Chasing The Mob: Research On The Giacalone Crew In Detroit Helped Inspire Parts Of The Sopranos

October 1, 2021 – The Detroit mob served as partial inspiration for the groundbreaking fictional HBO New Jersey mafia drama, The Sopranos, according to sources familiar with creator David Chase’s research process for the show that changed television forever.

The Giacalone crew, its longtime lawyer and a trusted Jewish gambling expert and adviser in Motown all added inspiration to the authentically Jersey mob tale. The crew’s esteemed criminal defense attorney, Neil Fink, was contacted by HBO producers in the years leading up to the show’s premiere in the late 1990s and asked for help with research materials from his case files.

The FBI believes the Giacalones kidnapped and killed Teamsters’ boss Jimmy Hoffa in the gangland hit of the century back in July 1975. One prominent theory on Hoffa’s whereabouts end in a New Jersey nature preserve formerly the site of a mobbed up trash landfill.

Sopranos fans everywhere are rejoicing this week with the release of The Many Saints of Newark, a prequel film telling the origin story of brooding sex symbol and iconic antihero Tony Soprano. When the original show ran from 1999 through 2007, Tony was the often-conflicted Jersey mob boss who lived in the suburbs with his family and shared his many problems, both work and personal, with his female shrink.

The Many Saints of Newark takes place in the late 1960s and early 1970s when Tony was just a boy and then a teenager. Michael Gandolfini co-stars as a young Tony, taking on the role made famous by his father, the late James Gandolfini. Visiting Rome in 2013 for a film festival, Gandolfini dropped dead of a massive heart attack suffered in the bathroom of his hotel room.

Reputed Detroit mob don Jack (Jackie the Kid) Giacalone was one at least three real-life “middle-aged suburban dad” mafia bosses David Chase based the Tony Soporano character on, the others being New Jersey mob powers Vincent (Vinnie Ocean) Palermo and Michael (Mad Dog) Taccetta. Palermo ran the DeCalvacante crime family, Jersey’s resident mafia clan, in the late 1990s until he decided to cooperate with the government. Taccetta controlled New York’s Lucchese crime family’s interests in the Garden State in the 1980s.

Chase crafted a good portion of Tony Soprano’s backstory on Giacalone’s real-life mob and blood family dynamic. Like Giacalone, Soporano’s dad and uncle were his crime family’s muscle on the street, but never ascended to the throne. In essence, their fathers and uncles paved the way for their reigns as boss with decades of gangland sweat equity.

“We waited a long time for a Soprano to be on top,” Tony tells his uncle in Season 1.

In Detroit, during the second half of the 20th Century, Anthony (Tony Jack) Giacalone, Jackie’s uncle, and Vito (Billy Jack) Giacalone, his father, were the street bosses of the Tocco-Zerilli crime family. Giovanni (Johnny Boy) Soprano and Corrado (Junior) Soprano, Tony’s dad and uncle, respectively, held the same positions in the fictional DeMeo crime family of the tv show.

One of the nicknames Jackie Giacalone, 71, earned as a young goodfella was “The Bathrobe,” due to the fact that he was known to take meetings in the backyard of his home early in the morning in just his sleepwear. Years later when Tony Soporano hit the television screen, from the very first episode of the series, Soprano’s bathrobe became a staple of his on-screen attire.

The Giacalone crew’s relationship with legendary Jewish mob associate Allen (The General) Hilf also informed Chase in his research and made it into the show’s canon.

Hilf was one of a number of real-life Jewish underworld figures that inspired the fictional Soprano’s character Herman (Hesh) Rabkin — played by Jerry Adler. Like Hilf, Hesh was closely aligned with the Sopranos brothers before becoming tight with and a top adviser to Tony.

The portly, bald and always tracksuit adorned Hilf, the biggest bookmaker in the state of Michigan and someone known as a genius handicapper, was best friends with Jackie Giacalone. The pair were inseparable for years, with Hilf rising to a point where he was Giacalone’s de-facto consigliere. Hilf died of a kidney ailment in 2014. After The Sopranos began airing, mobsters in Detroit began calling Hilf “Hesh” because of the similarities between him and the television character.

Tony Giacalone died of cancer in 2001, shortly after his nephew Jackie was upped to the street boss role in Detroit. Billy Giacalone passed away in 2012.

The Giacalone crew’s longtime lawyer and public mouthpiece Neil Fink got Jackie Giacalone acquitted in a RICO prosecution in 2007. He died of natural causes five years ago. In The Soprano’s, Tony’s criminal defense attorney is named Neil Mink.

This article was originally posted here