In this series of biographies, I’ve been highlighting those noble men who changed the way we live, think and do things. Today, I’m going off the tracks a little, and into the life of a boy born of Jewish immigrants. He grew up on the crime ridden streets of Brooklyn, New York where Italian and Irish gangs reigned. They say your environment often defines who you become and this definitely was the case with Benjamin Siegel – or Bugsy as he was later called.
A kid born in 1906 to parents that both worked constantly to provide for their five children, probably didn’t stand much of a chance. But that was exactly the motivation which led Bugsy to a determined notion that he would rise above that life. He vowed he would make a name for himself and never have to experience the poverty his parents lived.
The gangs of New York during this time period were fierce. Turf wars existed as they do today, but soon the Irish and Italian gangs would be joined by a group of Jewish young men who had forced their right to become part of the criminal element. Bugsy had a record of criminal offenses by the time he was a teenager.
He was known by his constituents as Bugsy, because of his itinerate, violent nature, his fierce temper and his guts. He wasn’t afraid of anything and became known as being as crazy as a bed bug. He would shoot first and ask questions later.
When we think of the old days, it’s hard to imagine anything but the highlights and good things that happened, but the twenties were a time of violence that we can’t even begin to imagine today. During the time of prohibition, corruption within law enforcement and government ran rampant. Folks were being paid off to be quiet or to cover things up. New York was a hotbed of new immigrants, with hopes of a better life, soon discovering they had entered life not much different than what they left behind. This led young minds to desperate attempts to get out of poverty no matter what method it took.
The world doesn’t change really. The plot does. The characters do. The results often do. After a time of turmoil, there’s usually a time of quiet, but it doesn’t last. The age of the bootlegger may be gone, but crime remains. It just wears a different mask.
Bugsy was known as a womanizer. He had sparkling blue eyes, was handsome and charismatic. He had a long affair with actress Virginia Hill, a woman who was almost as tough as him
. They moved to Las Vegas and followed Bugsy’s dream of creating a gambling mecca in the middle of the desert. The Flamingo Hotel and Casino was the first in Vegas. He is credited for starting it all.
With funding from the eastern crime syndicate and supervision by Bugsy, building began in 1945. Originally the cost was estimated to be one and a half million, but the number quickly rose to six million. The syndicate discovered that Bugsy was stealing and mismanaging the funds.
On June 20, 1945, as Bugsy sat in the living room of his Beverly Hills home, he was killed by a barrage of bullets being shot through the window. There was no doubt that he had been murdered by the syndicate.
In life he accomplished what he wanted. He did it in violent, criminal ways, without conscience. He became rich and famous. His good looks made a celebrity out of him. He was 39 when he died. Benjamin Siegel was now summoned to the grave and most likely an eternity in hell.
“Las Vegas turns women into men and men into idiots.” Bugsy Siegel