Korshak, Sidney Roy

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Korshak, Sidney Roy

(b. 6 June 1907 in Chicago, Illinois; d. 20 January 1996 in Beverly Hills, California), attorney associated with organized labor and organized crime who was a reputed Hollywood fixer.

Korshak was born on Chicago’s West Side to Jewish refugee parents from Lithuania. He had one sibling, his brother Marshall. Korshak was an active student athlete in both high school and college. He received a bachelor of arts degree from the University of Wisconsin and later obtained his law degree from Chicago’s DePaul University College of Law in 1930.

During his life Korshak was one of the most powerful men in Hollywood. He worked mostly behind the scenes and had the reputation of being the Mafia’s man in Los Angeles. His power, according to government investigations, stemmed from his close ties to both powerful unions such as the International Brotherhood of Teamsters and to organized crime families. Because of these ties, Korshak became a force in both the entertainment and sports industries. His clients included Ronald Reagan, George Raft, Frank Sinatra, Madison Square Garden, the New York Rangers, the New York Knicks, Gulf and Western, the Hilton and Hyatt hotel chains, the Los Angeles Dodgers, and numerous Hollywood movie studios.

After Korshak graduated from DePaul, his first clients were members of Al Capone’s Chicago mob. Korshak developed a reputation as someone the mobsters could trust and soon he was advising them. Because many Chicago mobsters were involved in labor unions, Korshak quickly became an adviser on labor matters. He rose quickly in the mob organization. A 1942 investigation by the Internal Revenue Service reported that he was often the racketeers’ key business adviser and negotiator. Later that same year, in a New York City extortion trial, a witness testified that Korshak was the Chicago mob’s man in motion pictures and the unions involved in the industry.

During World War II, Korshak was in the U.S. Army, serving as a military instructor at Camp Lee, Virginia. While on leave he married Bernice Stewart in August 1943. They had three children.

After the war Korshak established himself in a law partnership with his brother, who was a player in the Chicago Democratic Party, holding elected and appointed offices at both the city and state levels. Their firm was able to attract hundreds of respectable clients mainly due to its connections with labor unions, Chicago politics, and the mob. For example, Sidney Korshak’s mob connections allowed him to settle his clients’ labor troubles with the truck drivers and hotel and restaurant employees unions (or create labor problems for his clients’ competitors). These new clients allowed Korshak to remake himself into an upstanding Chicago lawyer. He soon mingled with the financial and cultural elite of Chicago. His ability to wear both masks successfully owed something to his skill in keeping a low profile. Korshak never drew attention to himself, rarely accompanied clients to court, and seldom was a party to any contract signing. He preferred to do his consulting in private. Financially successful, he and his wife lived in a luxury apartment on Lake Shore Drive in Chicago.

Playing the role of legitimate attorney, Korshak moved to Hollywood in the late 1940s (while retaining his Chicago residence) to be the Mafia’s adviser to the movie industry. Over time, he became a force in both Hollywood and Las Vegas, with its gaming casinos. Both movie studios and the new hotels of Las Vegas needed his help to settle labor disputes. It was rumored, but never proven, that the unions threatened strikes to force hotels to deal with the mob. While Korshak’s power was rarely visible, one example demonstrates the weight he pulled. During a Teamsters convention in 1961, Korshak arrived in Las Vegas to find that the powerful Teamster’s chief Jimmy Hoffa occupied Korshak’s usual presidential suite. A few hours later, Hoffa found himself in another room and Korshak was once again relaxing in his accustomed quarters.

In Hollywood, Korshak was an adviser and deal broker. He never actually practiced law in California because he never bothered to get his license. He kept no office and, as had always been his custom, left no paper trail. He preferred to work out of the corner table of Le Bistro, a fashionable Los Angeles restaurant of which he was a co-owner. One example of his influence concerns the making of the motion picture The Godfather (1972). When the producer, Robert Evans, was threatened by the mob, which did not want the movie made, he went to visit “Mr. K,” who—for a fee—made the problem disappear. Evans, who eventually became the chief at Paramount Studios, later remembered that “one call from Mr. K and suddenly threats turned into smiles.” Evans needed Korshak again to help land Al Pacino to play the role of Michael Corleone. Pacino was then under contract with MGM, which would not release him or allow him to work for Evans. Korshak made one call to Kirk Korkorian, the majority stockholder in MGM. Korkorian was then building a new MGM-Grand Hotel in Las Vegas. “I asked him if he wanted to finish building his hotel,” Korshak reportedly told Evans. A simple threat from Korshak put Pacino in the movie. His ability to close deals such as this made him a multimillionaire by the time of his death. In 1960 Korshak and his wife moved into a luxurious house on Chalon Road in the Bel Air section of Los Angeles. When guests arrived, an armed guard greeted them at the door. Korshak died of natural causes and was buried in Beverly Hills, California.

Korshak counted among his friends Lew Wasserman, the head of MCA, and President Ronald Reagan. Reports suggested that his relationships with the Democratic Party, through his brother, and the Republican Party, through the Teamsters and Reagan, helped keep him out of jail when so many others were convicted for less. The New York Times stated in his obituary that “it was a tribute to Sidney Korshak’s success that he was never indicted.”

There is no biography of Korshak and little secondary literature apart from Dan Moldea, Dark Victory: Ronald Reagan, MCA, and the Mob (1986), and Lester Velie, “The Capone Gang Muscles into Big-Time Politics,” Collier’s (30 Sept. 1950). Newspapers sometimes covered his activities. An example is Paul Steiger’s article in the Los Angeles Times (15 Sept. 1968). See also the four-part, front-page series on Korshak by Seymour M. Hersh for the New York Times (27–30 June 1976). Nick Tosches, “The Man Who Kept the Secrets,” Vanity Fair (Apr. 1997), appeared the year after Korshak’s death. An obituary is in the New York Times (22 Jan. 1996).

Richard A. Greenwald