The Colombo Familys attempts to keep a low profile were threatened by the release of Crazy Joey Gallo from prison in 1971. The Crazy nickname was misleading. Mob traditionalists called him crazy because his ideas were so progressive. He saw the future of organized crime, and it went far beyond the Little Italy social clubs and Brooklyn
hangouts of the Italian-American gangsters. There was money to be made in Harlem
and other black neighborhoods, and he wanted the mob to be in on it. Gallo advocated forming partnerships with black gangsters, reasoning that they would give the Mafia inroads into rackets they otherwise couldnt touch.
The Gang That Couldn't Shoot Straight
Gallo had gained some culture during his stint at New York State
s Greenhaven Prison. He devoured books and newspapers and took up painting. He spoke authoritatively about the great artists hed studied. Shortly after he returned from prison, a movie based on Jimmy Breslins novel The Gang That Couldnt Shoot Straight
was released. The novel and film were a comic take on Gallos Brooklyn
crew. The fictional gang kept a lion in their basement to scare tardy payments out of loan-sharking customers. The Gallo crew actually did keep a pet lion that they routinely introduced to their habitual deadbeats. Joey Gallo didnt find the movie very funny, and was particularly upset with the portrayal of Kid Sally Palumbo, the character supposedly based on him. The actor who played Kid Sally was Jerry Orbach (who would later play Detective Lenny Briscoe on the long-running Law & Order
television series). Gallo wanted to set Orbach straight on how real mobsters lived, so he invited the actor and his wife to dinner. Orbach accepted the invitation and was so impressed with Gallos knowledge of books and art that they eventually became friends. Orbach introduced Gallo to several of his show-business friends. Soon Gallo was seen around town, hobnobbing with celebrities. He even moved from Brooklyn to Greenwich Village
to be closer to his new crowd.
On April 7, 1972, Gallo was celebrating his birthday at the Copacabana night club with a group of friends that included Orbach, comedian David Steinberg, and columnist Earl Wilson. The party finally disbanded in the wee hours, and Gallo, his bodyguard, and four women went to Little Italy in downtown Manhattan
, looking for a restaurant that was open. They found their way to Umbertos Clam House on Mulberry Street
. Gallo and his bodyguard, Pete the Greek Diapoulas, made the mistake of sitting with their backs to the door, figuring they were safe on Mafia holy ground. But a gunman with a .38 walked in and started shooting. Women screamed. Patrons hit the floor. Gallo assumed that he was the intended target, so he got up from the table and ran for the door, drawing fire away from the innocent. The killer trained his gun on Gallo and kept shooting. Gallo made it outside to the sidewalk, where he collapsed and died next to his Cadillac.
Like Joe Colombo, Joey Gallo learned the hard way that the mob has no use for the limelight.