Bugsy Siegel-Don’t Believe It!
So much that we know, or think we know, about Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel is all wrong. Movies and books about this famous mobster, in many cases, have presented a false narrative. We have been led to believe certain things that are not even close to the truth .
First, Bugsy was not the visionary for the Las Vegas Strip. He was way too late in the game to be awarded that title . He wasn’t the creator of Las Vegas either as some websites claim. He certainly did help draw attention to the then small desert city. His legend continues to capture the interest of authors and movie makers.
Myth has it that Bugsy, while driving across the desert, stopped to go to the bathroom along the side of the road. While there he had a visionary idea. He foresaw a luxury hotel & casino built right there in the desert and it would be like no other .
The story goes on to say that Bugsy, possessed with this new inspiration, came to the Las Vegas Strip (Highway 91 at the time), to build the Flamingo Hotel, the first Strip hotel. Not true.
The Flamingo was not the first hotel on the Las Vegas Strip. It was actually the third, and opened five years after the first one. The first one was the El Rancho which was opened in 1941. In 1942, the Last Frontier opened just south of the El Rancho. Then, on December 26, 1946, the Flamingo opened even further south.
Also, Bugsy didn’t build the Flamingo from scratch. A well known gambler, Billy Wilkerson, had already begun building the Flamingo. Wilkerson was known for other swanky establishments in Hollywood and he decided to try to duplicate his success in Vegas.
Another Bugsy myth is that he named the Flamingo after his girlfriend, Virginia Hill’s, legs. The truth is that Billy Wilkerson had already named the Flamingo after the actual Flamingo bird that he had seen in Florida.
When Wilkerson ran into financial trouble and couldn’t complete the Flamingo, Bugsy and his associates bought their way in as partners. As time went on Bugsy took total control of the project. He made many mistakes and caused excessive cost overruns.
Bugsy’s involvement in the Flamingo did eventually lead to his murder. He swelled the budget from 1.2 million to 7 million dollars and skimmed money from the Mob in the process.
Bugsy decided to open the Flamingo way before the original open date in March, 1947, which was another costly mistake. He opened the doors on December 26, 1946. Despite an impressive A-List Hollywood lineup of stars and guests, it was a disastrous failure. The doors closed two weeks later and didn’t reopen until March of 1947.
Three months later Bugsy was executed by the Mob. Within 20 minutes after the fatal shots, Moe Dalitz and Gus Greenbaum, Mob management , moved in.
If you like Mob history check out the Mob Museum: