The Man Behind the Olive Manor Motel or How I Met Benny Binion
Burbank was the basis of many stories and memories for me. I lived there until I was 18 years old. I left the town that Johnny Carson renamed, “Beautiful Downtown Burbank” about June 15, 1964 and headed to Las Vegas. My first primary school was Burbank’s own Bellarmine-Jefferson grammar school, which I attended all the way through 8th grade.
Some of our family lived in Burbank and some in Las Vegas. Our cousins, Pete and Emma Schivo came to the USA a few years after my grandparents in the early 1900’s. The head of the household males were recruited in Italy and offered a chance for citizenship if they agreed to come and work in the gold and copper mines of Colorado and Montana. My grandmother washed and ironed for the other miners who did not have domestic wherewithal , and later manufactured and sold bootleg whiskey and wine to the locals inhabitants of the area. Unfortunately the Native Americans were discriminated by many and not allowed in bars. They gave the falsidical impression that their genes could not handle alcohol and would get crazy if they consumed it. This was totally mistaken. The issue was that Indians were not accustomed to drinking out of a glass bottle that contained a half liter of vodka or bourbon. Instead of sipping or just gulping down one or two fingers of the sauce, the swallowed more than a mouthful and at times swigged the entire bottle in a minute or so. Who wouldn’t go a little “pazzo”, I know hat I disd in the 11th grade when Craig Pew’s buddy purchased a small flask of Four Roses whiskey. I didn’t use the chaser that was supplied and downed the whole flask. I was sick for days.
Richard Westbrook owned the Olive Manor Motel. Westbrook was from St. Louis and moved to Burbank because the St. Louis Browns played winter baseball at Olive Recreation. Well sort of, I mean that’s what we thought. My family in Las Vegas and in Burbank got to know him pretty well and to me he was like and uncle. I went to grade school with his son Bobby at Bellarmine.
Also at the same school, was Patricia Nolan. Her mom was Robert Maheu’s personal secretary. Maheu was Howard Hughes’s Chief Operating Office for his Nevada casinos.
Westbrook sent Bobby to live with my parents otherwise he would be sent to a foster home or jail. Westbrook made a special arrangement through some associates of his in Las Vegas to insure Bobby could be allowed to plea-bargain his fate. So to satisfy the California court, Westbrook got Bobby and myself a job to supply industrial soap to the Frontier Hotel. I was almost 20 and Bobby was about 18 years old.
Browsing through the newspaper files I found some interesting facts. Richard Westbrook was a close friend of TW Richardson, one of the owners of the Frontier Hotel and associate of Robert Maheu. TW and his partners eventually sold the Frontier Hotel to Howard Hughes. Enter the Robert Kennedy assassination, Sirhan Sirhan and his lawyer, Grant Cooper. A story published in 1969 told of the trial of Sirhan that might have to have one more postponement because Cooper had to appear in District Court to face a Grand Jury on charges of contempt of court. The Grand Jury wanted to know how he obtained secret transcripts in the infamous Friars Club cheating case, wherein another client, Johnny Rosselli, was one of five convicted in the cheating of club members; Maury Friedman, TW Richardson, Anthony Zerilli, Michael Polizzi and Tony Giordano. Prior to that Rosselli was recruited along with Sam Giancana to assassinate Fidel Castro.
Rosselli was a partner in the Frontier Hotel gift shop, leased by Maury Friedman. Friedman was a partner with TW Richardson, Anthony Zerilli, Michael Polizzi and Tony Giordano (St. Louis) in the Frontier Hotel. All but Richardson served time in jail. Zerilli, Polizzi and Giordano were hidden owners and identified as members of the mafia by the U.S. Department of Justice.
Rosselli was recruited, along with Sam Giancana and Santos Trafficante, to assassinate Fidel Castro, by Robert Maheu, representing the CIA. Maheu was a former FBI Agent and special operative for the CIA, and later became the number one man in running Howard Hughes hotels in Las Vegas.
Rosselli was a powerful behind-the-scenes influence in Hollywood. According to Gaeton Fonzi: “The story goes that Rosselli . . . ‘suggested’ to Harry Cohn, then head of Columbia Pictures, that Frank Sinatra get the Maggio role in From Here to Eternity, the part that subsequently saved the crooner’s sinking career. Mario Puzo dramatized the incident in The Godfather’s horse’s-head-in-the-bed scene.
Richardson, was involved with Maheu’s bugging of comedian Dan Rowan’s room at the Riviera Hotel and paid the wire-man $1,000 after getting a special code word that identified exactly who should be paid the money.
Mr. Westbrook came into Las Vegas to finalize the arrangements for his son and said that he had to go downtown to Binion’s Horseshoe Club and asked me to tag along. He said he had to see Benny Binion. We met in the small little food bar that served Binion’s Famous Chili, just off the casino floor. Putting aside the “How ya doing” greeting and handshake, Binion remarked that the new French Chef he had just hired “had about one more day to cook his chili they way he liked it”
Westbrook also introduced me to his long time pal, Johnny Stone . Later I met another Westbrook crony, RD Matthews. Both Mathews and Stone are mentioned in the Warren Commission. Years later a light went on, and I realized who all these people were! Then I did a little research and found the attached article on “Uncle” Westbrook, wherein he was arrested for having a machine gun.
Well now I got some of the real skinny on why Mr. Westbrook left St. Louis. There is more to the story.