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Sunday, 1 April 2012

Tribute for dead mobster, Crazy Joe Gallo

14:22 | ,


On the night of his murder inside a Little Italy clam bar, “Crazy Joey” Gallo was a dues-paying member of the Knights of Columbus — not that his killers cared. Forty years later, that affiliation remains a big deal for mob maven Artie Nash. Gallo’s membership card, dated Dec. 31, 1971, and signed with perfect penmanship, is among the artifacts in an exhibit recalling the legendary gangster whose last meal came with a lead dessert. The mob anti-hero “was someone who captured our imagination,” said Nash, who runs the MOB Scene museum on Broome St. “Joey didn’t believe in anybody holding power over him. He felt the rules of ‘The Life’ didn’t apply to him.” It was the mob life that cost Gallo his own: Gunned down on April 7, 1972, inside Umberto’s Clam House at 5 a.m. after an all-night 43rd birthday celebration. His new bride and 10-year-old stepdaughter watched in horror as the bullets flew on Mulberry St. Earlier in the evening, the Gallos partied with actor Jerry Orbach — later Detective Lenny Briscoe on “Law & Order.” Gallo’s widow provided Nash with an assortment of photos and other personal items. There are shots of Gallo’s wedding, letters sent from prison, a prayer card from his wake — and a condolence message from his parole officer. “In my short acquaintance with your husband, Joe impressed me as a fine human being,” wrote Ben Lichtenstein. Gallo was a cooler, smarter version of John Gotti — media-savvy, quick with a quip, fearless. The gangster was a hipster, appearing before a congressional organized crime committee in black Ray-Bans. He once cracked that the carpet in future Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy’s office was perfect for a craps game. Gallo was a cinematic presence, his wardrobe patterned after movie gangster George Raft and his attitude clipped from actor Richard Widmark in “Kiss of Death.” Which is not to say Joey wasn’t the real thing: Gallo was reportedly the lead shooter in the barbershop murder of boss Albert Anastasia in 1957. Twenty-four years later, he was suspected of arranging the shooting of another boss, Joe Colombo. The death of one of Joey’s henchman was responsible for one of the great movie scenes from “The Godfather.” When Joseph (Joe Jelly) Gioiello was murdered, his clothes were stuffed with fish and tossed outside a favorite Gallo restaurant from a moving car. Yes, Joe Jelly slept with the fishes. Jailed for extortion in 1962, he returned to Brooklyn in 1971 as a Renaissance man. Gallo became a painter while behind bars and delved into the works of Balzac, Sartre, Camus and Kafka. “You couldn’t imagine Al Capone talking Nietzsche in the corner,” author Pete Hamill said. Gallo was muscling his way back into the mob business when he hit the town for his birthday. His killer was never arrested. These days, his younger brother still runs a Little Italy eatery. From its window, Albert (Kid Blast) Gallo can see the spot where his sibling died. Bob Dylan immortalized Gallo in his 1975 song “Joey,” offering a version of the Umberto killing where the doomed mobster “pushed the table over to protect his family/Then he staggered out into the streets of Little Italy.” Nash says Gallo’s reputation as the Robin Hood of Red Hook isn’t quite accurate. “They were heroes in the neighborhood — unless you owed them money or something,” Nash said. “Bob Dylan is easily accused of waxing sentimental about the Gallos.”

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