The Seedy Side of Frank Sinatra and other Beloved Historic Figures
The Seedy Side of Frank Sinatra and other Beloved Historic Figures

The Seedy Side of Frank Sinatra and other Beloved Historic Figures

Khalid Elhassan - October 7, 2022

The Seedy Side of Frank Sinatra and other Beloved Historic Figures
Mary Hogarth. Wikimedia

A Famous Author’s Seedy Relationship With His Sister in Law

Charles Dickens married Catherine Thomson Hogarth, the daughter of a newspaper editor, in 1836 after they had been engaged for a year. In 1837, Catherine’s younger sister, Mary Scott Hogarth, moved into the Dickens household. Her brother in law grew quite fond of her. Just how fond has long been cause for speculation and gossip. Dickens’s behavior after Mary suddenly died at age seventeen of a heart attack or stroke lent credence to allegation of an affair with his wife’s sister. He wrote of her as “a very dear young relative” and described her as “the chief solace” of his labors. The great author secured a lock of Mary’s hair, and wore her ring for the rest of his life.

Things must have gotten awkward in the Dickens household, as the author seemed to cherish his dead sister in law far more than he did his live wife. After Catherine gave him ten children, Dickens fell out of love with her, and fell head over heels in love with a teenager. In 1857, a forty-five-year Dickens began a seedy affair with Ellen Ternan, an eighteen-year-old actress in a play he produced. It lasted for the rest of his life, and was carried out in a house he bought her in the outskirts of London. When his marriage fell apart, Dickens publicly aired his private laundry, and turned his wife’s other sister – with whom he also apparently had an affair – against her.

The Seedy Side of Frank Sinatra and other Beloved Historic Figures
Catherine Dickens. The Charles Dickens Museum

Charles Dickens’s Wife Found Out About His Affair in Dramatic Fashion

Catherine Dickens found about her husband’s affair with Ellen Ternan because of a mistake worthy of a romance novel. In 1858, he ordered a bracelet as a present for his teenaged lover, but it was accidentally delivered to his house instead. When Catherine called him out, he claimed that it was his custom to buy gifts for everybody who acted in his plays. She didn’t buy it, and the couple legally separated a few weeks later. In an unusual move, Dickens published a notice in newspapers, in which he claimed that it was an amicable split.

The Seedy Side of Frank Sinatra and other Beloved Historic Figures
Georgina Hogarth and Charles Dickens’s daughter, Mamie. Wikimedia

Dickens was motivated by the need to squelch rumors not only about his relationship with an actress, but about a seedy affair with yet another sister in law. In 1842, Catherine’s other younger sister, Georgina Hogarth, then fifteen-years-old, moved into the Dickens household. It was widely rumored at the time that the author had an affair with her. When her older sister’s marriage fell apart, Georgina sided with Dickens against her own sister, and continued to live in his house until his death in 1870. In his will, Dickens left Georgina far more than he did Catherine, as well as all his private papers.

The Seedy Side of Frank Sinatra and other Beloved Historic Figures
The Godfather popularized many mafia myths. IMDb

The Mafia Were and Are Way More Seedy than the Godfather Depicts Them

No list of best movies of all times is complete without The Godfather. With one of Hollywood’s greatest ensemble casts, memorable haunting music, and a gripping plot, it is hard not to love it. However, admiration for the film has blinded many to the fact that it is not real. What it depicts is fiction created by author Mario Puzo, brilliantly brought to the silver screen by director Francis Ford Coppola. It is an imagined version of organized crime, not an accurate depiction of the real thing. In the real world, the mafia has always been a seedy collection of often psychotic, parasitic, backstabbing, and grubby thugs who would do anything for money.

The real life mob has always been more like a malignant cancer than the romanticized band of criminals portrayed in the movie. As seen below, rather than paragons of loyalty and disciples of omerta, mobsters from the mafia’s earliest days have been more than happy to snitch, and betray bosses and underlings alike. And far from the myth popularized by The Godfather about the mafia’s avoidance of drugs, the mob has been heavily involved in narcotics from its birth. Indeed, until the rise of the Colombian drug cartels after cocaine caught on, the mafia, whose specialty was heroin, were America’s biggest drug traffickers.

The Seedy Side of Frank Sinatra and other Beloved Historic Figures
Joseph Bonanno’s autobiography. Amazon

The Dishonorable Mob Boss Whose Inspired the Fictional Don Corleone

Don Corleone was created by Mario Puzo, The Godfather’s author, as a composite character based on some real life mob bosses. The fictional Don Corleone used his olive importation business as cover for his criminal activities. That is based on the real life Joe Profaci, founder and longtime boss of the Colombo crime family, who also posed as an olive oil importer. Don Corleone’s raspy and quiet voice is reminiscent of Frank Costello’s, the onetime boss of the Luciano – now the Genovese – crime family. Don Corleone had all the judges and politicians in his pocket. The real life Frank Costello, nicknamed the “Prime Minister of the Underworld” because of his political clout, effectively dominated Tammany Hall in the mid-twentieth century.

The “honorable” traits of Don Corleone are based on the real life Joseph Bonanno, a seedy, pretentious, and anything but honorable head of the Bonanno crime family. Bonanno, who wrote a self-serving memoir after his forced retirement, referred to mafia bosses of his generations as “Fathers” who headed “honorable societies”. He claimed that he and the mob avoided drugs for the reasons listed in The Godfather – moral revulsion, and avoidance of the heat drugs draw. As Bonanno put it: “My tradition outlaws narcotics. It has always been that ‘men of honor’ don’t deal in narcotics“. In reality, mobsters of all levels, including Bonanno, were dealt in drugs since the birth of the mob.

The Seedy Side of Frank Sinatra and other Beloved Historic Figures
A lynch mob breaks into the New Orleans Parish prison. Wikimedia

How the Mafia Learned Not to Mess With American Cops

By the 1870s, two seedy Sicilian immigrants, Carlo and Alberto Matranga had established the Matranga crime family in New Orleans. Its headquarters was a salon that doubled as a brothel. They expanded their activities from prostitution to labor rackets and a lucrative extortion racket known as the Black Hand. The Matrangas collected “tribute” from Italian laborers, as well as from another crime family, the Prozenzanos, who monopolized South American fruit shipments. In the 1880s, the two crime families warred over control of the New Orleans waterfront, and each brought in more and more Mafiosi from the Old Country. The violence spilled over, and put pressure on the authorities to act. New Orleans’ police chief launched an investigation into Mafiosi activities, only to be assassinated for his troubles in 1890. Unable to identify his killers, he gasped “the Dagoes shot me“, before he died.

Nineteen Mafiosi were arrested and prosecuted. In a first trial, nine defendants successfully tampered with the jury. Despite overwhelming evidence, six were acquitted and three had hung juries. The next day, March 14th, 1891, a mob of thousands, whose numbers included prominent New Orleans citizens, stormed and broke into the prison housing the defendants. Eleven were killed – the biggest single mass lynching in US history. That had a salutary effect on the mafia. It demonstrated that America differed from Sicily and southern Italy, where criminals could act in brazen defiance of the authorities and society, with little to fear from either. In the US, there were limits to what criminals could get away with. Thereafter, the American mafia adopted strict rules against the targeting of law enforcement, and even preemptively killed mobsters who sought to go after cops or prosecutors.

The Seedy Side of Frank Sinatra and other Beloved Historic Figures
Nikola Tesla. Pinterest

Thomas Edison’s Terrible Treatment of Nikola Tesla

The Gilded Age was an era of massive and revolutionary changes, as railroads knitted the United States together. The importance of factories, mining, and finance increased by orders of magnitude, immigrants arrived by the tens of millions, and cities and homes began to be lit and powered by electricity. Electricity had been around for some time. However, it took Nikola Tesla (1856 – 1943), a Serb inventor who arrived in America with four cents in his pocket, to make the things that made electricity a part of everyday life.

Among other things, Tesla invented fluorescent lights, electric generators, the FM radio, spark plugs, remote controls, robots, and the Tesla Coil that is used to transmit radio and TV broadcasts. Shortly after Tesla arrived in the US, Thomas Edison hired the brilliant but naïve new immigrant to redesign his electrical generators and perfect his light bulb, and promised him $50,000 if he succeeded. Tesla did, but when he asked for what he had been promised, Edison pulled off a seedy move. He laughed it off and said: “Tesla, you just don’t understand our American humor. When you become a full-fledged American, you will appreciate an American joke“.

The Seedy Side of Frank Sinatra and other Beloved Historic Figures
Thomas Edison. Imgur

The Great Rivalry of Thomas Edison and George Westinghouse

Understandably, Nikola Tesla did not see the humor in Thomas Edison’s broken promise. After the Wizard of Menlo Park screwed him over, Tesla took his talents to Edison’s greatest rival, George Westinghouse. Nowadays, alternating current (AC) lights up our homes and workplaces, and powers up our appliances through wall sockets. By contrast, direct current (DC) is relegated mostly to batteries. In the nineteenth century, however, the issue was undecided, and powerful interests fiercely competed to decide whether AC or DC would dominate the world. Tesla would decide it against Edison.

Alternating current was championed by George Westinghouse, who pushed AC as the best means to bring electricity to the masses. On direct current’s side was Thomas Edison. There was serious money at stake, and Edison had cause to regret how he had screwed Tesla over. DC is crappy when compared to AC, because DC is weaker and can only be transported short distances. However, Edison had already invested millions in DC, and he was not about to let the upstart AC flush that investment down the drain if he could help it.

The Seedy Side of Frank Sinatra and other Beloved Historic Figures
The key players of ‘The War of the Currents’ – George Westinghouse, Thomas Edison, and Nikola Tesla. History Extra

7. Thomas Edison’s Dishonesty in his Dealings With Nikola Tesla Backfired on Him Big Time

Unfortunately for Thomas Edison, in a bit of karma, Nikola Tesla, the former employee whom he had cheated out of a promised reward and in whose face he had laughed, wrecked Edison’s electricity plans. Employed by Westinghouse, Tesla basically designed the modern AC electricity supply system that ensured its easy delivery and use. That ensured the defeat of Edison and his DC plan in what came to be known as The War of the Currents. In addition to his key role in the development of readily usable alternating current – a scientific contribution that revolutionized the world – Tesla had a long list of other major inventions.

Tesla He had over 700 patents in 26 countries, that included: X-ray devices; electric generators; electric arc lamps; fluorescent lights; spark plugs; robots; remote controls, bladeless turbines, the Tesla Coil; and FM radio. Indeed, the modern world as we know it would be impossible without Tesla. As the American Institute of Electrical Engineers put it: “Were we to seize and eliminate from our industrial world the results of Mr. Tesla’s work, the wheels of industry would cease to turn, our towns would be dark“.

The Seedy Side of Frank Sinatra and other Beloved Historic Figures
Thomas Edison’s electrocution of Topsy the elephant. YouTube

Thomas Edison’s Cruelest and Most Seedy Stunt: The Electrocution to Death of a Circus Elephant

Thomas Edison’s most seedy – and cruel – act during the Current Wars might have been the time when he electrocuted an elephant to death as a stunt. As seen above, the Wizard of Menlo had millions invested in direct current, and that investment was threatened by alternating current. When a dentist named Alfred Southwick sought his help to develop a humane method of execution by electrocution, Edison decided to turn AC’s strength into a liability, by highlighting its ability to kill.

Edison talked Southwick to use alternating current to execute condemned prisoners in what became the electric chair. Also, to cement in the public’s mind the link between AC’s risks and its promoter, George Westinghouse, Edison came up with a catchy name for the new method of execution: “Westinghousing”. The intrepid inventor then went on a whirlwind public tour to demonstrate alternating current’s deadliness. To demonstrate the rival current’s lethality, Edison used AC to publicly electrocute dozens of dogs, cows, horses, and a circus elephant named Topsy.

The Seedy Side of Frank Sinatra and other Beloved Historic Figures
The Koch brothers, David, left, and Charles. PBS

The Seedy History of the Koch Dynasty

America’s most powerful dynasty today is probably the Koch family. They own Koch Industries, America’s second biggest privately owned company with revenues of $115 billion in 2019. Politically active for decades, the Kochs have been generous patrons of conservative and libertarian causes and figures. More recently, the brothers David and Charles Koch have garnered widespread attention for heading a network of hundreds of libertarian and conservative think tanks, policy groups, and candidates. The rise of the fiscally conservative Tea Party movement owed much to Koch generosity. The dynasty’s power was so great that in 2011, House Speaker John Boehner turned to David Koch when he needed votes to prevent a government shutdown.

The Kochs have been key financial supporters of climate change skeptics. However, although staunchly libertarian and conservative, they have at times partnered with progressives. In 2015, for example, they worked with the American Civil Liberties Union on criminal justice reform, specifically on the issue of asset forfeiture. It goes without saying that the Kochs have been adamant opponents of communism and all that has a whiff of socialism. As seen below, that did not stop the dynasty’s founder from working for Joseph Stalin. In one of many seedy moves in a long business career, he helped the Soviet dictator modernize the USSR’s oil industry.

The Seedy Side of Frank Sinatra and other Beloved Historic Figures
Fred C. Koch, left, and American Nazi William Rhodes Davis. Inhabit

Fred C. Koch’s Seedy Ties to Both the Nazis and Stalin

Fred C. Koch (1900 – 1967), paterfamilias of the Koch dynasty, founded the Winkler-Koch Engineering Company with an MIT classmate in 1925, and went into the oil business. When the duo lost a series of patent infringement lawsuits to bigger oil companies, they decided to seek their fortunes overseas. So they headed to the Soviet Union, where they helped Stalin modernize the country’s oil industry. They trained Soviet engineers, and built fifteen thermal cracking units to turn crude oil into gasoline. Fred became a radical anticommunist after Stalin purged his Soviet trainees, reneged on their deal, and deprived him of revenue. Stalin was not the only totalitarian dictator helped by Fred C. Koch.

The seedy businessman worked with American Nazi William Rhodes Davis, who had personal ties with Adolf Hitler. Shortly after things went sour for him in the USSR, Fred headed to Germany, where he built the Hamburg Oil Refinery, the Third Reich’s third biggest refinery. Fred admired the Nazis, and in a 1938 letter, he wrote: “Although nobody agrees with me, I am of the opinion that the only sound countries in the world are Germany, Italy, and Japan, simply because they are all working and working hard“. The Hamburg refinery was a big help to the Nazis as they swept through Europe, until it was finally taken out of action by Allied bombing in 1944.

The Seedy Side of Frank Sinatra and other Beloved Historic Figures
Benito Mussolini. Ireland’s Own

Mussolini Liked to Write Erotic Letters

Italian dictator Benito Mussolini (1883 – 1945), founder of his country’s Fascist Party, was Italy’s prime minister and leader from 1922 to 1943. He was the first European fascist dictator, and was an inspirational figure for Adolf Hitler, who modeled himself after Mussolini in his own rise to power. Eventually, the Italian dictator was overshadowed by his German imitator, and Mussolini ended up as Hitler’s sidekick. Mussolini had delusions of grandeur, and sought to revive the Roman Empire. Neither he nor Italy were up to the task, however, and Mussolini often bit more than he could chew.

The results were often farcical, and led to sundry humiliations and setbacks. Towards the end of his career, after he dragged an unprepared Italy into World War II and bungled it badly, Mussolini’s image morphed from that of a great statesman to a hapless buffoon. It ended badly for him, when his countrymen captured him in the final days of WWII in Europe. They killed him and his mistress, and displayed them in downtown Milan, suspended upside down by their ankles from meat hooks. That the man was a comic dictator was well known. That he had a seedy sensual side and habitually penned erotic letters, few knew of at the time.

The Seedy Side of Frank Sinatra and other Beloved Historic Figures
Mussolini’s mistress, Clara Petacci. The Fanatic

Il Duce in Bed

To unwind, Mussolini liked to write erotic letters. The fascist dictator habitually wrote cringe-worthy dirty letters, as was discovered when the diary of Clara Petacci, the mistress killed and strung up by his side, came to light in 2009. For all his shortcomings, one thing Il Duce (Italian for leader) had going for him was an incredible libido and remarkable stamina. As described by Petacci, Mussolini often had up to fourteen mistresses at a time, and would regularly go through three or four different women in a single evening.

The fascist dictator was also jarringly loud during love making: “his screams seem like those of a wounded beast“, as Petacci put it. He was a total hound, who seemingly lusted after every woman he met. As he described it, after his first intimate encounter with a hooker at age seventeen: “Naked women entered my life, my dreams, my desires. I undressed them with my eyes, the girls that I met, I lusted after them violently with my thoughts“. Luckily for him, many Italian women had the hots for him as well. At the height of his power, thousands sent letters in which they propositioned him every day.

The Seedy Side of Frank Sinatra and other Beloved Historic Figures
Benito Mussolini. Historia Blog

Mussolini’s Seedy Side

Il Duce had underlings sort his fan letters by senders into “known” and “new”. After police background checks on the “new” women, the more interesting ones were put in folders and passed on to him. Those who caught his eye – usually big breasted and broad hipped – were summoned for an afternoon liaison at his palace. He wasted no time, and often got down to business immediately on the carpet, against the wall, or on a stone window seat. Those who pleased him were added to his many mistresses, and in correspondence with them, Mussolini held little back.

E.g.; ” Orgasm is good for you: it sharpens your thoughts, it widens your horizons, it helps your brain, makes it vivid and brilliant“. Or “Be afraid of my love. It’s like a cyclone. It’s tremendous; it overwhelms everything. You must tremble.” And “I tremble in telling you, but I have a feverish desire for your delicious little body which I want to kiss all over. And you must adore my body, your giant…” Or “Your flesh has got me – from now on I’m a slave to your flesh.” And ” I’m bad – hit me, hurt me, punish me, but don’t suffer. I love you. I think about you all day, even when I’m working.”

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Where Did We Find This Stuff? Some Sources and Further Reading

Ackroyd, Peter – Dickens (1990)

Atlantic, The, October 11th, 2011 – Dickens in Love: How the Author’s Romantic Life Affected His Novels

Capeci, Jerry – The Complete Idiot’s Guide to the Mafia (2005)

Carlson, W. Bernard – Tesla: Inventor of the Electrical Age (2013)

Cheney, Margaret – Tesla: Man Out of Time (2011)

Costanzo, Ezio – The Mafia and the Allies: Sicily, 1943, and the Return of the Mafia (2007)

Cracked – 20 Classy (but Still Kinda Sleazy) Facts About Frank Sinatra

Crime Museum – Frank Sinatra

Critchley, David – The Origin of Organized Crime in America: The New York City Mafia, 1891-1931 (2008)

Daily Beast – For 50 Years ‘The Godfather’ Has Sold Us a Beautiful Lie

Daily Best – What the Hell Has Hollywood Got Against Nikola Tesla?

Dormandy, Thomas – Opium: Reality’s Dark Dream (2012)

Duggan, Christopher – Fascism and the Mafia (1989)

Fuchs, Jeanne, and Prigozy, Ruth – Frank Sinatra: The Man, the Music, the Legend (2007)

Gambino, Richard – Vendetta: The True Story of the Largest Lynching in US History (2000)

GQ, June 20th, 2019 – A Dirty, Rotten, Double Crossing (True) Story of What Happened to the Italian American Mob

Hamill, Pete – Why Sinatra Matters (1998)

Hari, Johann – Chasing the Scream: The First and Last Days of the War on Drugs (2016)

Hertfordshire Life – The Dramatic Life and Passing of Prime Minister Lord Palmerston

History Collection – Hollywood’s Witch Hunt Created a Communist Blacklist for these Celebrities

Honolulu Star Advertiser, March 18th, 2018 – Hawaii Ponzi Schemer and Professed Secret Agent Dies at 76

Los Angeles Times, November 7th, 1999 – The Rise and Fall of Joseph McCarthy

Lupo, Salvatore – History of the Mafia (2009)

Mayer, Jane – Dark Money: The History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right (2016)

National Post, April 18th, 2017 – ‘I Want to Harm You, Be Brutal With You’: How Mussolini’s Last Love, Fueled by Sex and Power, Shaped Him

New Orleans Historical – Sicilian Lynching at the Old Parish Prison

National Public Radio – Dining Like Darwin: When Scientists Swallow Their Subjects

New York Times, September 3rd, 1985 – CIA Officers Testify at Hawaii Fraud Trial

New York Times, January 12th, 2016 – Father of Koch Brothers Helped Build Nazi Oil Refinery, Book Says

Neville, Peter – Mussolini (2004)

Ranker – 16 Extremely Dark Things You’d Never Suspect Charles Dickens Actually Did

Schulman, Daniel – Sons of Wichita: How the Koch Brothers Became America’s Most Powerful and Private Dynasty (2014)

Slate – What’s Fact and What’s Fiction in ‘The United States vs Billie Holliday?

Smithsonian Magazine, December 2005 – The Evolution of Charles Darwin

Smithsonian Magazine, October 11th, 2011 – Edison vs Westinghouse: A Shocking Rivalry

Spiegel, November 26th, 2009 – In Bed With Benito: Sex Diaries Reveal Mussolini’s Soft Side

Taraborrelli, J. Randy – Sinatra: Behind the Legend (2015)

Washington Post, May 5th, 2017 – Five Myths About the Mafia

World History Project – Frank Sinatra is Arrested

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