Bonanno, Salvatore 1932–
Bonanno, Salvatore 1932–
PERSONAL: Born 1932, in Brooklyn, NY; son of Joseph (a member of organized crime) and Fay Bonanno; married; wife's name, Rosalie; children: four. Education: Attended college in Arizona.
ADDRESSES: Home—AZ. Agent—c/o Author Mail, Warner Books, 1271 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10020.
CAREER: Self-admitted mafioso until 1968. Executive producer, Bonanno: A Godfather's Story) television miniseries), Showtime, 1999; founder, with cousin Anthony Tarantola, Halfway to Tucson Productions (film production company), Tucson, AZ.
AS BILL BONANNO
Bound by Honor: A Mafioso's Story, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1999.
(With Joe Pistone and David Fisher) The Good Guys, Warner (New York, NY), 2005.
ADAPTATIONS: Bound by Honor and Joseph Bonanno's book A Man of Honor: The Autobiography of Joseph Bonanno were adapted as the miniseries Bonanno: A Godfather's Story, Showtime, 1999.
WORK IN PROGRESS: An Insider's History of the American Mafia, for St. Martin's Press.
SIDELIGHTS: In the 1960s, Salvatore "Bill" Bonanno was a high-ranking figure in one of the major New York crime families. His father, Joe Bonanno, came to the United States from Sicily in the 1920s and quickly made a splash in the gangster world by creating the "Commission," a round-table of mafia dons that was organized as a means of settling disputes peacefully and preventing costly and damaging gang wars from breaking out. Although Bill Bonanno never became the full-fledged head of the Bonanno crime family, he was intimately involved in helping his father run the organization for much of the 1960s. His experiences during those years provided him with the material for his later writings, both fiction and memoir. His stories also inspired other writers; the Bonannos were the subject of the 1971 book Honor Thy Father by Gay Talese and also supposedly were the models for the Corleone family featured in Mario Puzo's popular novel The Godfather.
"I always say, I had only one goal in the '60s—actually two goals," Bonanno recalled to Los Angeles Times reporter Robert W. Welkos. "When I got up in the morning, my goal was to live to sunset. And when sunset came, my second goal was to live to sunrise. And that went on for eight years." Bonanno later estimated that he spent one million dollars per year just to protect his life during that time. His fears were not unfounded; his own father was briefly kidnaped in 1964, although Joe Bonanno was later released unharmed. By 1968, both men had had enough, and they retired from crime. However, their legal troubles were not over, and both their retirements were followed by stints in jail.
"Omerta," the fabled Mafia code of silence, notwithstanding, several of the Bonannos have published memoirs. Joe Bonanno published his autobiography in 1983; then Bill Bonanno's wife Rosalie published hers in 1990. Bonanno's own memoirs, Bound by Honor: A Mafioso's Story, came out in 1999. In addition to telling his own life story, Bonanno also details the mob's involvement in American political life in the 1960s. He even names the Mafia hitman who, he claims, was the real assassin of President John F. Kennedy, although many reviewers expressed skepticism regarding this claim. "Straightforward rather than chatty, the book paints a revealing picture of Mob family politics and government intervention," Sue-Ellen Beauregard concluded in Booklist. People contributor Alex Tresniowski also praised the book, commenting that "Bonanno's tales of revenge and intrigue have the kind of operatic seductiveness and attention to ritual that make Mob dramas like The Sopranos so compelling."
Bonanno's second book, the novel The Good Guys, was the result of an unlikely collaboration. Bonanno co-wrote the novel with Joe Pistone, a former Mafia-infiltrating FBI agent better known by his undercover alias Donnie Brasco. With the help of professional author David Fisher, the two tell a story about a Columbia University professor of Russian named Peter Gradinsky, who is being chased by both the FBI and the Mafia. Bonanno and Pistone write alternating chapters, Bonanno taking the perspective of mafioso Bobby Blue Eyes and Pistone adopting the viewpoint of FBI agents Laura Russo and Connor O'Brien. Surprisingly, wrote a Kirkus Reviews contributor, the result of this "pairing made in bookseller heaven" is "the very model of a high-octane page-turner, the kind so often promised and so infrequently delivered." The Good Guys was praised as "a suprisingly entertaining mystery" by Bookreporter.com critic Bob Rhubart, the reviewer also noting that the book "rewards readers with a crisp, tightly woven story told at a brisk pace."
"The Good Guys represents insights into a world that … titillated society's psyche for most of the twentieth century," Bonanno told Library Journal interviewer Nathan Ward. As he explained, the book proves that "it is possible for two people from two different worlds, backgrounds, and sensibilities to collaborate to produce something positive without either violating his traditions or his intellectual and aesthetic distinctions."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Bonanno, Bill, Bound by Honor: A Mafioso's Story, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1999.
Bonanno, Joseph, A Man of Honor: The Autobiography of Joseph Bonanno, Simon and Schuster (New York, NY), 1983.
Bonanno, Rosalie, and Beverly Donofrio, Mafia Marriage: My Story, Morrow (New York, NY), 1990.
Talese, Gay, Honor Thy Father, World (New York, NY), 1971.
Booklist, March 1, 1999, Sue-Ellen Beauregard, review of Bound by Honor, p. 1099.
Chicago Tribune, June 3, 1999, Ron Grossman, "Famiglia Values: Does a Former Goodfella Know What's Good for Society?," review of Bound by Honor, p. 1.
Detroit Free Press, February 2, 2005, John Smyntek, "A Don's Son, Ex-FBI Agent Spill on Mafia," review of The Good Guys.
Entertainment Weekly, December 24, 2004, Adam B. Vary, review of The Good Guys, p. 73.
Kirkus Reviews, November 1, 2004, review of The Good Guys, p. 1020.
Library Journal, March 15, 1999, Nathan Ward, review of Bound by Honor, p. 96; January 1, 2005, Nathan Ward, "Good Guys and Otherwise: Behind the Book: Bill Bonanno and Joe Pistone with David Fisher" (interview), p. 96.
Los Angeles Times, January 7, 2005, Robert W. Welkos, "Death Threats? No. Risk? Yes: Bill Bonanno, a Crime-Family Son, Is Throwing Himself into Another Dicey Venture," p. E1.
New York Times, July 18, 1999, Ralph Blumenthal, "And Now for a Little Organized Revisionism," review of Bonanno: A Godfather's Story, p. 27.
People, August 16, 1999, Alex Tresniowski, review of Bound by Honor, p. 47; January 24, 2005, Edward Karam, review of The Good Guys, p. 50.
Publishers Weekly, April 12, 1999, review of Bound by Honor, p. 63; December 6, 2004, review of The Good Guys, p. 44.
Tucson Citizen, May 13, 2003, Paul L. Allen, "Joe Bonanno: 1905–2002: Sun Sets on a Don."
Variety, July 19, 1999, Ray Richmond, review of Bonanno: A Godfather's Story, p. 25.
Bookreporter.com, http://www.bookreporter.com/ (March 4, 2005), Bob Rhubart, review of The Good Guys.
Carpe Noctem Web site, http://www.carpenoctem.tv/ (March 4, 2005), "Salvatore Bonanno."