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A Wedding In The Family


"So this will be Rosalie's story," he said. "It's her life, not Bill's or the Bonanno men's. And she's very fragile in the area of exposing it. It's very painful for her. She always said, 'Why would anyone be interested in my story? I'm just a boring housewife.' "

Judging by Dellinger's research--the product of "hundreds of hours of interviews over a 13-year period"--it's difficult to imagine anyone describing Rosalie Bonanno's life story as boring.

She was born Rosalie Profaci, the daughter of Salvatore Profaci, who was consiglieri to his brother, Joseph Profaci, the don of the powerful Profaci crime family durings its heyday between the 1930s and 1950s. The product of a strict Sicilian Catholic upbringing, she was sent off to a convent school at age 7. But, as she related to Dellinger, she grew to resent the constant dark presence of the Mafia in her life, especially after her father was burned to death in a suspicious boating accident when she was 18.

When she became engaged to Bill Bonanno a year later, Rosalie actually thought she was about to get away from the suffocating Old World traditions of her father and uncle--after all, young Bonanno was fresh out of college and the Army and living in Arizona.

But the Bonanno-Profaci wedding on Aug. 18, 1956, turned out to be a historic affair in the annals of organized crime: It was the symbolic marriage of the two largest crime families in America. It was highlighted by a formal sit-down dinner reception at the Hotel Astor in New York that was attended by nearly 3,000 people, including the heads of all 24 Mafia families from around the country--among them Vito Genovese, Albert Anastasia, Sam Giancana and Tony Accardo.

The wedding cake was 17 feet high. Tony Bennett and the Four Lads performed for free. The Pope sent best wishes. And Joseph Bonanno Sr., who would soon make an ultimately unsuccessful bid to become the Mafia's "boss of bosses," presided over the event "like a medieval duke," in Dellinger's words.

The way Dellinger plans it, the Bonanno-Profaci wedding will be the opening scene of his film and the wedding of Dr. Joseph Bonanno and Kathleen Milo in 1986 will be its climax. "These weddings are the bookends," he said.

But Dellinger emphasized the contrast between the two affairs: "In 1956, it was a Family wedding, with a capital F . The Mafia and its traditions dominated. Tonight, it's family with a small f .

"These guys are dinosaurs," he said, gesturing to a group of Mafia-types joshing in a corner. "Their life style is a thing of the past. And they are here because they are relatives, cousins, not because they represent something in Mafia hierarchy. Even Bill is a dinosaur, a man out of time, like his father.

"Tonight is Rosalie's triumph," Dellinger went on. "She grew up in this Sicilian world and she has always hated its tradition, just hated it. In the Sicilian tradition, it's always the first-born son who carries on the family business. But Rosalie was always determined: 'You will not have my son.' And tonight she's won. At her wedding, Joseph Bonanno Sr. was the Godfather; tonight he's just the grandfather."

Christine Foster acknowledged that the success of "Mafia Princess" made Group W, a division of Westinghouse Electric Corp., more receptive when agent Freiberg approached her about doing Rosalie Bonanno's story. "There's obvious interest in women in the Mafia," she said. "But what drew me to the story was the tremendous inner strength she's exhibited growing from passive women to one of determination and independence. I think most women will identify with her struggle.

"Rosalie and I have a lot in common," Foster went on. "We were raised as Catholics, both in convent schools."

In fact, Foster was a nun for five years, a member of the Immaculate Heart of Mary Order in Los Angeles. "But even as a nun, I don't think my Catholic training was as strict as Rosalie's. I really identify with value systems and morals she was brought up with and how those came in conflict with the life style that was all around her." Freiberg said he was aware of Foster's religious background before going in. "That's one of the reasons Bob and I went to her," he said. "We felt Rosalie would need to deal with a woman who had some understanding of her background and Christine seemed like a perfect match."

"Veiled Shadow" would mark the third time a member of the Bonanno family has gone public with details of life in the underworld.

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