Tuesday, October 22, 2013

An Interview with Joe Corso, Author of The Starlight Club

Today on my blog, I welcome Joe Corso, author of The Starlight Club. Joe's book is based on real events that happened in New York while he was living there. Like many people I like stories that are based on true events. But it's not always easy to tell which parts are real, and which parts are fictionalized.  I've heard some controversy on the internet whether the characters in Joe's book were real people, or whether or not they are his creations. Today Joe is going to settle it once and for all for us about what parts of his book were true, and which parts were fictionalized. 

How many of the characters from the book are real, and which ones did you actually meet?

I met them all. Let’s start with Big Red. I knew him for years and while I never socialized with him, I knew that he liked and trusted me. Trenchie came out of prison and was pretty much as I described him, Jimmy The Hat was a Gallo guy who I met once but I liked the name and made him a central character in the book. Tarzan, Moose, Ralph, Gibby, Creighton, Frankie the Cop and Yip were all real characters and so was Porky. The Gallo brothers were charismatic, especially crazy Joey who was fearless, but aside from that he was a pretty scary guy. Slats who drove the oil truck was real, and Tex and his racket was true, as was the trial in Mineola, NY. The story of Rags happened many years later and was told to me by a friend from the neighborhood and I thought it would be a good fit, so I included it in my book.

How do you decide which parts of your story to fictionalize, and which parts to keep real?

I used the Gallo/Profaci gang war which took place during the late 50’s and early 60’s and I wove my story into it. The truck hi-jacking happened, the horse bets on Wednesdays were real, the part about the Cadillac was real, the fight at the Latin wedding in the beginning of the book never happened but the conversation between the two mobsters and the Latino was spoken word for word.

Are any of the mobsters in your story still alive, and what would they think of what you have written about them?

I gave that question a lot of thought. I know that one of them is alive and that’s why I didn’t use his last name in the book. Albert Kid Blast is still alive but Larry and Joey are dead. I don’t know about the others but there were a few of them that I would like to 

think are still alive, like Big Red and Tarzan but I don’t think so. I’m 78 as I write this and they were 15 – 20 years older than me. I didn’t treat them badly in my book but the question you asked concerned me and I had to do a lot of soul searching before I started to write the book. There’s a rule that should be followed and that is – don’t write about someone unless he’s dead. I may have broken that rule.

Is there (or was there) actually a Starlight Club?

There was a Starlight Club. The Corona Gentleman’s Club (in the book) was actually a social club, an after hour joint which was named the Starlight Club and I loved that name. The books Starlight Club was a real bar at the address mentioned in the book and it was exactly as I described it, except of course it never had the notoriety or fame of the books Starlight Club. A relative of mine owned it and the place was very unique inasmuch as it was exactly as I described it in the book, complete with the one lane bowling alley in the cellar and – it had a ballroom that held 300+ people. Whenever a wedding or special function was scheduled, since the establishment didn’t have a cabaret license an envelope was passed to the Captain of the local precinct and the envelope acted as the license. The 4 pillars mentioned in the book was a product of my imagination.

In your story, Jimmy the Hat became a movie star. Were there any of the mafia families that really went to Hollywood?

I don’t know. I wasn’t involved in any of their business dealings. I just delivered meat to a few of their places. But I did read that some of their money was invested in Hollywood,
Did you really borrow money from Big Red to get your wife out of the hospital when your third child was born (as told in the story)?

Yes. I described it in the book as it actually happed except it was my first child, not my third. I expected a check, which would have covered the hospital bill. But it hadn’t arrived at the time my wife and baby were ready to be released from the hospital, and I was getting real nervous. I had no one to go to. I couldn’t go to my father or her father because they had no money. They were men who lived through the depression and money was scarce. If they had any money you couldn’t pry it from them with a crowbar. It was the one time in my life that I borrowed money from a loan shark. Red became suspicious when I told him that I wanted to borrow some money. He raised his eyebrows and looked at me suspiciously. “Are you in some kinda trouble?” He asked. After I explained why I needed the money, he asked how much I wanted. I told him $350.00, which was a lot of money back then. I had just gotten a raise and was making $75.00 a week. He asked when I would pay it back. I said “In about 2 weeks.” He looked at me to make sure I was paying attention. “look.” He said. I don’t care when you pay me. I don’t care if it’s in 2 weeks, 2 months or two years.” Then his eyes narrowed. “But remember, the day you say you’re gonna pay me – I must get paid on that day.” His eyes bored in on mine. “Do you understand?” I nodded. He was warning me that if I didn’t pay him on the day I promised, he would have to lean on me.

My check arrived the following week. He was busy talking to someone. I waited until he was free then I told him that I had his money. “Already?” He said. “Yeah, my check came in. I paid him the $350.00 and when I asked him what the vig  (interest) was. He looked at me and said. “This ain’t business, you’re a friend and I don’t charge friends interest.” I felt good, and bad at the same time. Good because he showed me respect and considered me a friend and bad because I knew that interest on loans was how he made his living. 25 years later I told my wife about it otherwise she would never have known.

Were you really a delivery boy for a butcher, and is that how you met these Mafia Families?

Yes! When I was discharged from the army there was no work so I learned to be a butcher (which I hated) and in the mornings we’d put the orders together and later I would deliver them. The butcher store I worked in, was in Manhattan and some of our customers were famous colorful mafia characters like Vito Genovese, his brother Mike, Tony Bender and Tommy Ryan ( a scary guy). In the story, I moved Big Red and Trenchie from Manhattan to the Starlight Club in Queens.

There was one guy who came into the butcher store one day with Mike Genovese and he paid by check, a bad check. Mike blew his top when we told him. The following morning at about 7am I discovered a short dumpy man waiting by the door fuming because we told Mike about the check, he handed me cash, walked out and I never saw him again - except on television during the Kefauver hearings. The guys name was Joe Vallachi. I met these characters in Manhattan. The bar in Queens was where I met the Gallo’s and that bar became the inspiration for the Starlight Club.

Did the part of the story about Trenchie and his wife really happen?

No, not the way I wrote it in the book. His wife was one of 5 sisters and they were all fine women, real nice proper ladies. His wife introduced me to Trenchie just after he was released from prison. I never found out what he did to deserve such a severe sentence and I never asked. It was none of my business. What I do know is that he and his wife loved each other. And her sisters loved him like a brother.

What is the most memorable experience you had with these men?

Without a doubt the most memorable was Big Red lending me the money to get my wife and baby out of the hospital. He helped me in other ways too, for instance he once sold me brassieres 3 for a dollar and I re-sold them at the butcher store at a dollar each and there were many other instances where he looked out for me. There were a few experiences with Tarzan too, but that’s a story for another 

Connect with Joe Corso

Website  *  Email  *  Twitter


The Starlight Club was jumping . . .

“They looked like mob guys. They had that arrogance exuded by those who liked to intimidate – those who were the proud purveyors of fear.” Amidst the nightly gaiety was the back room, where business deals were made, hits were ordered, and territories were divided.

Trenchie not being a “rat” is just released from his ten year prison sentence. A new life is waiting – complete with envelopes of money and a steak house to call his own. He finds the woman of his dreams who brings along ex-husband baggage. Hit man Jimmy The Hat finds unexpected fame in the most unlikely of places, yet he always stays true to the “boys”, especially Big Red. “Crazy Joey Gallo” and his brothers break away from the Profaci family and go “rogue, on their own now. They split their gang into several small groups and spread them out over the five boroughs.”

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