On March 30, 2014, my Aunt Sandi -- Sandra Lansky Lombardo -- celebrated the launch of her book Daughter of the King: Growing Up in Gangland, about her life as Meyer Lansky's youngest child, and only daughter.
Her book's launch, hosted by the Jewish Museum of Florida in South Beach, Miami, had a packed house. After Aunt Sandi read excerpts, she offered her audience a fully open forum for questions.
Many queries centered in on World War II, including Grandpa's involvement in the American pro-Nazi rally breakups; rumors of planned assassinations of Hitler and Mussolini; and the assistance Grandpa, Charlie Luciano, and Joe "Socks" Lanza provided to the U.S. Navy in New York Harbor through the Longshoreman's Union during wartime. Questions about Israel ranged from Grandpa's financial support of Israeli statehood, to his denial of citizenship under Israel's Law of Return, to which he was entitled.
Aunt Sandi was asked about her favorite actor who has portrayed Grandpa (Patrick Dempsey in Mobsters), her relationship with Dean Martin, and her two marriages; the first, as a teenage bride, and her second, to the love of her life of 50 years, Vince Lombardo, who raised her son, Gary.
Her heyday as a young barhopping socialite, where she was constantly watched (and followed) by Grandpa's associates, was of great interest. I learned Grandpa would try to catch Aunt Sandi out in the early morning hours, knocking on her apartment door at 7:00 a.m. She shared with us the times she would change clothes in the ladies' room at a local service station on her way home (a sort of 1950's-style walk of shame), to be ready for Grandpa's "surprise" visits.
What I enjoyed most about Aunt Sandi's Q&A, followed by a kosher reception, was the opportunity her audience was given to share their stories of Grandpa in Miami Beach, of the days when he walked his dog along Collins Avenue, played pinochle in his cabana at the Eden Roc, and the curiosity about his dear friend and business partner Vincent "Jimmy Blue Eyes" Alo, who was never once photographed with Grandpa in public.
Before Aunt Sandi's book launch, I asked a few questions of my own:
So Aunt Sandi, what do you remember discussing at the dinner table with family?
We had set menus each night, and my girlfriend Terry would often join us, and at different restaurants on many occasions. Terry was like family. My brothers often had their friends over. Daddy, Buddy and Paul would discuss politics and sports, and your grandpa would include math problems for me. We all had guests for dinner, and parties at one time or another.
You spent time with "Charlie Lucky" Luciano twice, in Italy. What was he like?
It was wonderful meeting Charlie in Naples! At first sight I thought your grandpa had flown to Italy, it was uncanny how striking the resemblance between the two men, in person. He greeted me with a huge hug and kisses. He was so affectionate I immediately called him Uncle Charlie, which made him quite happy.
He dressed beautifully, and had a slight Italian/New York accent.
For dinner we joined Uncle Charlie at his restaurant called The Californian, the best restaurant in Naples. His miniature pinscher, Bambi, also joined us.
A maître d' led us to the table, which had been professionally prepared and decorated. We had over a dozen courses including ravioli, rigatoni, salad, meats, vegetables, clams, mussels, and more, followed by dessert. But all Uncle Charlie wished for was a plate of linguine at Angelo's on Mulberry Street! He spoke about how much he missed New York. (A full narrative is included in Aunt Sandi's book.)
During our meal Uncle Charlie told stories about your grandpa, saying he was the bravest and finest man he had ever met. He also told me how he and Frank (Costello) first met your grandpa and Benny (Siegel), and asked about your grandmother, hoping she was better.
My takeaway: Remarkable stories of an era through a fascinating memoir. A real page-turner!
Final Note: Vincent Lombardo, Aunt Sandi's husband and constant companion of 50 years, passed away on Sunday April 13, 2014, in Tampa, Florida. Rest in Peace Uncle Vince.