Kings and Jokers” is a dramatic miniseries based on the life and death of Johnny Rosselli, the go-to guy of Mafia dons, movie moguls, and CIA spooks during the “Golden Age” of organized crime. Rosselli’s quick mind and legendary charms made him the perfect mob fixer, ultimately placing him at the table with the princes of power: the Kennedys.
Johnny Rosselli was a tough, loyal and likable gangster who learns the ropes of organized crime at the foot of Al Capone, and becomes the Chicago mob’s point man in the wild west of 1920s Los Angeles.
He soon rises to the top of LA’s mob scene through exploits like his one-man takeover of the Monfalcone, an opulent and lucrative gambling ship parked in international waters off the Southern California coast.
“Kings and Jokers” recounts how Rosselli, through his unique combination of brains, toughness, and charisma, eventually wields mob authority and money in the early days of Hollywood. During that time, he becomes the confidant of movie moguls such as Harry Cohn and Joe Schenck.
He also earns high marks with Meyer Lansky and the Commission when the integration of Ben Siegel into the LA crime scene goes smoothly, due largely to Rosselli diplomatic abilities.
Rosselli is eventually imprisoned with the other Chicago bosses after the mob’s vast corruption of the stage worker’s union is uncovered. Kings and Jokers” also explores Rosselli’s lifelong search for love and family, and his romances with some of the most glamorous women of the day, including Ann Corcoran, the stunning young starlet who incurred his wrath by refusing his marriage proposal.
Following his release from prison after WWII, Rosselli is unable to realize his dream of retiring from crime to become a movie producer. Instead, he is called to Havana by Meyer Lansky to help manage the lucrative casinos and the mob’s partnership with the corrupt Cuban government. Lansky, concerned by the increasingly aggressive and violent Chicago boss, Sam Giancana, recruits Rosselli to be his spy in the Chicago Outfit. In return, Rosselli is chosen as “the man” in Las Vegas.
Rosselli plays a pivotal role in the growth years of Las Vegas, brokering casino deals while enforcing the “Pax Rosselli,” which forbad mob violence in the resort town. In addition, as the clearing house for top entertainers coming into Vegas, Rosselli develops close relationships with the likes of Sinatra and his “Rat Pack.”
When Giancana is assured by Joe Kennedy (who had long-standing ties to organized crime) that his son, John, would be the kind of President the mob could work with, Rosselli is the obvious choice to provide money, women and “favors” to the candidate on his visits to Vegas. In particular, he arranges an introduction to Judy Campbell, who becomes JFK’s long-time mistress and courier between the White House, Giancana, and Rosselli.
As the mob assists the Kennedy campaign, Rosselli is recruited by the CIA to assassinate Fidel Castro. Rosselli, who considers himself a patriot, agrees to help, turning down the $150,000 bounty. Lansky opts out, but instructs Rosselli to elicit the support of Giancana and Florida boss Santo Trafficante, who both yearn to reestablish their lucrative gambling empire in Cuba.
Always the “man’s man,” Rosselli gets in tight with his CIA comrades and their anti-Castro Cuban allies, and is eventually given his own base in the Florida Keys, from which he leads infiltration missions into Cuba, delivering arms and assassins. On one mission, his speedboat is sunk by a Cuban gunboat, and Rosselli barely escapes with his life. But, their many assassination attempts all end in failure due to the presence of a Castro spy in their conspiracy.
Once in office, the Kennedys, who received considerable help from Rosselli and Giancana in Chicago’s voting booths, renege on their “deal with the devil” and launch a crusade against the mob, spearheaded by Attorney General Robert Kennedy. The bosses vow revenge, while Rosselli’s CIA and anti-Castro comrades accuse JFK of being a traitor for allowing Cuba to remain in communist hands. Rosselli watches helplessly as this convergence of hatred leads to final judgment in Dallas.
In the aftermath of the assassination, Rosselli returns to LA to comfort the grieving Judy Campbell. Years later, after another stretch in Federal prison for a high-profile cheating scheme, Rosselli is called before a Senate committee to reveal what he knows about the CIA misadventures in Cuba. That testimony ultimately costs Rosselli his life.
“Kings and Jokers” is about a brilliant, charismatic man at the vortex of history; the underworld’s emissary to the highest echelons of power, where everything is a secret, and justice is dictated by money and muscle.