, the word “Mafia” had to be removed; however the words “guinea”, “wop”, “greaseballs” etc., were given a pass.
The book is full of such entertaining anecdotes and the writer peppers his narrative with tantalising nuggets of information. We learn for instance that Joe Gallo, (who developed into an avid reader whilst in jail), became a temporary refugee from the Mafia when his first wife Jeffie introduced him to the counterculture of Greenwich Village. He moved his residence from President Street to an apartment in Greenwich Village where he frequented the bookstores and theatres. Later in the book, Joey meets and befriends the actor Jerry Orbach and forges a new image for himself as the loveable mobster. At a time when Gallo is becoming the toast of NYC – hobnobbing with artists, actors, and the literati – the Colombo family puts out an open contract. By this stage, Gallo is living in two different worlds and his demise is straight out of a Hollywood film script.
A thoroughly enjoyable conglomeration of characters from New York City’s underworld.
Look out for Joe Bruno’s collection of mafia-related books on Amazon.