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Video Vault | Roth had parallels to Vegas figure

Reported by: Tom Hawley
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Updated: 2/26/2014 10:06 am

LAS VEGAS (KSNV -- Last week's Video Vault looked at a character from "The Godfather" who got his name from real-life Las Vegas mob associates Moe Sedway and Gus Greenbaum. In "The Godfather: Part II", he is described in a way that sounds much more like the myth of Bugsy Siegel envisioning a gambling oasis in the desert.

"Later on, he had an idea to build a city out of a desert stopover for GIs on the way to the west coast," says a mob boss played by Lee Strasberg, with the unlikely name of Hyman Roth. "That kid's name was Moe Greene. And the city he invented was Las Vegas."

UNLV Film Professor Sean Clark muses over the character. "They wanted to make sure the name -- if one it wasn't stereotypically Jewish to those, to the world who says 'Oh that's ... my God, could they have gone over the top with the Jewish name -- but a name that separates him from any Italian heritage."

Clark has studied "The Godfather" movies closely and says not to get too caught up with real-life comparisons in the screenplay by author Mario Puzo and director Francis Ford Coppola.

"Whatever the real world was where Puzo came with, 'This is how I'm lightly fictionalizing some things that happened.' Coppola was not interested in that at all. He was interested in his own vision of the universe," observes Clark.

Still, Roth's tribute to Greene sounds a lot like how some who glamorize the mob era think of Bugsy Siegel even today.

"This was a great man," says Roth in the movie. "A man of vision and guts. And there isn't even a plaque or a signpost or a statue of him in that town."

And it seems pretty clear that Roth is modeled on mob money man Meyer Lansky, who oversaw financing of Flamingo Hotel construction.

A deleted scene from "The Godfather: Part II" explains that the fictional Roth changed his name from Hyman Suchowsky. The real Lansky changed his name from Meyer Suchowlansky.

In a crucial late scene in the movie, Hyman Roth, is seen being escorted through the Miami Airport after being deported from Israel. It closely resembles film of the actual Meyer Lansky being escorted through the Miami Airport after being deported from Israel. The difference is that in the movie, Roth is shot and killed a couple of minutes later. The real Lansky continued through in the custody of law enforcement officers without incident. He was eventually tried and acquitted on tax evasion charges.

"The Godfather" (and its sequel) successfully captures a part of Las Vegas where mobsters controlled casinos.

"What it doesn't capture is the sort of hustle -- not just the hustle but the handshake -- which was for real," says Clark. "I don't -- in my heart of hearts -- want to believe it was all as duplicitous and corrupt as it is in 'The Godfather'. Because really, this is one of the greatest, one of the strongest work ethics in the world."

Meyer Lansky, who died of natural causes in 1983, is said to have telephoned Strasberg and congratulated him on his performance after the 1974 premiere of "The Godfather: Part II."  

These days, there actually is a memorial plaque to Bugsy Siegel.  It's at the Flamingo Hotel, between the swimming pool and wedding chapel.


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