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Saturday, August 31, 2013

Don't Give This Man An Even Break- 'Life Cycles' and John Gotti Jr.

We are going to examine some pivotal moments from the life of the mafia boss, John Gotti Jr., known as 'The Last Don'. Movies and TV give a somewhat romanticised image of gangsters. This is not Marlon Brando, Al Pacino or Robert De Niro. It is certainly not James Gandolfini, whose life we are going to compare and contrast with Gotti's in this blog. There will also be a separate post on Gandolfini in 'The Story Behind Life Cycles' (you should read this blog as well, if you don't already), in a new 'Life Cycles' angle. The 'Real McCoy' is a lot less sanguine and a lot more arbitrarily violent. Mind you, Gotti did try and craft an acceptable media image and because it was difficult to make convictions stick, he also had the moniker of 'The Teflon Don'.

Let's start at the first adult, age 24, 'Year of Revolution' shall we? John Joseph Gotti Jr. was born October 27th, 1940, so the period we will examine will be Oct. 1964 to Oct. 1965. What was he up to then? He was not yet a Don, still to be a 'made man'. He had been involved in street gangs, associated with the New York mafia, since the age of 12, (his first 'Year of Revolution' new age), but after marriage and children in the early 60's, he tried to work legitimately as a truck driver and a presser. However, he soon lapsed back to crime with the Gambino Family, and was charged and spent a year in prison starting in 1965. This was his first gaol stretch and his new age at that time.

Let's quickly contrast this with James Gandolfini at 24. He had one highly significant, age 19 'Year of Broken Pathways', during which his girlfriend of 2 years was killed in a car crash. " I might not have done what I've done, without her death ", he has said. In his age 24 'Year of Revolution' (Sept. 1985 to Sept.1986 ), he was dragged along to acting class by a friend. Does this sound like the 'forces of fate' operating here? More on James in his full profile. So, one gets his first stretch in the big house and the other reluctantly starts to learn acting. New ages, totally different, but occurring at a similar time in their lives.

Now let's visit John Gotti at his age 31 'Year of Broken Pathways' and ask "what was his direction change and challenge during this time?", as we always do. Gotti had just done several years behind bars for robbery and hijacking. They released him on parole in his age 31 'Year of Broken Pathways'. Chances of him re-offending? 100%. He went straight back to the Gambino family, where he was put in charge of illegal gambling with the Bergin Hunt and Fish Club (a storefront in Queens, that was a notorious mafia hangout), and was very successful in acting as enforcer. He was brutal and he was ruthless. He reported to Carmine Fatico, who was the capo (high-ranking Mafia boss who runs 'a crew' of 'soldiers'). Fatico had just been released to parole on the grounds he couldn't associate with known felons, which resulted in Gotti becoming 'acting capo'. This was, in essence, the big promotion and his challenge was to prove to the Gambino family that he was 'up to it'. In the same period he forged links with his boss Anielo ('Neil'-never did think I'd get a namesake here) Dellacroce, who was the family underboss.

So, just as Johnny Boy was hitting his strides at 31, what happened of a similar nature to James Gandolfini? Totally different of course, but same theme. James had been in character roles, with not a great deal to show, until the release of the movie 'True Romance', where he played the woman-beating mob henchman, Virgil. This one 'put him on the map' as a malevolent actor par excellence. He played 'John Gotti' if you will. He said a major influence was a hitman, who was an old friend (he had previously worked as a club bouncer). More roles like this followed.

Now to their pivotal age 36, mid-life 'Years of Revolution'. John Gotti first. Gotti had been in 'the slammer' for murdering Irish-American gangster James McBratney (who had kidnapped and murdered Gambino's nephew). With the help of a smart lawyer, he cut a plea bargain and was paroled in just 2 years in June, 1977. You know, this brings up the post title:- you shouldn't give this guy a break. Parole? Community supervision? He was immediately initiated into the Gambino family. A 'made man'. Not just 'acting capo', but now a direct report to Dellacroce. He had "burst upon the scene".

OK, over to James now. Did he too, "burst upon the scene" at 36? They had already selected a reluctant James for the role of Tony Soprano, after seeing him in 'True Romance'. David Chase, the show's creator, knew he was the one. Also the first screened episode happened in early 1999, when James was 37. So what was the story? I'll tell it in full in the other post, but it's really the same story as the Seinfeld Show. There was a pilot episode shot, that seemed to be 'wide of the mark' in various ways. Everyone involved, Chase, Gandolfino and all, thought that was it. Get on with your careers somewhere else. Against all odds in December, 1997 (right within James's age 36 'Year of Revolution') HBO decided to produce the series. That was the moment of conception. His "bursting on the scene" moment, that would make his name.

So, on the one hand Gotti becomes a 'made man' and James has a twist of fate, that will make his name. Am I surprised? Keep in mind that I always planned to write up Gandolfini after studying his obituary, but I only decided two days ago to look at Gotti's bio. Oh, by the way, I have more on Gotti, but I'm running out of puff. You'll just have to wait for 'Life Cycles'-The Dark Side. I have the structure all planned out. Criminal profiles left right and centre, and gaol stories told first-hand by me. I was there as a psychologist in the 'wild and woolly' 70's. The system was run by cowboys. They had to hold a Royal Commission into it. Ah, you'll love it. You'll eat it up for breakfast. Once again, till next month:- " may the cycles always bring you good fortune."