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Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Sinatra, Gotti and Me: The Rise and Fall of Jilly’s Nightclub by Tony Delvecchio and Rich Herschlag


He never blinked. He never bluffed. He never backed down.  We're referring to neither Sinatra nor Gotti.  It's the "Me" that was the tough guy here — and he was not a "wise guy".  He was the kind of guy who could tell John Gotti, "No" and get away with it.  He was tough but not mean.  And could he tell stories!  Who knows how many of his stories were factual and how many were bullshit? Who cares? It makes for great reading, lots of smiles and some laughs out loud.  Who is "Me"?  It's Tony Delvecchio from the mean streets of Newark, NJ.  This is the story of Frank Sinatra, John Gotti, Jilly Rizzo and the infamous "Jilly's" nightclub — according to Tony D. He gets half the writing credits for this book (posthumously) along with Rich Herschlag.
As the title would suggest, Tony's story is told in the first person, thanks to a collection of notes and audio tapes — and thanks too, to Herschlag.  Reading this book reminded me of spending a few hours in a quiet bar catching up on old times with a long lost friend.  The friend had thrown back a few drinks and was telling some great stories.  Were it not for Herschlag, Sinatra, Gotti, and Me would read like Pulp Fiction on crack.  It must have been a Herculean task to sort out all the captivating tales and put them in chronological order in such a way that a complete story could be told.


Along with Tony's biography, readers will enjoy a trip down memory lane, if you're a loyal fan of The Godfather.  The story arc is the story of two nightclubs, Jilly's and then the second Jilly's.  Both were favorite hangouts for Sinatra and his buddies.  One of Johnny Fontaine's — oops, I mean Frankie's closest buddies was Jilly Rizzo.  Tony D. has lots of anecdotes about both of these guys and their relationship.  Everyone like Frank Sinatra needs someone like Jilly Rizzo around, and a backup like Tony D. ain't bad either.

(Pictured here: Frank Rizzo, Tony D. & John Gotti - Image courtesy Rich Herschlag)

Ever since I first read The Godfather, I've always wondered how much like Frank Sinatra was the Johnny Fontaine character.  So I asked Herschlag and here's what he had to say, "Frank might have pulled a big favor to get the role of Maggio in From Here to Eternity, but I doubt it involved a horse's head.  More to the question, no. The Johnny Fontaine character was somewhat sycophantic.  In fact, Don Corleone told him to pull himself together, as he was an embarrassment. I never heard of Frank groveling.  He could be charming, arrogant, funny, tough, somber, irritable, kind, vengeful, and just plain normal. But I never heard of him breaking down and crying over something as unimportant as a role in a movie."
Tony Delvecchio was pleased that he was considered a "stand-up" guy and had a reputation for doing the right thing all the time — even when it wasn't the best thing for him.  He certainly was no "yes man".  Like Sinatra, Tony D. did things his way.  Tony lived on the fringes of organized crime (it was so much better than the dis-organized crime of today) and flirted with danger every day.  Fans of this genre will want  Sinatra, Gotti, and Me on their bookcase.  Herschlag tells me there is enough material for a sequel. So, you go buy this book (hardcover or Kindle) and I'll stop by the Hackensack Pastry Shop and get some fresh cannolis to enjoy while I listen to the Rat Pack and wait on the next book.


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