A Lemming Named Desire

Frank “Lefty” Rosenthal and Wife Geri

If you’ve seen Martin Scorsese’s film Casino about the mob days in Las Vegas, you’ve seen Sharon Stone in the role of Ginger McKenna as well as Robert DeNiro as Sam “Ace” Rothstein. Throughout the film, names were changed to protect both the innocent and the guilty. The actual characters were named Frank “Lefty” Rosenthal and Geri McGee Rosenthal.

Between 1976 and 1983, Rosenthal was in charge of four casinos that were secretly skimming profits to Chicago and other Midwestern mobsters. As a nationally known sports bettor, he had in 1969 married a Vegas showgirl named Geri McGee.

Vegas Showgirl Geri McGee

Geri was one of those tall, lovely showgirls for whom most men would sell their souls. Not that Lefty had not sold his soul early on, but hooking up with Geri turned out to be a nightmare. Although Lefty and Geri had two children together, Geri started taking drugs and having a not-well-hidden affair with mob enforcer Tony “The Ant” Spilotro (played by Joe Pesci in the film).

As her marriage began to implode, Geri had a very open break with her family and took thousands in cash and jewelry that Lefty had in a joint safe deposit box to prove his trust in Geri. She left for Los Angeles and was dead within months of a drug overdose. Lefty, meanwhile, was the victim of a car bomb, which, fortunately for him, he escaped without major injury. But shortly after that, he was finished in Vegas and moved on to Laguna Niguel, California, and then Boca Raton, Florida, where he died in 2008.

Sharon Stone in the Role of Geri

As men, most of us dream of falling for a long-stemmed beauty like Geri McGee, but it rarely ends well. There’s something about the whole mechanism of sexual desire which seems to militate against long-term happiness.

Influence Numero Uno, 1960s Style

R. Crumb Was My Guru in Dem Days

The 1960s were a difficult time for me. I was all set to start graduate school in film history and criticism in September of 1966, when, quite suddenly, I was in a coma at Fairview General Hospital, with my body surrounded by ice to bring my temperature down. It was then that my pituitary tumor decided to make a major incursion on my optic nerve and brain that almost carried me into the next world. Somehow, I struggled back to consciousness, received the last sacraments of the Catholic Church (the aptly named Extreme Unction), and was ready to remove a “cyst” (that’s what the doctor called it) from my pituitary.

Did I even know what the pituitary gland was? Not really. Within a few days, my brain was hinged back to allow a surgical suction device to remove the enlarged and inflamed gland. When later I saw my neurosurgeon and asked how big the tumor was, he answered, “About the size of a grapefruit.”

When I finally made it to Los Angeles after Christmas in 1966, I noticed some changes to my ways of thinking:

  1. I felt that because of my weird ten years of illness that I was, for all intents and purposes, from Mars.
  2. Quite suddenly, I lost my faith in religion.
  3. I found myself with a really weird sense of humor.

Self Portrait of Cartoonist R. Crumb

Since I was now in Los Angeles, I drifted toward certain local influences, such as The Los Angeles Free Press, an underground newspaper that mirrored my own sense of disillusionment. Then I made the discovery of R. Crumb, whose Zap Comics, Fritz the Cat, and other series were required reading. There was Mister Natural, Flakey Foont, and a whole galaxy of characters. Admittedly, there was a lot of misogynistic sexuality, which was a Crumb trademark, but that was the way I was feeling  about myself. It rubbed me the wrong way that women seemed to lie so casually and hurtfully. It was years before I understand that was a defense mechanism from weirdos like me.

Some of Crumb’s Early Misogyny

Oddly, I never outgrew my admiration of Crumb’s work. I no longer accept all of Crumb’s own neuroses and psychoses, but I believe he was a great cartoonist, and that his work will be remembered long after I am gone.