Carlos Marcello, the reputed boss of the nation’s original and oldest Mafia syndicate, was a distinctly American invention:

A Sicilian emigrant, born in a North African country during French colonial rule, whose earliest memories were of an old city in the New World. 

The eldest child of a sprawling Catholic family who spent his boyhood exploring the serpentine swamps of Barataria Bay, where Jean Lafitte had roamed a century before. 

A kid who dropped out of school at the age of 14 to work for his father, a vegetable farmer and bootlegger, and discovered his community and a sense of purpose among the Sicilian stevedores and the wise guys of Little Palermo in the French Quarter. 

A convicted felon by the age of 20, sent to a prison for a crime he did not commit but was accused of “masterminding,” and then, at 24, a free man with a clean record, given the gift of mercy after a politician named Hand convinced a governor named O.K. to grant him a pardon.

A national celebrity at 40, famous not for anything he said but for not saying anything at all and for what everyone else said about him.

A suspect, always a suspect, a person of interest, recklessly accused by of having the “motive, means, and opportunity” to orchestrate the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. 

A man wrongly accused, harassed, entrapped, and even kidnapped by his own government.  

A bayou rambler, a dope dealer, a racketeer, an undesirable, a working class hero, a loving father, an unfaithful husband, and a beneficent Godfather. 

A true believer in the American Dream, in bright lights and big cities, in neon and gold and chrome, in the open road, in Hollywood, in beach vacations and alabaster hotels tall enough to see the curvature of the earth, in domed football stadiums built on top of a doomed Gulf Coast, in Frank Sinatra and every single word of the song “My Way.”

King Carlos, Persona Non Grata, Proprietor of the House of the Rising Sun, Champion of the Fifth Amendment and Immigration Law Pioneer, Villain of Camelot, Representado Officiale, Big Daddy of the Big Easy, Deportable, a Man Without a Country. 

How Ya’ Like Dat?

“People take one little piece of true information, twist it around, add a lot of bullshit, and come up with some charges that don’t even resemble the truth.”

—Carlos Marcello