By John William Tuohy
Roselli was also the Chicago outfit's West Coast executioner of choice, and since territory battles for control of Los Angeles continued on into the early 1970s, Roselli did, as Jimmy "The Weasel" Fratianno, an LA mob boss turned informant said, "a lot of work when he was a kid. He did a lot of fuck'n work, don't worry."
Otherwise, Roselli kept his standard low profile and shunned publicity. But, flush with cash, Roselli allowed himself one little bit of color, he moved into Hollywood's famous Garden of Allah, then a swinging bungalow complex that was home to dozens of stars, from Humprey Bogart to Edward G. Robinson. But Roselli's move into the heart of stardom was no mistake either.
Johnny was also one of Hollywood's leading loan sharks, was ordered by Chicago to spread out as much mob influence among the stars and the people who ran the studios as he could, either with money or drugs, and since most of the big stars were constantly overspending themselves, his loan sharking business grew at phenomenal rates. Over three decades, Roselli estimated that he had loaned out at least five million dollars in cash to some of Hollywood's leading stars and producers, from Ronald Reagan to Ed Sullivan and dozens of others.
Roselli was also the Chicago outfit's talent scout, finding promising actresses or actors, and then sponsoring their careers in Tinseltowns. According to Johnny, it was the Chicago outfit that sponsored the Marx Brothers, George Raft, Jimmy Durante, Marie McDonald, Clark Gable, Gary Cooper, Jean Harlow, Gary Grant and Wendy Barrie and as a result were awarded extravagant contracts by the studios.
The next logical step was to control the talent outlets, so in the late 1940s, when the mob's Vegas casinos discovered that live entertainment brought in the crowds, Roselli and the mob opened a talent booking agency called Monte Prosser Productions, which was the only agency used by all Vegas casinos. Roselli ran the company of his apartment at the Desert Inn, and had such a firm grip on Vegas' entertainment, that he even had the contract to represent the company that put the ice machine in all the hotels.
Roselli and Foy, despite Foy's financial success at Eagle-Lion studios, were both let go because of Foy's brash, confrontational style that annoyed the studio brass, and when his three-year contract expired in 1950 he was released and Roselli was booted out with him.
Foy bounced over to Warner Brothers studios but couldn't take Roselli with him since the studio had, officially anyway, barred Johnny from the lot. But Foy remained close with Roselli: "They were like the Rover boys," Foy's niece said, "they went everywhere together."
The pair spent most of their weekends at Foy's house, where there was also a party. At one of those weekend parties, Foy introduced Roselli to one of his favorite contract players at Warner, Bill Campbell, who lived in the same apartment complex as Roselli. Campbell was married to a stunning young actress named Judy Campbell, who was born Judith Eileen Katherine Immoor in Pacific Palisades in 1934. She had met Campbell when she was 16, and married him two years later in 1952. Bill Campbell became fast friends and Campbell introduced Roselli to his wife. Like most men who met her, Roselli was awestruck at Campbell's beauty and taken with her quick wit and disarming charm. After Judy divorced Campbell in 1954, Roselli introduced Judy to Frank Sinatra in late 1959 and a year later, Sinatra introduced Campbell to both John Kennedy and Mob Boss Sam Giancana.
It was about this same time, in 1960-61, that Roselli became embroiled in the Mafia-CIA-White House plots to kill Cuba's Castro. It was interesting that one day in early 1975, film producer Bernie Foy called Johnny Roselli with the idea of doing a remake of the movie "The Exorcist." In the new version, a nun would be possessed by the devil who would then drive her to acts of sexual depravity. Roselli read the script, but rejected it as sacrilegious. However, Roselli then pitched his own idea for a film. The story concerned a patriotic mobster who becomes entangled in a White House-CIA plot to assassinate Fidel Castro. However, the scheme backfired when Castro hires his own mobsters to kill the American President. Foy and his financial backers heard out the Roselli pitch and then rejected it as too implausible.
In 1966, Johnny Roselli arranged for St. Louis Mafia Don Anthony Giordano and the caporegime in Detroit, Anthony Zerilli, to buy hidden assets in the Frontier Hotel. It was an otherwise uneventful, commonplace underworld deal. Johnny collected his $100,000 finder fee and that was the end of it.
Then a Federal grand jury called Roselli in for questioning about his years in Las Vegas. Roselli refused to testify on the grounds that he could incriminate himself, so the grand jury gave him immunity, and Roselli talked, although in the end, he really didn't give the jury anything against anybody. Unfortunately for Roselli, his testimony was stamped secret, so when Giordano and Zerilli were convicted of hiding their assets in the Frontier Hotel, the sale that Roselli had arranged, it looked like Johnny had talked.
After that, he was a dead man.
But before anything could be done, Roselli and four others were indicted for running a card cheating hustle at the Friars Club in Beverly Hills, where Roselli was a member, having been sponsored by the club's founder, Georgie Jessel, Dean Martin, and, of course, Frank Sinatra.
Roselli thanked them by setting up a high stakes gin rummy game that included Phil Silvers, Zeppo Marx, and Tony Martin, the millionaire husband to Debbi Reynolds. Unknown to them Roselli had a "peeper" hidden behind a wall at the tables who transmitted the players' hands electronically to Roselli.
When the scam was exposed, one of Roselli's spotters in the game, George Sears, turned informant. Roselli was arrested, found guilty and sentenced to five years at McNeil Island.
In the meantime, the Organized Crime Unit within the Justice Department was planning to have him deported if he didn't start talking about his life in the outfit.
This time Roselli talked.
He was released from prison, but he was broke and borrowing money to get by and in the last half of 1974, he was forced to move into his sister's house in Florida and that's where they caught up with him.
Johnny Roselli was last seen in the company of the two men getting aboard a private yacht for a cruise. As he sat on the deck sipping a drink, one of the men slipped behind him and choked him to death with a white nylon rope. Then they taped a washcloth over his mouth, sawed off his legs at the thigh with a hand saw, stuffed him into a 55 gallon drum that was weighed down with chains.
The coroner figured that the killer also shot him and then decided to dig the bullet out of his body before they dumped him in the barrel and then dumped it into the bay.
Body gases pushed the body onto the surface ten days later.
Several weeks later, during a meeting with the boys, Chicago's acting boss, Joey Auippa summed up the measure of Roselli's life with the outfit: "You remember that guy from the old days, that guy … what the fuck was his name … that guy they found in the barrel down there inside of Florida? What do you think of that?"
There was a moment's silence until somebody across the room cracked, "Johnny in a drum."
Mr. Tuohy can be reached by writing to MobStudy@aol.com
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