39 — Benjamin Siegel

a.k.a: Bugsy

Occupation: Mobster

Born: 1906

Died: 1947

Brief Description:
Benjamin Siegel was born in Brooklyn to an ashkenazi jewish family. As a boy, he joined gangs and rackets which built up his lengthy criminal record. Eventually, he teamed up with Meyer Lansky who saw the need to start a jewish gang organized in the same manner as the Italians and the Irish. There, he got involved in bootlegging and hijacking and even served as the mob’s hitman.

Eventually, Siegel moved to California because he was in danger in New York and continued doing pretty much more of the same from extortion to racketeering. He ran casinos and a prostitution ring, all while befriending Hollywood movie stars and joining the highest circles of society.

During his time in California, Siegel was put on trial a few times. Although he was acquitted, it had significantly damaged his reputation so he sought to reinvent his personal image by diversifying into legitimate business with William Wilkerson’s Flamingo Hotel, a casino that would offer it all: gambling, the best liquor and food and the biggest entertainers. Eventually he coerced Wilkerson into selling all his stakes in the Flamingo.

Siegel went on a spending spree as he spared no expense on his casino and had huge cost overruns. On the opening day, the casino was still unfinished and so the opening was a fiasco: the celebrity guests were greeted by construction noises in a lobby still draped with drop cloths, the air conditioning broke down regularly and the luxury rooms were still not available. Two weeks later, the Flamingo shut down. And even though it reopened a couple of months later and began turning a profit, the mob bosses were growing impatient.

On the night of June 20, 1947, an unknown assailant fired at him through the window, hitting him many times, including twice in the head. During the hail of fire, Siegel’s left eyeball was blasted out, an unintended symbolic flourish for the man called the “visionary” who created Las Vegas. No one was charged with killing Siegel, and the crime remains officially unsolved.

Why he’s on the list:
Another mobster on my list. I started this blog with Al Capone who was a boyhood friend of Ben Siegel. So do I like mobsters? Not specifically. But I do like rulebreakers in general as every great idea or inventions came from challenging the norms and the accepted truths. And mobsters just happen to be pretty good at breaking the rules.

Like most notorious mobsters of his time, Siegel had a flashy style. He was making a lot of money and proudly flaunting it. And while this is something I doubt I would do, I’ve always enjoyed watching those who do as I find there is a certain beauty in the bluntness and vulgarity of showing off.

Even though Ben Siegel didn’t invent the Flamingo concept but merely stole the idea from Wilkerson, he is still considered the visionary behind the creation of my favorite city, Las Vegas. And it also serves as a reminder that coming up with good ideas is not as important nor as difficult as bringing your ideas to life.

The Flamingo cost a few millions and Siegel was killed for it. Over the years, the Flamingo generated billions. Yes, part of it is inflation but still. Let is serve you as a reminder not to let people take you down if they don’t share your vision.

40 — Shahrazad

a.k.a: Scheherazade

Occupation: Storyteller

Born: In tide of yore

Died: In time long gone before

Brief Description:
There once was a king named Shahryar. Upon discovering that the queen had betrayed him with a slave, the king sent for his Chief Minister, the father of the two damsels who (Inshallah!) will presently be mentioned and said “I command thee to take my wife and smite her to death; for she hath broken her plight and her faith. So the wazir carried her to the place of execution and did her die. Then King Shahryar took brand in hand and repairing to the Serraglio slew all the concubines and their Mamelukes. He also sware himself by a binding oath that whatever wife he married he would abate her maidenhead at night and slay her next morning to make sure of his honour; “For,” said he, “there never was nor is there one chaste woman upon face of earth.”

And so, he ordered his wazir to bring him a virgin to marry every day which he would then have executed the next morning before she could dishonour him. Three years later, the wazir couldn’t find any more virgins and returned home in sorrow and anxiety fearing for his life from the King. So his eldest daughter, Shahrazad, volunteered to marry the king.

Secretly, Shahrazad had asked her younger sister, Dunyazad, to join her in the king’s chambers at night and ask her for a story. Dunyazad did as she was asked and Shahrazad agreed and started telling a story which she stopped in the middle since dawn was breaking. So the king spared her life for one day so she could finish the story the next night. The following night Scheherazade finished the story and then began a second, more exciting tale, which she again stopped halfway through at dawn. Again, the king spared her life for one more day so that she could finish the second story. Thus the king kept Shahrazad alive day by day, as he eagerly anticipated the conclusion of each previous night’s story.

Eventually, after 1001 nights, Shahrazad told Shahryar that she had no more stories to tell. By that time however, the king had already fallen in love with her, so he spared her life permanently and made her his queen.

Why she’s on the list:
Shahrazad “had perused the books, annals and legends of preceding Kings, and the stories, examples and instances of by-gone men and things; indeed it was said that she had collected a thousand books of histories relating to antique races and departed rulers. She had perused the works of the poets and knew them by heart; she had studied philosophy and the sciences, arts and accomplishments; and she was pleasant and polite, wise and witty, well read and well bred.”

Shahrazad is the first fictional character on my list. And as a fictional heroine, her description will naturally be shaped to ideal standards that would please most readers, including myself.

And for the feminists out there, she should be a role model. She shows that women can actually control the men around them if they know how to properly wield their power to their advantage.

What I also like about Shahrazad is that she understands the power of a good story to entice an audience and always leave it wanting more. And since this is my first blog post after almost 10 years, I found it befitting to continue my little stories with the queen of storytelling herself. =)