Arnold Rothstein

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Arnold Rothstein (born January 17, 1882 – died November 5, 1928) [1] was a professional gambler and criminal who was involved in a great many criminal enterprises, but who is primarily remembered for his role in “fixing” the 1919 World Series, known as the Black Sox Scandal.

Rothstein was never convicted of any crime in connection with the fix, but was widely assumed by the public to be the force behind it. He would also become famous as a literary character: Rothstein is portrayed as the sinister “Meyer Wolfsheim” in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel The Great Gatsby. In Gatsby, Rothstein/ Wolfsheim is a figure of menace, and symbolic of the corruption and cynicism which was (in Fitzgerald’s view ) overtaking the American dream. A more pleasant portrayal of Rothstein appears in the works of Damon Runyon, under the names “Nathan Detroit” and “The Big Brain”.

Rothstein was born on New York’s Lower East Side to a family of Orthodox Jews. His father was a successful and well-respected businessman. However, from an early age, Arnold Rothstein evidenced an affinity for gambling, an illegal but extremely popular pastime, then as now. By the early 1900s, Rothstein was a noted gambler, with a reputation for winning by underhanded methods if necessary. He became known as “The Big Bankroll’ for his habit of carrying a large roll of bills in his pocket, which he would use to, among other things, lend money to other gamblers: in effect, a form of loan sharking. By 1909 he was running his own illegal casino in the Times Square area, and was using pretty young women, including a young Peggy Hopkins Joyce and showgirls from the Ziegfeld Follies and other Broadway shows as “steerers”, whose job it was to bring wealthy gamblers to Rothstein’s establishment [2]. He would go on to take financial interests in racetracks, the illegal drug trade, union corruption and political graft. But primarily he was associated with gambling and with “fixing” the outcome of sporting events. In addition to the 1919 World Series, Rothstein has been alleged (but never proven) to have fixed numerous horse races and boxing matches, including the heavyweight championship bouts between Jack Dempsey and Gene Tunney.

In the course of his life, Rothstein associated with some of the most colorful characters of the 1920s, including lawyer William Fallon (known as “the Mouthpiece”, and the basis of the character Billy Flynn in the musical “Chicago”), vaudeville star Fanny Brice (subject of the musical “Funny Girl” and wife of Rothstein associate Nicky Arnstein), New York Mayor James Walker known as “Gentleman Jimmy”, and many others. He also was associated with some of the ugliest names in organized crime, such as Salvatore Lucania known as “Lucky Luciano”, and Meyer Lansky. Rothstein is believed to have been an integral part of the New York City Democratic Party’s notorious system of corruption known as Tammany Hall.

Rothstein married a showgirl in 1909, but the marriage was not a happy one, and the couple had no children. Rothstein was mortally wounded with a handgun in Room 349 of the Park Central Hotel on November 4, 1928, and died early the next morning. No one was ever convicted of his murder.

References

  1. http://www.davidpietrusza.com/Rothstein-Chronology.html
  2. Pietrusza, David (2003) Rothstein, Carroll & Graf, pp. 61-64
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