Russo, Gus 1950-

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Russo, Gus 1950-


Born 1950, in Baltimore, MD. Education: University of Maryland, B.A. (political science), 1972. Hobbies and other interests: Guitar, bass, and keyboard playing, tennis, travel.


Investigative journalist and author. Campaign advance man for presidential candidate Senator George McGovern, 1972; public relations director for Baltimore entry in World Tennis League, 1973-74; composed and taught music in New York City, including composing for radio jingles and low-budget movies, 1975-89; received grant to do research on President John F. Kennedy's assassination, 1990, for PBS president Jennifer Lawson; assistant to Congressman Lee Hamilton and Senator John Glenn to draft 1992 Assassination Records Collection Act, 1991; research assistant to author Gerald Posner, 1992; reporter for PBS's Frontline television program, 1991-93; presidential primary delegate for Democratic candidate Jerry Brown, 1994; researcher for author Anthony Summers, 1995-96; chief investigative reporter for ABC producer Mark Obenhaus, 1996-97.


Association of Former Intelligence Officers, United States Tennis Association.


Pulitzer Prize nomination and Missouri School of Journalism prize nomination, both 1999, both for Live by the Sword; best local nonfiction writer award, Baltimore City Paper.


Live by the Sword: The Secret War against Castro and the Death of JFK, Bancroft Press (Baltimore, MD), 1998.

The Outfit: The Role of Chicago's Underworld in the Shaping of Modern America, Bloomsbury (New York, NY), 2001.

Gangsters and Goodfellas: The Mob, Witness Protection, and Life on the Run, M. Evans (New York, NY), 2004.

Supermob: How Sidney Korshak and His Criminal Associates Became America's Hidden Power Brokers, Bloomsbury (New York, NY), 2006.


Gus Russo, like many politically minded journalists and historians of the John F. Kennedy era, has made a life's work of investigating the incidences that surrounded the assassination of President Kennedy. His work has included magazine articles and television documentaries, such as Frontline's "Who Was Lee Harvey Oswald?" and ABC's "Dangerous World: The Kennedy Years." In Live by the Sword: The Secret Waragainst Castro and the Death of JFK, Russo pursues his theory that, as the Warren Commission concluded, Lee Harvey Oswald was the lone killer of Kennedy. But delineating Oswald's motives is Russo's real project here: Russo believes Oswald killed Kennedy because he had an inkling of the Kennedy administration's "Secret War" against communist dictator Fidel Castro and Kennedy's own desire to assassinate the Cuban leader.

Russo points out that Kennedy expected a less-than-warm reception in Dallas, "the virtual capital," according to Max Holland, who reviewed Russo's book for an extended article in the Nation, "of his right-wing opponents and the one large municipality that had chosen Nixon over Kennedy in 1960 and was predicted to favor Goldwater in 1964. Not coincidentally, Dallas was also a fount of anti-communist paranoia and the wellspring for some of the ugliest anti-Kennedy bile in circulation." Russo provides evidence that Kennedy was aware that the trip could pose dangers. According to a reviewer writing in Publishers Weekly, Kennedy's brother Robert had "received threatening notes at home," and Adlai Stevenson, then representing the United States to the United Nations, "faced a hostile Dallas crowd who spit on him." But Kennedy could not have anticipated that Oswald, a member of the Communist Party who had spent time in the Soviet Union, would be the source of his destruction in this fiercely anti-communist city.

Much of the new material on which Russo's book is based comes out of the 1992 creation of the Assassination Records Review Board (ARRB), a citizens' panel whose existence, said Holland, resulted in the "release of an archival-quality collection that totaled more than four million pages at last count & including records in state, municipal, and private custody." These previously classified documents include records from the CIA's Directorate of Operations, the National Security Agency, and Kennedy's little-known Interdepartmental Coordinating Committee on Cuban Affairs. The last group met, Holland explained, to consider "how to create a real or simulated incident—blowing up vessels, shooting down an airliner—that would provide Washington with the pretext necessary to invade Cuba in 1962.… Apparently, the entire national security apparatus went mad with near-criminal schemes to get rid of Castro after the Bay of Pigs."

Reviewers were generally impressed with the depth of Russo's knowledge and the accuracy of his documentation. More controversial is the question of whether Russo proves his theory that Oswald sought to protect Castro's life by killing JFK. The Publishers Weekly reviewer extolled Russo's research and documentation, but did not presume that his book is "the final word on the assassination." And Gary D. Barber of Library Journal called the book "speculative" but recommended it "for most libraries" on the basis of its "new insights."

The Outfit: The Role of Chicago's Underworld in the Shaping of Modern America examines the ways in which organized crime changed the American world in the decades between Prohibition and the 1980s. While many authors have pursued this topic, Russo's book highlights the relationship between mobsters and public figures—including not only corrupt politicians and union bosses, but often high-profile men and women with squeaky-clean reputations. The Chicago mob incorporated heads of major motion picture studios, business executives, and other important movers and shakers of American life. "Their ‘respectable’ partners—who publicly abhorred the gangster element," wrote a reviewer for Publishers Weekly, "included Joe Kennedy, MCA president Jules Stein, Bing Crosby, Presidents Roosevelt and Truman, and innumerable public servants." At the same time, the mob itself worked from behind the scenes, keeping their involvement in these areas of American life low-key. "Whether or not the reader agrees," Library Journal contributor Harry Charles declared, "Russo has written the most detailed book on the subject to date."

One of the most prominent members of the Chicago mob, Sidney Korshak, is the subject of Russo's Supermob: How Sidney Korshak and His Criminal Associates Became America's Hidden Power Brokers. Korshak was a Jewish lawyer who was raised on Chicago's West Side, attended the University of Wisconsin, and made his reputation arguing cases for Al Capone. He "was so committed to the job he never escaped the gang's orbit," stated New York Times Book Review contributor Rich Cohen. "Over the years, he came to provide a necessary service—he was the link between the chief executives and factory bosses and the rough boys who controlled the unions." Later, Korshak was moved west to Hollywood and Las Vegas, where he saw to it that mob money flowed in directions that benefited his bosses. "Over the years ‘the Disney of the bargaining table,’ as he was called by the Los Angeles Herald-Examiner," Tom Carson wrote in Los Angeles Magazine, "worked his conjuring act on everything from Vegas casinos, with the Teamsters‧ tractable pension fund making everybody happy, to Dodger Stadium; Walter O'Malley hired him as ‘labor consultant’ to the tune of $100,000 a year." "Ronald Reagan followed his advice as actor and as politician," a Kirkus Reviews contributor said, "while Richard Nixon benefited handsomely from his friendship with Korshak and his close ties to the Teamsters." "Russo's extensive research is amply evident," concluded a Publishers Weekly reviewer, "and he has made use of recently disclosed records to paint a fuller picture than [his] predecessors" have done.



Atlantic Monthly, October, 2006, review of Supermob: How Sidney Korshak and His Criminal Associates Became America's Hidden Power Brokers, p. 126.

Booklist, May 1, 2002, Margaret Flanagan, review of The Outfit: The Role of Chicago's Underworld in the Shaping of Modern America, p. 1490; September 1, 2006, David Siegfried, review of Supermob, p. 29.

Books, September 24, 2006, Hillel Levin, review of Supermob, p. 4.

Journal of the West, fall, 2003, David R. Long, review of The Outfit.

Kirkus Reviews, November 1, 1998, review of Live by the Sword: The Secret War against Castro and the Death of JFK, p. 1587; July 1, 2006, review of Supermob, p. 669.

Library Journal, October 1, 1998, Gary D. Barber, review of Live by the Sword, p. 114; April 15, 2002, Harry Charles, review of The Outfit, p. 108.

Los Angeles Magazine, October, 2006, Tom Carson, "Hollywood's Untouchable: In Supermob, Gus Russo Tries to Book Sidney Korshak, for 40 Years the Mafia's Movie Man," p. 184.

Nation, December 7, 1998, Max Holland, review of Live by the Sword, p. 25.

New Yorker, April 15, 2002, review of The Outfit, p. 85.

New York Times Book Review, May 23, 1999, Charles Salzberg, "Live by the Sword," p. 22; September 24, 2006, Rich Cohen, "Kosher Nostra."

Publishers Weekly, October 26, 1998, review of Live by the Sword, p. 50; April 1, 2002, review of The Outfit, p. 69; June 19, 2006, review of Supermob, p. 51.

Reference & Research Book News, February, 2007, review of Supermob.

Tribune Books (Chicago), June 30, 2002, review of The Outfit, p. 6; December 8, 2002, review of The Outfit, p. 3; March 30, 2003, review of The Outfit, p. 6; July 13, 2003, review of The Outfit, p. 6.


Spartacus Educational, (November 11, 2007) author biography.