Famous Dead Person of the Week: Bugsy Siegel
Life: Feb. 28, 1906 – June 20, 1947
Why He’s Famous: One of the original financiers of the Las Vegas Strip
Fun Fact: Has been portrayed in movies by Harvey Keitel, Warren Beatty, Eric Roberts and Armand Assante.
Ah, the roaring ‘20s/’30s. When men were men and frequently killed other men in the name of organized crime.
Young Bugsy Siegel (who went by Benjamin for most of his life) was running protection rackets from an early age before joining up with Meyer Lansky to form the ‘Bugs and Meyer Mob’ (catchy title), which was possibly the last Jewish mob gang. From there, they formed Murder, Incorporated to bring ‘order’ to the American crime syndicates, moving here and there and killing as needed.
After that caught up to him on the East Coast, Siegel headed west and arrived in California with the intention of building some Los Angeles gambling rackets with Jack Dragna and Mickey Cohen (remember that name? That was Sean Penn’s character in the oft-delayed Mob Squad). In his spare time, he built a trade route from the US to Mexico, and added offshore casinos and prostitution to his considerable repertoire. He also made friends with the Hollywood elite, including Clark Gable and Cary Grant.
Following the murder of Harry Greenberg, which afforded him the nickname ‘Bugsy’ because apparently ‘bugs’ was slang for ‘crazy’ back in the day – and by the way, Bugsy remains one of the best mobster names anyone has ever had – Siegel decided it was time to pull up stakes and go legit. So he moved to Las Vegas in 1946 and set about getting illegal building materials (yep, black market stuff) and financing William Wilkerson’s Flamingo Hotel. However, as seemed to happen with Mr. Siegel involved, he grew impatient, demanded control of the enterprise and eventually forced Wilkerson to sell his part of the project under threat of death. Sounds like a guy who you’d want to be friends with.
Eventually, things ended poorly for Siegel. The Flamingo lost millions of dollars, mostly through Siegel’s inept management, and the mob bosses he was supposed to be sending money to were tired of waiting on it. In 1947, he was gunned down in a Beverly Hills house. The next day, the Las Vegas mob took over operation of the Flamingo.
Bugsy Siegel was barely in his 40s, with little education to speak of outside of what he learned on the streets, yet became a powerful figure in illegal business. Meanwhile, half of current America has a college education and can’t find a job of any sort. We’re trending in the wrong direction.
What sets Siegel apart from Al Capone, Lucky Luciano and the rest of the mob? Probably nothing; greed and power ruled the day. I will say (and this is going to sound like praise) that Siegel seemed more willing to get his hands dirty on a personal level – almost to the point of making a sports out of murder. While usually there’s something to be said for enjoying one’s work, maybe a day away from the office would’ve evened Siegel out a little bit.