Fact and Fiction of Gangster Holly-Hood; BOOK REVIEWS

Article excerpt

ASK anyone what they remember about The Godfather and it's odds on they will pick the scene with the bloodstained horse's head left in a bed.

The ultimate "offer you can't refuse" persuaded a Hollywood producer to give a starring role to a singer favoured by the Mafia.

It was not too difficult to link the incident to the late Frank Sinatra, whose name was constantly linked with mobsters, if not with dismembered horses.

Sinatra always hotly denied allegations that he was given his career-saving role in From Here to Eternity due to Mafia pressure.

But there is little doubt that he knew a lot of shady Mob figures.

It is a reminder that Hollywood's connection to organised crime was not limited to the fictional gangster movies of Cagney and Bogart, De Niro and Pacino.

But if the movies have made a handsome living out of crime stories, the criminals have also taken their share of the profits.

Crooks like Benjamin "Bugsy" Siegel, the Mr Big of the Las Vegas casino business, liked to rub shoulders with Cary Grant and George Raft.

But on the night of June 20, 1947 a hitman took aim, squeezed the trigger and killed Bugsy with a fatal shot in the Mafia war for control of Hollywood fought between Al Capone and Lucky Luciano.

It's not surprising that the Mob was attracted to the movie business. Many hoodlums craved the glamour and they certainly loved the girls.

But, most of all, Hollywood was awash with money and the opportunities for scams, corruption, protection rackets, loan-sharking and plain robbery were enormous.

Michael Munn traces the sordid story in The Hollywood Connection (Robson Books pounds 9.99).

James Cagney was famous for playing gangsters but, in real life, he took an active part in trying to keep the Mob out of the industry.

According to Munn it almost cost Cagney his life when the Mafia plotted to have him crushed by a falling studio lamp.

The story goes that George Raft, his co-star in Each Dawn I Die, intervened to save him.

Whatever the truth of that incident, Raft was certainly Mob-connected and ended his career fronting for the Mafia at casinos, including one in London.

Actress Thelma Todd's apparent suicide might well have been murder because she knew too much about Lucky Luciano. …