Culture

Monday, November 30, 2009

 

A Dose of My Own Medicine

Paul Krassner


A recent obituary in the Los Angeles Times began: “Bernie Boston, the photojournalist who captured the iconic image of a young Vietnam War protester placing a flower in the barrel of a rifle held by a member of the Army’s Military Police Battalion, died. . . . The photo known as ‘Flower Power’ became Boston’s signature image and earned him acclaim in the world of photojournalism. Taken during an antiwar march on the Pentagon on Oct. 22, 1967, the photo was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize.”

The protester, not identified, was Joel Tornabene. In my autobiography, I described him as “an unheralded Yippie organizer known as Super-Joel. His grandfather was Mafia boss Sam Giancana…” Now I learned that Joel’s sister, Fran, had said, “Our grandfathers were a Sicilian doctor and a Norwegian Irish carpenter. I can’t imagine how anyone would actually believe that Giancana relationship.” I contacted her immediately, apologizing “for passing on false information,” and adding, “Although I included that story in my autobiography, recently I’ve had the rights reverted back to me, and I plan to have it re-published in an updated edition, so I will certainly include a postscript revealing that hoax.”

She replied, “I think that Joel must have had quite a good time with the ‘Giancana connection hoax.’ I was first made aware of this story after his death in Mexico in 1993. His attorney, Dennis Roberts, came to Chicago to meet with my mother and our family. He seemed to be quite surprised to see a simple middle-class family home in Franklin Park, rather than a River Forest Mafia compound. I wasn’t aware of the extent of this story until Prairie Prince, who I know Joel was close to for years, asked me a few years ago which side of the family was Giancana. Since then, I’ve seen your tale regarding his being moved to the unindicted co-conspirator list due to the ‘grandfather connection.’”

“I’m embarrassed to admit that I believed it,” I confessed, “simply because Joel was extremely convincing when he told me—so I'm a professional prankster who got pranked himself—but I really had no way of double-checking his personalized put-on.”

And I’m not the only one who’s been fooled like that. Another sister, Felicia, located an interview in which Tom Waits was asked who Joel is.

“He's in the concrete biz,” Waits answered. “Mob guy. He was the grandson of Sam Giancana from Chicago. He did some yard work for me, and I hung out with him most of the time. He died in Mexico about five years ago. He was a good friend of [producer/composer] Hal Wilner, and he was a good guy. He had an errant—I don’t know how to put this—he used to go around, and when he saw something he liked in somebody’s yard, he would go back that night with a shovel, dig it up and plant it in your yard. We used to get a kick out of that. So I stopped saying, ‘I really like that rosebush, I really like that banana tree, I really like that palm.’ Because I knew what it meant. He came over once with twelve chickens as a gift. My wife said, ‘Joel, don’t even turn the car off. Turn that car around and take those chickens back where you found them.’ He was a good friend, one of the wildest guys I’ve ever known.”

Waits has written a song—“How's It Gonna End,” on his album Real Gone—that includes this lyric: “Joel Tornabene lies broken on the wheel....”

And Joel’s ten-year-old nephew used him as a topic for a history project—he centered it on the 1968 convention in Chicago—titled “Someone Who Took a Stand.”

Paul Krassner is the author of Who's to Say What's Obscene: Politics, Culture & Comedy in America Today,
available at paulkrassner.com

 

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