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Son brings father's real-life Mafia tales to small screen

Novelist Bill Bonanno wrote a book based on the life of his father, a former crime boss.

July 26, 1999
Web posted at: 3:45 p.m. EDT (1945 GMT)

From Paul Vercammen
CNN Entertainment News Correspondent

LOS ANGELES (CNN) -- The exploits of a man many believe to be the last living Mafia chieftain are now the subject of a two-part miniseries on Showtime. "Bonanno: A Godfather's Story" details the life of former crime boss Joe Bonanno as a young man in Sicily, a don in New York and then a retiree in Arizona.

The story is based on the novel "Bound by Honor," written by Bonanno's son Bill, who also produced the five-hour telefilm.

"I went to my father," he recalls, "and I said, 'This is what I want to do.' And the first words out of his mouth were, 'Are you going to hurt anybody?' I said, 'Yes.' And he said, 'Who?' I says, 'You. You're the only one alive today that I could possibly hurt.' He looked at me, and he said, 'Go for it.'"

The movie special follows Joe Bonanno from his birth in Sicily to America, where he ran the show in New York for 40 years -- through Prohibition, '30s gang wars and politics. Bonanno, who is now 94 years old, finally retired to Arizona. Martin Landau is the oldest of four actors playing Bonanno and the narrator.

"He actually rubbed shoulders with presidents, leaders of countries, the head of the FBI, and ambassadors," Landau says.

"Bonanno: A Godfather's Story" details the life of former crime boss Joe Bonanno

According to Bonanno's script, Joseph P. Kennedy interceded on behalf of the mob with his sons, President John F. Kennedy and Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy. His movie also repeats the claim that the Mafia was behind the assassination of JFK -- with Bonanno opposed -- as well as Jack Ruby's shooting of Lee Harvey Oswald.

The idea of a Bonanno miniseries may rile up some law enforcement officers. Should convicted criminals be able to make a TV program?

"Well, I don't know," Bill Bonanno says. "I need a definition of a criminal. A criminal, by your definition, may not be a criminal by my definition."

Bonanno concedes he did put his own spin on his version.

"Well, of course I'm rationalizing. Don't we all rationalize about our lives? Don't we all see things in our own way?"

The second part of the miniseries airs Monday night at 8 p.m. ET.

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'Analyze This' takes Mafia to the couch
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Showtime Online 'Bonanno: A Godfather's Story'
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