All American Gangster

That new movie out, with Denzel and Russell Crowe, is based on a real-life heroin dealer Frank Lucas. Here is an old New York Magazine profile of him.

Highlights and/or lowlights:

Back in the early seventies, there were many "brands" of dope in Harlem. Tru Blu, Mean Machine, Could Be Fatal, Dick Down, Boody, Cooley High, Capone, Ding Dong, Fuck Me, Fuck You, Nice, Nice to Be Nice, Oh -- Can't Get Enough of That Funky Stuff, Tragic Magic, Gerber, The Judge, 32, 32-20, O.D., Correct, Official Correct, Past Due, Payback, Revenge, Green Tape, Red Tape, Rush, Swear to God, PraisePraisePraise, KillKillKill, Killer 1, Killer 2, KKK, Good Pussy, Taster's Choice, Harlem Hijack, Joint, Insured for Life, and Insured for Death were only a few of the brand names rubber-stamped onto cellophane bags. But none sold like Frank Lucas's Blue Magic.

In the end, the tour comes back to 116th Street. It's now part of Harlem's nascent real-estate boom, but when Frank "owned" this street, "you'd see junkies, nodding, sucking their own dicks . . . heads down in the crotch. People saw that, they knew that shit was good."

A drug kingpin attracts attention from the police, and according to Lucas, most of his trouble came from the NYPD's infamously corrupt Special Investigations Unit. Known for its near-unlimited authority, the SIU wrote its own mighty chapter in the crazy-street-money days of the early-seventies heroin epidemic; by 1977, 52 out of 70 officers who'd worked in the unit were either in jail or under indictment.

The worst of the SIU crew, Lucas says, was Bob Leuci, the main player in Robert Daley's best-selling Prince of the City. Says Frank: "We called him Babyface, and he had the balls of a gorilla. He'd wait outside your house and fuck with you." Once, according to Lucas, Leuci caught him with several keys of heroin and cocaine in his trunk. "This is gonna cost you," the detective supposedly said after taking Lucas down to the station house. The two men then reportedly engaged in a heated negotiation, Lucas offering 30 grand, Leuci countering with "30 grand and two keys." Seeing no alternative, Lucas said, "Sold!"

According to Lucas, it was Barnes's "delusions of grandeur" that led to a bizarre chance meeting between the two drug lords in the lingerie department of Henri Bendel on 57th Street. "Nicky wanted to make this black-Mafia thing called the Council. An uptown Cosa Nostra. The Five Families of Dope. I didn't want no part of it. Because before long, everyone's gonna think they're Carlo Gambino. That's trouble.

"Anyway, I'm with my wife at Henri Bendel's, and who comes up? Nicky fucking Barnes! 'Frank,' he's going, 'we got to talk . . . we got to get together on this Council thing.' I told him forget it, my wife is trying on underwear -- can't we do this some other time? He says, 'Hey, Frank, I'm short this week, can you front me a couple of keys?' That's Nicky."

Lucas says he thought about quitting "all the time." His wife, Julie, whom he met on a "backtracking" trip in Puerto Rico, begged him to get out, especially after Brooklyn dope king Frank Matthews jumped bail in 1973, never to be heard from again. "Some say he's dead, but I know he's living in Africa, like a king, with all the fucking money in the world," Lucas sighs. "Probably I should have stayed in Colombia. Always liked Colombia. But I had my heart set on getting a jet plane . . . there was always something."

And my personal favorite, which reveals how gross suburbanization and sprawl and big box stores have saved us all from crime:

A couple of days later, eating at a T.G.I. Friday's, Lucas scowled through glareproof glass to the suburban strip beyond. "Look at this shit," he said. A giant Home Depot down the road especially bugged him. Bumpy Johnson himself couldn't have collected protection from a damn Home Depot, he said with disgust. "What would Bumpy do? Go in and ask to see the assistant manager? Place is so big, you get lost past the bathroom sinks. But that's the way it is now. You can't find the heart of anything to stick the knife into."

You read this profile and you wonder why Russell Crowe needs to be in this movie at all. Frank Lucas is the flip side of Malcolm X, and I'm guessing the casting will dicate that the movie pays less attention to character development and more attention to dramatic face offs and closeups. I never thought I'd say this, but where's Spike Lee when you need him?

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