Charlie Luciano

Charlie Luciano
Nov. 24, 1897, to Jan. 26, 1962.
Salvatore Lucania, "Charlie Lucky," "Charles Ross"

Luciano siezed control of the Italian-American underworld in 1931, reorganizing and stabilizing the Mafia and joining it in a Syndicate with non-Italian gangs.

According to legend, Luciano acquired his "Lucky" nickname by surviving an assassination attempt. That legend is false. A newspaper account of the Luciano's brush with death noted that he was already known in underworld circles as "Lucky." Another legend attributes the nickname to Luciano's success in gambling.

It seems more likely that the monicker was merely a play on Luciano's family name, Lucania. During a childhood on Manhattan's Lower East Side, young Salvatore Lucania (pronounced "loo-kah-NEE-ah") mainly socialized with non-Italians, kids who would have had a difficult time pronouncing Lucania properly through their combination of non-Romance New York, eastern European and Irish accents. His acquaintances must have found it much easier to pronounce the name "LUCK-ah-NEE-ah," and that, in time (probably long before he began associating with Sicilian and Italian Mafiosi), turned into "Lucky." This hypothesis also explains why Luciano's nickname was "Charlie Lucky" and never "Lucky Charlie."

Luciano is widely regarded as a Mafia revolutionary. In truth, the changes adopted by American organized crime with Luciano at the helm in 1931 were evolutionary rather than revolutionary and consisted mainly of making national decisions through a panel rather than one Mafia tsar (there actually was precedent for this change dating back to the old days in Sicily) and of cooperating with criminal organizations comprised of non-Italians. Both of these changes helped to ensure the survival of the young Syndicate, but they had been in the works for many years before 1931. Luciano's predecessor, Giuseppe Masseria, had welcomed non-Sicilians, including Neapolitan Al Capone, into his Mafia clan.

Gangs from the Five Points, near where Luciano was raised, had long been recruiting members across ethnic barriers. The Seven Group bootlegging alliance of the 1920s, of which Luciano was a member but probably not the founder or chief executive, was a national cooperative that did not distinguish between ethnic groups.

There is no reason to assume that Luciano sired the ruling Syndicate Commission idea either. A host of big-name hoodlums, including Nicola Gentile, Frank Costello and others, could easily stake a claim to that concept. But Luciano was there - the most highly regarded boss of his time - when it all happened. While he might not deserve credit for the changes, he at least did nothing to stand in their way (as his predecessor Salvatore Maranzano attempted to).

One other legend relating to Charlie Lucky has been proven untrue. It is often said that upon reaching the pinnacle of his chosen profession in 1931, Luciano had 40 (or more) old-line Mafia "Mustache Petes" killed all across the country. There has never been any confirmation that any noticeable number of mob hits were performed in connection with Luciano's rise to power. In fact, Luciano did not even clear the Mustache Petes out of his own city. Two men who surely represented the old line Mafiosi - Ciro Terranova and Ignazio Lupo - were unmolested.

Luciano often met with and spoke with Terranova, either to pick his brain or win his cooperation on Bronx and Harlem ventures. And the dethroned old capo di tutti capi Lupo was left to work his bakery union racket in Brooklyn. The "Sicilian Vespers" of 1931 is a myth with no relation to actual events.

Luciano was born in the mining town of Lecara Friddi, Sicily, Nov. 24, 1897. His parents brought him to America in 1907. They settled near First Avenue and Fourteenth Street, outside of Little Italy in an area mainly populated by Jews and eastern European immigrants. In childhood, he befriended Jewish gangsters Meyer Lansky and Benjamin Siegel and was influenced by Arnold Rothstein.

Luciano gravitated toward the easy buck and at an early age was imprisoned for half a year for narcotics trafficking. Upon his release, he moved through the Five Points outfit and into Little Italy's Mafia.

In the early 1920s, he found himself working within "Joe the Boss" Masseria's gang while also teaming with Lansky, Siegel and others on outside ventures. Before the end of that decade, he was Masseria's chief lieutenant, supervising bootlegging and other rackets within Manhattan and forging alliances with non-Mafia groups, including the gangs of Legs Diamond, Dutch Schultz.

When civil war came to the Mafia in 1930, Luciano outwardly remained loyal to Joe the Boss but secretly sided with rival Salvatore Maranzano. Luciano arranged the assassination of Masseria on April 15, 1931, at Coney Island's Nuova Villa Tammaro restaurant. He next set up the murder of his new boss, Maranzano, on Sept. 10 of that year. (Maranzano's post-war popularity plummeted after a series of meetings in which his Napoleon-complex was evident.)

Luciano was welcomed in 1931 as the head man. He would reign atop American organized crime until 1936 (and perhaps long after) when he was jailed on largely trumped-up charges relating to a prostitution ring.

In 1943, he was released from prison and deported to Italy. Legend says that was payment for rendering some sort of wartime assistance to the Allied landing in Sicily.

Luciano kept in touch with his old associates and met with them occasionally outside of the U.S. Rumors indicated that he was welcomed into the Sicilian Mafia by Calo Vizzini and fine-tuned the narcotics trade among Asian sources, Sicilian suppliers and U.S. pushers. The result, some say, was the establishment of an international crime Syndicate.

Luciano died Jan. 26, 1962, of natural causes.

Related Links:

2007 T.Hunt
The American "Mafia"