Docs

“Kill the Irishman” team embark on doc project on mobster Shondor Birns

U.S. prodcos SMA Creative and Dundee Entertainment have acquired the documentary rights to Rick Porrello’s non-fiction book Bombs, Bullets, and Bribes: The True Story of Notorious Mobster Alex Shondor Birns, ...
July 25, 2022

U.S. prodcos SMA Creative and Dundee Entertainment have acquired the documentary rights to Rick Porrello’s non-fiction book Bombs, Bullets, and Bribes: The True Story of Notorious Mobster Alex Shondor Birns, about the Cleveland gangster who ruled the city’s numbers, vice and protection rackets from the 1940s to the ’60s.

Born in the former Austria–Hungary in 1907 and brought to the U.S. by his parents at the age of one month, Birns began his criminal career in earnest in the late 1920s, and developed a reputation as a shrewd and brutal enforcer for the Cleveland mob. Following his imprisonment as an “enemy alien” during World War II, he attained Capone-level celebrity in his adopted hometown and continued to spread his influence over the city’s numbers and policy rackets, even as he courted respectability as the proprietor of a prominent restaurant and nightclub.

In the late ’50s, Birns’ ongoing attempts to wrest control of the city’s numbers game from the Black operators who had traditionally controlled it brought him into conflict with future boxing promoter Don King, who at the time was a well-known (and already flamboyant) figure in the Cleveland underworld. When King’s house was bombed in 1957, Birns and his associates were indicted for attempted murder, but were ultimately acquitted.

Dundee’s Tommy Reid — who previously produced¬†Kill the Irishman, a 2011 narrative feature based on Porrello’s book To Kill the Irishman — will be co-producing and co-directing the doc with SMA’s Danielle Alberico. Porrello will also be onboard as a producer.

Calling Porrello’s book “in many ways the prequel to” Kill the Irishman,” Reid said that “Cleveland has such a diverse and interesting crime history in one of my favorite cities in America, and this book needs to be told. I’m extremely excited to partner with Rick again, and we expect great things from this documentary.”

Cleveland native Alberico — who co-produced the 2021 feature doc War on the Diamond, about the fatal on-field incident during a 1920 Indians–Yankees game that spawned a century-long rivalry between the two MLB franchises —¬†said this story “combines a dynamite cast of characters against the complex world of boxing and the mob. Tommy, Rick, and I have access to an enormous amount of historical content thanks to Rick’s book and his expertise in the underworld of the numbers racket in Cleveland, [which stretched] into Miami and New York when boxing was king.”

About The Author
Andrew Jeffrey joined Realscreen in 2021 as its news editor. Here, he helps to oversee assignment, reporting and editing for Realscreen's daily newsletter. Prior to his work covering documentary and non-fiction film and TV, he worked as a reporter and associate producer for CBC Edmonton, and as a reporter for The Star Calgary, where he covered daily news on beats such as local and provincial politics, health care and harm reduction, sports and education. His work has appeared in other Canadian news outlets such as TVO, the Edmonton Journal and Avenue Magazine.

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