Feature Articles

May 2002

The Real Jimmy Blue Eyes

By John William Tuohy

     Before Hugh Grant stole the show on film as Jimmy Blue Eyes, there was another Jimmy Blue, and he stole too.

     Jimmy "Blue Eyes" Alo was the Mafia muscle behind Meyer Lansky, the mob's financial genius, and although his power reached from Manhattan's crowded boulevards, to the sun-drenched beaches of Cuba, to the glitter of Vegas and Hollywood, few people have ever heard of Jimmy Blue Eyes Alo. In fact, if it had not been for Francis Ford Coppola's nod to Alo's legend in the film The Godfather Part 2, where Alo is portrayed as Johnny Ola, or Alo spelled backwards, the Sicilian messenger boy for Hyman Roth, Alo's name would be forever forgotten, and Jimmy Blue Eyes would have preferred it that way.

     Despite the senseless brutality that was his life, Alo exuded an aura of wisdom and kindness. People felt comfortable around him, drawn to him for guidance. "There was," wrote Robert Lacey, "something pastoral, almost monkish, about him."

     When the film director John Houston met Alo in the 1960s, when Houston was filming his epic The Bible, in which Alo and others from his world had a financial interest, Huston "was not entirely joking when he lobbied Alo to play the role of God."

     Of course, in a sense, he did play God. It was Alo, who, in 1949, ordered the powerful William Morris agency, owned in part by Alo and other New York mobsters, to give Marilyn Monroe an exclusive contract, which was almost a guarantee to success in the motion picture industry.

     Johnny Roselli said that it was he who called Jimmy Blue Eyes and asked him to place Monroe under contract, because Roselli had been ordered by his boss, Tony Accardo, to "find somebody" for the mob to groom and invest in. Roselli said he found Monroe.

     And it was Jimmy Blue Eyes who, in 1938, discovered Hallandale Florida and its dozens of hidden casinos that were money machines for the independent gamblers who ran them.

     Alo liked what he saw, and understood its potential, but he knew that in order to make Hallandale work for the outfit, he would need a gambler to watch the casino floors, a manager to keep the books and big cash to get the joints off the ground.

     Jimmy Alo wasn't a gambler or a manager, and his money, although he had a lot of it, was out on the street. He would need a partner and there was no question who that would be, Alo's old friend from back in New York, Meyer Lansky.

     Lansky and Alo had met back in 1929, when Charlie Luciano called Jimmy Blue Eyes to his apartment high up in the Barbizon Plaza Hotel on Central Park west, and told Alo that he wanted him to guard Lansky, that there might be a war ahead of them and Luciano would need Lansky's money making abilities in the event they had to hit the guns.

     They liked each other from the start. Both small men, just under five foot three inches tall, and only a year apart in their ages, Alo and Lansky were both basically shy men who had crawled out of the almost unbelievable poverty of New York's slums. They were book loving, low profile, chain-smokers, without much to say to those they didn't know and they were both obsessed with obtaining at least a veneer of respectability.

     Unlike Meyer, who never did any serious jail time, Alo had done a three-year stretch up to Sing Sing prison for armed robbery. But, he did his time right, he never ratted on his friends and when he walked out of jail in 1926, he was a made guy working under "Joe the Boss" Masseria.

     Lanksy liked Alo's idea of building a new life in Florida and poured his considerable energies, talent and cash into two massive casinos, the Plantation and the Colonial Inn.

     Business boomed, and where success goes, others follow and by 1948, Hallandale was "a gamblers paradise ... a little Las Vegas before its time."

     With the money they made from the Hallandale operations, Lansky and Alo founded the Emby Distributing Company which had a lock on the distribution of jukeboxes and cigarette vending machines in the lucrative greater New York area.

     Emby jukeboxes gave Lansky and Alo control of the popular music outlets during the 1940s in the massive New York market, and to no small degree Frank Sinatra's amazing career took off as a result of the hoods' control of what records appeared in their jukeboxes. Unfortunately for Sinatra, Alo's boss, Frank Costello was also pressing bootleg copies, millions of them, of Sinatra's records and selling them from record store outlets. Then, corporate officers at Wurlitzer realized who Lansky and Alo were and asked Lansky, the group's front man, to sell out his routes. "They said I was a bad risk for them," Lansky said later, and without trouble, he and the others sold off their Juke Box routes to outside investors.

     With the cash Lansky and Alo made from the sale of Embry, they invested in a corporation called Consolidated Television with $15,000, owning about 10% of the company. But the gangsters weren't able to see or understand the big picture behind television, and in late 1949 they withdrew from the business.

     By 1950, Meyer and Alo were rich and, miles and worlds away from the bloodletting of the street rackets in New York and Chicago. They started to enjoy their role as the enlightened men of reason and logic within the mob and they always went out of their way to make sure that the newspaper people and the law understood that they were gamblers, and not tied in with "the rough stuff", as Meyer called it, prostitution, loan sharking and, most importantly, murder.

     And while it was true that they didn't deal in those realms themselves, they had no aversion to dealing with men who did, and they both understood that in the underworld, murder was an option.

     Beginning in 1952, Alo began to spend half of his time in Vegas, looking after his and Lansky's investments there, and settling one dispute after another, including the Dragna problem. A year after the Sands opened its doors, Jack Dragna, the head of Los Angeles mob, the so-called Micky Mouse Mafia, moved in on Lansky's representative at the Flamingo, Moey Sedway. Dragna sent one of his Capo's, Jimmy "The Weasel" Fratianno, who would later turn mob informant, to send a message to the five foot, 130 pound Sedway who had started as a gofer for Lansky back in New York. Arrogant with power, and abusive to those under him, Sedway was widely disliked by the Italians he shared the Vegas Strip with. Fratianno caught up with him as he left the lobby of the Wilshire Hotel in Los Angeles and was trying to flag a cab.

     Fratianno grabbed Sedway from behind and swung him around by the neck. "Moey, I want to tell you something, you motherfucker. You better walk straight around Vegas, because the next time I'm going to blow your fucking head off."

     Then he backhanded Sedway across the mouth, drawing blood.

     "What's the matter with you?" Sedway cried. "Leave me alone."

     "Remember, you better walk straight."

     It was a message that and if Sedway didn't understand, Jimmy Alo did. They had been moved on, and although Dragna had permission to make the move from Tommy Lucchese back in New York, Alo understood that Dragna had been ordered to make the move by his real boss, Tony Accardo out of Chicago, who wanted absolute control over Vegas.

     It was a tough spot for Alo to be in, he was made guy and if he turned on his own to defend his Jewish partner, a man he loved and respected, they'd kill him in a heart beat.

     Lansky and Alo went to Lucchese.

     "So they're putting the arm on us?" Lansky asked. "Is that what this is?"

     "Listen Meyer, that's their country you're in, don't forget that," Lucchese countered.

     Lansky yelled, "That's open country out there! They got no right to smack my people!"

     Lucchese remained calm and said, "What? You want to start a fucking war? They've got to make a living. What do they care about open country? Vegas is in their back yard."

     It took a year for Alo to work out the details, but in early 1954, Lansky agreed to sell Dragna points in the Flamingo for $125,000, but Dragna declined.

     By 1963, the Mob's boom years in Vegas were over, in large part due to the Outfit excess. Jimmy Blue Eyes got a taste of how far it had gone on a trip out to Vegas that year to inspect his holding. He was greeted at the airport by Jack Entratter, the one time doorman-bouncer at the infamous Stork Club in Manhattan before moving over to the Copacabana. Alo offered him a job at the Sands in Las Vegas as the manager of record. The real manager, of course, was Doc Starcher. Entratter's only real use at the Sands was to ensure that the hidden owners got their money out of the place. Entratter took Alo up to his new suite which he had built to his own specifications at a cost of one million dollars. With a huge cigar rammed into his fat face, Entratter, followed by a swarm of casino executives, gloated over every detail of the apartment to Alo.

     Alo fumed at every word. He grew more and more angry at the vulgar display and finally he exploded, "You son of a bitch! I should'a left you as a head waiter! You come over here and spend millions of dollars. You smoke big cigars. You dress in two thousand dollars suits. And you're nothing more than a lackey. I should send you all back where you belong!"

     Alo had enough, enough of Vegas, enough of the new breed of slick, ego-ridden hoods who couldn't keep their faces off the front page and enough of the federal indictments and investigations. It was time to cash in their chips.

     "Let's take the money," Jimmy Blue Eyes told Meyer Lansky, "and have a quiet life."

     No one will ever know how much they made off of the sale of their Vegas holdings, but as Jimmy The Weasel Fratianno told the FBI, "Meyer Lansky and his group have skimmed more money than anybody in the world. Just in Vegas alone over the past ten years from the Flamingo, the Sands, the Thunderbird, the Riviera, they skimmed three hundred million easy."

     Rich and retired had no effect on the Justice department, which never dropped its fascination and preoccupation with nailing Meyer Lansky and those around him.

     In 1967, after Meyer beat yet another federal assault, the government went after his closest friend, Jimmy Alo, and charged him with a 72-count indictment involving securities fraud, a scam that Alo had little or nothing to do with.

     Jimmy Blue Eyes remained a violent man till the end.

     When Meyer Lansky died in 1983, Alo handled the details of his partner's estate, including taking care of Meyer's son, Buddy, who was disabled from childhood. But, when Alo tried to pay for some of Buddy's expenses, he discovered that within three years of Meyer's death, Sandra Lansky had spent most of her brother Buddy's inheritance.

     When Alo asked where the money was, Sandra simply replied, "I blew it."

     The 82-year-old Alo's eyes grew steely cold and he told Sandra, "If I had a gun, I'd kill you right now."

     And he probably would have too.

Mr. Tuohy can be reached by writing to

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