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All Things Thriller

A Celebration of Thrillers, Noire and Black Comedy by Pamela Lowe Saldana

The Showgirl, The Capo and The Comic, Conclusion

THIS IS A STORY BASED ON THE TRUTH. IT FALLS WITHIN THE GENRE OF HISTORICAL FICTION. THE NAMES OF THE CHARACTERS, THE LOCALE AND MANY OF THE CIRCUMSTANCES ARE HISTORICAL AND FACTUAL. I HAVE TAKEN LIBERTY WITH SOME INCIDENTALS AND THE DIALOGUE, BASING THEM ON THE ERA, THE SITUATION AND THE CHARACTERS INVOLVED.

CONCULSION

Par for the coarse; that’s what Vito Genovese thought about the whole Little Augie thing. The way he tried to hide behind a woman in the end…par for the coarse.

And Janice Drake?

He didn’t think a thing about her. She was incidental as opposed to accidental.

Now, if she’d been accidental, there’d be hell to pay. Especially if she was a “nice woman”…a “God fearing woman”, like Donatella, his first wife; God rest her soul. So young and beautiful, she died from tuberculosis because she was such a saint…

It’s true. She took the sacraments of the holy church very seriously. Not only that but she went above and beyond the sacraments; she did good deeds. During the Depression, she volunteered in soup kitchens and homeless shelters where unemployed Italian laborers and their families suffered the often slow death of depravation…that’s what his Donatella did…the mother of his Nancy.

That’s how she got sick.

He wanted to forbid her from her volunteer work, but he feared standing in her way. It was one thing to assist in the commission of sin. It was another thing to obstruct the commission of good.

She contracted mililary tuberculosis, which, under a microscope, appears as hordes of tiny concave millet seeds. It’s like cancer. It can spread from the lungs to other organs until a person is consumed by it, that’s why they call it “consumption”…or they used to call it that…so he gave her the biggest funeral New York had ever seen.

Yes. Even bigger than Frankie Yale’s.

But she wasn’t a nice woman…Janice Drake wasn’t.

She wasn’t like Donatella at all. She was more like his second wife, Anna, who trotted out their dirty laundry for everyone to gawk at…

Her lovers. Men and women.

And she had the nerve to cry to the press about his unfaithfulness.

He felt bad for her kid, though…Janice Drake’s kid…

She had a boy…her and that comic.

The Drake Family in morning

The family of slain Janice Drake (l. to r.) June Hansen, her stepmother; Harold Hansen, her father; Harold Hansen Jr., her step brother; Alan Drake, her husband, and Michael Drake, her son. (Photo by Phil Greitzer/NY Daily News)

Drake was onstage at the Lotus club when he got the word. The front of the house manager came onstage and whispered in his hear.

“There’s a call for you backstage, Drake. It’s urgent.”

And that’s when he felt it, yet, again–a wave of nauseating revulsion that gave way to the briskly crisp, the startlingly clear shiver of fear. He knew, immediately, before he was told.

He chartered a flight to New York and took a taxi straight to the morgue. When the medical examiner pulled down the sheet he vomited on the floor.

The press awaited him as he left the morgue. “I just lost the greatest wife a man ever had,” he said.

If the sentiment fell a little flat, if it seemed too rehearsed, too canned–there were tears in his eyes.

It was pure Allan Drake.

Back in the day, back in the early 60s, Redd Foxx…Sanford and Son…yeah…he played Sanford...he got pretty tight with Allan Drake.

Redd worked this little club in Vegas. And he worked “blue”…he was a dirty comic…underground records…paper bag stuff, like a dirty magazine. Same time Lenny Bruce was doin’ it, Redd Foxx was doin’ it. Hell, he was doin’ before Lenny Bruce.

Redd Foxx got away with it though.

The word was, Redd got a lot of blow from Allan Drake. Cocaine.

That’s where a lot of Redd’s money went. Straight up his nose. And Redd was a big time player. He burned more money than Allan Drake ever made. He was a real talent. A pioneer.

But he lost everything. Even his house…and it wasn’t a mansion or anything…just a nice brick house. Ranch-style.

Eddie Murphy had to pay for his funeral.

To this day, people in the industry don’t like to talk about Allan Drake. That whole episode with his wife…it was scary.

Not a good guy. Sorry.

Things didn’t just dry up and blow away when Little Augie and Janice were killed. They didn’t just dry up and blow away because Drake kept his mouth shut and his head held high. He carried on with dignity.

People felt sorry for him. So he got plenty of work.

He became a journeyman of the small screen where he was a regular guest on The Jackie Gleason Show and a semi regular on The Ed Sullivan Show and The Dean Martin Comedy Hour.

And, yeah, he was on Johnny Carson. Several times.

He showed up as a guest star on series, too, like Cheyanne, Get Smart, The Courtship of Eddie’s Father, Too Close for Comfort and even snagged a reoccurring role on Sandford and Son as Fred’s brother-in-law, Rodney Victor.

Of course he worked Vegas. He opened for some big timers : Tom Jones, Engelbert Humperdink, Tony Martin and Vic Damone.

And then there were his side hustles. He was connected.

All and all, he made a nice living.

His son, Michael, grew up to be a physician.

One time, Drake was doing a show in Vegas and he had a heckler. This guy was giving him a real hard time. He yelled something like, “…don’t worry. I’m not gonna hurt you. I feel sorry for you.”

Drake walked right up to the edge of the stage. It was the 70s and he had some age on him, he was too heavy…but he was a big guy…an ex-boxer. He was wearing those big, thick frame glasses they wore then. So he takes them off and just stares at the guy. Stares at him a good…I don’t know… ten…fifteen seconds. Then he points at the guy and says,

“Don’t feel sorry for me, pal. Don’t you ever feel sorry for me.”

The way he said it. Cold. Quiet. His eyes got real black.

The guy shut up.

So did everybody else. You could have heard a pin drop the rest of the night.

“Allan Drake was just a comic, a funny man and… I’d rather not talk about the rest of it.” Lou Marsh (actor, comic, writer, Miami nightclub mainstay.)

There was nothing wrong with him. He was sweet. Kind of a hard guy, but sweet and charming.” Saul Turteltaub (writer, television producer, comic)

“I wrote for Allan Drake for quite a few years. I lost track of him. I did understand at one point he was selling cocaine toward the end of his career. A lot of the things that he did were scary, immoral things.” Sol Weinstein (novelist, humorist, sitcom writer, radio talk-show host)

The Showgirl, The Capo and The Comic, Part X

He bet on the wrong horse. It was as simple as that.

He bet on the wrong horse because he let himself be influenced by his emotions, by his likes and his dislikes. He should have just stuck with the odds. He was a gambler, after all.

Time and distance. That’s why Luciano’s word no longer had the influence it once did. People forgot how rich he made them. They resented it when the newspapers called him a genius.

And they were tight bastards, too.

Little Augie knew all of this and, yet, he bet on the wrong horse…that’s how much he hated Vito Genovese.

The first time Genovese called him, after the botched hit on Frank Costello, he didn’t go. He disrespected Genovese. But Anastasia was still alive then.

The second time Genovese called him, Little Augie had to go. There was nobody standing with him.

When Drake had the opportunity to help out some comic in over his head with a bookie or a drug dealer, he usually would. He was shrewd about it though, because he didn’t want to aggravate Little Augie by asking for a bunch of favors. So he went into his own pocket.

Sometimes, Drake was the one the comic was in trouble with and he would let it go. He didn’t push his weight around like he could have.

Stuff like that got around.

So when things started going south for Little Augie, Drake knew all about it because people told him things he wasn’t supposed to know. The trouble was, he didn’t know what to do about it.

It’s not like he could quit. You don’t quit the mob.

But when Anastasia got hit, that’s when it really hit home. Little Augie was no longer the benefactor; he was the albatross. Drake knew he and Janice had to get out of town before Little Augie made him his driver again.

That’s when he started hording cash and hiding it around town.

Janice was getting ready for a night on the town with her girlfriend Madeline when she got the call from Drake; that was part of her job, to make herself available. Drake called from D.C. where he was headlining a show. He sounded frantic. It bristled her.

“Steer clear of Little Augie,” he warned her. “He’s hot as a firecracker.”

“Yeah, sure,” she agreed, but what could she do? Make an excuse? Feign an illness? When you’re in the game you have no choice but to play.

She told her son to answer the calls that came in while she was away; he was twelve at the time. She told him to tell every caller that she was out for the evening and to ask if he should take a message. Any caller that he called uncle or auntie, he was to tell them that she was at the Copa.

If she and Drake were going to skip town they had to keep their cool about it, she reasoned. Go on as usual. Then they would lay low in some Podunk town, like Fayetteville, until things settled down. Drake would leave a good chunk of their assets behind for the vultures to pick through until they showed back up…like nothing ever happened, of course.

That was the idea, anyway.

At the Copa, Janice and her girlfriend, Madeline, ran into a stock broker friend of theirs, Irving Segal. Originally they were supposed to meet up at Mariano’s with Segal and his wife for dinner, but the wife couldn’t make it.

Nonetheless, they welcomed him to their table…that meant he would be picking up the check. They were having a grand old time when Little Augie sauntered by.

Of course they made it a foursome.

Little Augie suggested that they have a few more drinks and head over to Marino’s for dinner. Everyone agreed.

Since he made the suggestion it was presumed that he would pick up the check.

Nobody knows for sure who made the call to Marino’s that night…and if they do know, they’re not saying. The Maitre d’ most likely knew who it was. He’s the one that took the call. He’s the one who came to the table and whispered in Little Augie’s ear–in the middle of dinner.

According to Madeline Unger, Janice’s girlfriend, Little Augie went as white as a sheet when he left to take the call. When he came back to the table he was a little shaky, like his feet weren’t under him. He made a slapdash excuse–that he and Janice were called away to watch a closed circuit televised boxing match.

Janice said she really shouldn’t go…that she needed to get home to her son whom she had left alone. Little Augie said he’d drop her off before going to the match.

Irving agreed to make sure Madeline got home all right.

Little Augie and Janice made their way to the auto lobby.

I’ve heard this is how it went down…I don’t know that it happened this way, but if it didn’t, I’m sure it’s pretty damn close:

So, Little Augie and Janice got into the elevator which took them to the garage. Somewhere, between the time they got into the elevator and the time they contacted the valet driver, they were intercepted by fellow capo, Anthony Strollo and Bonanno crime family hitman, Tony Mirra.

They were warned not to make a scene. When the valet brought the car, Little Augie and Janice got in the front. Strollo and Mirra got in the back.

The valet was paid off. He told the police that only Little Augie and Janice got into the car.

Around 10:30 that night, a ’59 Cadillac was discovered in a deserted section of Queens, by the airport, with the engine running and the headlights on.

Anthony Carfano and Janice Henson Drake were found slumped inside the cabin, both shot dead with a 22 round in the temple and neck.

To be cont’d…

 

The Showgirl, The Capo and The Comic Part IX

Amongst Friends

So everybody’s heard it, that saying about “there’s no honor among thieves.” And, well, that’s a very ambivalent statement. Because it’s true, up to a point, like everything else. It depends on how you look at it.

The deal with Lucky Luciano, they were very loyal to him. The whole mafia. The whole syndicate. And that’s two different things, by the way–the mob and the syndicate.

The mob is basically another word for mafia. The syndicate is all organized crime, whether Mafia, or Dixie Mafia, or Bloods, or Crips…American organized crime.

It’s different in Italy…in Columbia..in The Philippines.

Different, but the same. Funny how that works.

You see, Luciano was in a very unique position. He was the boss of all bosses, but he refused to call himself that. In fact it’s the only time in American organized crime history that there really was a boss of all bosses.

Oh sure, there have been heirs to the throne, but in name only. Luciano’s the only boss who had absolute power.

And during a very small window of time, from 1931 to 1936, he ruled with impunity. Restrained impunity–which betrays a trait of genius.

That’s right, humility is a trait of genius…when you can reign in your own appetite…when you can have anything you want…but, he got himself in a serious jam, did a long stretch in the joint and got deported. Even then, he was immensely powerful.

And then, bam! Just like that, he wasn’t.

Well, to be fair, it happened over several years, but, when it did happen, it seemed like it came out of nowhere…like when Kennedy got killed. And that whole thing was years in the making.

But that’s the way life is. You’re up. You’re down. It’s a roller coaster ride.

The fact is, Luciano expected to be taken care of. And why not? He couldn’t earn. The feds watched him like a hawk, even when he was in Italy. It didn’t matter. They still watched him, so everybody pitched in. But not like Luciano wanted.

Frank Costello. Joe Adonis. Albert Anastasia. Little Augie. They were on Luciano’s side.

Everybody else was on Vito Genovese’s side. Vito wasn’t big on kicking up to Luciano…and he was in that little group that went all the way back with him, so he had clout.

Then Adonis got deported to Italy and Luciano expected him to be his benefactor. Joe got sick of picking up the check all the time…

So that’s when they all got together and put out the hit on Frankie because they knew he would never go against Luciano…that bullet just about took Frank’s ear off. Chin Gigante was the hit man.

He missed.

Costello wasn’t stupid. He retired in style. He was on good terms with everyone because he refused to identify Gigante. He got to keep his money and his life.

Anyway, then they went after Anastasia. They got him, famously. And nobody cared.

Everybody was pissed because of the way he handled the whole Lepke Buchalter thing. Lepke had a lot of friends. Plus, Albert Anastasia was a nasty guy. He really was.

After that, it was Little Augie’s turn.

I Heard it in a Movie : A Podcast about great Needle Drops in Cinema

Recently I started a podcast. My intentions were to start a true crime podcast about a missing persons/serial murder case that I have been researching (trying to solve) for the last two years.

But as I know next to nothing about podcast, I decided to get my feet wet in the podcast world with something I’m a little more familiar with–and so I settled on what I know best: music and cinema.

So my podcast is about the cinematic needle drop, that’s where a film sequence is accentuated with pop music–like in Goodfellas when Jimmy Conway, as portrayed by Robert De Niro, gets ultra-paranoid about loose lips regarding the Lufthansa heist and starts whacking his accomplices right and left…and the camera lingers on the dead bodies after the purge, going from one chilling death scene to the next as Derek and the Dominos, the piano coda from Layla, plays serenely.

That’s a needle drop.

And that’s what my podcast is about…music and commentary from and about various film soundtracks.

I will embed podcast episodes in my posts from time to time. You can also find my podcast on Podbean; I’m in the process of getting it on more sites so that it will be more accessible.

The episodes are an hour long.

Cheers.

I Heard it in a Movie: A Podcast about Music and Cinema Musical Confetti
I Heard it in a Movie : A Podcast about Music and CinemaElectric Eclectic

Hand in a Pocket

My husband and I held hands yesterday as the Chauvin verdict came in. When the verdict was read, my husband released my hand; he began to clap. Not me. I just felt empty.
I remembered a post about this cruel tragedy from my friend Stacey. It expressed what I could not.
Rest in peace, George Floyd. I’m so sorry this happened to you.

Laughter Over Tears

melancholy

The timing of my last blog, Acting While Black, was a little ironic, coming as it did shortly before the latest incident of police brutality/murder in the U.S.

The premise that black characters rarely survive in movies of certain genres seemed absurdly laughable and it felt worthwhile to jog down that road a little bit, stopping at the glitziest and shiniest of hilarious examples.

After the past week, the humor of Acting While Black has soured in my mouth pretty much. The past week has been a case, for me, of tears over laughter instead of the other way around. I don’t know what’s going to happen. I don’t know if this is the beginning of the end or not.

But I know one thing. I know that a pocket wasn’t meant to hold a quiet hand while a heart stopped and a voice asked for his mother.

The casualness…

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Where Has Poor Mickey Gone? (1964) Jazz Clubs, Delinquents & Record Shops In London Soho

I share a love of film and music with my friend and fellow blogger, Mikey over at Wolfman’s Cult Film Club. Mikey has a huge, eclectic record collection; I’ll put it this way, I was quite impressed with my own collection–until I saw his. Wow!

And while I dabble in jazz, Mikey is a bonafide jazz aficionado. He walks the walk and talks the talk–and he’s got the records to prove it.

So, in light of my post on the jazz heavy noir, Odds Against Tomorrow, I asked Mikey’s permission to repost his very “hepcat,” Where Has Poor Mikey Gone?

Without further adieu…

Wolfmans Cult Film

A friend sent me word of this once rare, and I imagine, seldom seen British film oddity called Where Has Poor Mickey Gone? (1964). I’d never heard of it, however, I knew the filming location well. Set in the early 60s in London’s Soho area. Long before I would travel there on the train from my south coast hometown every other weekend to spend my wage packet on vinyl records. From the late 80s through to the early 2000s it was a mecca to me and many music heads for its vast assemble of filled to the brim, record shops. Most famously for Berwick Street, a street lined with the holy grail of crate digging flicking fingers.

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The Odds Against Tomorrow (1959) a Film by Robert Wise, Starring Harry Belafonte; Noir

A while back I was fortunate to review Robert Wise, The Motion Pictures by J.R. Jordan, a studious filmography about Robert Wise–of course. I say of course because, yes, the title of the book is titular, but I’m also referring to the tendency of American film critics to underrate the multi-award winning director.

It’s a total snob job, quite ridiculous. Certainly Wise had some missteps, but his greatest failing, according to his critics, is something that I won’t fault him for–directing a few sequences in the Orson Welles masterpiece, The Magnificent Ambersons.

That was his job. It fell on him to do what Orson Welles would not. Either that or quit.

The Magnificent Ambersons is a landmark film despite Robert Wise’s directorial contribution, not because of it. Everybody knows that.

Regardless, the rub against Wise is that he has no signature, which is another way of saying, he has no style. And that’s the worst thing you can say about an artist.

And it’s not true. Robert Wise did have a signature…

Realism.

That’s it, if I had to sum it up in one word. And his signature of realism didn’t just manifest itself within the genre of realism–no. It’s in the precise, almost microscopic, sense of detail present in every one of his films, regardless of genre.

That Wise’s signature is subtle doesn’t mean that it is inferior.

It means it’s intelligent.

And that composition of grit and intelligence drapes the contours of noir quite nicely. In fact, I would argue that in terms of consistency, Wise’s most artful films come from noir and that his best noir, the racially hard edged, The Odds Against Tomorrow, starring a spectacular Robert Ryan and an impeccable Harry Belafonte, is unfairly overlooked when it comes to masterpieces and near masterpieces.

While Robert Wise–rightfully–would never be described as subversive, he did collaborate with subversive artists. One such artist was Harry Belafonte. Another was Abraham Polonsky.

In 1958 Belafonte was at the forefront in the intersection of looks, talent, charisma and civil rights. At considerable risk to his personal and professional security, he openly associated with Communists and Communist sympathizers within the entertainment industry who were egalitarian. As the CEO of HarBel Productions, he tapped black listed director and writer, Abraham Polonsky to write the screenplay for The Odds Against Tomorrow, while navigating the aftermath of the McCarthy investigations and participating in the modern civil rights movement.

Though jazz and noir had hooked up many times before, Belafonte literally links them with his portrayal of entertainer/musician, Johnny Ingram. The parallels and contrasts between character and performer are intriguing.

Like the character Johnny, Belafonte is a jazz enthusiast, who famously performed with Charlie Parker, Max Roach and Miles Davis. But unlike Johnny, he is not a jazz purist. Belafonte is a stage actor, musician and pop artist who could–and did–sing just about anything.

Similarly, both character and artist are nightclub entertainers though Belafonte on a grand scale and Johnny not as much. Even so, if ornamentation is an indicator, Johnny makes a nice living if not for his gambling addiction, which has torn apart his marriage, separated him from his child and put him in debt to mobsters.

Like so many criminals, Johnny does not apologize for his choices. He is bitter about them, nonetheless.

Still, we are impressed as he suavely croons and plays the Marimba in a haunting rendition of My Baby’s Not Around with Modern Jazz Quartet at the club where he is employed. We admire him as he cruises the scene in a beautiful, white, convertible Corvette and we worry about him when he is confronted by a loan shark and his unapologetically gay henchmen.

And we worry about him because he is black.

It’s 1958…so we should be worried.

Johnny’s debt (and his beautiful, white, convertible Corvette) drive him to the apartment of Burke, (Ed Begley) a corrupt, disgraced former police officer living hand to mouth because his pension has been stripped. He’s the one, Burke is, who comes up with the “perfect” heist. At the apartment Johnny crosses paths with Slater, (Robert Ryan) an aging, vehemently racist, he-man desperate for a score.

In fact, all the characters are desperate in The Odds Against Tomorrow, except one.

There is Lorry–played by a terrific Shelly Winters–who despite being astute in the business world is attracted to Slater’s tough guy magnetism. Then there is Helen, Lorry and Slater’s next door neighbor, played by Gloria Grahame. She, too, is attracted to Slater–slovenly so.

Grahame sizzles as a defiantly promiscuous woman who is turned on by violence. Never lewd, her performance evokes both interest and disgust; it is brilliant.

And finally there is the newly single Ruth, (Kim Hunter) navigating her way around the landmines of mothering and breadwinning in a racist, sexist environment. Unlike her ex-husband, she is not bitter. Instead she is determined. She doesn’t shatter when Johnny accuses her of being cold. She doesn’t apologize for being responsible.

Under Wise’s generous direction, the talented cast channels his vision of stylistic verve tempered with wincing realism, creating an atmosphere of dread. And as fine of an ensemble cast as it is, it does have a stand out.

Robert Ryan.

He is scary good as Slater, a racist creep who resents the hell out of the smarter, better looking, more successful Johnny. Slater is volatile and unsophisticated. What he is not, is stupid. Consequently he understands his impulses enough to anticipate his own failures as he lurches from one disappointment to another.

As Slater, Ryan creates a memorable heavy.

For all that, where The Odds Against Tomorrow ultimately excels is in the vision of its director. Allow me to set the opening scene:

It could be a stream, the way it ripples. But it’s not…

They could be leaves carried by the rippling. They are not…

It’s rainwater collected in a gutter; the rippling caused by wind pushing trash–not leaves–up an empty street.

It’s kind of beautiful. And it shouldn’t be.

It’s art.

It’s Robert Wise.

I Heard it in a Movie: a Podcast about Music and CinemaMusical Confetti
I Heard it in a Movie: a Podcast about Music and CinemaElectric Eclectic

The Showgirl, The Capo and The Comic Part VIII

Aside from the fact that she genuinely loved her child, it was important to her to be a good mother. And she was–generally speaking.

What made her sensitive about it, was an incident that happened in the park when her son was three years old.

Now keep in mind, she was very particular about the way her son dressed; it was important to her that he had the best play clothes and the nicest play shoes…that his hair was cut just so. She didn’t care if his clothes got dirty, or that he tore his pants. She would just throw them away, or–if she had the time–donate them to the Church…

I’m referring to Janice. Janice Drake…I thought you knew that…

Anyway, she was the same way about herself. Immaculate.

So, she’s at the park, she’s swinging her son on the baby swings…and this woman, a mother with a little girl who was at the swings when Janice got there…she grabs her little girl and gathers up their stuff…

And she just runs off…

Well, she didn’t run…but she hurried, like Janice was a demon or a witch.

That really bothered her. She never got over it.

Allan used to get upset with her if she harped on it. He’d say…well, I’m not going to say what he’d say…but it was something like, “give it a rest why don’t you? Who cares what that bitch thinks?”

But she did care. She cared what people thought of her.

So did Allan, if you want to know the truth. They were both very self conscious.

The deal with Janice though…she was so striking…that’s why that harpy ran off like that…if she was little Suzy homemaker, she would have gotten the same reaction from that woman.

Janice was beautiful. She was sexy without even trying. And some women didn’t like that. They were jealous.

It was her least favorite thing about her job–the sleeping around part. Most people thought that was all her job was. But they were wrong. They had no idea about her job–of everything it entailed.

There was a reason why she made as much money delivering a package to an apartment as most stiffs did working six months at their straight jobs.

Her job was dangerous. Her job was exciting.

Why should she apologize for monopolizing her number one asset? She was a business woman.

She didn’t want an empire. She just wanted a nice Manhattan apartment–and a lot of spending money.

And she wasn’t going to get what she wanted by letting Junior feel her up under the bleachers after the dance, even if Junior’s dad owned Wilkes pharmacy, and Junior was going to be entry level rich when he was in his twenties. It didn’t matter.

Entry level wasn’t rich enough to stomach Junior.

She didn’t like him.

Allan, she liked.

She didn’t know why exactly. They just clicked.

He was very honest with her. She felt that she could trust him. He told her the truth…private things about himself. Embarrassing things…

He talked to her like she was a real person…very respectful of her intellect. No man had ever really talked to her before.

She guessed she loved him. She felt differently about him than she did anyone else.

Except her son.

He, she loved.

Regardless of that, she had a job to do.

Some of the fellas she dated she liked better than others. Same as any other job.

Believe it or not, she didn’t mind dating Mr. Anastasia…

Albert “The Mad Hatter” Anastasia…

Absolutely. She knew that he was a very violent man, but she didn’t experience him that way. With her (she called him Albert; Mr. Anastasia too, but only when someone was around) he was very polite. He opened doors, pulled out chairs. He reminded her a lot of Allan.

Anastasia was either the third or fourth most powerful mobster in country at that time. He was head of Murder Inc. with Joe Adonis and Lepke Buchalter.

Uh-huh. Lepke went to the chair. He’s the only big-time mafia guy who was ever executed…In actuality, he was probably the most decent of them all.

Anyway, two nights before Anastasia got gunned down in the barbershop at The Park Sheraton…Janice was bar hopping with him.

Yeah. Just like Nat Nelson.

Anastasia was close to Little Augie too. Real close…Little Augie was upstairs, in the Sheraton at poker game, when the hit happened.

Drake was furious. It scared him. This was the second time. Granted the first time was years before, but still…

He couldn’t say a thing about it to Little Augie though. It was forbidden.

No. They never talked about Little Augie’s business except for his supper clubs that Drake looked over…and they talked about Little Augie’s horses…and Janice of course…

But nothing about murders.

To be cont’d…

The Showgirl, The Capo and The Comic VII

When it came to women, there was just something about Nat Nelson. Sure, he was handsome, but not “through the roof” handsome.

In fact, he was pretty soft. His face. His hands.

He described himself as hedonistic.

What he was, was elegant.

Nice face. Nice things. Nice manners.

He had lots and lots of girlfriends. He was what they use to call a lech.

One of his high-society girlfriends, Sandra Kelly, mentioned him in a suicide note before she leaped to her death from a high rise. It was a big story back then. Briefly.

Not just your everyday Lothario, Nelson was a fashion designer and wheeler dealer in the garment district. He was also a personal friend of gangsters Jimmy Dole and Tommy Lucchese, up to his neck in crimes that very few people knew anything about.

Arlyne Weiss, the subject of Teresa Carpenter’s treatise on the gangster groupie, Mob Girl, knew Nelson, personally. She carried on a years long sexual relationship with him. She called him Nattie.

One afternoon, it was probably 1952, Arlyne–an overly bosomed, brassy red-head–stopped off at Nelson’s luxurious West 55th Street apartment to finagle a hundred bucks out of him. She rode the elevator to the 5th floor.

When the elevator doors opened, Arlyne was face to face with another mob buddy of her’s, Jimmy Doyle, who looked startled and none too pleased to see her. He got on the elevator and she disembarked from it without either uttering a single word to one another.

Arlyne was spooked by the encounter as she crept toward Nelson’s apartment door. It was slightly ajar. The air tasted like gunpowder.

Inside she found “Nattie” sprawled on the floor. His upward turned face wore the blank expression of sudden death, a bullet hole reddened, widening between his eyes.

Later she saw a picture of one of her girlfriend’s in the paper. She was wrapped in a beautiful fur coat, pulled up past her neck, apparently in an attempt to obscure her identity. The article under the picture said that Mrs. Janice Drake, wife of comedian, Alan Drake, was the last person seen with Nelson, bar-hoping with him the night before the murder.

Arlyne was surprised, not that Nelson was seeing another woman, but that the other woman was Janice Drake. She just didn’t have an inkling about their “affair” and she felt–not jealousy–but empathy for her, and for Alan Drake, that he would now know about the cheating.

But Drake already knew about it. The only thing he was worried about was the cops questioning Janice as if she might be involved with the murder.

And who knows? Maybe she was involved in it.

If she was, he didn’t want to know. So he didn’t ask.

It was part of the agreement that he and Janice had amongst themselves. They agreed not to let “the notions of the morality of others,” get in the way of their business, which was complete loyalty to each other and to Gus.

Within that agreement, there was times when Janice had to do what she had to do. She was always a lady about it and she only saw men that ran in Little Augie’s exclusive, relatively small circle.

Likewise, there was times when he got lonely on the road…Janice knew this. If his picture was in the paper with some bimbo, she didn’t think a thing about it...

IF Nat Nelson was sleeping with his wife–and that was a big if–then, Little Augie knew about it…

They had an open marriage, he and Janice did.

He just didn’t like that Janice was that close to Nelson’s murder–because Little Augie had to know about that too–but there was nothing he could do about it…They both had to trust that Gus was looking out for them.

Within their agreement, he and Janice and their little boy lived a wonderful life. They lived primarily in Miami and New York, but they also traveled frequently to L.A.

Sometimes Janice and their son traveled with him–always first class accommodations–on the comic circuit. For the most part, Drake still worked the second tier clubs, but he had some big dates in the major leagues too…he opened up for singer Tony Martin at the Copa.

And that was a big deal in the world of the stand up comedian. To get a taste of big money…It was better than nice money…It was power. It was influence.

Once you’ve had it…you don’t want to give it back. Just like you don’t want to go back to nice money. To good money…

Drake knew that some of the guys talked about him. He knew what they said…that he was Little Augie’s lap dog. That stuff.

But they didn’t dare say it to his face.

And he knew them all.

Frank Sinatra. Jackie Gleason. Ed Sullivan. Rose Marie. Lucile Ball.

A lot of them lived just like he and Janice did…or worse, depending on your perspective. Some of the stories he heard about Sinatra…about the way he treated women…girls that liked to have a good time. He had that Madonna/Whore syndrome, thing going on.

And John Houston…the big director in California. That guy…he was into some sick, weird stuff. That’s what Drake heard, anyway…

He and Janice hired a private teacher so that their son could travel with them on his tour.

The Showgirl, The Capo and The Comic Part VI

Weehawken was an alright town as far as towns go. But it was on the wrong side of the Hudson, so there was that. And since it was on the wrong side of the Hudson, that meant it was in New Jersey, so that was another thing.

And Jancie Hansen was a very good looking girl, so there was that too. Not beautiful…not really even pretty, but healthy. Vibrant. She had a good figure. Her legs were probably the most aesthetically pleasing thing about her. And her hair. It was long. And thick and blonde.

Plus she was a sharp gal; she really was. She knew how to keep her mouth shut. She didn’t gossip.

Janice was perfectly happy being eye candy on some gangster’s arm. She wasn’t adverse to delivering packages for her gentlemen either, or messages.

The police called it “being a courier.” That was pretty much her job, that and being a professional companion, a dancer and a beauty pageant contestant.

As far as she was concerned it was good work if you could get it. It got her a nice apartment across the Hudson, and some very nice clothes too.

She was young, but old enough to know better–by a mile…

Some people–the fellas and some of their girlfriends–told her they didn’t understand what she saw in him. He wasn’t handsome.

Janice agreed; he wasn’t, but he was a big guy and she found that very attractive…and he was a very good dresser. He had an eye for it. She knew because she had an eye for it too–fashion. But hers wasn’t natural like his was.

She had a gentleman friend, a fashion buyer and designer, in the garment district who taught her about the eye…

They said he was a simpleton; a hick, the fellas did. And their girlfriends….Janice disagreed. She thought he was quite eloquent. He was very careful of his pronunciations, but he wasn’t a jerk about it…

He wanted to be elegant because he thought it was the right thing to do.

When she met him, he was the announcer for, and she was a contestant in “The Best Legs in Jersey Contest.” He was a very old fashioned guy in a lot of ways…in charming ways, she thought.

Of course it didn’t hurt that he worked for Little Augie, either. And because of that, the guy was always flush with cash. And everybody was scared of him. And he didn’t even know it…gangsters, men that she knew to be power players, went out of their way to be nice to him.

“That’s Little Augie’s guy, he’s off limits,” they’d say…

They met and dated, long distance, for about a year. He was always making the backroad supperclub circuit where he was a headline comic. New Port, Kentucky. Cleveland. Pittsburg. Syracuse.

Plus, he kept an eye on things in Little Augie’s clubs. He did an audit of the club every time he gigged. That was his real job, but he didn’t realize that either…in his heart he really believed that he was a comic…

In 1945 Janice Hansen became Mrs. Alan Drake. She and Alan were very happy.

Of course they both kept working.

To be cont’d…

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