Updated news on the Gambino, Genovese, Bonanno, Lucchese and Colombo Organized Crime Families of New York City.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

New book details the life of Meyer Lansky's daughter

Meyer Lansky with his family: Sons (from left) Paul and Buddy, who had cerebral palsy, daughter Sandra, and first wife Ana. When Buddy was diagnosed, Ana Lansky worried that God was punishing Meyer for his criminal ways.

“Daughter of the King: Growing Up in Gangland” is Sandra Lansky’s remarkable story of life with daddy — who happened to be one of the most notorious gangsters of his time.

Meyer Lansky’s gambling empire reached from Las Vegas to Havana and beyond. Lucky Luciano and Bugsy Siegel were close friends and partners in crime.

As a child, Sandra grew up in a sprawling apartment in the Beresford on Central Park West, with a terrace so big it served as a skating rink. She wanted for nothing but friends. As the daughter of a powerful gangster, playmates were hard to come by. But daddy would take her with him to Broadway shows where the ushers knew his name and supper clubs like Dinty Moore’s on 46th St., where he’d meet up with her many mobster “uncles.”

Excerpted from Daughter of the King: Growing Up in Gangland by Sandra Lansky and William Stadiem.

Then came her years as a “Mob Deb,” as Nicholas Pileggi puts it in the introduction to “Daughter of the King,” written with William Stadiem. She had her own table at glamor spots like El Morocco. At 15, she married a man who appeared to be a playboy but turned out to be a “gay fortune hunter.”

As a gay divorcee, she dated movie stars in the wild years fueled by a drug addiction that followed. Sandra was falling fast but life got good again when she met the dashing, handsome Gabby Harnett. She really thought he was the one — until he pulled out his badge. Sandra ran to daddy with her tale of the FBI agent who wanted her to inform on him. When it came to his little girl, Meyer Lansky always made things come out right.

One night, when I was 10 or 11, Frank Sinatra came over to our table (at the Riviera supper club in New Jersey) after his set to say hello to Daddy and to meet little me with my bottle of ginger ale in a chilled champagne bucket. How grown-up I felt, out with Daddy, on the town, in a nightclub. Wow! I had never seen anyone so nervous as Frank, particularly a star who had all the teenagers in New York screaming for him. But Frank was more fidgety in Daddy’s presence than any bobby-soxer would have been in his. He was so anxious that when he reached over to shake my hand, he knocked over the champagne bucket of ice right into my lap. He nearly died.

Sandra Lansky with Dean Martin in 1957. "Dean asked me to travel with him to Chicago, New Orleans, and San Francisco, to go with him on the road, to be his girl," Lansky writes. "But not his wife."

Maybe he was worrying about dying for getting me all wet. Maybe Daddy had given him one of his looks. Frank got on his knees, grabbed a bunch of napkins and frantically tried to dry me off. The only relief came when I started laughing and said that he was tickling me. The twinkle returned to Daddy’s eyes. I rarely saw him laugh. The twinkle was as good as it got, but it was good enough for Frank to breathe easier. He gave me a big hug, as if I had saved his life by forgiving him, like getting a thumbs up from a Roman emperor.

* * *

In early October of 1951, Daddy took me to dinner with Uncle Willie (Moretti, underboss of the Genovese family) where they talked about Havana. “If Florida goes down, there’s always Havana,” Uncle Willie said. Daddy was quiet, thoughtful and a little sad. Uncle Willie liked to reminisce about old times. “Remember our first convention in Atlantic City, Meyer?” he asked Daddy. “Me and you and Charlie Lucky and Waxey G. and Nig Rosen and King Solomon. All yids and wops, yids and wops. And your bride, what a honeymoon.” Willie turned to me. “He took your beautiful mother on her honeymoon with (gangster) Dutch Schultz. Is that any way to treat a lady?”

Meyer Lansky and his daughter Sandra had dinner with Willie Moretti the night before he was slain.

Daddy was growing very uncomfortable. “Willie, you talk too much,” he said and asked for the check.

The next day at Calhoun, where I went to high school, during outdoor play period in the early afternoon, one of the school janitors was reading a newspaper. On the cover was Uncle Willie. I wanted to brag to my classmates that I had had dinner with him just last night. Then I saw the other half of the paper. “Dead!” it read. “Mob Boss Exterminated in N.J.” There was a photo of a man on the tile floor of a bar, a pool of blood around his head. There was a cafĂ© sign above the body: “Chicken in the Rough. $1.50.”

A detective laughed at the scene of rubout of mobster Willie Moretti.

I ran to the bathroom and threw up.

* * *

I had never seen anything like Dean Martin’s masculinity. We made love six times in a night that wouldn’t stop. I counted. He wasn’t a big man, just about five foot nine, but he was strong, a boxer from a steel town, and he made me feel that he was ravenously grateful for a woman’s softness after being locked in the blast furnaces all day. His image as a heavy drinker was for the press. With me he wanted to be fully conscious and savor every moment. Between rounds of lust, we’d split a Coke.

Sandra Lansky visited her father, mobster Meyer Lansky, while he was in prison in Saratoga in 1953.

The next day Dean called me at home and told me what a wonderful night he had and how he couldn’t wait to see me again.

About a week before we saw each other again, Dean’s wife, Jeannie, gave birth to their daughter Gina. I read about it in the fan magazines. I didn’t mention it, and neither did Dean. That was our unspoken pact: no families, no strings.

I didn’t dare let Daddy know of my affair. Dean asked me to travel with him to Chicago, New Orleans, and San Francisco, to go with him on the road, to be his girl. But not his wife. That would have been the rub for Daddy. I never thought of him as vindictive, but he was over-protective. He would have felt Dean was using me. That I was using Dean would not have occurred to old-fashioned Daddy. Where misbehavior was concerned, Daddy had a policy of zero tolerance.

Mob pals Vincent "Jimmy Blue Eyes" Alo, Meyer Lansky and Harry "Nig Rosen" Stromberg posed for a photo in Miami in 1973.

* * *

I was living the glamorous life of the madcap Manhattan heiress/gay divorcee. I would still see Dean Martin from time to time, meeting him for a secret rendezvous in Chicago or Boston. Dick Shawn would call when he was in the city. There were plenty of other stars, Jeff Chandler, David Janssen, Hugh O’Brien — Wyatt Earp himself. I met a lot of these men at Danny’s Hide-Away. It was the smallest restaurant in New York with the biggest celebrity clientele. I was also a regular at 21, El Morocco and the Harwyn Club. With all my craziness, I was lucky never to be robbed or kidnapped.

I avoided the Copacabana. That was Frank Costello’s club and master gossip John Miller was guaranteed to convey my every excess to Daddy. But one of the captains there had borrowed $700 from me, and months later, he still hadn’t paid me back. I was profligate, but welching on debts in my family was considered bad form. So one night I arranged to meet Uncle Augie Carfano (a Luciano family gangster) at the club, to get him to use his charms on the captain to collect the marker.

Bodies of Anthony "Little Augie Pisano" Carfano and Janice Drake. Sandra Lansky was supposed to meet Carfano at the Copa that night.

I got to the Copa fifteen minutes later than our scheduled appointment only to find Uncle Augie gone. I was upset that I had been stood up. What’s fifteen minutes when a girl like me could be hours late? I was even more upset the next morning when they found the bodies of Uncle Augie and his date that night, ex-beauty queen Janice Drake, shot to death in his Cadillac in Queens. Janice was the wife of comedian Allan Drake, whose faltering nightclub career Augie had bolstered the way Uncle Willie Moretti had bolstered that of Frank Sinatra. Drake may have traded his wife to Augie as a career move. Those things were known to happen. And so were murders, in the long mean season of bloodshed that had kicked off with the failed Frank Costello hit. Outsiders, and even insiders like me, may have thought the Copa the most glamorous club in America. These clubs were fun, but they weren’t worth dying for.

Anthony Carafano, aka Little Augie Pisano, was photographed at Brooklyn Police Headquarters after his arrest.

I thought I was falling in love, madly in love, with Gabby Hartnett (whose real name was Edward). He was tall, athletic, dapper. We had a number of dates, altar boy dates, that always ended with a handshake. No smoking, the rare cocktail or glass of wine. I’m sure I ran my mouth. Gabby listened so sympathetically.

Then one afternoon, the doorman rang and said Gabby was downstairs. With another man. Could they come up? If Gabby looked like Gary Cooper, his friend looked like Wally Cox. I offered to bring out some appetizers. That’s when the nerd flashed his badge. Reluctantly, Gabby pulled out his. “I’m so sorry,” he apologized. “Procedure.”

“I thought you were... my ...” I couldn’t get out the phrase.

Beauty queen Janice Drake was slain alongside Anthony "Little Augie Pisano" Carfano.

“We’d like you to help us,” Gabby said. “We’d like you to help your country.”

Daddy, when I told him, forgave me and then came up with his usual brainstorm. “We’ve got an inside man. Let’s use him,” he said. The plan was to feed Gabby and the FBI disinformation to send them on wild goose chases. He gave me a list of names to drop, names and places.

Even though Gabby had asked me to forgive him and to see him again, our romance never got back on track, if it had ever been on track to begin with. We had a few more dinners, and numerous meetings that included FBI agents. I shared vague recollections of hotel and casino operations that may have made them think they had struck some kind of mother lode. I dropped names like Howard Hughes in Las Vegas, Ray Stark in Hollywood, and banker Charles Allen in New York.

Sandra Lansky smiled with her second husband, Vince Lombardo, in Miami in 1982.

But then I fell for a guy from a major Mafia family, Vince Lombardo. Vince wasn’t in the Mafia himself, but he was perilously close. Daddy came to New York to meet Vince, alone. They made a deal. Daddy would let us marry if Vince promised to stay out, under any circumstances, of the Mafia for the rest of his life with me.

Vince made the deal.

And no one broke a deal with Meyer Lansky.



Post a Comment