Author Paul Lieberman talks Covert Cops, the Mob, and the Battle for Los Angeles ahead of the release of Gangster Squad
Based on his hugely popular Los Angeles Times column 'LA NOIR: TALES FROM THE GANGSTER SQUAD', this is the true story of a brutal secret police team operating in 1950s Los Angeles. It has inspired the major new star packed movie of the same name, starring Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone. The film is released on January 11th.
Based on hundreds of interviews with everyone from anonymous LAPD foot soldiers to the famiies and associates of those they pursued, Lieberman stitches together the story of Jack O'Mara, his dangerous colleague Jerry Wooters and their anything-goes war with arch-criminal Mickey Cohen and his budding rival Jack 'The Enforcer' Whalen.
Stake-outs, shoot-outs and even the famous Black Dahlia murder case, this is ice-cool narrative non-fiction at its best - and the basis for a huge and much anticipated Warner Brothers film of the same name.
Anyone who sees the trailer for Warner Bros.’ movie version of “Gangster Squad” might think this is a classic cops-v.-robbers tale with lots of shootouts. But the book is much more, isn’t it?
Yes, absolutely. On the surface, sure, it is the tale of two Los Angeles police veterans who become obsessed with the showboating mobster Mickey Cohen as he causes havoc in the city in the years after World War II. Then another rising gangster tries to move in on the rackets, Jack “the Enforcer” Whalen, a powerful Irishman who prided himself on being so tough he didn’t need a gun… …and dreamed of making it in Hollywood, as an actor, right?
Correct—the feared “Enforcer” yearned to be a cowboy in Westerns. He might have realized his dream had he not stormed into the restaurant that served as Mickey’s hangout in the closing days of the ‘50s. That’s when a bullet between the eyes upended the lives of all the main characters and, I argue, ended an era in Los Angeles. That’s the basic story. But the bigger picture involves the worldview that dominated L.A. as it grew into a giant, modern city that supposedly embodied the American Dream.
That broad theme centers on the city’s own self-image, right?
For decades, city fathers had a paranoid obsession with gangsters invading from elsewhere to despoil their sun-washed paradise. L.A. was the city of eternal sunshine and self-invention, the City of Angels. Gangsters belonged in the cesspool cities back east. You heard this notion in L.A. going back to the 1800s and it was the impetus for forming the Gangster Squad in 1946. One crime report actually had a section titled “The Invasion of Undesirables.” In sum: evil came from without, not within.
And that same delusion applies to your main characters, the cops, as individuals.
Yes. This was the period when a popular TV show “Dragnet” was glorifying the LAPD – the hero, Sgt. Joe Friday, lived with his mother! But the real cops were complicated men, not so pure.
The main one, Sgt. Jack O’Mara, was his church’s head usher on Sundays but other days was not so godly while he tried to combat hoods such as Cohen and Jack Dragna, the Sicilian who headed the local branch of the Mafia… O’Mara took such characters up into the hills, putting guns in their ears… …and squad members were always breaking into their homes to plant listening devices, all without warrants. They even helped Jack Webb, the producer and star of “Dragnet,” bug his estranged wife.
One bug was planted right inside Mickey’s TV – it was amazing how O’Mara pulled that off…
The same with how others bugged the bed of Dragna’s mistress. They couldn’t get the Mafia boss for ordering murders so they got him for deviant sex acts, actually stuff regularly depicted in movies today.
GANGSTER SQUAD IS AT CINEMAS FROM JANUARY 11TH 2013