July 4, 2010
What if he got away with it? And what if, in the end, there wasn’t much left to get away with? These are the two questions which bookend the life of twentieth-century America’s pre-eminent gangster capitalist, MEYER LANSKY (1902–1983). He came from the Lower East Side via Grodno, Poland, quit school after the 8th grade, and worked in a tool and die shop for three years before committing to his true vocation, crime. Childhood friendships with Lucky Luciano and Bugsy Seigel proved valuable, but it was Arnold Rothstein, whom Lansky first met at a Williamsburg, Brooklyn bar mitzvah, who showed them that vision, discipline and diplomacy — in short, brains — were as important as guts, guns and muscle. Prohibition made it easy but life was more than booze alone. And so Meyer Lansky had carpet joints, hotels, casinos, Wurlitzer jukeboxes and heroin. There were untold deals, partnerships and fronts in Saratoga Springs, Council Bluffs, Hot Springs, Las Vegas, Miami, Havana. Ah, Cuba — that was a tremendous loss. And then Rafael Trujillo was assassinated in the Dominican Republic; it should have been beautiful. There was still the Bahamas, pieces of this and that. Lansky went to Israel in 1970 and was expelled in 1972. He returned to Florida, retired, beat a clutch of Federal cases and then all was memory and legend, doctors and dogwalking. The money, it appeared, was mostly gone, and many irksome reporters remained. To some, including the cameraman, he said “You guys are sure good at walking backwards.”
ALSO BORN THIS DATE: Rube Goldberg.
Each day, HILOBROW pays tribute to one of our favorite high-, low-, no-, or hilobrow heroes on that person’s birthday.
READ MORE about members of the Hardboiled generation (1894-1903).