WASHINGTON, September 20, 2017 — He was a boxer, a tango dancer and, eventually, a big Hollywood film star. But actor George Raft also cultivated interesting friendships, like the one he had with gangster Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel, a member of “Murder, Inc.,” which enforced the will of New York City’s crime families with deadly force. Siegel later built the luxurious Flamingo hotel in Las Vegas, the mafia’s first foothold in Sin City.
In 1983, budding movie impresario Roy Radin’s lifeless body was found in a lonely creek bed near Gorman, California. He had been murdered by drug-dealing silent partners who felt they hadn’t quite got their proper cut of the box-office proceeds or the producer credits they felt were their due for helping finance the film “The Cotton Club.”
For decades, Hollywood and organized crime have, on occasion, been known to cross paths. No one is more aware of this currently than the folks at Netflix. Carlos Muñoz Portal, a location scout in Mexico, was found shot to death in his car near San Bartolo Actopan, located 34 miles northeast of Mexico City. Muñoz died searching for Mexican landscapes that would add gritty scenic realism to the Netflix original series “Narcos,” which chronicles the bloody rise of ruthless Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar.
Mexico’s Attorney General said no witnesses have come forward in the case. But the Mexican newspaper El País speculates that the location scout’s killing may have resulted from his lurking suspiciously about the countryside, shooting lots of photos that included people who did not know him. They may have mistaken the stranger for a member of a rival drug cartel roaming about and choosing targets for reprisals – deciding right there to take him out first.
The most interesting thing to come out of this murder case thus far was a comment from Roberto De Jesús Escobar Gaviria, brother of the now deceased Pablo Escobar. He told the Hollywood Reporter that Netflix “should provide hitmen to their people as security.”
For the last three years, Gaviria has demanded Netflix pay him $1 billion for the privilege of using his late brother’s story as the subject of its popular drug drama. “Without authorization from Escobar Inc.,” he said, “it is very dangerous. Especially without our blessing.”
In a bid to move negotiations closer to receiving the $1 billion extortion payment from Netflix, Gaviria issued a thinly veiled threat.
“We will close their little show… Their mothers should have left them in the womb. That is what we tell people like this if they come to Columbia.”
Hollywood has witnessed such shakedowns before. During the mid-1930s, gangster and union leader William Morris Bioff shook down movie studios for big cash by ordering his organized theater projectionists to destroy movie reels belonging to resisting studios.
Bioff eventually received $30,000 from Warner Brothers and also extorted $50,000 from RKO studios. Known for thinking outside the box, Bioff made another $230,000 over a two-year period by threatening to bomb Eastman Kodak’s film stock warehouse, and even got the movie studios to build him a home in Los Angeles and furnish it as well.
When actor James Cagney began a campaign to expose the mob’s influence in Hollywood, a contract was taken out on his life. It was fellow actor George Raft who intervened to put the kibosh on the hit.
Cagney would get his revenge – and an Oscar nomination – for his performance as gangster Rocky Sullivan in the 1938 film “Angels with Dirty Faces.” When he is condemned to the electric chair following his conviction for murder, Rocky, in a surprising final gesture of decency, goes to the chair as a terrified coward, to serve as a warning to his young admirers on the street.
It’s unfortunate Hollywood no longer produces actors of Cagney’s courage or caliber.