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Infamous Players: A Tale of Movies, the Mob (and Sex)

288 pages; Weinstein Books; $25

Variety staffers cover the biz in new tomes excerpted here. Peter Bart’s “Infamous Players” explores the history of Mob influence in Hollywood; David Cohen’s “The Ballad of Rango” details the making of Gore Verbinski’s toon; Justin Chang’s “Filmcraft: Editing” features interviews with 17 top film editors, who share their insights into the biz.

He was a tall, silver-haired man, square-jawed with a military bearing, always impeccably attired in a dark blue suit. It was only a few weeks into my Paramount job when I came to understand that Sidney Korshak would be part of my new corporate family, even though he did not work for Paramount. His visits were a daily occurrence, but did not linger or chat with anyone other than (Paramount head of production) Bob Evans, nor did anyone on staff ever refer to him or acknowledge his visits. Korshak was the ghost who was always there but never there.

Evans had talked earlier about him once or twice, always in a manner that betrayed not only respect but near-reverence. Sidney Korshak was not so much his personal attorney (he never paid him) or even his mentor as he was his consigliere. And when Korshak arrived for an Evans audience, all other plans would be set aside. Whoever happened to be in the reception room would have to wait until the big man had come and gone from Evans’ sanctum sanctorum. And this procedure was replicated by other power players at other offices in town, as I was to learn.

Sidney Korshak, it seemed to me, was the man who knew everything — the big corporate deals as well as the personal peccadilloes. It was some time before I also realized that Korshak was the man who knew too much.

It was Korshak’s role in life to dwell simultaneously in two separate and distinct worlds which, in his grand design, would remain hermetically sealed against each other. There was his celebrity world — he liked to drop names like Kirk Douglas or Dinah Shore or Debbie Reynolds, or to casually mention that he’d just had dinner with Sinatra in Las Vegas, or with Nancy and Ronnie Reagan in Beverly Hills.

But he would never mention his other friends, like Tony Accardo or Sam Giancana from the Chicago mob or Jimmy Hoffa from the Teamsters or Moe Dalitz from Vegas.

Korshak would allude to the corporate deals he made on behalf of Lew Wasserman or Howard Hughes, but he never confided what he knew about Bugsy Siegel’s murder or Hoffa’s disappearance.

Korshak’s life was built around a web of secrecy, and he was convinced that he would always be able to move effortlessly from one world to the next. It was only later in his life that he, too, found himself trapped. As the dangers in his nether life became more ominous, Korshak was unable to extricate himself from his underworld bonds. The celebrities would continue to decorate his life, like glitzy toys, but the bad boys would always be hovering out there with their furtive demands and threats. …

Over the years my relationship with Korshak remained distanced but cordial. He never directly asked anything from me nor subjected me to his power games. When his son, Harry, began to produce movies at Paramount — I never figured out precisely how this deal came about — Korshak said to me he would “appreciate it” if I were to “look out” for Harry and provide advice if he began to stray. But when young Harry’s career did not go well, Korshak was the first to inform his son that he would do well to pursue other career possibilities.In observing Korshak’s superbly surreptitious maneuverings over time, I began to accept a reality none of us wanted to openly address. Sidney Korshak was a gangster, albeit a very civil and well-groomed gangster. The bad boys had achieved major clout in the entertainment industry, and Korshak, despite all his secrecy, represented the embodiment of that clout.

Ironically, while Korshak yearned for the trappings of “respectability,” his pals in Hollywood venerated him, not for his cool or his great wardrobe or even for his lawyering skills, but rather for his fabled underworld ties. …Bob Evans, for one, had always romanticized the lore of the gangster — hence his lifelong ambition to make the movie about the mythic, mobster-owned Cotton Club, which ultimately came to haunt him. Charlie Bluhdorn,founder of Gulf + Western, which owned Par, had a longstanding flirtation with the shadow world out of fringe financiers in Europe and ended up doing deals that resulted in prison sentences for his partners and almost for himself. (Paramount president) Frank Yablans subscribed to mobster mythology to such a degree that he even agreed to play the role of an underworld thug in a movie titled “Mikey and Nicky.” He was in rehearsal on the film before an apoplectic Bluhdorn vetoed his participation (even the often reckless Bluhdhorn realized the potential jeopardy to his corporate image).

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