Giancana doc snares awards, screens Friday in Hollywood

Tony Curtis, John Turturro and Rod Steiger portrayed him in TV dramas. He appears as a character in Norman Mailer’s historical fiction. His name pops up in rappers’ songs. His fame and power rivaled that of Al Capone. And, nearly 40 years after his death, Chicago born and bred mob leader Sam Giancana(1908-1975) continues to garner attention.

Lately, the public’s desire to know more has been sated on the big screen. “Momo: The Sam Giancana Story” has played at film festivals and won two awards – best doc at the Hollywood Reel Independent Film Festival (which runs through Dec. 12) and the jury award for best doc at the Bel Air Film Fest in October.

Directed by Dimitri Logothetis, “Momo” was co-produced by Logothetis and Nicholas Celozzi, the grandnephew of Giancana. Logothetis and Celozzi have completed an episodic television project about Giancana and are scripting a new feature film as well.

Growing up in Giancana’s extended family meant tolerating a “controlled insanity,” said Celozzi in a recent phone interview. “It was high anxiety. There was a lot of whispering, some yelling, a lot of in and out. There were funerals. There was a lot of energy in that kitchen.

“But he took care of his family. If you needed money or advice, you went to him.”

Frank Sinatra and Marilyn Monroe were friendly with power-broker Sam Giancana. The Outfit controlled labor unions in Hollywood.

Bright, ambitious and charismatic, Giancana (or Momo as he was nicknamed) is remembered as a standup father by his two daughters Bonnie and Francine, speaking on-camera about their father for the first time in 30 years. They clearly adored him. (Giancana’s eldest daughter Antoinette, who published 1984’s “Mafia Princess: Growing Up in Sam Giancana’s Family,” is not part of the film.)

He was also coldly lethal. “The thing that made him dangerous… was the willingness and ability to kill,” says FBI agent Ross Rice, one of many insiders featured in the doc, most of whom are longtime Chicagoans.

“Momo” explores Giancana’s impoverished childhood and bloody rise through the ranks of Chicago’s underworld (known as the Outfit), his alleged CIA connections (the filmmakers assert he was contracted to assassinate Fidel Castro), his influence in Hollywood and his relationships with Frank Sinatra and Marilyn Monroe, among others. The film also posits theories regarding Monroe’s death and the assassination of John Fitzgerald Kennedy.

Sam Giancana and Phyllis McGuire in London, 1961

Judith Campbell Exner photographed in 1960; AP image

Giancana liked the limelight and, after his wife Angeline died in 1954, he was romantically involved with singer Phyllis McGuire (of the McGuire Sisters). He courted her by making her gambling debt disappear. He was also reportedly linked with Monroe and Judith Campbell Exner, both of whom were widely believed to have had affairs with JFK. Giancana’s fondness for good times and headlines (anathema for the underworld) also contributed to his downfall. “His arrogance was his Achilles’ heel,” says Celozzi.

On the evening of June 19, 1975, in the kitchen of his Oak Park home, as Giancana was cooking sausage and peppers, likely for a dinner guest, he was shot multiple times. The filmmakers say they show “finally and irrefutably” who killed the storied gangster.

Some of the film’s arguments are more convincing than others and Francine’s wish that her father be remembered as a genuine, gentle person seems a little naïve. But what’s beyond doubt is that Giancana at the height of his “career” had immense power and throughout his life had a knack for making money, even after he alienated himself from the Outfit. Following his death, his stash was never located. Each year in June a rose mysteriously arrives at his grave.

“Momo: The Sam Giancana Story” will screen Friday, Dec. 7, at the Hollywood Reel Independent Film Festival.

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Journalist tells gripping true-crime tale in ‘Darkness’

“People Who Eat Darkness: The Fate of Lucie Blackman” by Richard Lloyd Parry is the true story of a young British woman who vanished from the streets of Tokyo in 2000 and the evil that swallowed her up (she was raped and killed). Parry, a longtime Tokyo-based journalist, chronicles her family’s efforts to find her and the police search for the perpetrator.

It took police seven months to find her remains. “Either the police had conspired in a misguided cover-up that had resulted in the decay of precious forensic evidence,” Parry writes, “or they had achieved the same result through scarcely credible oversight and incompetence.”

Parry has received excellent reviews for his work. Carolyn Kellogg of the LA Times calls it a dark, unforgettable ride that earns its comparisons to Truman Capote’s “In Cold Blood” and Norman Mailer’s “The Executioner’s Song.”

I requested a review copy today and will be writing more later.

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Happy birthday, Marilyn

For what would have been Marilyn Monroe’s 86th birthday, I’ve compiled quotations from her and about her. If you have a favorite quotation from or about MM, please send it and I will add it to the list. I have credited the photographers wherever possible; copyright of all photos belongs to the photographers and/or their estates/representatives. (Note: Film noir horoscopes will return next month.)

An early shot of Marilyn on the beach; she loved the water.

FROM MARILYN …

“The real lover is the man who can thrill you by touching your head or smiling into your eyes or just staring into space.”

“I love champagne – just give me champagne and good food, and I’m in heaven and love.”

Marilyn started out as a model.

“The body is meant to be seen, not all covered up.”

“Sex is part of nature. I go along with nature.”

“My illusions didn’t have anything to do with being a fine actress, I knew how third rate I was. I could actually feel my lack of talent, as if it were cheap clothes I was wearing inside. But, my God, how I wanted to learn, to change, to improve!”

Marilyn shot by Milton Greene

“I don’t mind living in a man’s world as long as I can be a woman in it.”

“Husbands are chiefly good as lovers when they are betraying their wives.”

“People had a habit of looking at me as if I were some kind of mirror instead of a person. They didn’t see me, they saw their own lewd thoughts, then they white-masked themselves by calling me the lewd one.”

Marilyn shot by Milton Greene

“All the men I know are spending the day with their wives and families, and all the stores in Los Angeles are closed. You can’t wander through looking at all the pretty clothes and pretending to buy something.” – on why she hated Sundays

“Everyone’s just laughing at me. I hate it. Big breasts, big ass, big deal. Can’t I be anything else? Gee, how long can you be sexy?”

I love this shot and the elegant hat.

“Looking back, I guess I used to play-act all the time [as a child]. For one thing, it meant I could live in a more interesting world than the one around me.”

“No one ever told me I was pretty when I was a little girl. All little girls should be told they’re pretty, even if they aren’t.”

Marilyn in New York, shot by Ed Feingersh

“I’m selfish, impatient and a little insecure. I make mistakes, I am out of control and at times hard to handle. But if you can’t handle me at my worst, then you sure as hell don’t deserve me at my best.”

“My problem is that I drive myself … I’m trying to become an artist, and to be true, and sometimes I feel I’m on the verge of craziness. I’m just trying to get the truest part of myself out, and it’s very hard. There are times when I think, ‘All I have to be is true.’ But sometimes it doesn’t come out so easily. I always have this secret feeling that I’m really a fake or something, a phony.”

Marilyn shot by Richard Avedon

“Hollywood is a place where they’ll pay you a thousand dollars for a kiss and fifty cents for your soul.”

ABOUT MARILYN …

“Our marriage was a good marriage … it’s seldom a man gets a bride like Marilyn. I wonder if she’s forgotten how much in love we really were.” – Jim Dougherty talking to Photoplay magazine, 1953; they were married from 1942-46.

Marilyn and Joe DiMaggio were married less than a year.

“It’s like a good double-play combination. It’s just a matter of two people meeting and something clicks.” – Joe DiMaggio; he was married to Marilyn from Jan. 14, 1954 to Oct. 27, 1954

Marilyn and Arthur Miller, her third husband

“She was a whirling light to me then, all paradox and enticing mystery, street-tough one moment, then lifted by a lyrical and poetic sensibility that few retain past early adolescence. …

“She had no common sense, but what she did have was something holier, a long-reaching vision of which she herself was only fitfully aware: humans were all need, all wound. What she wanted most was not to be judged but to win recognition from a sentimentally cruel profession, and from men blinded to her humanity by her perfect beauty. She was part queen, part waif, sometimes on her knees before her own body and sometimes despairing because of it. …

“To have survived, she would have had to be either more cynical or even further from reality than she was. Instead, she was a poet on a street corner trying to recite to a crowd pulling at her clothes.” – Arthur Miller, her husband from 1956-61

Marilyn Monroe and Arthur Miller in front of the Queensboro Bridge, New York, 1957. Sam Shaw/ Shaw Family Archives, Ltd.

“There’s a beautiful blonde name of Marilyn Monroe who makes the most of her footage.” xxxxxLiza Wilson of Photoplay magazine, writing about “The Asphalt Jungle,” 1950

She was, “a female spurt of wit and sensitive energy who could hang like a sloth for days in a muddy-mooded coma; a child girl, yet an actress to loose a riot by dropping her glove at a premiere; a fountain of charm and a dreary bore … she was certainly more than the silver witch of us all.” – Norman Mailer

Marilyn shot by Bert Stern, 1962

‘‘From families that owned little but their own good names, she had inherited the fierce pride of the poor. Because she was sometimes forced to give in, to sell herself partially, she was all the more fearful of being bought totally.’’ – Gloria Steinem

“She deeply wanted reassurance of her worth, yet she respected the men who scorned her, because their estimate of her was her own.” – Elia Kazan

Marilyn shot by Bert Stern, 1962

All the sex symbols were endowed with a large portion of earthy coarseness. Marilyn had the most. … Only an inherent whore could walk like Marilyn and dress like Marilyn. … She had a trick of making all men feel she could be in love with them and I think she could be, a sort of saving each one for a rainy day, for when things would get tough again in her life and she would need help. … I saw the hope and the disappointments. The longing to give what the people wanted and, at the same time, to become a complete person herself. She was also selfish, rude, thoughtless, completely self-centered. She kept people waiting for hours.” – Hollywood columnist Sheilah Graham

Marilyn shot by Bert Stern, 1962

“The luminosity of that face! There has never been a woman with such voltage on the screen, with the exception of Garbo.” – Billy Wilder

“If she’d been dumber, she’d have been happier.” – Shelley Winters

“Everything Marilyn does is different from any other woman, strange and exciting, from the way she talks to the way she uses that magnificent torso.” – Clark Gable, her co-star of 1961’s “The Misfits,” about which he said: “This is the best picture I have made and it’s the only time I’ve been able to act.

Marilyn shot by Lawrence Schiller on the set of “Something’s Got to Give,” 1962

“Her mixture of wide-eyed wonder and cuddly drugged sexiness seemed to get to just about every male; she turned on even homosexual men. And women couldn’t take her seriously enough to be indignant; she was funny and impulsive in a way that made people feel protective. She was a little knocked out; her face looked as if, when nobody was paying attention to her, it would go utterly slack – as if she died between wolf calls.” – Pauline Kael

“What I particularly liked about Marilyn was that she didn’t act like a movie star. She was down to earth. Although she was 28, she looked and acted like a teenager. … I was most impressed that Marilyn was always polite and friendly to everyone on the set. She was no phony or snob. … Marilyn always seemed determined to talk to me about her childhood. We would be discussing a subject of current interest to her and she would somehow bring up an incident from her bygone days.” – Photographer George Barris

Marilyn shot by George Barris, 1962

“I liked her. She was a good kid. But when you looked into her eyes, there was nothing there. No warmth. No life. It was all illusion. She looked great on film, yeah. But in person … she was a ghost.” – Dean Martin, her co-star in 1962’s (unfinished) “Something’s Got to Give”

“Nobody could be as miserable as she was in such a loving, good-natured way. No matter how sad she may have been, she was never mean, never lashed out at me. Instead she just wanted to hug me and have me hug her and tell her it was all going to work out. That it didn’t, broke my heart.” – George Jacobs, who was Frank Sinatra’s valet

“Marilyn Monroe was a legend. In her lifetime she created a myth of what a poor girl from a deprived background could attain. For the entire world she became a symbol of the eternal feminine.” – Lee Strasberg in his eulogy

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