Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Life and Times of the Sicilian Robin Hood

Giuliano, the Media Star

Coinciding with his rising prominence Portella della Ginestra notwithstanding Giuliano's exploits became a fascination for the then most influential media, newspapers and magazines, and continued after his death.

In 1947, he was visited by an American journalist, Michael Stern, a dubious character who freelanced for American and European magazines.  By wearing an American military uniform, he passed himself off as a quasi-official American government representative.  The two most famous photographs of Giuliano were taken by Stern, and his article in the February 23, 1948 issue of Life made Giuliano a popular figure with many Americans.  The article itself is mixed, attributing a much more criminal aspect to Giuliano's bandits than they themselves felt.

A year later, the Swedish journalist, Maria Cyliakus, spent three days with Giuliano in the mountains.  Her articles appeared in a number of European publications, and, unlike Stern's treatment of the King of the Mountain, she was clearly an admirer.  Her articles suggest that she was not only charmed by Giuliano, but smitten by him.

From time to time, Italian journalists were able to obtain interviews, and these reports, along with those of Stern and Cyliakus, produced two reactions.  The first was that the authorities in Rome were infuriated by them.  How is it, they asked, that journalists can find Giuliano but the carabinieri can't?  The second was the acceleration of Giuliano's fame, so that his regional reputation of 1943 to 1945 became an enormous presence throughout Europe and the United States in the five years that followed.

The Sicilian by Mario Puzo
The Sicilian by Mario Puzo

After his death in 1950, there was an enthusiastic appraisal of Giuliano, the Robin Hood who had been betrayed by the man closest to him.  Two films were produced. One, The Sicilian, based on the novel of the same name by Mario Puzo, portrays a sexy, swash-buckling, noble Giuliano.  The second, Salvatore Giuliano, is considered a classic Italian neo-realist film, and was produced a mere ten years after Giuliano's death.  Its director, Francesco Rosi, presents Giuliano as a ghostly presence, showing him as a corpse or as a distant figure on a mountainside.

In recent years, historians writing about post-war Sicily have been less kind to the legend of Salvatore Giuliano, portraying him as just another Sicilian bandit, albeit one with a particular flair and panache.  Two recent histories on the Sicilian mafia report that if Giuliano was not an actual, initiated member of the mafia, he worked with them.  However, they acknowledge that his suggested mafia membership is difficult to confirm, particularly in the light of his spectacular assassination of four important Mafioso in 1949.

There is no question that Giuliano's fame was a product of the media of the times.  But it is also certain that his charisma, his good looks, and his boldness made him an inevitable subject for newspapers and magazines.

 

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