Martin Scorcese’s recent film ‘The Irishman’, reunited the legendary director with ‘Goodfellas’ stars Robert Dinero and Joe Pesci. Al Pacino also joined the cast, taking on the role of former Teamsters President James “Jimmy” Hoffa (1913-1975). The movie is great cinema and Scorcese delivers the goods with an all star cast. However, Hollywood is known to take liberties with films and here is no different. In fact, there is a lot of Frank Sheeran’s (1920-2003) story that is up for debate. His book ‘I Heard You Paint Houses‘ is an interesting read and served as the basis for the film. I had read Sheeran’s book prior to creating this blog and thought that while it was a good story, there were many claims therein that needed deep cross-referencing for validation. Sheeran is no longer here and cannot defend himself or answer the large number of questions undoubtedly generated by the release of the film. Al Pacino plays the role of Hoffa with the energy that we have come to expect from him, bringing the former Teamsters boos back to life on the silver screen. But there was more to Hoffa than is shown in the film. And it is here in this short but eye-opening book, that Hoffa tells his own life story to Oscar Fraley
The book was being written at the time of Hoffa’s disappearance. As a result, the story ends about a few weeks prior to July 30, 1975 when he told his wife Jo that he had a meeting with Anthony “Tony Pro” Provenzano (1917-1988) and Anthony “Tony Jack” Giacalone (1919-2001). The book is really an autobiography which Hoffa had intended to finish once he regained the Teamsters presidency. Although he never finished it, what he did write is highly informative. He takes us back to his childhood in Brazil, Indiana, highlighting the rough way of life that developed in the wake of the Great Depression. His words are frank and straight to the point. For those who have always wanted to know how he rose to power, he lays it out here, recalling his immersion into the world of unions and ascent in the Teamsters, which became the most powerful union in America under his guidance.
From the book, it is clear that Hoffa was born to be involved with unions. And despite several brushes with violence that could have killed him, he never wavers from the goals set by the union in support of its workers. The battles between employers and unions still place to this day and if Hoffa were alive, I am sure he would be right out front leading the way. In the book, things are going well with the Teamsters until the arrival of his arch enemy Robert F. Kennedy (1925-1968). It is at this point in the book that the story takes a sharp turn. To say that Hoffa and Kennedy were enemies is an understatement. There is no love lost between the two and here Hoffa explains how and why he found himself on Kennedy’s radar. And some readers may even wonder, was Hoffa really guilty of the charge he was convicted of? Or was he the victim of an ego trip of an Attorney General often ridiculed as being in his brother’s shadow? There is compelling evidence that both are true. Hoffa presents the case for readers to reach their own conclusions. One thing I can say is that I have rarely seen a feud as tense as what is found in this book.
Kennedy is not the only person who draws Hoffa’s wrath. In fact, he unloads on his successor Frank Fitzsimmons (1908-1981) and Charles “Chuckie” O’ Brien, his former protege. Hoffa does not mince words and makes it clear that he was dead set on purging the Teamsters and returning to power as its president. Tragically, his intentions never came to pass and his disappearance remains unsolved to this day. There are many theories about what did happen to him that day. Some are plausible while others have no basis in reality. Perhaps we may never know what really happened to Jimmy Hoffa but I am sure that whoever was responsible for his disappearance intended it to be that way. Tony Pro and Tony Jack are mentioned in the section about his disappearance but aside from that, their names appear briefly throughout the book. And to be clear, there is no smoking gun here regarding his disappearance. However, I do think what Hoffa says, offers some insight into why he disappeared. Readers that are well versed on the subject will probably agree.
If you loved the Irishman and are curious about the life of James Riddle Hoffa, then this book is a must read.