Wednesday, December 16, 2020

Rampant criminality in Bedford Falls

Possibly I've been writing about crime history for too long. While rewatching It's a Wonderful Life recently, I couldn't help but compile a list of legal offenses presented within the 1946 holiday classic - charges ranging from child abuse to possible homicide.

 

I know that I am not alone in viewing Wonderful Life with a critical eye.

The movie has long been criticized for a theme some feel instigates class warfare. (I always find it odd that so many Americans are more concerned over the possibility of friction between economic classes than by the actual existence of economic classes.) This accusation is particularly popular among America's Henry F. Potter-types. The movie actually was investigated by the FBI as possible communist propaganda. I don't find that charge credible. 

Wonderful Life does encourage have-nots to constructively work together to improve their lives, using the example of the shareholder-sponsored and generous-spirited Bailey Brothers Building & Loan company operating in spite of the incessant scheming of the evil, bigoted and money-grubbing Potter. But the movie never even suggests taking anything that Bedford Falls one-percenter Potter would claim as his own. In fact, Potter is more influential and, through ill-gotten gains, at least $8,000 (more than $115,000 in today's money) wealthier at the end of the film as he is at the start.

But, there is an impressive collection of criminality. I admit that some violations are not truly native to the movie's Bedford Falls. These occur only in the alternate reality shown to main character George Bailey by his guardian angel Clarence Oddbody, after George suggests it would be better if he had never been born. But they're still in the movie.

Even leaving aside the judgment calls: the suggested but not stated behavior of boy-friendly female character Violet Bick, the troubling sight of Bert the Cop aiming and firing at the back of fleeing alternate-reality George Bailey and the strange 1930s-era disappearance of all depositor funds from the Bailey Building & Loan (the business acquires extensive loans from Potter's bank, which are recalled, and has absolutely no money when depositors come to make withdrawals) the list is ponderous. And I'm not sure it is comprehensive. You may find additional charges on your next rewatching.

  • Apparent anti-trust violations,
  • Assault and battery (more than once),
  • Assaulting a police officer (same officer - Bert - twice on the receiving end),
  • Child abuse,
  • Conspiracy,
  • Domestic violence,
  • Driving while intoxicated,
  • Failing to execute an arrest warrant,
  • Failing to report a crime (at least a couple),
  • Filing a false police complaint,
  • Harassment,
  • Larceny,
  • Malfeasance,
  • Poisoning,
  • Prohibition violation,
  • Public intoxication, 
  • Reckless endangerment.
  • Resisting arrest,
  • Sexual assault,
  • Spousal abandonment,
  • Threatening,
  • Trespassing,
  • Vandalism,

There may also be a case of premeditated murder, depending on what Mary Hatch specifically wishes (she's a little vague discussing this with George later) when she tosses the rock through the window of the Old Granville House (320 Sycamore) and whether in the movie's universe her wish actually triggers the fatal stroke George's father Peter Bailey suffers immediately after.

It can be (and has been) successfully argued that the film also illustrates other societal ills, including alcoholism, racism, and sexism.

Crime without punishment
Despite all these offenses, the only individuals who ever face any sort of comeuppance are Violet (arrested for something done at a dance hall) and the druggist, Mr. Gower (sentenced to 20 years for homicide). The law catches up with both, but only in the alternate universe. (To be fair, Violet, faces a probably difficult future in the movie's reality as well. Apparently shunned for her flirtatious ways, she leaves her hometown with little money to take her chances in New York City.)

But, basically, everyone, including the wicked manipulator Potter, escapes all consequences for illegal acts. The concept of justice is occasionally considered in suburban Bedford Falls, but it never actually makes an appearance. Wonderful Life viewers noticing all of this may well wonder if this is a movie about "white privilege."

Dreaming of a White Christmas?
It is worth noting that Bedford Falls (Pottersville, in the alternate universe) is, in fact, a very white place, every bit as white as the scenery of the snowy winter that fills the second half of the movie. There are just a few African-American actors in the movie.

The only non-white character with a name and a few scripted lines is the Bailey family's stereotypical domestic employee Annie. Other non-white actors appear as a couple of unnamed and unspeaking students at a barely integrated high school dance, the unnamed and unspeaking alternate-reality piano player at Nick's bar (but none of the many bar patrons) and possibly a couple of barely noticed Bedford Falls pedestrians. (I will leave it to others to speculate on how Wonderful Life might be different with a less melanin-deficient cast.)

Justice as menacing intruder
At the climax of the movie, hero George Bailey is threatened with the possibility of justice - he may be charged with a crime for the gross negligence of leaving his notoriously forgetful uncle in charge of all depositor funds. Justice instantly becomes a menacing intruder into his wonderful life.

Merely the idea of lawful retribution is so crushing that George is poised to commit suicide! He is kept alive only through the intervention of an outer-space God (who sends second-rate angel Clarence), responding to the prayers of George's friends.

God and community intervene
The Almighty's agent on Earth succeeds in coaxing George back from the precipice. In the movie's final moments, the entire Bedford Falls community, including Annie, turn out to the Baileys' holiday-decorated living room to contribute generously and prevent George from getting what is rightfully coming to him. 

A court-issued arrest warrant is then ripped to pieces by a government representative, and even a strict, visiting bank official is so moved by spirit of Christmas corruption that he takes money from his own pocket to support the effort.

As all present launch into song, viewers may well feel that they are watching a joyous celebration of a large family - the large, Bedford Falls organized crime family.

Monday, November 23, 2020

20% holiday discount on paperback

Holiday shopping for a crime history reader?

The special trade paperback edition of our latest Informer issue is for sale at a 20% discount during the 2020 holiday season. Nick Gentile, subject of the issue, was a pal to Lucky Luciano, Albert Anastasia, Al Capone, "Joe the Boss" Masseria and other memorable crime figures. His life story and bios of dozens of his associates are presented here in a 382-page book available through Amazon.com.

Gentile's story begins with the formative years of the U.S. Mafia and runs through the Prohibition Era gang wars and consolidation into the transatlantic narcotics rackets of the post-WWII years.

The special issue benefited from contributions of a dozen historians: Thomas Hunt, David Critchley, Steve Turner, Lennert van't Riet, Richard N. Warner, Justin Cascio, Sam Carlino, Michael O'Haire, Jon Black, Margaret Janco, Bill Feather, Christian Cipollini.

(This holiday discount is only available on the trade paperback version of the issue and only until December 24, 2020.)

Monday, October 19, 2020

Nick Gentile is focus of Oct. 2020 Informer

This Informer special issue (No. 30) focuses on Nicola "Nick" Gentile, underworld leader in U.S. and Sicily, who published an Italian-language tell-all autobiography in 1963. The issue is available as a 214-page printed and bound magazine, a 382-page paperback book and in PDF and Kindle e-book formats. (Searchable PDF and EPUB e-book formats should be available soon.)

Informer strives to bring Gentile's entire life story to the English-language reader. Building on extensive original research by a team of Mafia history experts and on U.S. government documents designed to extract meaning from the memoirs, this issue attempts to balance Gentile's obviously self-serving and self-aggrandizing autobiographical work with verifiable history, to correct his misinformation and to fill in the wide gaps left in his personal account.

Informer closely examines a number of aspects of Gentile's life, such as the launch of his underworld career in the Kansas City area; relationships with Mafia leaders, including Salvatore "Charlie Luciano" Lucania, Vito Genovese, Al Capone, Albert Anastasia, Vincent Mangano, and others; early murders performed by him in Pittsburgh; involvement in narcotics trafficking in New York, New Orleans and Houston; interactions with Mafia leaders in Cleveland, Boston, Chicago, San Francisco and Los Angeles; links to underworld figures in Pueblo, Colorado; dealings with U.S. and Soviet spies in Italy during and after World War II.

Informer provides biographical information for dozens of individuals who contributed in interesting ways to Gentile's life story, including:
Frank Amato; Albert Anastasia; John "King" Angersola;  Alfonso Attardi; John Bazzano; Joseph Biondo; Mario Brod; Fortunato Calabro; Salvatore Calderone; Vincenzo "James" Capizzi; Al Capone; Domenico Catalano; J.C. and Phillip Catalano; Salvatore Catanzaro; Charles "Cadillac Charlie" Cavallaro; Felice Chilanti; Charles Colletti; Dr. Gaetano Conti; Gregorio Conti; Francesco "Three Fingers" Coppola; Antonino "Nino" Cucuzzella; Gaspare D'Amico; Salvatore "Toto" D'Aquila; Rosario DeSimone; Salvatore "Sam" DiBella; Dominick "Terry Burns" DiDato; Vito DiGiorgio; Accursio DiMino; Archbishop Ernesto Filippi; Vito Genovese; Vincent and Gerlando Gentile; Umberto Gibilaro; Vito Guardalabene; Leonid Kolosov; Calogero "Big Nose" LaGaipa; Frank LaRocco; Orazio Leone; Salvatore "Lucky Luciano" Lucania; William Magee; Antonino "Mangano" Messina; Carlo, John "Johnny Mag" and Vincent Mangiaracina; Salvatore Maranzano; Luigi Marciante; Ferdinando "Fred" Mauro; Monroe Harrison Meader; Gaspare Messina; Frank "Ciccio" Milano; Joseph Natali; Giuseppe Parlapiano; Filippo Piazza; Valentino Piazza; Pietro Pirro; Aldo Charles Poletti; Saverio Pollaccia; Dr. Giuseppe Romano, Pellegrino Scaglia; Nicola Schiro; Giuseppe "Peppino" Siragusa; Joseph Talarico; Vincenzo "Big Vince" Troia; Gaetano Tropia; King Umberto II; Giovanni "Prince Johnny," James and Arthur Volpe; Andrew, Frank and Joseph Zappala.

Also in this issue:

  •     1900s Mafia feuds in Los Angeles,
  •     Book excerpts,
  •     Book announcements,
  •     Impact of COVID-19 on the underworld,
  •     Obituary - Martha Macheca Sheldon.

Writers/researchers contributing to this issue: Thomas Hunt, David Critchley, Steve Turner, Lennert van't Riet, Richard N. Warner, Justin Cascio, Sam Carlino, Michael O'Haire, Jon Black, Margaret Janco, Bill Feather and Christian Cipollini.

Advertisers: Black Lives Matter by Justin Cascio; Colorado's Carlino Brothers (book) by Sam Carlino; Deep Water: Joseph P. Macheca and the Birth of the American Mafia by Thomas Hunt and Martha Macheca Sheldon; DiCarlo: Buffalo's First Family of Crime (book) by Thomas Hunt and Michael A. Tona; Gangsters Inc. (website); Los Angeles Mafia Group on Facebook (website); Mafia Membership Charts (website) by Bill Feather; One of the Most Troublesome Robbery Gangs (book) by Jeffery S. King; The Origin of Organized Crime in America (book) by David Critchley; Rat Trap on mafiahistory.us (website); Secret Societies (book) by Jon Black; Vinnitta: The Birth of the Detroit Mafia (book) by Daniel Waugh; Wrongly Executed? (book) by Thomas Hunt.

More information on this issue and its contents is available on Informer's website.

 

Monday, May 18, 2020

Concetta Mangione Prisco (1921-2020)

A few months shy of her ninety-ninth birthday, Concetta (Mangione) Prisco died Monday, May 4, 2020, of COVID-19 complications at Mamaroneck, New York. She had been a resident of the New Jewish Home long term care facility in that Westchester County municipality.

George and Concetta Prisco

Concetta "Connie" was born Maria Concetta Mangione to Liborio and Emma (Arnetta) Mangione, Sicilian immigrants, in Manhattan, New York, on August 5, 1921. (Baptismal records from St. Lucy's Church on East 104th Street place her birth on August 2, 1921.*) Brother Vincent "Sonny" was born in June 1925, and brother Joseph was born four years later. The family's early homes were in Italian East Harlem: first with Liborio's parents Vincenzo and Maria (Capizzi) Mangione at 344 East 105th Street and later at 225 East 108th Street.

1973 passport photo
Her later childhood appears to have been spent with relatives in the Little Italy neighborhood in the Bronx, New York, while her parents and brothers continued to live in Manhattan. Concetta graduated from the Industrial Course of Study of Junior High School No. 45 in the Bronx on January 25, 1938.

Concetta married George M. Prisco, who had been raised in the Mount Eden section of the Bronx and had relatives in East Harlem, on February 3, 1940, at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church on Arthur Avenue in the Bronx. The ceremony was performed by the Rev. Aldo Carniato, with Alfonso and Antonetta Prisco serving as witnesses.

Concetta's father Liborio died at Manhattan Metropolitan Hospital at the age of fifty-two on May 2, 1942.

Concetta with grandson
George and Concetta Prisco lived initially with George's widowed mother (his father Salvatore died in 1924), Carolina Prisco, at 2315 Hughes Avenue in the Bronx. About the time of Carolina's 1942 death, they moved to 3341 Paulding Avenue. In the early 1950s, they moved again to 808 Adee Avenue, their longtime home. They raised their family in a top-floor apartment (6C) of the six-story building, with Concetta's mother Emma Mangione living next door (6C-A). For a time, much of the Prisco-Mangione clan resided in two apartment buildings diagonally across the intersection of Adee Avenue and Matthews Avenue.

In addition to her family responsibilities, Concetta worked outside the home, holding a position with Al's Camera Shop in the Bronx.

Home in New Fairfield
George and Concetta Prisco built a vacation home for themselves in New Fairfield, Connecticut, between Connecticut's Ball Pond and New York's Putnam Lake. It was a long-term project. From modest beginnings, the home expanded dramatically over the years. With their children raised, George and Concetta turned the New Fairfield home into their full-time residence in the late 1970s.

Concetta's mother Emma passed away in August 1978 at the age of eighty-six.

Concetta loved to cook for family and friends ("arancini" rice balls, cream puff pastries, "pignoli" cookies...) and regularly made presents of her latest kitchen creations. She also enjoyed gardening and games of chance. She often hosted family get-togethers and took great interest in her grandchildren (who still recall her singing a rendition of "See Saw, Knock on the Door..."). She was a longtime member of St. Edward the Confessor Church in New Fairfield and the New Fairfield Senior Center.

Following the February 2006 death of her husband, Concetta moved to an apartment off Orchard Street in northern Brookfield, Connecticut.

Carol Andreana, Concetta Prisco, Emma Mangione with Cristina Andreana

She is survived by three daughters - Concetta Hunt (the late Patrick) of Orlando, Florida; Caroline Andreana (Joseph) of Stamford, Connecticut; Emily Schmetterer (Jerry) of New York, New York - and daughters-in-law Marilyn Prisco of Las Vegas, Nevada, and Debby K. Prisco of Bronx, New York. She also is survived by ten grandchildren, residing in Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Nevada, New Jersey, New York and Vermont; great-grandchildren; nieces and nephews. In addition to her husband, she was predeceased by her son George, Jr., and her brother Vincent. Her brother Joseph passed away a few days after her death.

Burial was scheduled for May 18, 2020, at St. Raymond's Cemetery in the Bronx. Bosak Funeral Home, 453 Shippan Avenue, in Stamford, Connecticut, handled funeral arrangements.


* Confusion on the date reported for her birth could have resulted from the birthdates of her parents. Liborio Mangione's birthday was August 5 and Emma Mangione's was August 2.