January 26, 1962, Naples, Italy – Salvatore Lucania, also known as Charlie Luciano and Lucky Luciano, dies of a massive heart attack at Naples Airport at the age of 64. The aging mobster had suffered several recent heart attacks and had arrived at the airport to meet film producer Martin Gosch, who was to adapt a screenplay of the legendary mobster’s life. Luciano had resided in Italy since February, 1946 when he left New York Harbor for the last time. The terms of his parole, granted after lending his help to the allied effort in World War II, required that he leave the United States and never return. Tragically, it wasn’t until death that he was allowed to come home when he was interned at St. John’s Cemetery in Middle Village, Queens, New York.
Luciano never wrote an autobiography and it is for this reason I’d like to point out that this is not his autobiography. This book is based on notes from the conversations that Gosch (1911-1973) had with Luciano before his death during the years 1961-1962. Gosch has long been deceased. Richard Hammer is still alive and has commented on the criticism that the book received. He admits that the originals of the notes are no longer in existence and much of what Luciano said is hard to verify. With that in mind, I think it is wise to remember that the book is a look at this life but not a word for word autobiography. And since Luciano is also deceased, he is unable to verify its contents. But I think on the whole, the book is a good look into the New York underworld of that era and the major players. The major events in the book are true and have been well documented. The smaller day-to-day events, transactions are thoughts alleged to have come from Luciano himself are sometimes questionable. Do I believe that all of the statements attributed to Luciano are true? No, but I do believe a large number are probably accurate.
It would have been great if Luciano could have either written this himself or given his approval but since neither is possible, this is the closest we have to any type of statement by Luciano about his life aside from the postcards, letters and other miscellaneous documents in his writing that are currently in existence. Mafia bosses have rarely written or verbally told their life story with the exception of Joseph Bonanno who broke from the norm publishing a book of his life in the mafia. But what we do know is that Luciano was in negotiations to have a movie based on his life produced. His untimely death canceled any possible deal and the project has been lost to history.
His role in the reorganization of the American mafia can never be understated but it can be overstated. To many he is the man who built the modern-day mafia but to others, just a smaller part of a big effort to change the direction of organized crime in the United States. Here is and his story is left up to the reader to cast judgment. Frank Costello, Meyer Lansky, Bugsy Siegel, Thomas Dewey and all of the big names from the era make an appearance in the book resulting in an engaging tale that pulls the reader in from start to finish. But it is important to remember that sometimes the line between fiction and non-fiction can become slightly blurred. Nonetheless, it’s a good look at the legendary figure.