The Jerusalem Post

Mob mem­o­ries are per­sonal for two women re­lated to gang­sters

- • By ELI­NOR J. BRECHER

MI­AMI – Grow­ing up in Hol­ly­wood’s South Lake neigh­bor­hood with her Un­cle Jim and Aunt Florence, life seemed pretty nor­mal to Ca­role Cort­land Russo. Un­cle Jim played golf. Aunt Flo kept a lovely home. They went to church and lo­cal restau­rants. But ev­ery once in awhile, some­thing out of the or­di­nary hap­pened in the fam­ily’s so­cial cir­cle.

“In the ‘50s, there was a fam­ily two blocks away – Phil Ko­volick, he was a friend of Un­cle Jim’s,” she said. “His wife was Min­nie. His daugh­ters Phyl­lis and Judy were my play­mates. I found out that Phil was mur­dered and cut up and found float­ing in a re­cep­ta­cle... Some­body didn’t like some­thing he did.”

Un­cle Jim was Vin­cent “Jimmy Blue Eyes” Alo, right­hand man to Mi­ami Beach mob boss Meyer Lan­sky. The men met in 1929, the same year that Jimmy met Flo. They co-op­er­ated casi­nos in Cuba, Las Ve­gas and South Florida.

The cou­ple, who had no chil­dren, were like sec­ond par­ents to Cort­land Russo, whose mother was Flo’s sis­ter.

The ar­range­ment worked well at first, but “even­tu­ally my mother said they stole me from her, be­cause I spent more time with them than her,” Cort­land Russo said.

Florence Kane Alo died in 1990, Jimmy in 2001, at 96, leav­ing ev­ery­thing to his niece, in­clud­ing home movies, his co­pi­ous FBI files, and what she de­scribed as “a huge col­lec­tion of pho­tos.”

Last year, Cort­land Russo, a long­time South Florida ac­tress and writer, sold much of her col­lec­tion to the Las Ve­gas Mob Ex­pe­ri­ence. The new at­trac­tion, at the Trop­i­cana Ho­tel on the Ve­gas Strip, has an in­ter­ac­tive sec­tion fea­tur­ing live ac­tors and holo­grams, and a more con­ven­tional, mu­seum-type sec­tion.

The go-be­tween for the deal: Cyn­thia Dun­can of Mi­ami Beach, Lan­sky’s step-grand­daugh­ter. Her fa­ther was Richard Schwartz, son of Thelma “Teddy” Lan­sky, Meyer’s sec­ond wife. Dun­can was ex­ecu­tor of her grand­mother’s es­tate. Al­though their rel­a­tives were as close as brothers, Dun­can and Cort­land Russo, both grand­moth­ers now, didn’t con­nect un­til the ‘90s.

Las Ve­gas Mob Ex­pe­ri­ence de­vel­oper Jay Bloom found Dun­can through her web­site, mey­er­lan­sky. an on­line mu­seum and store. She has owned restau­rants and sells the works of her hus­band, artist Julio Blanco.

Dun­can was born in New York in 1950, the year af­ter her grand­mother mar­ried the man called “the mob’s ac­coun­tant.” She refers to him as “my grand­fa­ther,” but called him “Un­cle Meyer” when they spoke.

"He gave me my first ring,” she re­called. “Dou­ble topaz. And he al­ways sent a birth­day cake.”

Through her grand­mother, Dun­can in­her­ited a trove of mem­o­ra­bilia, in­clud­ing notes for a book that Lan­sky worked on with the late New York Post edi­tor Paul Sann.

On his lawyers’ ad­vice, Lan­sky nixed it be­fore pub­li­ca­tion, Dun­can said.

The notes are among the items that Bloom bought. But like Cort­land Russo, Dun­can hung onto sen­ti­men­tal items, like the porce­lain kitty-cat fig­urine that the Lan­skys used as a bed­room door stop, and the illustrate­d Old Tes­ta­ment that Lan­sky’s brother gave him in 1953. The in­scrip­tion: “May these pages give you much knowl­edge and peace.” Teddy Lan­sky “was a saver” of many items, Dun­can said, but un­like Florence Alo, who kept her be­long­ings in metic­u­lous con­di­tion, Teddy – a shopa­holic – had lit­tle pieces of pa­per stuck ev­ery­where.

It all ended up stored in plas­tic garbage bags be­fore Bloom bought it.

Lan­sky was an athe­ist, Dun­can said, but ad­hered to Jewish ri­tual. He led fam­ily sed­ers and gave gen­er­ously to the old­est synagogue on Mi­ami Beach, Con­gre­ga­tion Beth Ja­cob. He ded­i­cated a stained glass win­dow in the sanc­tu­ary to his par­ents.

He al­ways tipped well, Dun­can said, “and took care of ev­ery­one who worked for him in Cuba” where he ran casino ho­tels. “He had a code of honor. He never kept a gun or a knife. He was more brains and books. But when he gave the word, it was the word.” Un­like many of his col­leagues who met vi­o­lent ends – as did Dun­can’s fa­ther, in 1977 – Lan­sky lived into old age. He died in 1983 of cancer, at 80. Dun­can said she didn’t know much about Un­cle Meyer’s no­to­ri­ety un­til she was a teenager. She grew up on Long Is­land – Lawrence High School, class of ‘68 – but spent a year in Havana dur­ing the ‘50s.

“I went to the Lafayette Amer­i­can School,” she re­called. “Ev­ery day we’d go to the Riviera,” one of Lan­sky’s ho­tels, “and have tur­key sand­wiches.” As far as she knew then, he owned ho­tels, where pa­trons came to gam­ble in tuxe­dos and evening gowns. “Gam­bling isn’t for the poor,” Lan­sky told her.

Much later, she asked him about things she had heard peo­ple say.

“He said, ‘I was a boot­leg­ger and a gam­bling man.’” But wher­ever they went, Dun­can no­ticed ev­ery­one “made a big fuss and peo­ple whis­pered.” As teenagers in the early

‘70s, liv­ing in South Florida, Dun­can and her si­b­lings were warned to “mind (our) Ps and Qs” by Lan­sky: “‘Don’t talk about me. Don’t talk on the phone.’”

He prized ed­u­ca­tion, she said, and would talk about his­tory, phi­los­o­phy, math, and “news­wor­thy ar­ti­cles.”

“If you talked about drugs, he’d turn green,” she said. “He was very stern, and if you got out of line, there was a look. But when he smiled, the room lit up.”

When she was 18, and back in New York, Dun­can fi­nally re­al­ized who Un­cle Meyer was.

Both Dun­can and Cort­land Russo at­tended the Mob Ex­pe­ri­ence grand open­ing in March, and are gen­er­ally pleased with the way things turned out.

“Jimmy and Meyer were very sim­i­lar,” said Cort­land Russo. “In­tel­li­gent, sen­si­ble, well-read, quiet. Both of them had the de­sire as they ma­tured to leave their past be­hind and to rise above their youth.”

Their lives of crime be­gan dur­ing Pro­hi­bi­tion, a “wild, dan­ger­ous time,” Cort­land Russo said. “You had to be tough and brave and able to scare peo­ple so they didn’t fool around with you, and that is what it was.”

Al­though Ne­vada gam­ing laws aimed at rid­ding the casi­nos of or­ga­nized crime ef­fec­tively barred Alo from Ve­gas in the 1970s, his niece said he’d sneak in from time to time, and stay with a cousin.

“I re­mem­ber meet­ing Don Rick­les with him” in Ve­gas, she said. “All of those peo­ple worked for my un­cle: Jimmy Du­rante, Danny Thomas, Jackie Leonard, Myron Co­hen. He had a huge cir­cle of friends from all walks of life. Ev­ery­body loved him... He had an en­tourage, and they went out to din­ner ev­ery night. No­body ever put their hands in their pock­ets.”

Her un­cle and Meyer Lan­sky “were like movie stars,” Cort­land Russo said. “They were kings.” – The Mi­ami Her­ald/ MCT

 ?? (Cour­tesy of Cyn­thia Dun­can via Mi­ami Her­ald/mct) ?? CYN­THIA DUN­CAN, of Mi­ami Beach, seen in an un­dated fam­ily pho­to­graph, is the step­grand­daugh­ter of the late mob­ster Meyer Lan­sky, who ran casi­nos in South Florida, Las Ve­gas and Cuba.
(Cour­tesy of Cyn­thia Dun­can via Mi­ami Her­ald/mct) CYN­THIA DUN­CAN, of Mi­ami Beach, seen in an un­dated fam­ily pho­to­graph, is the step­grand­daugh­ter of the late mob­ster Meyer Lan­sky, who ran casi­nos in South Florida, Las Ve­gas and Cuba.
 ?? (Cour­tesy of fam­ily via Mi­ami Her­ald/mct) ?? IN THIS un­dated fam­ily pho­to­graph, Carol Cort­land Russo, left, sits with her ‘Un­cle Jim,’ who was Mafioso Vin­cent ‘Jimmy Blue Eyes’ Alo, right­hand man to Mi­ami Beach Mob boss Meyer Lan­sky. Cort­land Russo grew up in Hol­ly­wood, Florida.
(Cour­tesy of fam­ily via Mi­ami Her­ald/mct) IN THIS un­dated fam­ily pho­to­graph, Carol Cort­land Russo, left, sits with her ‘Un­cle Jim,’ who was Mafioso Vin­cent ‘Jimmy Blue Eyes’ Alo, right­hand man to Mi­ami Beach Mob boss Meyer Lan­sky. Cort­land Russo grew up in Hol­ly­wood, Florida.

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