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An Irish-Italian West Side Story

By Tom Deignan

THE Westies just won’t go away.

The heavily Irish American crime clam based in the West Side Manhattan neighborhood of Hell’s Kitchen has long held a place in the annals of America’s mob history.

If nothing else, they were the last high profile Irish gangsters.

They have also benefited, if you will, from good press. There was T.J. English’s gripping book about the rise and fall of the Westies, not to mention the 1990 Sean Penn movie State of Grace.

True, that film was not technically about the Westies. But it was clear that the characters in that film were running on Westies turf.

Now comes word that fact and film, the Westies and the Gambinos, the Irish and the Italians, clashed recently in court.

And get this? Washed-up Irish American actor Mickey Rourke was at the center of controversy.

In a development that sounds like a quirky send up of mobsters and Hollywood, John Gotti apparently ordered Rourke not to appear in a movie about The Westies.

“John asked Mickey if he wouldn’t mind not doing the movie,” Michael DiLeonardo (also known as Mikey Scars) said to jurors at the trial of alleged mob boss Peter Gotti (John’s brother) in Manhattan last week.

According to DiLeonardo, John Gotti convinced Rourke to back out of a role in the Westies movie because Gotti believed the film would make some of his trusted soldiers look bad.

It turns out Rourke and Gotti were pals — sort of. The bad boy actor and the crime boss met in the late 1980s at a chic restaurant on Manhattan’s upper East Side.

Back in the late 1980s and early 1990s, Rourke was riding high on the strength of several “edgy” film roles, including the soft-core porn flick 9 1/2 Weeks with Kim Basinger.

But Rourke had also carved a niche for himself in New York gangster flicks. In 1984 he played a minor league hood trying to catch a big break in The Pope of Greenwich Village.

Rourke, however, did not get a role in the 1990 West Side Irish gang film State of Grace. The actor who starred alongside Sean Penn in that film about the Irish mob in Hell’s Kitchen was Gary Oldman.

To this day, a film based on English’s excellent book has not yet been made. Producer Joe Vecchio tried to get English’s book to the big screen for years. Rourke was slated to play Westies leader Mickey Featherstone.

So what did Rourke do when Gotti, um, requested that he back out of the film based on the English book?

Rourke went right along with it. According to DiLeonardo’s testimony, Rourke wanted to get on Gotti’s good side.

In court last week, prosecutor Michael McGovern asked what would happen if Rourke had in fact taken the role in the Westies movie.

“I’m not sure,” said DiLeonardo, who is said to have been a top Gambino enforcer and a pal of John (Junior) Gotti.

That answer may sound a little frightening. But it didn’t seem there was anything for Rourke to be scared of. DiLeonardo later said he became friends with Rourke, which turned out to be a good business move for the Gambino soldier.

As the Daily News noted this week, Rourke later introduced Gotti and his crew to Giuseppe Cipriani, who owns the famous Rainbow Room at Rockefeller Center.

“DiLeonardo said Cipriani approached him in 1998 to ask his help in resolving union labor problems that arose during Rainbow Room renovations,” the News noted, adding, “Cipriani paid $100,000 — $40,000 of which was kicked up to Peter Gotti — in a payoff that Cipriani funneled through a company owned by Gambino associate, Francis (Buddy) Leahy, according to DiLeonardo.”

It turns out that even English might have been strong-armed. English told gossip reporters Rush and Molloy in the News this week that Vecchio, the producer who was trying to bring the Westies story to the big screen, once called and asked about a certain Gotti associate who was the Gambino’s liaison to the Westies.

Vecchio told English he should remove the associate’s name from the book.

“I said, ‘No, I’m gonna leave it in,” English told Rush and Molloy.

I guess it was an offer the Irishman could refuse.

(Contact Sidewalks at tdeignan@irishvoice.com.)


 © IrishAbroad.com 2009