Meet the Real-Life Mafia Boss Who Inspired “Godfather”

Frank Costello survived an attempted mob hit, tried to steer his family away from its brutal past.

Frank Costello
Frank Costello, happy arriving home after leaving Rikers Island. (NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images)
NY Daily News via Getty Images

In May 1957, mafia boss Frank Costello survived a mob hit. The attempted killing of a New York capo was arranged by Vito Genovese, Costello’s rival for control of what had once been Lucky Luciano’s very own crime family. But Luciano had gone into exile in Italy, and Costello and Genovese were fighting to run the criminal underground. The bullet shot at Costello by Vincent “The Chin” Gigante grazed Costello’s head but did not puncture his skull and, afterwards, Costello decided that his life of crime was over. He retired to his home in Sands Point on Long Island, trying to live out his life outside of crime and die in his own bed, not via assassination. Pulitzer Prize–winning scribe and noted Mafia historian Anthony M. DeStefano writes all of this in his forthcoming book, Top Hoodlum: Frank Costello, Prime Minister of the Mafia.

According to DeStefano, Costello was not a killer or a tough guy. He was more of a politician or diplomat, which is why Gotti and Capone get a lot more publicity. But Costello craved the respectability of high society, likely because he came from a poor immigrant background and family. He wanted to be remembered as someone legitimate. DeStefano calls him “a product of the times,” because a lot of mafia members didn’t have much in terms of family or connections. Costello was lucky though, and was able to avoid major prosecution and serious prison time.

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