Mob Experts on The Sopranos, Week 1

Will Anthony Jr. Follow His Father Into Crime?
Talking television.
March 8 2004 2:45 PM

Mob Experts on The Sopranos, Week 1

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Dear Jerry,

That's unbelievable, the casting people at TheSopranos not hiring you. What'd they think—you were inauthentic? Not a good decision. You know, Leon Wieseltier is showing up in The Sopranos pretty early in the season. He's not playing a mob reporter, but a guest at a Jewish wedding. He gets to say the word "motherf--ker," or some variation on it.

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Yes, I had my dealings with the Castellanos, as well as the Castellanas, their distant cousins who run Western Beef, the big New York supermarket chain, and who are, by many accounts, law-abiding citizens. (One of the Castellana brothers once explained to me that his branch of the family was almost entirely unrelated to the Castellano branch by writing the words "Castellano" and "Castellana" on a paper bag. "See, it's different," he said, circling the final vowel of each name. "One's an A, the other's an O.")

I met Big Paul's sons in Florida, where they resettled after their father was killed. It was one of those serendipitous reporting days; their lawyers didn't want me to see them, naturally, so I went to one of their restaurants and sat there until I spotted a middle-aged guy with a gigantic nose and an air of ownership. I asked him if he was Paul Castellano's son; he was, and we had a very pleasant, though heartbreaking, conversation—heartbreaking, because he felt it necessary to say only kind things about John Gotti, the man who'd had his father murdered.

The Castellanos always interested me because they represent a fascinating generational trend in organized crime: The sons, at their fathers' urging, better themselves, entering legal businesses and fulfilling the American dream. Paul Castellano did a good job of this; John Gotti did not. This is why I'm interested to see Anthony Jr.'s story unfold over the next season. One assumes he will be tempted—as Jackie Aprile Jr. was, fatally—into a life of crime, and one can't assume that his deeply imperfect father will do whatever he can to keep his son away from this life. (Tony Soprano is on record as stating his son is too weak a person for a life in organized crime, but it seems to me that bringing his son closer to the family business would be one way he could exact revenge on his wife. But maybe I'm extrapolating wildly here.)

I'm not denying that mobsters have killed civilians who get in the way or displease them (and I'm not just talking about John Gotti's neighbor, who disappeared forever after running over Gotti's son), it just seems that this doesn't happen all too often. One mobster who had an innocent civilian killed on purpose is a guy you mentioned, Sal Avellino. I didn't realize Sal Avellino was getting out of jail; his crime—he had someone in his employ shoot a garbage hauler who told prosecutors about the Luchese family's attempt to take control of the Long Island carting industry—was heinous.

Here's a question for next week: Do you think these guys who are now getting out of jail will return to lives of crime (there are now a lot of senior positions unfilled in the New York families), or are they simply too old? This is the big "Whither the Mob" question you must have known you were going to get.

Talk to you soon,
Jeff

Jeffrey Goldberg is a national correspondent for the Atlantic and the author of Prisoners: A Story of Friendship and Terror.

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