May 8, 2009
I just finished reading Tom Folsom’s book “The Mad Ones,” the story of Joe Gallo and his brothers and satellites, a clumsy Brooklyn crime family that inspired Jimmy Breslin’s novel “The Gang that Couldn’t Shoot Straight.” I feel a little guilty because these dangerous and destructive people are so much fun to read about. And Folsom makes it fun, because he seems to be having such a good time telling this yarn, using a vernacular perfectly suited to the subject. And how can you go wrong with characters like Big Lollypop, Little Lollypop, Johnny Bath Beach, Mondo the Midget and Grandma Nunziato?
Joe and Larry Gallo themselves were worth the price of admission. Larry, anticipating open warfare with the Profaci gang, wiled away the time playing operatic arias on his violin. Joey spent a lifetime – what there was of it – painting, or reading Spinoza, Lenin, Mao, and Nietzsche. Joe Gallo was probably certifiably nuts, but he apparently was also a magnetic personality who sucked in people like Jerry Orbach and David Steinberg. And he didn’t kill Don Rickles for razzing him in a nightclub after being warned not to, so how bad could he have been?
Reading Folsom’s book, one wonders why Breslin had to fictionalize this whacked-out crowd who never made it to the top of organized crime in New York but shed and lost a lot of blood in the effort. The truth is entertaining enough.