By Christian Cipollini.
“Tossed Out For Dead: Walks Off,” - AP, October 17, 1929.
He survived a one-way gang ride, or so it was alleged. The incident forever seared the 'Lucky' moniker into underworld history, and propelled the name Luciano out of relative obscurity and into the public domain, but not without an abundance of mistaken folklore and foggy conjecture to follow. Further morphing of the tale, perpetuated by consistently misreported and incorrect historical accounts created a monstrosity of mythical proportions (books, magazine articles, movies, documentaries, etc.)
Luciano remained tight-lipped and kept his business close to vest, but while living in exile during 1950s and 60s he began entertaining the questions of curious journalists. Sometimes he would reveal or offer his own interpretation of major and fateful events from his past. For example, in an interview with sports columnist Oscar Fraley in 1960, Luciano dismissed some of the ‘gangland’ theories of his 1929 ride. He admitted the attack was carried out because the aggressors were interested in the whereabouts of Jack ‘Legs’ Diamond, but the perps weren’t fellow mobsters. “Now I know this is no gang job,” Luciano said. “They don’t put a pistol to your head and make bargains.” According to Luciano, the kidnappers were cops - racket squad cops to be exact. This was just one of the numerous moments of Luciano’s life that got twisted from fact into mythology over the decades, and as such - Luciano grew anxious to tell the world his version of events, or at least portions of. Slowly but surely, Luciano opened up more and more to the gossip columnists, reporters and even a visiting documentary film crew.
He also developed quite a burning desire to have his story told on the silver screen and entertained several propositions; Oscar Fraley once claimed to be writing a script, while other would-be producers such as Phil Tucker threw in the towel after negotiations (over money and narrative) fell apart in 1952.
Movie talk went quiet for a while after the Tucker deal implosion. The first resurgence of plausible rumblings for another proposed cinematic project began gaining momentum in 1959 (less than a year after Lucky’s longtime partner Igea Lissoni lost her battle with breast cancer). It’s purely speculative, but perhaps Lucky felt an even stronger desperation to get his story told, but on his terms; he was getting up there in age and often expressed palpable displeasure with how his entire life had been portrayed by both law enforcement and the media. At some point Luciano crossed paths with Martin Gosch and Barnett Glassman. At the time, Gosch, a television producer, had been living/working in Spain while Glassman, who held a large stake in Pathe News, and had been in Capri and Italy to promote the film John Paul Jones.
“I been thinking about this film for a long time. See, I seen what they did to my friend Al Capone in that picture they made of his life. That was terrible. Al wasn’t like that. I knew him better than anybody.” Lucky Luciano to reporter Roderick Mann, July 1960.
In early 1959 syndicated columns occasionally mentioned the project (then tentatively titled ‘The Luciano Story’), with some reports going so far as to name actors and locations purportedly already signed and/or designated. Talk is cheap, and in reality, the film proposal wasn’t yet situated on solid ground. Luciano, Gosch and Glassman would continue discussions for another year before something big happened. Then, on the Isle of Capri in 1960, in the presence of Barnett Glassman and Martin Gosch, Lucky Luciano signed the contract. That April, Glassman issued a statement to the press: “After a great deal of negotiation, Lucky Luciano’s story is to come to the screen finally.”
Interestingly, Martin Gosch’s name was barely a blip in any of the reporting from 1958 through 1960, only Glassman had been explicitly and publicly attached to the project (but we’ll get to the possible explanation of that later). The tide turned in 1961. Gosch (and his involvement in the film) slowly appeared with more frequency. His zenith moment of media recognition, however, arrived on the heels of a somber moment… the news of Luciano’s death in January 1962. As Gosch’s recognition grew (arguably stemming from uncorroborated self-proclamation of holding a dying Luciano in his arms), Glassman’s role in the affair appears to have completely diminished, his name essentially absent from subsequent articles reporting on the status of the late gangsters’s proposed film project. Most likely scenario - a shift took place sometime between late 1960 and early 1961 whereby Glassman either bowed out or moved on to other opportunities while Martin Gosch apparently remained on board and either became the defacto project lead or outright seized the day, so to speak.
“Martin Gosch, who had kin in our town, plans production of film based on ‘What happened to Lucky Luciano since he left the United States.’ Luciano swapped the film rights for an advance payment and a piece of the picture. It will be filmed in Italy this spring. Wonder if any familiar Florida figures will be in the cast of characters?” - Miami Nightlife with George Bourke, January 4, 1961, The Miami Herald.
Things were far from smooth sailing though for Gosch as his grand plans were met with more resistance not only from Luciano, but allegedly from the underworld itself. Shortly after Luciano’s death, actor Cameron Mitchell, who had signed on to play the lead role, received a number of written and verbal threats. Legend has it the mob also sent Luciano words of displeasure underscored by strong suggestions to quash any tell-all tales. When all was said and done the persistent Gosch still clung to the idea of movie, but Luciano’s mind was made up. Gosch managed to secure a new deal, but not for a film after all. Luciano’s life story would take form in the written word, a book option agreement. Luciano also included a very important clause - nothing could be published until ten years after his death. So, when ten years had passed, gossip columns aired the news of Gosch’s newest project. Within a year of the announcement, Gosch secured another writer, Richard Hammer, to help pull it all together. Ironically, a film about Lucky Luciano had been produced in 1973, but the production was a joint venture between international filmmakers totally unrelated to the Gosch project.
Gosch’s proposed book, The Last Testament of Lucky Luciano, began making big money before it had even been published in hardcover (dealmakers were already securing sales of paperback rights, other subsidiary rights, etc.). Martin Gosch, however, didn’t get to see the sensational and contentious release; he died in October 1973.
Beginning a year before its scheduled release, the book came under heavy scrutiny. Seems all they hype triggered organized crime experts, journalists and even some people close to Luciano and/or the original duo of film producers (Gosch and Glassman) to challenge the book’s validity and accuracy. Among those who voiced high-profile dissent were Nicholas Gage, William Safire and Anthony Scaduto. They raised points of legitimate and damning nature. The publisher and remaining co-author went on the defensive and continued with the plans to release the book.
“Glassman tells me: ‘Charlie [Luciano] never talked to Gosch about his mob activities or anything like that...he didn't care much for Gosch. All their conversation was about things in a fictionalized film script, things that had nothing to do with Mafia.’” - Tony Scaduto, Letter to the Editor, New York Times, April 27, 1975
Now, back to the question of why Martin Gosch garnered little, if any notice during the first couple years of negotiations with Lucky Luciano. First, there is no question Gosch was present from the period of 1959 through 1960 and involved directly with the negotiations and contract-signing - the photos don’t lie. However, if what NY Post crime writer and author Anthony Scaduto had to say in 1975 is true, Gosch was basically relegated to assistant duties and wasn’t particularly liked by Luciano. Scaduto’s letter to the editor states -“Martin Gosch never got close enough to Luciano to have received the benefit of his reminiscences of the Byzantine affairs of the American criminal world. Gosch was employed by Barnett Glassman, a producer now living in Beverly Hills who actually persuaded Luciano to make a film of his life and got Luciano's signature on a contract. Gosch was brought in as Glassman's assistant, to help write the film script and the project moving.”
To date, no feature film has been produced from the Luciano-Glassman_Gosch sessions of 1959-1961. What the meetings did leave us is a legacy of incredible, candid visuals documenting a fascinating and long-mysterious period of time in vast history of America’s most dynamic mob boss. The Last Testament of Lucky Luciano landed on bookstore shelves in 1975 and it was a hit, as expected. As for the looming and hotly-debated legitimacy of the book, well, that wasn’t making proponents of the book lose much sleep. Gosch couldn’t be questioned, obviously it was too late for that. Hammer openly admitted the book had some flaws (and that he grew less fond of Gosch as the writing process went on) yet steadfastly held his position that he wrote what Gosch gave him, which came from Luciano’s own recollection, which fluctuated not unlike most people’s memory of past events. As for the publishing industry as a whole, they made little secret about the goal - make money.
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Monday September 19, 2022.
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