There is one small part of Los Angeles where people still walk around, on Beverly Boulevard south of Wilshire. On any given day, you will see actors and models walking up and down the street, sitting outside a nice restaurant or at the newsstand. If you walked around that area, you would also inevitably see a tan, white-haired man dressed in designer jeans and a t-shirt. That was Johnny Fratto. He passed away this week from lung cancer.
Johnny Fratto was the son of Luigi Tommaso Giuseppe Fratto, aka Louis Thomas Fratto, aka “Lew Farrell” or “Cock-eye.” Louis was the boss of the Iowa family from the 1930’s until his death in 1967. He handled everything, from trucking to beer distribution, for the Chicago Outfit.
Johnny was great at telling stories about life with his father. Johnny and his brothers were crazy about the space program. So their father and some of his men “borrowed” a space capsule for a few days and brought it home. The kids played in it, and then they took it back to wherever it came.
Johnny knew I liked boxing, so he told me a story about Rocky Marciano.
“Kenji you know why I don't like steak?” he asked me. “No, I have no idea,” was my response.
“Well, Rocky used to come over to our house all the time for dinner. He loved my mom's cooking. I always sat next to him. This one time, my mom cooked steak. So Rocky cuts it up into pieces and chews them up, then spits out the meat when the flavor is gone. So he has this big pile of chewed up steak. I couldn't look at it, and now I don't like steak.”
I take it Rocky was cutting weight at the time.
Rocky would be killed in a plane crash in 1969 along with Johnny’s brother Frank.
Uncle Frank Fratto took over in Iowa, according to Johnny, after the plane crash that killed his brother. Johnny had a great picture in his house of Frank with a pistol to Sammy Davis Jr.'s head. Sammy is laughing in the picture and so is Frank. He spent a lot of time with the celebrities of the day, like the Gabor sisters and the Rat Pack.
Johnny still had family inside the Mafia. Rudy Fratto, a top guy in the Chicago Outfit, was his cousin. He was upset when Rudy was hit with legal problems in the last few years. Rudy was inducted into the Outfit in a ceremony which was overseen by John “Johnny No Nose” DiFronzo, who had been the boss at the time. Rudy had a charmed life until a tax evasion charge, and then was picked up on a bid-rigging scheme. During the time he was being watched by the FBI, they picked him up on wiretap saying, “I’m the boss of this area around here, no one else.”
Johnny would ask me for favors from time to time. I had a feud with a Bonanno guy in Los Angeles. Johnny was close to him. I disliked the guy, so I would make fun of him and call him names. Johnny asked me as a favor to him, to let it go. I did. He was a peacemaker. I was speaking to him one day and he told me, “I have to go to the airport today to pick up Joey Merlino.” For anyone who does not know Joey Merlino, he was the boss of the Philadelphia Family.
The next thing I knew, Johnny was on TMZ with Joey Merlino at the airport!
I was on the show the Deadliest Warrior one time, and when I was in the office, I noticed they were doing an Al Capone show. They had this kid who pretends he is a Capone, and I knew that Johnny Fratto was actually related. I told the producers about Johnny, and we made the call. He told me this: “Capone? Capone in my grandmother's house was like a Saint. She wanted to buy a building, and Al Capone gave her the money. After that, Capone could do no wrong in her eyes.” After he spoke to the producer, he called me back later and asked me if he had to get on the freeway to get to their offices.
That was the Johnny Fratto I knew. One night he called me and asked me to come over and take a ride with him. He was waiting for me downstairs in his car. He dropped the top before we pulled out and we drove a few miles away to Book Soup where Gary Dell’Abote from the Howard Stern Show was doing a radio show and signing books. I soon found myself with Baba Booey, Jillian and Mark McGrath.
When Johnny passed away this week, a piece of mob history died with him. He was around so many of the legendary Outfit guys. He had stories for days about Capone and the rest of them. I wish for our sake, that he would have published his book.
Rest in Peace Johnny Fratto.