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Issue Date: March 2011

A Colorful Past

Steve Gleydura

Danny Greene was the most colorful figure in a mostly drab Cleveland underworld. Like Marlon Brando in The Island of Dr. Moreau, the mob here had lost its edge. Greene wore green suits, Celtic crosses and a Robin Hood complex.

"No Cleveland hoodlum ever lived on headlines and myth like Danny Greene," Cleveland Magazine declared in 1978. "He loved publicity and relished the very thought that although his enemies had tried to shoot and bomb and maim him, he still came out on top. And no one hoodlum, with the exception of the late Shondor Birns, has quite caught the city's interest like Danny Greene."

So it's little wonder that the magazine cast Greene — handsome, with curly blond hair, a linebacker's build and a boastful tongue — as a central figure in its pages. "People liked to read about these guys," recalls longtime editor Michael D. Roberts. "Every year we would do at least one major piece dealing with the mob."

The task fell to gifted reporter Edward P. Whelan, who had cultivated great sources within the FBI. "This was fascinating stuff," Whelan recalls. "What could be more fun than writing about mob bombings and criminal lawyers and people like that?"

Even the stories' subjects agreed. The hit man hired to kill Greene used a picture from the magazine's April 1977 story on bombings to identify his target. The FBI seized more than a dozen copies of that issue from mob homes and hideouts. "The mob would almost look forward to [the stories]," Roberts says. "You'd see those guys, they'd say, 'When's the next one coming out?' "

It's surprising that it took Hollywood so long to catch up with Greene. That changes this month with the release of a feature film and a documentary based on his life. Not unexpectedly, those great stories from our past had a little something to do with it. "I read that [1978] article in Cleveland Magazine," says Jonathan Hensleigh, director of Kill the Irishman. "I called the producers and said, 'I'm in.' "

Clearly, we were moved as well. Erick Trickey's oral history carries on the magazine's rich tradition of mob coverage. When you're done, read the stories from our past that inspired all the rest.

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