Though ostensibly the memoirs of Tony Delvecchio, Sinatra, Gotti, and Me: The Rise and Fall of Jilly’s Nightclub is, above anything else, a snapshot of an era. And it’s an era that’s somewhat hard to define. The book takes place mainly in the 1970s, but it doesn’t have the stereotypical feel of either gritty ’70s New York City, nor of the disco-fueled, wide-lapelled excess. It’s a slice of the interesting dichotomy between old guards still at the top of their game (Sinatra) and young upstarts looking to make a name for themselves (John Gotti). The back cover describes it as a lost piece of American pop culture and that’s a dead-on description.
The book is written by Rich Herschlag who also collaborated on a book about legendary comedian and — as I most remember him — frequent guest on The Howard Stern Show, Pat Cooper. Pat is also a minor character in this book and wrote the foreword.
There’s another major character, Jilly — named in the subtitle — extended to both the person (Jilly Rizzo), and the restaurant (Jillys). It’s Tony’s roller coaster ride running the famed restaurant that is the real focal point of the book. You get a real feel for the way a celebrity and hype-driven establishment was run and how the upperworld and underworld mingled on a nightly basis.
This really isn’t a book about the Mafia either. Though John Gotti’s name is on the cover, he doesn’t play nearly as big of a role as other people, but his friendship with Tony is an interesting portrait of the upcoming mobster long before he ascended the throne of the Gambino crime family. The references to organized crime figures are spread throughout the book, but they are for the most part, peripheral characters, moving in and out of scenes and the greater story of Tony Delvecchio’s life.
Tony comes off an a nice-enough guy who treats the lesser celebrities, old friends (Joe Pesci shows up a lot, pre-Raging Bull), business partners, and the general public with the same respect. But the book also doesn’t flinch in showing some of Tony’s rougher edges, from his womanizing to his temper.
Sinatra, Gotti, and Me is well-written, and though there are some stories that could have been cut out for brevity’s sake, it’s an entertaining read. If there is one major gripe I have with the book it’s the timeline of the narrative. The book follows a fairly straight narrative path interspersed with flashbacks, but there are occasions when it dives into flashbacks without any attribution or physical break. The halts interrupt the continuity of the book. Not enough to negatively impact the overall story, but enough to make you notice.
One glaring omission was in the postscript. Though it tells what happened to Sinatra, Gotti, and Tony Delvecchio, it doesn’t mention to final day of Jilly Rizzo’s life. He was killed in a horrific car crash in Palm Springs California on May 6, 1992.
Though the story ends in the early 1980s, it would have been interesting to hear about Tony’s scrapes with the law afterwards, as well as his post-Sinatra life. Unfortunately Tony isn’t around anymore to fill in those gaps, but maybe he left enough for Herschlag to come out with a follow-up.