At a time when talk of bad hombres is all the rage, it might be appropriate that Ralph Natale, 81, put his story on paper.
“Last Don Standing: The Secret Life of Mob Boss Ralph Natale” tells the violent backstory of the first Mafia don (1994-98) to cooperate with federal prosecutors; a tale that ranges from fixing fights for Muhammad Ali to hanging out with Teamster boss Jimmy Hoffa.
The book, written with New York City reporter Larry McShane and Discovery Channel producer Dan Pearson, is scheduled for release on March 21.
Q: Being in the witness protection program, you must miss Philadelphia.
A: South Philadelphia is ingrained in my soul. I get warm feelings just thinking about the old streets, I really do. I love it and miss it. Since I wrote this with Dan and Larry and became a witness — something I never thought I’d do against those punks who were supposed to take care of my wife and didn’t — I have come to believe that people in that town honestly regard me with esteem.
Q: There’s always been a code of honor and a league of gentleman within your generation of the Cosa Nostra. How do you equate being a gentleman with the violence within the business?
A: When I was 12, there was an incident that showed me who I truly was. We were street urchins doing what young hoodlums do when they dug up this old graveyard around the corner from where we lived. My father being the father that he was told me get home on time — ba-bing, ba-boom — even though he never had a job. He was a pick-up man. Anyway, I didn’t have a watch, came home after 9, and he was waiting for me at the door. I walked past him and he kicked me with the side of his foot like you would a street crumb, like someone who never mattered. I tell you this — if I had a pistol on me, I would’ve killed him. I told him to never touch me like that again, and went to bed. I never wanted anyone to touch me in a bad way.
Q: You were close to Philadelphia mob boss Angelo Bruno. When he was killed in 1980, it’s believed that the Philly mob — the Mafia in general — went into decline. What do you say?
A: It changed. I was away in prison at that time (Natale famously held omertà, the Mafia’s code of silence, for 16-years) and his underboss Tony Bananas had a deep-seated hatred of Bruno. Then again, Tony hated everybody who wasn’t him. He had no love; nothing but hate. Ang was a street man, kept everything in order. Everyone came to call him “the Docile Don” later in life, but he wasn’t docile. When it came time to be handed the Italian family mantle from Carlo Gambino he gave it to Bruno, not Bananas. Tony never forgot that. His level of hate carried on in the Mob even after Bananas was killed in retaliation weeks later. Greed took over the Mob, greed and crumb bums like the people who broke their promise to take care of my wife. That’s why I turned.
Q: There’s a photo of you and Jimmy Hoffa in the book, the only one to prove that Hoffa had the mob ties he always denied.
A: He was a good man and a great friend. Jimmy was aware of my talents and had me fix things when necessary with the union. He paid me well. When he came home from jail —he had it all, a huge pension —until he wanted to take back the Teamsters Local International. He wanted me to help him in New Jersey, but I couldn’t. There’s a saying, “you can’t serve two masters.” I couldn’t get my bosses to wash their hands of the situation. He was a great man, but he made a mistake. I could smell the dampness of the dirt of his grave when I looked at him.