The Mafia, better known as La Cosa Nostra (Italian for “Our Thing) has been in operation since the 19th century, when it was originated in Sicily. Charles “Lucky” Luciano is known as “The Father of the Modern Day American Mafia” after establishing the National Crime Syndicate and its governing body The Commission in the 1930’s. The Five Families of New York–Genovese, Gambino, Lucchese, Bannano and Colombo–serve as the heads of The Commission. The Mafia has made a fortune through various rackets through power, intimidation and murder. It is a highly secretive society, and made men are sworn to secrecy after taking an oath of “Omerta.” In fact, the Mob had largely stayed a secret until rats started running their mouths to the law. Nevertheless, Mafia historian Selwyn Raab describes the Mob, “It is the most enduring, powerful and venal organized criminal organizations to exist and continue in America.”
The documentary series Inside The American Mafia (now on Netflix) examines La Cosa Nostra from the eyes of former Mafia members, law enforcement and experts. One of the more interesting subjects examined is Colombo Family boss, Joseph Colombo. In the 1970’s, recognized as the “glory days” of the American Mafia (due to its stronghold on legit businesses), the Colombo family was known as the most violent Mafia family. Joe Colombo had racked up more than 15 bodies of his own by his early 20’s. With that level of power, Joe Colombo, a 2nd-generation American-born boss (a rarity at the time), had great power in the community and further, evidenced by is appearance on the cover of Time Magazine.
The most impressive display of Colombo’s power was his ability to remove the word “Mafia” from the American lexicon. Joe Colombo vehemently denied that the Mafia even existed, let alone that he was a member and boss. In 1971, Colombo was heavily involved in the production of the ionic film The Godfather. If you notice, you never hear the word “Mafia” in the film. That is all due to Colombo. After meeting with producer Albert Ruddy, Colombo removed the word completed from the script of the first movie in the series. The power didn’t stop there. Colombo’s influenced even permeated the ranks of the United States Department of Justice. At Colombo’s behest, the DOJ banned the use of the word “Mafia.” “That’s pretty good political power,” said Rudy Giuliani, the former Mayor of New York City who was instrumental in taking down eleven Mafia dons in the 1985 Mafia Commission Trial ,
Colombo, a self-fashioned civil rights activist claimed, “It was the voice of the Italian people.” With his power, Colombo formed the Italian-American League, an organization that fought discrimination against Italian-Americans. However, Colombo’s publicity stunts through the Italian American League drew the ire of many in La Cosa Nostra. Colombo organized the 1971 2nd Unity Rally at Columbus Circle for 50,000 Italians to demonstrate pride. The police were heavy out there, along with camera crews. A Black “cameraman” named Jerome Johnson approached Colombo as he stood on stage and shot him, sending him into a coma. Johnson was gunned down by Colombo Family shooters. Colombo would stay in a comatose state for years before dying.
His own caporegime, “Crazy” Joe Gallo set up the assassination, without permission from The Commission. For this disrespect, he was clapped down by a lone gunman as he ate a spaghetti dinner at Umberto’s Clam House in Little Italy.
Nevertheless, manipulating one of the greatest films of all time and the United States Department of Justice make Joe Colombo go down in history as one of the most influential mobsters ever.