A movie originally set for release in December about celebrity Mob boss John Gotti is now scheduled to hit theaters in June.
It is one of several upcoming Mafia movies generating news. Others include The Irishman, a Martin Scorsese film about a real-life hit man who claimed to have killed former Teamsters boss Jimmy Hoffa, and The Many Saints of Newark, the working title for a prequel movie based on The Sopranos, the popular HBO series from 1999 to 2007 about fictional New Jersey mobsters. While The Sopranos prequel is in its early stages, the Scorsese movie is scheduled to come out next year.
Film buffs don’t have to wait as long for the Gotti movie. Set for a June 15 release, the picture stars veteran actor John Travolta as the head of New York’s powerful Gambino crime family. It also features Travolta’s wife, Kelly Preston, and daughter, Ella Bleu Travolta. The premiere was delayed six months when the producers bought it back from an entertainment company just days before the planned December launch.
John Gotti is one of the most well-known Mob figures in history. He died in 2002 at age 61 of cancer in a federal prison hospital in Springfield, Missouri, while serving a life sentence for murder and racketeering. At the height of his power, he generated headlines not only for his dominant reign but for his colorful personality. Dubbed the Dapper Don, the silver-haired Gotti was photographed around New York City in tailor-made suits and silk neckties.
The Bronx-born Gotti ascended to the Gambino throne by engineering the 1985 slaying of boss Paul Castellano outside the Sparks Steak House in midtown Manhattan. Gotti and Salvatore “Sammy the Bull” Gravano, who later became the Gambino underboss, watched from a nearby Lincoln sedan with tinted windows as four gunmen wearing white trench coats and black Russian hats killed the 70-year-old Castellano and his key aide, Thomas Bilotti. Ultimately, Gravano turned on Gotti, testifying as a government witness against him in court.
The movie is bound to revive interest in these incidents and other aspects of Gotti’s complex life. It also is coming out right as harsh words are being aimed at the don’s son, John A. “Junior” Gotti, on one side, and, on the other, at confessed killer John Alite (pronounced A-Lite), a former ally of Gotti Jr.’s who provided court testimony against him. Much of this is occurring online.
Books about both men were published in 2015. Alite’s criminal life, especially his interaction with the Gottis, is the focus of Gotti’s Rules by journalist George Anastasia. John A. Gotti’s memoir, Shadow of My Father, tells his story. The soon-to-be-released Travolta movie, Gotti, was inspired by Gotti Jr.’s book, according to journalist Peter Lance, who wrote the forward to Shadow of My Father.
Years ago, Gotti Jr. and Alite served time in prison but are out now.
With writer-producers Chris Kasparoza and Richard Stratton, the 54-year-old Gotti Jr. these days has embarked on an effort to reform the Federal Witness Protection Program, or Witsec, meaning witness security.
In an article he wrote titled “The Boss Strikes Back” in the February edition of Men’s Journal magazine, Gotti Jr. takes on Gravano and Alite and asserts that some people, after receiving a “get-out-of-jail-free” card for testifying against former associates, continue to commit crimes. Changes need to be made in the Witsec program, Gotti Jr. says.
“And I’m not out to trash the program,” he writes. “I want Congress to improve it. To that end, I’m working on Witsec Mafia, a book and docu-series that will expose the program’s flaws, detailing how ruthless criminals abuse it by capitalizing on the government’s naïveté.”
Alite has not been idle. The 55-year-old former gangster collaborated with romance suspense writer S.C. Pike on a new nonfiction book about his life, Darkest Hour. It is the first in a planned series. In addition to this work, Alite says on his Twitter profile that he is teaching people “how to cope with bullying and abuse.”
Meanwhile, recent news about a younger Gotti adds another chapter to a family narrative that undoubtedly will generate more books and movies. In mid-March, John Gotti Sr.’s namesake grandson was sentenced in the revenge burning of a car whose driver cut off a longtime mobster on a road in Queens, according to the New York Post.
The grandson, whose dad, Peter, is one of the deceased patriarch’s children, already is serving an eight-year stretch on a 2017 state drug conviction. Half of the new five-year federal sentence will occur at the same time as the drug sentence. The other half will be tacked on at the end of the eight-year term, according to news accounts.
Speaking before a Brooklyn federal judge recently, John Gotti, 24, apologized to the court and his family, saying his actions were selfish.
“I look forward to the years to come,” he said with family members in attendance. “I know when I leave here I can give back to the world.”
According to the Post, these words brought tears to his father’s eyes.
Larry Henry is a veteran print and broadcast journalist. He served as press secretary for Nevada Governor Bob Miller, and was political editor at the Las Vegas Sun and managing editor at KFSM-TV, the CBS affiliate in Northwest Arkansas. Henry taught journalism at Haas Hall Academy in Bentonville, Arkansas, and now is the headmaster at the school’s campus in Rogers, Arkansas. The Mob in Pop Culture blog appears monthly.