How a poor Jewish kid from Newark, NJ became one of the most powerful gangsters of the 20th century...and a hero to his people.
The Man, The Legend
His name was Abner Zwillman and he was a Jew. To the public he was known as "Longie" due to his height and reputation as the teenage defender of his neighborhood where he was referred to in Yiddish as "Der Langer" (translated: The Tall One). To his friends and family he was simply "Abe." During Prohibition he became the largest bootlegger in the U.S. responsible for roughly 40 percent of all the illegal alcohol that entered the country. A multimillionaire following Prohibition and the living embodiment of Fitzgerald's famed 'Gatsby', Zwillman had his hand gripped tight around Hollywood where he bankrolled Columbia Pictures, had a love affair with Jean Harlow and ruled both legal and illegal businesses across the nation. He was the brains behind the crime syndicate known as the "Big Six" which included names like Lansky, Siegel and Luciano and was a major figure in the gang of assassins known as Murder Inc. Zwillman ran his criminal empire from Newark, New Jersey where he took on the highly organized and menacing Nazi Bund leading up to World War II. He may even be responsible for one of the most storied presidencies in American history. He would eventually be dubbed by the press as "The Al Capone of New Jersey," though calling Capone "The Longie Zwillman" of Chicago would have been more appropriate since Zwillman's power lasted far longer and reached well beyond the scope of Capone's.
There was, however, a different side to Zwillman. Most knew him as a classy, highly-educated, well-mannered and generous soul who strived to be a legitimate businessman. After all, he lived in a stately mansion in the suburbs with his beautiful high-society wife and two kids. Almost no one who met him would have ever guessed he was a ruthless gangster who would stop at nothing to remain in power. Though he wished to live a life of legitimacy, his criminal ties were too strong to keep him out of constant surveillance by the government and lead to his infamous demise.
The name Zwillman has hardly been uttered in the past half century, but that's about to change thanks to a new documentary about the life and career of the person the government pegged as the man who organized crime and whose death remains a mystery to this day. Our project began with a conversation between two people, but not just any two people. One was the man who wrote the screenplay for two of the most beloved mob films of all time. The other, a household name and one of the most celebrated and powerful producer-directors in film history. The topic of that conversation was Longie Zwillman. It was that conversation that has lead to the last six-plus years of research on the man we will argue was one of, if not, THE most powerful gangsters in American history. The result is a feature-length documentary film tentatively titled "Gentleman Gangster." It is narrated by Academy Award winning actor Richard Dreyfuss. We have dug through archives both near and far and spoken with scores of people across the country to learn everything we could about this man history has forgotten. We've conducted dozens of interviews with authors, historians, law enforcement, Zwillman's friends and relatives and even a former Governor; all of whom have helped us paint a complete picture of this mysterious underworld figure, who despite leading a life of crime, remains a hero to his people. Was his death a murder or suicide? The viewer will decide.
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