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April 19, 2014

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Mob memories: Family members will tell their side

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Clockwise from top left: Jan Sachs, widow of Allan Sachs; Millicent Rosen Siegel, oldest daughter of Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel; Meyer Lansky II, grandson of Meyer Lansky; and Cynthia Duncan, stepgranddaughter of Lansky.

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Families fight misconception

All have stressed that they seek to personalize the stories of their famed family members. Their aim is to provide a full-context depiction of their lives beyond the more sensational film, TV or book accounts that typically lack the more human side of reputed organized-crime figures. Each has turned over personal belongings such as documents, furniture, family films, photographs and artifacts for use in the attraction.

What to expect when it opens

The Mob Experience is described as “experiential entertainment,” with hologram apparitions of famous mafia figures appearing and speaking to visitors. The “experiential” feeling will be like walking onto a movie set, where visitors are pulled into the subjects’ interactive narrative. Visitors will walk through a series of dazzling interactive displays in which guests are either “made” or “whacked.” The tour ends with an exhibit titled, “Final Fate.”

The group can be likened to a “Dream Team,” if what you encounter during your slumber are the central figures in the history of organized crime in America.

The latest family members announced as partners in the Las Vegas Mob Experience, set to open this year at the Tropicana, share kinship with some of the more colorful characters in our nation’s mob experience.

The hired guns:

• Millicent Rosen Siegel, the oldest daughter of Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel, who in 1946 opened the Flamingo as a frontman for syndicate interests in New York and is often credited as one of the men who first envisioned today’s resort development on the Strip.

• Meyer Lansky II, grandson of Meyer Lansky, a longtime Siegel aide and an investor in the Flamingo who was often considered the financial brains behind the National Syndicate for his wizardry with numbers.

• Cynthia Duncan, stepgranddaughter of Lansky by the marriage of Lansky to her grandmother Thelma “Teddy” Sheer Schwartz Lansky.

• Jan Sachs, widow of Allan Sachs, who along with Herb Tobman took over the Stardust in 1979 after Frank “Lefty” Rosenthal and Allen Glick were shooed from the resort by Nevada gaming authorities.

This well-connected quartet joins three other Mob Experience partners with a strong organized-crime lineage. Also on board and previously announced as paid consultants for the project are Antoinette Giancana, daughter of longtime mob chief Sam “Momo” Giancana; and two members of Tony “the Ant” Spilotro’s family: his widow, Nancy; and son, Vincent. Lansky, the Spilotros and Giancana are expected to make regular personal appearances at the Experience. Rosen and Sachs will be on hand once a week or so. Duncan will rarely be present at the attraction. Duncan lives in Miami Beach, Fla. The others are Las Vegans.

All have stressed that they seek to personalize the stories of their famed family members. Their aim is to provide a full-context depiction of their lives beyond the more sensational film, TV or book accounts that typically lack the more human side of reputed organized-crime figures. Each has turned over personal belongings such as documents, furniture, family films, photographs and artifacts for use in the attraction. (The Las Vegas Sun is involved in the project by assisting in research of the subjects displayed and recording video interviews with family-member partners in the project.)

With specific plans to be unveiled at a news conference June 8, the Las Vegas Mob Experience is a brazen effort initiated more than 18 months ago by Jay Bloom, whose real estate investment company, Eagle Group Holdings, owns Murder Inc., the company financing the Mob Experience. Plans are for the 20,000-square-foot attraction to be in the Tropicana pavilion area, near the back of the resort.

No specific timetable has been given, other than plans are for the Mob Experience to open this year. No specific admission fee has been set, although the price points should be in line with “CSI: The Experience” at MGM Grand, which charges $30 for adults and $23 for children ages 12 and under. And no full cost of the project has been reported, although Bloom has said it is “less than $42 million.”

That is in reference to the reported cost of the publicly funded Vegas Museum of Organized Crime and Law Enforcement (aka the mob museum), under development in the old post office and federal courthouse on Stewart Avenue in downtown Las Vegas. Conveniently, the building was the site of the 1950 Kefauver hearings (Senate hearings on organized crime).

As an entertainment vehicle, the Mob Experience will compete for visitors with the mob museum, although officials from both projects have stressed that they are alike only in that they deal with similar subject matter.

“We have the families telling the stories,” Bloom says. “These are the people who were actually there.”

Bloom has described the Mob Experience as “experiential entertainment,” with hologram apparitions of famous mafia figures appearing and speaking to visitors as they pace through the attraction. The “experiential” feeling will be like walking onto a movie set, where visitors are pulled into the subjects’ interactive narrative. Visitors will walk through a series of dazzling interactive displays in which guests are either “made” or “whacked.” The tour ends with an exhibit titled, “Final Fate.”

As Bloom has explained, this is not a gun-under-glass museum. Those who have been enlisted to develop the exhibits are reps from Plain Joe Studios of Corona, Calif., who specialize in interactive displays; and artists from Visioneering Studios of Irvine, Calif., which has developed Downtown Disney and Disney’s California Adventure in Anaheim, Calif.

It all sounds sensational, and should be, but the family members resist that description when describing their involvement. But the attraction is to be far more entertaining than walking through a library-style tutorial.

Click to enlarge photo

Meyer Lansky

“It’s not just a museum,” the 52-year-old Lansky says during a day of phone interviews with all four of the most recently announced Mob Experience family members. “Since my grandfather and Benji have been gone, the story hasn’t been told. There has been a lot said in movies, but we have the real story, the personal stories, their quirks, what was said.”

Lansky’s stepgranddaughter, Duncan, launched a website in 2002 to chronicle the life of her grandmother, known as Teddy, and Meyer Lansky. The two were married for 35 years and were wed before Duncan, 59, was born. Duncan has entertained several offers for pieces of her collection — even producers of the TV show “Baywatch” approached her for access to her collection for a movie project.

But Duncan refused to distribute her family artifacts in piecemeal form. Bloom actually found Duncan’s contact information on her website, meyerlansky.com, met with Duncan in 2008, and eventually bought the entire lot.

“Jay came along and liked what I had to say, and I have a lot of historical material,” she said. “I saved everything, lots of papers, photographs, things that Teddy gave me over the years — china, artifacts, all sorts of things. But what I want to capture is a love story, and Jay has seen many photos of (Meyer and Teddy Lansky) together. No one has seen that side of them.”

Jan Sachs said she spoke with her friend, Millicent Rosen Siegel, about the project after hearing a few details about the attraction through the mob-family grapevine.

“We knew each other through our fathers’ friendship, which really laid the foundation for Las Vegas,” Sachs, 55, said. “After seeing the project and the vision for it, I thought we should be involved … We’re sort of a package deal. It’s funny how the paths cross.”

True. As Sachs noted, her husband was a close friend of then-attorney Oscar Goodman, who spoke at Al Sachs’ funeral, but is now fronting the competing mob museum.

Click to enlarge photo

Benjamin "Bugsy" Siegel.

Rosen says her famous father will be shown in rare home movies along with personal artifacts. She says the movie “Bugsy” was “lousy,” a papered-over portrayal in which she refused to participate.

“A lot of it was just made up,” Rosen, 78, said. “They wanted me to be working with them, but they thought I wasn’t worth anything and wouldn’t pay me. They thought it would be a privilege for me to be working with them, to meet Warren Beatty. I didn’t want anything to do with it.”

Those involved in the project say they are conscious that the splashy attraction might be misconstrued as a celebration of illegal activity. Bloom has answered by comparing the approach to the release of such films as “Casino” and “GoodFellas,” using the history of organized crime in entertainment media.

“We’re not saying, ‘We did this and we’re damn proud of it,’ ” Sachs said. “It’s part of history. We just want to lay it out there properly, keep it from being distorted and set the record straight.”

As Rosen said, “We have to have it be entertaining. This is Las Vegas.”

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