Gianni Russo: Hollywood Godfather


My Catholic faith has always been important to me and I have never missed Sunday Mass since I was a kid on the streets of New York…

Let’s not beat about the bush here – Gianni Russo is a loathsome human being, a sort of mobbed-up Ken doll.

His emotions run a centimetre deep and his self-promotion and self-preservation skills metres deep. As for his conscience, it barely has a pulse. A horrible mash of metaphors, but you get the picture. As for how much you believe him……

He claims to have slept with Marilyn Monroe, already a star, when he was 16, and to have been witness to a Mafia attempt to set up John and Bobby Kennedy for blackmail using Marilyn as bait. He claims that he was witness to a mob boss arranging Kennedy’s assassination because he had reneged on undertakings to the mob. He claims that Pablo Escobar, the Colombian drug boss, let him off the hook for shooting a courier because he loved Russo’s portrayal of Carlo Rizzi in The Godfather (a role he got because of his mob connections). He claims to have saved a woman from someone’s pet tiger at a party by punching the tiger in the head and knocking it out.

What does seem to be true is that at the age of 15 Russo was an errand boy for the Mafia boss Frank Costello, a man he regarded as a father, and a go-between for the mob from then on. He was a courier for their money-laundering projects, including the ones involving the Vatican Bank, and the various bars and night clubs he set up were financed by them.  His world is a mix of movie stars, entertainers, politicians and the mob, and there’s little to choose between themHe dislikes, he says, the drug business, but he doesn’t have any problem using the proceeds or laundering them. To sum up his morality: keep your word, and keep your mouth shut.

Gangsters were different when Frank Costello took me under his wing. They had a sense of style, knew how to keep their mouths shut, and when they gave their word it meant something. (328)

God was in his heaven, all was right with the world when

Everyone was making money… violence was kept to a minimum, and the cops and politicians were our best friends. (279)

The first part of the book is entertainingly scandalous, full of names we all know, like Sinatra and the Rat Pack, Brando, Grace Kelly, Audrey Hepburn, All Pacino, Liza Minelli. It gets dull after that as Gianni launches into boasting about his monumentally crass nightclubs, all his money and all the gorgeous women freely available. But what fascinated me was the portrait of a man who thinks that when his estranged kids read it and realize who I am, they’ll want him back in their lives. He has no idea what a moral cripple he’s revealing:

This book is my chance to show young people who perhaps don’t have the benefit of money or education, that if you want something badly enough and are willing to work hard for it, you can accomplish anything. If I’m not a perfect example of that, no one is. (330)


15 thoughts on “Gianni Russo: Hollywood Godfather

  1. But he does seem to be a perfect example of a successful sociopath, and apparently he’s still alive and well. Pretty amazing that he is not either in jail or a concrete suit. Or, perhaps, as you hint, it’s a bit fictional?

      1. If he knew how to keep his mouth shut he wouldn’t have written this book. As for his children – he’ll be toast. What’s alarming is his association with the Vatican Bank. What on earth is going on here?

        1. But he says nice things about the mob people who are still around, only cans the ones who’ve been bumped off or locked up. As for the Vatican Bank, it’s a real shocker. They knew they were laundering Mafia money and were quite happy to do it – and this involved very high-up cardinals.

  2. Well now. It is sometimes difficult to seperate the real goodies from the fake goodies, going to church every Sunday must get some points surely! Luther had a lot to say about fake news.
    Maybe we should have listened to him and then wrote an essay dissecting his good and bad points. Unfortunately Pope Francis doesn’t seem to know how the mafia works,
    Never mind before you know it we will be caught up in some other conspiracy that captures our interest!

  3. The Vatican Bank only dates from 1942, but seems likely (given the history of the Church, Italy, and humankind in general) that earlier, similar Vatican institutions would have been equally bedeviled by scandals. This article describes the deaths and difficulties associated with it in its relatively brief (in terms of church history) 77 years.

    1. I will do that! Seems like I read about them decades ago when I was deep into Arthurian legends sorts of things. Maybe more recently after we went to Rome a few years ago. They didn’t end well, as I recall.

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