He was the Mafia's best-kept secret.
As Meyer Lansky's right-hand man and life-long liaison with the The Boys, Vincent "Jimmy Blue Eyes" Alo is unique in his longevity and influence in the American Mafia. Jimmy was ever-present in Meyer's life. They were partners, spent family time together, and always lived near one another.
In the early days, Jimmy was said to have worked for both Salvatore Maranzano and Joe Masseria. Later, he worked alongside "Charlie Lucky" Luciano and Frank Costello.
While Meyer was making headlines from the 1920's, Jimmy managed to stay under the media's radar. Even though, he was the model for the character, "Johnny Ola," in The Godfather: Part II, portrayed by Dominic Chianese (Sopranos, Boardwalk Empire) as well as "Victor Tellegio," portrayed by Robert De Niro in American Hustle, the real Jimmy Alo remains an enigma.
During Prohibition, Jimmy worked both sides of the fence with "Mustache Pete's" Maranzano and Masseria and "The Boys" Luciano and Costello. Later, he handled investments in Las Vegas for New York's Five Families.
In Florida, Jimmy was a full business partner, overseeing several casinos including Club Boheme, Greenacres, The Plantation and The Colonial Inn, the latter which was purchased by Lansky from Lou E. Walters (father of news journalist/television star Barbara Walters) in 1945.
After Meyer lost Benny Siegel in '47, Charlie Lucky Luciano in '62, and Frank Costello in '73, Meyer had Jimmy, who would outlive them all, to age ninety-six in 2001.
Carole Cortland Russo, Jimmy and Flo Alo's niece who was raised by the couple, is finishing a biography about her uncle. Carole was Jimmy's constant companion in his later years, and cared for him until the end of his life. Her personal talks with Jimmy are revealing, and her memoir is near completion.
Here is part of my interview with Carole:
ML: So Carole, can you tell me how Jimmy met Meyer?
CCR: In 1929, Uncle Jim went to meet Charlie Lucky Luciano, and there was this little guy there. It was Meyer. Uncle Jim and Meyer took to each other, instantly. From that day on, they were the best of friends for the rest of their lives. They were similar in many ways; bookish, calm, soft-spoken. Uncle Jim once said he admired Meyer more than any human being he had ever met.
ML: How did Jimmy become involved with The Boys?
CCR: As a teenager, Uncle Jim got a job on Wall Street. He worked for five years until he realized he wasn't getting promoted. Why? He was Italian. There were no Italians working on Wall Street. He said "to hell with this" and wound up getting involved in a jewelry store heist where he was caught holding the bag. He was sent to Dannemora Prison for five brutal years. When he came out, he said he had learned to be a good criminal, and never had a job for the rest of his life. He got involved with Prohibition and that's when he met Charlie and Meyer.
ML: It sounds like Prohibition brought The Boys together for a lifetime.
CCR: If it wasn't for Prohibition, there wouldn't have been a Mafia! Prohibition helped create criminals - people who wanted to go into business for themselves.
ML: So Jimmy served time in Dannemora Prison, where Charlie Lucky also served time before his pardon (after successful assistance to U.S. Naval Intelligence during World War II). Didn't Jimmy also serve time later in life?
CCR: Uncle Jim served three years for Obstruction of Justice when he was sixty-seven. (Film Producer) Dino De Laurentiis's wife, Silvana Mangano, corresponded with him in Italian. Uncle Jim had to find a guy on the inside who could speak and read Italian to translate. He got a big kick out of getting her letters. Dino and Silvana really loved Uncle Jim. So did many others in the entertainment industry.
ML: Can you tell me more about your book? Do you have any appearances coming up?
CCR: We're in final edits. I have a title, but I'm not ready to release it, yet. In the book, I cover my uncle's Prohibition and bootlegging days, myths, as well as truths, about him. His casino involvements, Mob influences, his life in New York, Miami, and Cuba. There's also a lot about his personal life that most people don't know.
I'm going to be a guest on a lecture panel, "The Mob in Miami Beach" during the Miami Design Preservation League's Art Deco Weekend in South Beach on Jan. 17, 2015. I look forward to seeing your aunt, Sandi Lansky Lombardo, there! Thanks for the interview, Meyer!