Actor James Gandolfini is being laid to rest today. But local fascination with the Jersey Mafia world portrayed on the late actor’s television drama The Sopranos, will likely never diminish. To slake that hunger, a new book takes root. While Tony Soprano seemed more interested in his back garden as a way to sneak in or out of his house, long-ago Livingston resident Richie “The Boot” Boiardo, who once led the crime family that was the real-life model for The Sopranos, treasured his flower and vegetable garden, much like Don Vito Corleone, of the Godfather films.
Boiardo, who died in 1984 at 95, is the subject of a new book by Richard Linnett, a former resident of Roseland, Bloomfield and Glen Ridge, who recalls being fascinated by the Boiardo estate in Livingston when he was a kid, and was often chased away while sneaking onto the reputed crime boss’s property.
Linnett will discuss his new book, In the Godfather Garden: The Long Life and Times of Richie the Boot Boiardo, along with Roger Hanos, Boiardo’s grandson, on Steve Adubato’s One On One program on Sunday, June 30 at noon on NJTV. They’ll be talking about The Boot and the stigma of the Mafia in the New Jersey Italian-American community.
His book is published by Rutgers University Press, which touts it as the definitive word on the life of “one of the most powerful and feared men in the New Jersey underworld. This secretive Don insisted he was nothing more than a simple man who enjoyed puttering about in his beloved vegetable garden on his Livingston estate. In reality, the Boot was a confidante and kingmaker of politicians, a friend of such celebrities as Joe DiMaggio and George Raft, an acquaintance of Joseph Valachi—who informed on the Boot in 1963—and a sworn enemy of J. Edgar Hoover.
“Although he operated in the shadow of bigger Mafia names across the Hudson River (think Charles “Lucky” Luciano and Louis “Lepke” Buchalter, a cofounder of the Mafia killer squad Murder Inc. with Jacob “Gurrah” Shapiro), the Boot was equally as brutal and efficient. In fact, there was a mysterious place in the gloomy woods behind his lovely garden—a furnace where many thought the Boot took certain people who were never seen again.”
When the Sopranos was ending its run in 2007, Linnett, a freelance journalist and documentary filmmaker, wrote an article for Penthouse about the connection between David Chase and the Boiardo inspiration. “I did a lot of research, requested material from the FBI, and I had so much material I thought I would love to do a book,” Linnett explains. “Then Rogers Hanos (Boiardo’s grandson) called me, and he wanted to see a book done too. He had films from the estate, connections, and could open up the gates wide so I could learn about the family. Now that was an offer I couldn’t refuse! But one of the conditions was I wouldn’t whitewash anything, and we didn’t.”
Hanos provided family stories and private photographs about his grandfather who, in his twilight years, quietly conducted “business” from a chair in his vegetable garden behind his 30-room Livingston house, near a sign that proclaimed “The Godfather’s Garden.” He died in his early 90s in 1984.
All images courtesy Richard Linnett