Colorful biography of the crook who served as the model for Damon Runyon’s Nathan Detroit and Scott Fitzgerald’s Meyer Wolfsheim.
In the wide-open precincts of the Tenderloin and Times Square, Arnold Rothstein (1882–1928), scion of a devout Jewish family, carried the moniker “The Brain.” He was also known as “The Great Bankroll” and “The Man to See,” pioneer of the floating crap game and the guy who fixed (though it wasn’t broke yet) the 1919 World Series. His story makes a (slight) change of pace for baseball writer Pietrusza (Ted Williams, etc.), who notes that the Black Sox were not the only colorful characters in Rothstein’s life and premature death. There were the grafters and grifters, the touts and toughs, the horse dopers, con artists, cops gone wrong, thieves, prostitutes, goons, bootleggers, labor racketeers, gold diggers, chiselers, and killers. Rothstein knew Fanny Brice and her man Nicky Arnstein, Max Factor’s bad brother, Herbert Bayard Swope, Lepke, Gurrah, and Legs. He did business with mugs on the way from Lindy’s and Belmont to Sing Sing and the hot seat, citizens more dangerous than Runyon ever depicted them. Rothstein was power broker to them all, displaying a cool that once enabled him to sidestep an armed robbery by taking the gunman to a Turkish bath. He played a tricky role in the Series fix, more fully dissected here than in standard histories of the event. His adventures were rife with unexplained, untimely deaths—his own among them. Nobody ever took the rap for Rothstein’s murder, but Pietrusza undertakes to name the perp in prose that recalls the verve of writer Gene Fowler, who used to hang out with these guys. Stick around for the epilogue, which thumbnails the lives and deaths of more than a hundred characters.
True crime, evil doings, and monumental double-crossing by the Irish, the Italians, the Jews, and the Machine in a savory account of the legendary bad old days.