This article was last modified on February 12, 2014.


Empire Strikes First: Remembering Sid Caesar

By the time you read this column, you will have surely heard that comedy legend Sid Caesar passed away at the respectable age of 91. Such a performer’s influence cannot be understated. He was a pioneer in television, bringing laugh to millions of people in the 1950s via his “Your Show of Shows”.

Beyond his own work, he launched the comedy careers of Mel Brooks, Neil Simon, Larry Gelbart, Carl Reiner, Michael Stewart, Mel Tolkin and Woody Allen, among others. After his television days, Caesar performed live on stage, often in plays written by his protege, Neil Simon (a talent who has received more Oscar and Tony nominations than any other writer).

Although it has been said we should not speak ill of the dead, the passing of Caesar seems to me a good time to bring up one event in his career that few know about and is an interesting footnote of his life and Wisconsin history.

In February 1975, Caesar was in Milwaukee performing a three week run of the Neil Simon play “Prisoner of Second Avenue” at the Centre Stage Playhouse, a theater owned by Mafia boss Frank Balistrieri. (Shortly after this production ,a film version was released starring Jack Lemmon and Anne Bancroft.)

After dinner at Sally’s Steakhouse (another business with questionable connections), Caesar retired to his room at the Astor Hotel. Through Anthony Pipito, a set designer at the Centre Stage, Caesar arranged to have a 23-year old prostitute sent to his room. The woman later testified that Caesar was quite drunk and “was mumbling his words”. She stayed roughly an hour and performed an undisclosed sexual act.

On another day, Thomas Garrella, an employee of massage parlor owner Herbert Holland, brought three women to the hotel for a “party” with Pipito and Caesar. What happened at this party is not known, but you get the general idea.

Did Caesar know that the Centre Stage was operated by the Mafia? Maybe, maybe not. He certainly had no idea who Pipito was, but we do. He had a long history of gambling and burglary arrests. At one point, in October 1968, he broke into the home of Julius and Martha Theilacker, an elderly couple, and then knocked Julius unconscious before tying him to a chair. Martha was locked in a closet. Luckily a neighbor saw the commotion and police quickly arrived before Pipito could escape.

With regards to Caesar, somehow the police eventually found out about his hotel room trysts. But they didn’t want the entertainer — they wanted Pipito. Pipito, 38, was bound over for trial for soliciting prostitutes by Judge Patrick J. Madden. During a break in the preliminary hearing, Pipito told reporters, “They’re letting five people go to get me.” Indeed, Caesar, another man and three prostitutes were granted immunity to testify against Pipito. Pipito was also bound over on a charge of extortion after Thomas Garrella testified that Pipito had threatened him not to tell what he knew about Pipito, the prostitutes and the pimp, Herbert Holland.

Pipito’s attorney was the relatively young Robert S. Sosnay, and the defense was not strong enough: he was sentenced to three years for the soliciting charge, plus an additional two years for the parole violation. Caesar and the prostitutes walked away without even a fine.

Massage parlor owner Holland had his own problems. Besides his work as a pimp, he was also connected to a plot by Sally Papia (owner of the aforementioned steakhouse) to burn down a rival restaurant, the Northbrook Inn, and to subsequently beat up a witness to the fire. He was joined by third-generation mobster Russell Enea and a literal one-armed bandit, Max Adonnis.

After being released from prison, Pipito never shied away from trouble and only worked harder to rise the ranks of the Mafia. He was considered the chief suspect in the murder of Anthony Biernat, a Kenosha juke box distributor, whose body was found buried in a shallow grave at the Bong Air Force Base (now the Bong Recreation Area) in Kenosha County. In the 1980s, he became possibly the biggest cocaine trafficker in Milwaukee, with shipments trucked up from Florida.

Somewhat ironically, in 1993, Judge Madden’s son was caught distributing 220 pounds of marijuana. The man responsible for sending Pipito away for his transgressions with Caesar would later have his own family issues to deal with.

Attorney Sosnay went on to be disciplined numerous times for taking money from clients without performing services and other mismanagement of funds. After a series of write-ups and suspensions, his license was revoked in 1997. He was also related to Herman “the German” Sosnay, crooked gambler who, with Milwaukee Mafia underboss Steve DiSalvo, was collecting money from fraudulent FHA loans on apartments they operated in Mundelein, Illinois.

As I have written elsewhere, the tentacles of the Mafia run deep and spread far and wide. In Milwaukee, they even managed to ensnare one of the greatest entertainers of the 20th century…

Also try another article under Historical / Biographical, Organized Crime
or another one of the writings of Gavin.

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