The link between “Boosting the Big Tuna” and ASSASSINATION THEATER

Some people who have come to my web site or read my blog are jarred by the juxtaposition of a Chicago mob story, “Boosting the Big Tuna,” with ASSASSINATION THEATER, a theatrical investigation about the JFK assassination. In fact, the two subjects are not as disparate as they may seem. For me, there’s also a direct, personal connection between the projects. “Tuna” is about a gang of burglars who intentionally break into the home of Tony “The Big Tuna” Accardo, the long-time leader of Chicago’s mob, which is known as the Outfit. The article is the basis for Idol’s Eye, a movie to be made by director Olivier Assayas.  I believe Accardo to be the most influential (and unheralded) organized crime boss in the 20th century. After the article was published by Playboy in 2007, I was approached by FBI agent Zechariah (Zack) Shelton, who was featured prominently in the story. Zack suggested I next do “the real story about the mob.” When I asked him what that would be, he replied, “How they killed JFK.”

And so began a seven-year odyssey that led to my writing of ASSASSINATION THEATER. While there has been a sizable school of conspiracy theorists who believe that organized crime was behind JFK’s murder (which included Robert F. Kennedy), the Outfit’s indispensable role in the plot has never been fully understood. Zack introduced me to sources and other agents who helped identify the shooters, where they fired from, and the Chicago mob’s links to Jack Ruby. Just like the burglars who broke into Accardo’s home (and some of the men who killed them), many of the key mob participants in the assassination would die under suspicious circumstances—all to keep any incriminating tracks from leading to Accardo.

Trib Critic Phillips gets backstory on 'Idol's Eye' from Olivier Assayas

If you have an interest in the back story of Idol's Eye, the movie based on my Playboy article, "Boosting the Big Tuna," read this excellent interview which director Olivier Assayas did with the Chicago Tribune film critic Michael Phillips. Olivier has a journalistic interest in facts and research that's unlike anything I've encountered in Hollywood. Although most producers want material "based on a true story," they and many of the creative people involved in the projects often feel burdened by the facts. I've known screenwriters who have bragged about not reading the books that the movies have been based on. Olivier, to the contrary, has pushed me to dig for information that wasn't even in my article and which took us to some surprising places--especially for a story that otherwise seemed so rooted in gangster lore and was even the basis for part of the prosecution in The Family Secrets trial of Chicago mob leaders in 2005. None of the characters in this story--from Accardo (who will be played by Robert De Niro) to John Mendell (the burglar leader who will be played by Robert Pattinson) were anything like the Hollywood mobster stereotypes, and I think that's why Olivier may be the perfect filmmaker to bring them to life.

De Niro, Pattinson signed to star in Idol's Eye

Big news for this project out of Cannes, where director Olivier Assayas released his latest film, Clouds of Sils Maria. He will next work on Idol's Eye, a movie based on my April 2007 article for Playboy called, "Boosting the Big Tuna." The story is about burglars who break into the home of Chicago's longtime Godfather, Tony Accardo. Robert Pattinson will play the burglar ringleader, who is based on John Mendell--a freelance "juice man" or "wire man" capable of overcoming the most sophisticated burglar alarms, but also the proprietor of a machine shop who was desperate to go "legit." De Niro will play Accardo, who ruled Chicago's mob for five decades. Despite the fact that he's hardly a household name, I would argue that Accardo was America's most important organized crime figure in the twentieth century. He not only influenced politics in the Windy City, but also corrupted wide swaths of the union movement (e.g. Teamsters and Laborers), and probably did more to build the Las Vegas Strip (mostly with Teamster pension funds) than anyone else. He features prominently in my play, "Assassination Theater." By the time of the burglary, he had become practically an establishment figure in Chicago--unusually accessible to the neighbors in his wealthy suburb, courtly to the power elite, with whom he occasionally rubbed shoulders, but still bone-chillingly ruthless with anyone who crossed his path in the criminal world--as Mendell eventually found out. It will be fascinating to see De Niro's approach to the part. One funny note: the dispute between Accardo and Mendell centers on the burglary of a high-end pawn shop. Somehow, in the mix of accents at Cannes, "pawn" got turned into "porn." I hope the reality here does not disappoint.