11/9/1927 - Career taking off after a successful run at the Green Mill Cocktail Lounge, a posh nightclub in Chicago catering to the rich and famous (and the elite of the underworld), singer/comic Joe E. Lewis (real name Joseph Klewan) refuses to renew his contract with the Green Mill, choosing instead to sign on with The New Rendezvous ... a decision that will give the entertainer a raise of $350 a week to a $4000 a month salary (plus a percentage of the club's nightly take during his run).
It is a decision however that enrages one of the co-owners of the Green Mill ... head torpedo for Al Capone, Machine Gun Jack McGurn (real name Vincenzo Gibaldi) ... and he tells Lewis that he will not live to open elsewhere when the performer decides to move on anyway.
The charming Machine Gun Jack
Worried, for awhile Lewis is escorted about town by a bodyguard, but when nothing happens and he debuts at the New Rendezvous as planned, the entertainer starts believing that McGurn was just bluffing as a renegotiable tactic and he lets his guard down and relaxes. It is a mistake that almost costs Lewis his life!
Lewis in later years
Awakened from his slumbers in his 10th floor room at the Commonwealth Hotel, a groggy Lewis foolish answers the knocking on his door without first checking who is outside his suite. Door opened, three thugs rush into the room and begin pistol whipping the entertainer, the blows so forceful that they drive pieces of Lewis' skull into his brain. Brutalized and almost comatose, one of the gangsters then takes out a long bladed hunting knife and carves away at the performer face and throat, cutting him from ear to ear and taking off part of his tongue. Blood spewing, the trio then drop Lewis on the floor and make their escape believing they've silenced the man forever. And they aren't far from right ... jugular vein barely missed, Lewis somehow fights through his wounds and is able to crawl out into the hallway where he is discovered by a chambermaid. Rushed to a nearby hospital, his life will be saved, but it takes months for him to learn how to speak again and he will bear the scars of the attack for the rest of his life.
In the aftermath of the attack, Capone, who was fond of Lewis and unaware of what his hitman was planning, provides monetary assistance in the form of $10,000 that allows the entertainer to take the time necessary to recover from his wounds. And recover he does, though he will never sing again, Lewis goes on to a career in comedy and lives long enough (he will die in 1971 at the age of 69) to see Frank Sinatra play him in the story of his life, the 1957 movie The Joker Is Wild based on the book of the same title by Art Cohn. And living well the sweetest revenge, Lewis stays above ground decades longer than the man who contracted his death!
Sinatra as Lewis
No happy ending for McGurn, on the outs with the leadership of The Outfit since Capone's incarceration for income tax evasion, in 1933 the former killer is setup on the anniversary of the crime he helped planned, the St. Valentine's Day Massacre, and while enjoying an evening of bowling on February 14th, the hitman is himself hit ... dead at the young age of only 33.