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

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Vincent "The Chin" Gigante's daughter says he danced to Elvis in his bathrobe

The Oddfather loved “The Godfather” — and dancing to “Jailhouse Rock.”

Notorious Genovese family boss Vincent "the Chin" Gigante, when not demanding John Gotti’s death or roaming the streets in pajamas, spent a little quality time enjoying fellow icons Marlon Brando and Elvis Presley.

The glimpses of her father embracing pop culture are favorite memories of his youngest daughter, Rita.

“I loved the times when we put on Elvis,” says the petite Rita, whose dad earned his “Oddfather” sobriquet through a combination of mob mayhem and feigned mental illness.

“I didn’t care if he was in his bathrobe and his slippers and whatever — he’d get up and start dancing to Elvis. He couldn’t sing a word — forget it. But he’d try.”

For years, Gigante never spoke of her father or her family to outsiders — and once went home with blood on her hands after bashing a high school classmate who ran her mouth about the clan.

The baby of the family grew up amid secrets and silence, sworn to an unspoken oath of omerta by virtue of her dad’s position as the nation’s No. 1 mobster.

The quiet went both ways — nobody told her anything either. Gigante knew nothing of her father’s murderous leading role among New York’s five crime families until high school.

The dark-haired Gigante, who bears a resemblance to her infamous parent, knows the whole story now — and she’s telling it all in a new memoir, “The Godfather’s Daughter.”

The book is due in stores Tuesday.

The honest, unflinching tale provides a previously unseen look at the elder Gigante, who famously dodged attempted murder charges after shooting Genovese boss Frank Costello in 1957 when Costello refused to testify against him.

“The Chin” maintained a surprisingly high level of privacy despite 24-hour-a-day FBI surveillance. His public persona was forged by his Greenwich Village outings in a bathrobe, pajamas and slippers — a ruse that he continued to the death, even after admitting in court that it was a sham.

While Rita Gigante can be unsparing in her criticisms of her mob boss father, she also wanted people to know the son of Italian immigrants in a light beyond the street lamps of Sullivan St.

“I wanted people to see him as a dad,” said Rita, sitting in the living room of her suburban home. “He wasn’t just an idol, or this image that people saw in a newspaper or on TV.

“There were other parts to him, good sides to him, that I wanted people to see as well.”

Which is not to say the “Mafia princess” led a fairy-tale life. Long before “Growing Up Gotti,” Rita Gigante was living through her own surreality show.

Her infamous dad moved into his mother’s dank Manhattan apartment when she was 18 months old, leaving Rita and her mom, Olympia, alone in New Jersey. (The initials of the six Gigante siblings, by the way, spell out R-O-S-A-R-Y.)

Her earliest childhood memories include cowering beneath a Sullivan St. table as Gigante inflicted a savage beating on a bleeding underling. His blood pooled around her tiny toes.

In pre-school, Rita told pals over birthday party Kool-Aid that her gangster dad was a hat maker.

At age 11, the child raised as a devout Italian-Catholic realized she was gay — a revelation that later produced a savage, bloody beatdown from an older brother and prayers for her soul from mom.

Christmas gifts from dad were typically a wad of bills, wrapped only in a rubber band.

And she later faced a painful betrayal: Her beloved father had a mistress and a second family living in Manhattan — the other woman’s name ironically was also Olympia — while she and her mom were exiled across the Hudson River.

It was a life filled with emotional body blows. But like her dad, a boxer before he turned gangster, Rita Gigante can take a punch and come back swinging.

She’s tiny and tough with her Jersey girl accent, her jet-black hair and the threat of her withering stare — “The Look,” a staple of her dad’s intimidating persona.

Oddly enough, her grandmother Yolanda was the one who first perfected the glare that chilled untold gangsters. She even turned “The Look” loose on her son, affectionately known to his mom as Chinzee.

“My grandmother was the epitome of speaking the truth,” said Rita. “She’s really the only one that could tell my father how it was, and get away with it.”

Gigante, now 45, wears jeans with black shoes and a belt with a glittering “G” for a buckle. She’s slender and quick to smile, with a grin that lights up the room.

She can laugh at much of the past, like her father’s bizarre wardrobe. Rita came to think of the ratty robe, well-worn slippers and floppy cap as Gigante’s “work clothes.”

She recalls a late-night visit where she was stunned to see him sporting the same bedroom outfit that he wore during the day.

“I expected to see him in a suit, you know?” Gigante cracked. “But I think the last time he wore a suit was when he married my mother. That just wasn’t cut out for him. Pajamas became a 24/7 thing, you know?”

While she called him Daddy, his mob colleagues were barred from calling him anything. Instead, they pointed at their chins when referring to “The Chin.”

Rita was particularly uneasy about her dad’s renowned “crazy act,” where he used a phony mental illness to avoid trial and jail for decades. Gigante was once arrested while holding an open umbrella inside a running shower. His daughter recalls trying not to laugh while he chatted with parking meters along Sullivan St., where The Chin held court inside the Triangle Social Club.

On 22 occasions between 1969 and 1990, he voluntarily checked into a suburban hospital for “treatment” — or tune-ups, as they were known in the mob.

“The one thing that was the hardest for me was to walk into a mental institution and watch him — although I understand it completely,” she said. “But at the time I was angry at him, because I thought he betrayed the people who were there. He was kind of making a mockery of them, and I wasn’t happy about that.”

The elder Gigante’s total immersion into character explains his love of Brando — particularly the actor’s turn in “On The Waterfront” and his work as Vito Corleone.

Rita recalled how her father was “mesmerized” while watching the fictional don. Gigante was also a fan of the taciturn Clint Eastwood character — aka the Man With No Name — in “The Good, The Bad and The Ugly.”

While dad lived his life in abject fear of electronic surveillance, Rita’s attitude toward technology is more relaxed: She had a friend tape record her interview with the Daily News.

She lives just a short hop from her hometown of Old Tappan, N.J. — where her dad was once accused of keeping the entire five-man police force on his payroll.

While her father operated on the wrong side of the law, Rita Gigante believes his management skills would have translated into success in any endeavor.

“I always said he could have been the CEO of anything, you know?” she said. “He could have done anything with his life. He was extremely smart.”

Though Gigante died in 2005 at age 77, Rita says her relationship with him is better than ever.

Don’t worry, says Rita — she’s not crazy. Or pretending to be.

Ever since seeing a vision of Jesus Christ inside a church several years ago, Rita says she’s become a spiritual healing masseuse who has contact with the dead — including her father.

“I can speak to him right now if I wanted to, and he can answer,” she said. “I have him every day, so it’s all good.”

Gigante said going through the wreckage of her past for the book was actually a healing process for her — and she was unafraid of the fallout it might cause in her still close family.

“There was no fear attached to it,” she said. “There was that feeling ’cause I knew how some family members might feel about it. So there’s a feeling of, ‘Wow, should I be doing that?’

“But in truth, if I didn’t speak my truth, it wouldn’t have felt good to me. So I had to follow my own path.”

Even if that path brought her back to that scary spot beneath the table on Sullivan St., her struggles with acceptance, and her father’s strange and scary past.

“We don’t always make the right choices in life,” she said. “But that doesn’t mean we’re bad people. I wanted people to see the good in him as well.”



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