Power Brokers

"Two types of power dominated the 20th century: the visible, embodied in politicians, corporate moguls, crime bosses and law enforcement; and the invisible, concentrated in the hands of a few power brokers generally of Eastern European and Jewish immigrant heritage. Operating safely in the shadows, these men often pulled the strings of the visible power brokers. Although they remained nameless to the public, they were notorious among a smattering of enterprising investigators who, over decades, followed their brilliant, amoral and frequently criminal careers. The late Senate investigator and author Walter Sheridan dubbed them the Supermob."

That's from the opening of Gus Russo's Supermob: How Sidney Korshak and His Criminal Associates Became America's Hidden Power Brokers, the story of Sidney Korshak (June 6, 1907 – January 20, 1996), the man who could make one or two phone calls and take care of just about anything, including stopping in its tracks a major motion picture production by a major studio.

Sidney Korshak: the FBI dubbed the most powerful
attorney in the world.

It's the kind of book that drives journalists nuts; it really can't be used as back-up for anything other than allegations.

Still, the man himself was indeed powerful. No doubt of that. In fact, the FBI reportedly doffed him with the daunting rubric of "...the most powerful lawyer in the world."

Raised in a Jewish neighborhood on the West Side of Chicago, he attended the University of Wisconsin and DePaul. In his early days as a lawyer, he took cases for the Capone outfit, representing small-time runners and hoods, and never cut his ties to organized crime.

According to Russo's book, he was said to play a key specific role, among his other operations: he served as the link between the company CEOs and factory bosses, and the heads of unions controlled by the Mafia.

As Rich Cohen, the author of “Tough Jews,” wrote in a September 2006 New York Times Sunday Book Review article, titled Kosher Nostra: "Note the terms: “nameless,” “shadows,” “invisible.” Notice too that included in the list of visible power brokers are the crime bosses, the Gottis and Gigantes, while in the background are the real power brokers, the Jews, whom Russo routinely refers to as the Ashkenazim — an ethnic distinction that connotes all the Jews of Eastern Europe — as if this were the name of a secret cult."

In the 1950’s, the mob sent Korshak west -- “Los Angeles, in particular, was known as a city receptive to both hoodlums and Jews,” as Russo writes, where, among other things, Korshak laundered dirty money by moving it into legitimate businesses, including films, in fact, his dirty money supposedly provided the funding for the 1976 version of “King Kong” and “A Bridge Too Far."

As Cohan notes: "He did not keep records or have an office, but instead worked from a table at the Bistro in Beverly Hills. According to the book, even his legit clients — MCA, Hilton — benefited from his underworld magic: strikes averted, sweetheart deals. With a call to Kirk Kerkorian, who controlled MGM, Korshak freed Al Pacino to play Michael Corleone in “The Godfather.” Over lunch, he got Universal to yield rights for the Paramount remake of “King Kong.” He helped get Jimmy Hoffa out of jail, was pals with Ronald Reagan and Frank Sinatra, and dated the same woman (Jill St. John) as Henry Kissinger. Russo suggests that Korshak was a model for Tom Hagen, the consigliere played by Robert Duvall in “The Godfather.

"How much of this is fact and how much legend is for the reader to decide. There is a lot of gossip here, guilt by association, innuendo — Russo quotes an actress named Selene Walters who says she was raped by Reagan in 1952, two weeks before he married Nancy Davis — but Korshak was clearly an influential figure. The system needed him, so he appeared. The problem is with the broader context Russo paints, in which Korshak and a handful of men with Jewish-sounding names are seen less as freely acting individuals than as cogs in a secret machine. Again and again, Russo strikes the sort of taboo-breaking pose that makes me nervous, the way any sentence that follows the phrase “Let’s be honest” makes me nervous. Whenever I started to get caught up in the story, I ran into sentences like this: “Throughout history, the Jews were never the public leaders; they were always the kingmakers and the power brokers. ... They worked surreptitiously, choosing to focus on the substrata of a business or event.” Or: “The Jews’ historical Diaspora (dispersion) and relative lack of national roots helped them to identify and exploit more quickly the most lucrative emerging markets. ...”
"I’m not saying Korshak was not powerful, was not connected, did not know how to get a project moving or shut down. He was and did all these things, and that’s what makes his story so interesting. It just seems to me — sensitive Ashkenazi that I am — that in making his case Russo deploys some very old notions of Jewish double-dealing and conspiracy, without which his larger ideas about Korshak and the world would fall apart. The fact is, every immigrant community in this country has spawned an underworld and every underworld has needed guys like Korshak. This does not make him a typically Jewish figure. It makes him a typically American figure..."


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