The Mafia, the Gays & the Movies

The Mafia controlled many gay joints in New York for decades well into the 1980s, and it was such an open secret that Hollywood even included several references to this relationship in the movies.

For example, the 1971 film Some of My Best Friends Are . . . takes place in a NYC gay bar, and it really captures the scene from that era. The owner is a Mafioso running a loan shark racket out of the bar’s office, and everyone sneers at the dirty cop taking payoffs. The gay bar owner is Lewis Barone whom everyone calls “the boss.” A review from the 10/28/71 edition of The New York Times states: “‘Some of My Best Friends Are . . .’ may well be more accurate than the slicker, wittier ‘Boys in the Band.’” (Added bonus: the film stars Fannie Flagg, Rue McClanahan and Candy Darling.)

Mafia-tied bars often served both hoodlums and gays as regular patrons, particularly before the 1970s, and in his 1973 film “Mean Streets” Martin Scorsese shows them together jumping into a car in fleeing a Little Italy joint after a shooting. The queens are dropped off in Greenwich Village on W. 8th St. — the movie camera takes a pointed shot of the street sign — which was the main strip for gay bars run by the Genovese family in the 1950s and 1960s. Among the gay joints on this strip was the Bon Soir at 40 West 8th. An August 12, 1972 article (“Outsiders Disrupt Life in The Village”) from The New York Times states “[i]n front of the nightclub stood a crowd of young men and boys,” and Jose, “a 25-year-old self-described queen,” said “[h]ustlers, pot heads, junkies, dope dealers — whatever you want is here.”

In an interview with Billboard Cruising director William Friedkin claims he was friends with Genovese mobster Matty the Horse Ianniello who controlled many gay joints in the 60s, 70s & 80s supposedly including the Mineshaft which partly inspired the 1980 film. In one scene from Cruising Al Pacino playing the undercover detective tells his police boss that Tommy Mancusi owns the Cock Pit and a few other gay joints, and “Tommy the Joker they call him.” Paul Sorvino as Capt. Edelson responds “are you trying to tell me you don’t know who Tommy the Joker is? I can’t move on him.”

Anybody aware of any other oldish movies in which references are made to any relationship between the Mafia and gay bars?

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Phillip Crawford Jr.

Phillip Crawford Jr.

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The Mafia and the Gays, Railroaded: The Homophobic Prosecution of Brandon Woodruff for His Parents’ Murders, Queer Joints, Wiseguys and G-Men & Jersey Queens.