Sunday, April 30, 2017

The National Mob Museum - Las Vegas

It was back in the middle 70's, coincidentally only a few days before my first appearance on "SOAP", when I flew with a very prestigious group to perform in Pennsylvania at a banquet honoring this man.  It was a weekend I will never forget.  I drop a name or two just because, well, they were there too. 
I was told by my manager at the time, who also handeled Andy Griffith and Frankie Avalon, that this was a banquet of "made men".  The manager told me to "shut up, keep my eyes open and don't ask any questions." We were honoring a man named, Russell Bufalino. So when I visited the National Mob Museum I wondered if they would have any information about Russ, so I went looking for his name.  I found it along with his picture. It reminded me of that interesting week-end in Pennsylvania. There are so many stories that came from that show weekend but one is shorter than the others. I feel the need to write about it.

The banquet was over and Andy Griffith and I stood in line to say thank you to the Honoree. Russ could not have been a nicer person.  He graciously invited Andy and I out for a night cap at a little pizza place at the edge of town.  It seems out of the group of performers doing the show that night, Andy and I were the only ones who had never met or worked for Russ.  
It was almost a scene out of a 1930's movie as we enjoyed a beer or two with "the guys". They loved the show, loved Andy, and if I was with him, I must be okay too.  They would give us big bear hugs and call us friendly names in Italian.  Once in a while the uncomfortable outline of a hand gun would press itself into my side as I was getting one of those hugs.  
It became obvious there was a pecking order in this group. The closer a person sat to Russell the higher up in the pecking order he was, with the exception of a few guys who were obviously drivers and body guards.  After a time Russell said he wanted to call it a night.  Andy and I got up thinking he party was over and Russell said, "No, No.  You guys don't have to leave. Stay. Enjoy." He turned to a big man who was one of the driver/bodyguards and said, "Stay with them and take them anywhere they want to go." It was more of an order than a request.  From that moment on this big guy was never more that an arms length away from us but never said a word.  
After a few more beers, Andy and I decided it was time to go back to the hotel.  The driver showed us to a standard black Limo parked in front of the "joint".  He  said,  "Gentlemen, where too."  Andy and I became two little kids.  Andy thickened his North Carolina accent and delivered the line as if it was straight out of Andy of Mayberry, "Well, let's see... I know this nice little place at 5th and 55th street in Manhattan, how about that, Jaaay".  I just giggled. We starting comparing notes on what we had experienced during the evening like we were the country mice in the big city, laughing and rolling our eyes.  
I'm not sure when we realized that the trip back to the Hotel seemed to be taking much longer than it should.  We were not seeing anything along the road  but Pennsylvanian country side.  There wasn't a city light to be seen for miles.   I think it crossed my mind that perhaps we had not done that good of a show and we were being taken out to a "special place" never to return.  Andy finally said to the driver, "Where is it that we are going?"  
The driver said "Fifth and fifty-fifth in Manhattan."  We both realized that the driver had taken Russell's admonition of  "take them anyplace they want to go" seriously.  We were off to New York City.  Andy finally said, "No I was just kidding we need to go back to the hotel."  Without a word the driver made a U turn on the highway and we headed back into town.  Had we not noticed, we would have been to New York around dawn.
We had chosen the wrong time and the wrong person to joke with. 
With my fascination for the "Mob" I would occationally see Russell's name came up.   I could not resolve the idea that the nice man who had been so gracious to me and Andy would also be so ruthless.  Russell is gone now.  I never saw him after that, but I will never forget him.  Some day when we are sitting around having a drink I will tell you the more juicy stories of that weekend. 
As you were, 



P. Grecian said...

I'm sort of...(looks around)...afraid to say anything. Um...I'll just...go. I'll leave the cannoli.

Anonymous said...

"Some day when we are sitting around having a drink I will tell you the more juicy stories of that weekend."

That is something I know I'd truly enjoy, Jay!

-Keith S.