Guys and Wise Guys

Dick Kreck is sitting beside the shrine to Frank Sinatra in Gaetano’s, the restaurant at 3760 Tejon Street that the Smaldone family ran for almost sixty years, from 1947 until the Wynkoop Family of Restaurants bought the joint in 2005. The restaurant wasn’t the Smaldones’ only business venture, of course. They were also in the bootlegging business, and the loan-shark business, and the gambling business — all ventures legal (or close enough, if you count payday loans) today, but enough to put them at the top of Denver’s underworld. And they got their start early, back when Clyde and Eugene, two of the six sons of Raffaele and Mamie Smaldone, would head to the train tracks and throw rocks at the locomotive crews — who’d respond by tossing chunks of coal at the boys, which they’d take home to their mother to heat their tiny home in northwest Denver.

Kreck learned that story, and so much more, when he finally started work on the book Smaldone: The Untold Story of an American Crime Family, an idea he’d been kicking around for five years. But he really got serious about it a couple of years ago, when the Colorado History Museum had an exhibit on the Italian community in Denver, and Gene, one of Clyde’s two sons, agreed to let him use interviews he’d taped years earlier with his father. The most surprising discovery? “They were just guys,” Kreck says. “They were constantly in the paper, and the public presence of them was as mobsters. Then you start interviewing people who remember them, and these are just guys.”

Both Chuck and Gene Smaldone, Clyde’s sons, will be on hand to talk about their famous family tonight at 7:30 p.m. at the Tattered Cover LoDo, 1628 16th Street, where Kreck will show slides and sign copies of his book, just out from Fulcrum. For more information, call 303-436-1070.
Tue., June 30, 7:30 p.m., 2009


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