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VIDEO VAULT | Who was 'Moe Greene' in real life?

Reported by: Tom Hawley
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Updated: 2/19/2014 9:50 am

LAS VEGAS (KSNV -- The quintessential Las Vegas mob movie may be "Casino." But 25 years before that, many people developed an image of wiseguys in Las Vegas from "The Godfather." That movie and its central characters, the Corleone family, were fiction. But some of the characters were clearly based on real people. 

A scene late in the movie has a flamboyant casino owner (Alex Rocco) striding up to Michael Corleone (Al Pacino) and barking out, "Do you know who I am? I'm Moe Greene. I made my bones when you were going out with cheerleaders."

UNLV Film Professor Sean Clark describes Greene as "sort of the fly in the ointment. Because he's middle management, but he aspires for something on his own.  And when you aspire for something on your own within the Corleone family, you're not serving the family."

Next week on Video Vault: Another “Godfather” character is more directly identified with a real-life mob "money-man" tied to Las Vegas.
Clark has studied "The Godfather" closely, and understands the role Moe Greene fills. 

"In order to work in the casino business, they can't just walk in and control everything," Clark explains. "They need somebody like him who operates in the legal world and the -- I'm not sure the best word to say. -- the 'straight' world."

Greene supplies the casino skim for mob interests back East. Clark sees him as morally ambivilant.

"If Moe Greene didn't have the level of temptation that the Corleone family basically gives him, does he become corrupt?" muses Clark. "Is he a bad guy? Or is he just a hard-working guy who creates something here in the desert?"

Two of the prominent Las Vegas front men in the early 1950s era portrayed in "The Godfather" were Moe Sedway and Gus Greenbaum. Working sometimes together and sometimes seperately, the two ran numerous operations, including the S.S. Rex (which later became Binon's Horseshoe), the El Cortez, the Flamingo and the Riviera. 

They both were active in the community. Sedway even ran for a seat on the Las Vegas City Commission and was on the Library Board. Greenbaum was honored for his work with the United Jewish Appeal.

Take the first name from Moe Sedway and modify the last name of Gus Greenbaum, and you've got Moe Greene.

The movie makes it clear that Moe Greene thinks he is secure running the casino.

"What do you think is going on here?" Greene says to Corleone. "You think you can come to my hotel and take over?"

"He's the guy from the straight world who sort of -- you know -- has semi-legal aspirations," Clark says of Greene.

Moe Sedway died of natural causes at age 57. Gus Greenbaum, however, went out gangland style. He was ambushed along with his wife in their Phoenix home after skimming from his bosses; both of them with their throats cut.

The fictional Moe Greene also was murdered, but it was a bit different. The climax of "The Godfather" cuts back and forth between scenes of Michael attending the baptism of son, and family soldiers eliminating his rivals.  Greene is receiving a massage when the door opens.  As he puts on his glasses to see who is entering, Greene is shot through the eye.

This is reminiscent of the death of Ben "Bugsy" Siegel, who was shot to death after losing large amounts of money building the Flamingo and overseeing its opening. A famous picture of Siegel after the shooting shows him on his couch with what appears to be a shot to the eye -- although in reality, the bullet entered his upper cheek, and the force of the impact popped his eye out.

Director Francies Ford Coppola may have seen the Siegel death as more theatrical than the Greenbaum death.

"That's the coolest way to go if you're a filmmaker," says Clark. "You go 'I got a great visual there. OK, who cares if it was Bugsy there? Let's use it for Moe Greene.' "



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