Bugsy Siegel’s Las Vegas Discovery
Warren Beatty as Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel, violent and visionary “celebrity” gangster
Las Vegas, March 1945
Release Date: December 13, 1991
Director: Barry Levinson
Costume Designer: Albert Wolsky
23 years after turning vicious Depression-era outlaw Clyde Barrow into a lovable if impotent protagonist, Warren Beatty was back at it, portraying sadistic rapist-turned-gangster “Bugsy” Siegel as an ambitious womanizer whose major flaw was being a stickler for good grammar.
While Siegel’s story was kept relatively similar—he was a dreamer amongst gangsters who fell in love with Hollywood and femme fatale Virginia Hill—Beatty plays him much differently than the cinematic mobster we’re used to seeing.
At times, he’s a lovable goof, other times a remorseful family man, and at other times—what he was most known for in real life—an unpredictably violent killer. But the entire time, his most endearing trait is his optimism. If he wants something, he truly believes he will have it. However, it’s tough to have a happy wife, a happy family, and a happy mistress, all while keeping mob families in New York, Los Angeles, and Las Vegas equally happy.
After the first of many fights, during which Virginia makes Bugsy promise to take her everywhere he goes, Siegel is preparing for a routine trip to Vegas. He charters his usual personal flight and grabs mob pal Mickey Cohen (played by the great Harvey Keitel just before his Reservoir Dogs resurrection) and heads to the air strip. Upon seeing the plane, Virginia freaks out. She hates flying and is scared to death of it. She tells Ben to go on his own, but the romantic gangster won’t hear it. They have a car… why not drive?
What’d He Wear?
For his drive to Vegas, Bugsy wears a black-and-white gingham check sports coat, undoubtedly inspired by a jacket worn by the real Bugsy as seen in several photos while he was in police custody in August 1940. Like the actual jacket, this one is single-breasted with notch lapels, front darts, a ventless back, and three-button cuffs. The major differentiator between the jackets: the real Bugsy wore a three-button jacket while Beatty wears one with only two buttons.
There are three patch pockets – one breast pocket and two hip pockets. Although he wears them with other suits and jackets, Bugsy forgoes a display kerchief when wearing this jacket in the film.
Whether wearing the sport coat casually or with a tie, he always matches it with a pair of mid-gray wool flat front trousers with cuffed bottoms, worn with a thin brown leather belt that closes in the front with a silver buckle.
Bugsy’s shirt is a soft off-white casual sport shirt with edge stitching. This is not a dress shirt and is styled with two flapped chest pockets and camp collars that fasten on a button with an extended tab. The large brown buttons fasten down a plain front. The long-sleeved shirt also buttons at each cuff.
During the trek to Vegas, Bugsy wisely wears a day cravat to catch his sweat while driving through the hot sun in the Mojave Desert. His cravat is dark green silk with a pattern of white and black squares. He wears it on his neck, underneath his shirt. (I recently discovered that this is a day cravat and not technically an ascot, which is more formal. Thank Dress Like A Grownup! for that info.)
Later, when released from prison in September 1946, he sports a black silk necktie with a pattern of pink and green geometric cubes. This outfit, with the jacket and tie, is supposed to be the same thing as worn in the famous photos of Bugsy in custody. The tie is pretty wide, typical of the ’40s.
On his feet, Bugsy wears a pair of appropriately-named “desert boots” in light brown suede. These shoes are worn with light brown ribbed dress socks.
Bugsy’s hat is a cream straw Panama hat with a black band. Bugsy’s accessories are his usual gold ring on his left pinky and his small gold square-face wristwatch on the thin black leather strap. He also wears a pair of aviator sunglasses with silver rims, dark lenses, and a reinforced metal double bridge.
On a final note, when Bugsy meets his demise at the film’s end, a photo of Virginia and him is shattered by a rifle bullet. In the photo, we see that Bugsy is wearing this same jacket.
Go Big or Go Home
Bugsy knows how to show up to Vegas in style. Of course, it was just a cow town when he first showed up, but when you arrive dressed to the nines in a four-door Cadillac convertible with a glamorous moll and a fiery gangster, you’re gonna make an impression.
Bugsy and company ride through the desert with Kay Kyser and his Orchestra performing “Ole Buttermilk Sky” on the radio with Mike Douglas and the Campus Kids providing the vocals. Recorded in 1946, Kyser’s version of the song reflects the optimism and romance of post-war America, the land of opportunity. This is very appropriate for Bugsy’s mindset at the time. He gets stranded in the middle of the desert and comes back with the vision for a multibillion dollar city.
How to Get the Look
Bugsy’s look may be warm for the desert, but there’s no denying that it looks sharp.
- Black-and-white gingham check single-breasted two-button sport jacket with notch lapels, patch breast pocket, open patch hip pockets, 3-button cuffs, and ventless back
- Off-white soft casual long-sleeved sport shirt with edge stitching and buttoned cuffs
- Dark green silk day cravat with a white & black square pattern
- Mid-gray silk blend flat front trousers with belt loops and turn-ups/cuffs
- Dark brown leather belt with a silver-toned single-claw buckle
- Light brown suede desert boots
- Light brown ribbed dress socks
- Cream Panama hat with a black band
- Small gold wristwatch with a thin black leather strap and a black face
- Silver-rimmed aviator sunglasses with dark lenses and a reinforced double bridge
Do Yourself a Favor and…
Check out the movie.
Roman, one of this blog’s excellent and astute commenters, recently noted the connection between this outfit – particularly the hatless jacket-and-tie look – and the costume worn by the gangster Benny in the video game Fallout: New Vegas. A Wiki description of the character even says “Benny saw the potential of New Vegas,” which evokes Bugsy’s “discovery” in the desert.
In the game, Benny’s suit is a black and white buffalo plaid, a slightly larger pattern than Bugsy’s gingham check, but still incredibly similar. It has notch lapels, a 2-button front, and a single rear vent. Like the real Bugsy, Benny wears a white handkerchief in the jacket’s breast pocket, a detail that was ignored by Beatty in the film.
I believe this outfit was referenced in video game Fallout: New Vegas in form of local (post-apocalyptic Las Vegas, that is) mobster Benny’s attire, except with no hat and a tie instead of ascot.
My friend Rick has been telling me for a long time that I would love the Fallout series, which I also understand has great music. I looked up who you mean and you’re right, this look (http://static2.nexusmods.com/130/mods/130/images/44776-3-1321937061.jpg) is absolutely a reference to both the film Bugsy and famous photos of the real Bugsy. I think I will mention this in the post, giving you credit for finding the connection of course.