Benjamin Siegelbaum was born to Russian immigrants in the Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York, on February 28, 1906. He grew up to become one of the most famous, feared, and violent gangsters of his day — Bugsy Siegel. As a young man, Siegelbaum despised the poverty that surrounded him and vowed that he would never again want for anything. As a teenager, Siegel provided pushcart vendors with “protection” from vandals and thieves. Of course, if they declined his offer, Siegel incinerated their pushcarts. By the age of 14, Siegel had already started his own gang and acquired the nickname “Bugsy,” because he was “as crazy as a bedbug.” As a teenager, he formed an alliance with Meyer Lansky, forming the Bugs and Meyer Mob, which controlled much of the Lower East Side of Manhattan. They also partnered in Murder Inc., the enforcement arm of the National Crime Syndicate. All told, Bugsy killed at least 30 men during his lifetime.
Siegel is best remembered for his role in the development of Las Vegas. Sent to California by Lansky, Siegel became enamored with the idea of finding a modern casino in Vegas. At that time, Old West style game rooms dominated Las Vegas. Siegel took over construction of the Flamingo Hotel, but the contractors exploited his obsession with appearances, overcharging him by large sums. When the Flamingo’s grand opening proved to be an unprofitable flop, Lansky’s criminal co-investors became furious. Within a year’s time, Siegel managed to turn a profit — but it was too late to save his life. On June 20, 1947, an unknown gunman murdered Siegel, then 41, in actress Virginia Hill’s Beverly Hills mansion.
Bugsy Siegel, 2008
Mixed Media Silkscreen on Paper
19″ x 29″