I was born into a story. When I began writing with the purpose of consequence, the first subject had to be about growing up with gangsters. As the daughter of Allen Smiley, associate and closest friend to mob boss Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel, I was raised under the code of silence, secrecy, and terror. The order of silence went beyond discussing Dad’s business.
As an adolescent, I retreated into books and writing in a diary. His flamboyant and authoritative personality produced many friends and opportunities. In his presence, my confidence and self-esteem harnessed a dark shadow until after his death.
Dad came into the public eye the night of June 20, 1947, when Benjamin was murdered in his home in Beverly Hills. He sat inches away and took three bullets through the sleeve of his jacket. When I was exposed to the truth by way of a book, I was thirteen years old. My mother had passed on so I went to live with my father in Hollywood. What followed was a nail-biting tumultuous relationship between my father and me, a woman whose survival was wedged between shameless love and immobilizing fear of her father.
Faced with an identity meltdown ten years after Dad died I implored his friends, associates, historians, FOIPA, Immigration and Naturalization Agency, and Archives of the Department of Justice, to build the branches of my family tree. Along this irreversible journey, I endured Dad’s ghostly disapproval as I delved into the files and discovered the family secrets. I began writing my way home.
Simultaneous with the reading is a dismemberment of my emotions to his criminal activities, gambling addiction, attempt at reformation, and the governments plot to denounce his reputation. The stories are dialogue driven as I bounce through three time lines; as an adolescent, the breaking of silence at forty years old, and present day at sixty-two.
As the breakthrough occurs, the reader follows the defining incidents in my life: abandoning a career, taking a writers retreat inside a shed, an unexpected inheritance, and my own newspaper column. At the end of this seventeen-year journey, I gained an identity without shame and Dad’s approval.
I’ve learned my Dad amassed a weighty criminal record, served a prison term and was under an order of deportation. After demonstrating to the Mob he wasn’t going to seek immunity offered by the government; they honored and protected his life. Their methods are described in transcripts from the FBI files; amusing, violent, and illegal.
Dad served the organization until his death. He was a devoted and protective father; while he juggled bullying from the FBI, the INS, and coercion from the Mob. Dad gave up the battle in 1982 and took his own life to avoid public defamation in front of his adult daughter.
Luellen Smiley is currently pitching Cradle of Crime to publishers. If you are interested, you can reach her via firstname.lastname@example.org
Gangsters Inc. had an exclusive interview with Luellen about her father which you can read here: My loving father was a gangster and Bugsy Siegel’s close friend
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