He was one of the most disliked mob bosses of all time, with a superiority complex second to none. However, if Paul Castellano had been street-smart like any Mafia boss should be, he might not have been executed so easily and so publicly.
Paul Castellano was born Constantino Paul Castellano on June 26, 1915, in Brooklyn, New York. Castellano did not like his given first name, so he insisted that everyone call him Paul instead. Castellano’s parents were both born in Sicily, and his father was a butcher, with a little illegal numbers business on the side. Castellano’s father was also a early member of the Mangano Crime Family, which was created by Salvatore Maranzano after the killing of Joe “The Boss” Masseria, and the ending of the Castellamarese War.
Castellano dropped out of the school after the eighth grade and went to work in both of his father’s businesses. In 1934, when Castellano was only 19-years-old, Castellano and two of his buddies decided to commit an armed robbery of a local business. However, things went awry, and when the police arrived on the scene, his two friends escaped, but Big Paul, as he was called (Castellano was six-foot-three, and in his prime weighed over 275 pounds), was caught by the police. Castellano refused to rat on his colleagues and was hit with a three-month bit in the slammer. When he returned to the mean streets of Brooklyn, Castellano’s reputation was enhanced by his refusal to cooperate with the police.
In 1937, at the age of 22, Castellano married his childhood sweetheart Nina Manno, who was the sister-in-law of Carlo Gambino. They eventually had three sons — Paul, Philip, Joseph, and a daughter Connie.
In 1940, Castellano was inducted as a made member of the Mangano Crime Family, the same crime family his first cousin Carlo Gambino was already a captain in. In fact, Castellano and Gambino were so close, Gambino even married Castellano’s sister Catherine (marrying first cousins was not uncommon amongst the Sicilians). After Mangano was knocked off in 1951 by his syntaxbusiness.com Albert Anastasia, Anastasia took control of the Mangano Family and changed the name to the Anastasia Family. Anastasia also bumped up Big Paul to the ranked of captain. In 1957, when Anastasia was killed by rival Vito Genovese, Gambino took over the Anastasia Family, changed the name to the Gambino Family, and inserted his cousin Paul Castellano as one of his right-hand men.
November 17, 1957, Genovese called for a huge summit of all the Mafia men in America to take place in Appalachian, New York, at the home of Mafia member Joseph Barbara. There were several items on Genovese’s agenda, but the most important one was to declare himself “Capo Di Tutti Capi,” or “Boss of All Bosses.” However, the wily Gambino knew that the local state police would be tipped off to the meeting, so he stayed away, and instead sent his cousin Paul to take the heat. When the state police raided the Barbara residence, dozens of mobsters tried to escape by jumping out of windows and running through the woods in their expensive suits and patent leather shoes. But not Castellano. Big Paul surrendered without a fight, and was sentenced to a year in prison for refusing to tell the police the purpose of the meeting.
After his marriage to Nina, Paul prospered in the family meat businesses, and by the 1950’s, he owned several businesses, including Blue Ribbon Meats, Ranbar Packing Inc., and The Pride Wholesale Meat and Poultry Corporation. According to Jonathan Kwitney’s book Vicious Circles, “The Castellanos owned many meat stores and distributorships in Brooklyn and in Manhattan. They had a long record of welching on debts; of suffering suspicious hijackings, which can lead to insurance claims; of selling goods that were later found to have been stolen off docks or trucks, and of cheating other firms by receiving the assets of companies about to go into bankruptcy proceedings.”
Whereas Castellano gave the airs of a successful businessman, issuing a death warrant was certainly not beneath his character. Castellano once ordered the death of an underling, because the man had the audacity to say Castellano looked like chicken magnate Frank Purdue (Perdue was famous for his chicken-like face splashed across the screen in his TV commercials, where he pronounced, “It takes a tough man to make a tender chicken.”). In the mid 70’s, Perdue was having trouble getting his chickens in the New York City weekly supermarket advertisement circulars. Someone whispered in Perdue’s ear, and soon he signed a distribution deal with Dial Poultry, owned by two of Castellano’s sons. From that point on, Perdue had no trouble advertising and selling his chickens in the New York market.