Oscar Goodman is legitimate Las Vegas royalty. His new autobiography, Being Oscar (Weinstein Books, $26) co-written with George Anastasia, contains an entertaining mix of old-fashioned charm and deep-seated ego. Most of the stories and names will be familiar to Vegas residents who witnessed Goodman’s transition from mob lawyer to three-term mayor, but Goodman stands to win new fans across the country who are unaware of his many achievements and colorful exploits.
Being Oscar begins in Philadelphia, where Goodman earned his law degree and met his wife Carolyn, but quickly heads west. When the Goodmans arrived in Las Vegas in 1964, there was little indication they’d hit the jackpot. At the time, Las Vegas was just “a few flickering lights in the desert … not many big buildings” but the gamble paid off.
Goodman wastes little time getting into his 40-year career as a criminal defense attorney and does not flinch at the term “mob lawyer.” His first federal case, defending the brother of a major underworld figure, jump-started his career and Goodman’s knowledge of wiretap statutes quickly cemented his popularity with members of organized crime.
Goodman’s most infamous clients—Anthony “Tony the Ant” Spilotro, Frank “Lefty” Rosenthal, Meyer Lansky and various wiseguys across the country—were routinely accused of serious crimes: murder, embezzlement, bribery, bookmaking, sexual assault, extortion and conspiracy. Goodman takes pains not to glamorize crime, but was impressed that so many of his clients lived their lives according to a strict moral code. He reminds critics that his clients were entitled to fair legal representation and consistently describes himself as the underdog. He’s David, fighting Goliath, taking on a series of pompous prosecutors, dishonest district attorneys and questionable government officials. Goodman acknowledges the important role of law enforcement, but won’t stand for entrapment, lying, hidden political agendas or sloppy work. His job required him to protect and defend the Constitution, not just clients.
The last third of Being Oscar covers Goodman’s run as mayor of Las Vegas, with the usual battles (revitalizing Downtown, his failure to attract a professional sports franchise, his public squabble with President Obama) and perks (a cameo in Martin Scorsese’s Casino and numerous television appearances, his role as spokesman for Bombay Sapphire, his stint as a “guest photographer” for Playboy). There’s also plenty of space devoted to Goodman’s strong feelings about unions, the homeless, and legalizing drugs and prostitution.
To his credit, Goodman heaps some much-deserved praise on his wife (and current Las Vegas Mayor) Carolyn, for keeping him grounded, raising their children, and starting the Meadows, a private school. When Goodman was forced to step down as mayor after three terms, he advised his wife against running for the office. Once she threw her hat in the ring, he became her biggest supporter.
Being Oscar may not change any minds about Oscar Goodman, but it’s filled with entertaining anecdotes and loads of local history. ★★★★☆
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