Warren Beatty as Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel, “celebrity” gangster and casino builder
New York, Summer 1945, and
Beverly Hills, December 1946
WARNING! Spoilers ahead!
Release Date: December 13, 1991
Director: Barry Levinson
Costume Designer: Albert Wolsky
Bugsy is an entertaining and stylish drama penned by James Toback, transforming the violent mobster in a suave and romantic visionary much as the real life gangster himself tried to reinvent his persona after moving out to the West Coast, choosing to rub elbows with the likes of George Raft, Gary Cooper, and Cary Grant rather than his old associates like Dutch Schultz, Lucky Luciano, and Joe Adonis.
One of the film’s many departures from the truth kills off its title character a good six months before his actual death, setting his mysterious assassination shortly after Christmas 1946. In truth, Benjamin Siegel was killed exactly 70 years ago today, June 20, 1947.
Otherwise, Bugsy keeps the general circumstances, setting, and suggested motives of Siegel’s death relatively intact. Like his cinematic counterpart, Siegel was killed in the Beverly Hills home of his mistress, Virginia Hill, portrayed in Bugsy by Annette Bening and later immortalized as “queen of the gangsters’ molls” after her profane testimony during the 1951 Kefauver hearings.
What’d He Wear?
Bugsy‘s costume team nicely recreated a 1940s-styled plain weave glen check worsted suit that Siegel was known to have owned, as he was wearing it when was killed. The film places Bugsy in this suit not only for his death but also for an off-shore “going away” party for Lucky Luciano prior to his deportation.
The six-button (6×2) formation of Bugsy Siegel’s suit jacket is the most classic double-breasted style, and Bugsy keeps at least the top button fastened at all times, allowing the wide peak lapels to luxurious sweep across his torso. The sharp-pointed lapels have straight gorges and a buttonhole through each side.
For added touches of ’40s authenticity, the jacket is ventless with padded shoulders and roped sleeveheads.
Bugsy could hardly call himself debonair without a pocket square, and he dresses for Luciano’s going away party with a white linen kerchief poking rakishly out of the jacket’s welted breast pocket. The hip pockets have slim flaps.
One small detail differentiating Beatty’s suit from the real Bugsy? Beatty wears a suit jacket with three-button cuffs; the real Bugsy had four-button cuffs on his suit when he was killed.
Trouser pleats were de rigeur in the postwar 1940s, and Bugsy’s suit trousers have reverse pleats on each side of the zippered fly, in addition to a fashionably full ’40s cut and equally era-appropriate cuffs (turn-ups) on the bottoms. His black leather belt has a squared gold single-prong buckle.
Warren Beatty wears a number of colorful silk sport shirts throughout Bugsy, but anytime he is wearing a jacket and tie, he always wears a white dress shirt with a long point collar and double (French) cuffs. This shirt may possibly be one of the monogrammed dress shirts from Sulka that he mentions with such pride during the opening sequence. His cuff links are a set of flat gold bars.
Since this suit’s first appearance is during a party, Bugsy sports a lively Deco-influenced silk tie with an amoebic beige and black pattern over a burgundy ground.
A year and a half later, Bugsy is in a much more somber place. After sinking millions of the mob’s money into his dream of the Flamingo Hotel and Casino, the casino seems doomed for failure and Bugsy receives the inevitable call summoning him home. This is no time for frivolity, so Bugsy wears a simple and solemn dark woven silk tie, possibly a navy grenadine weave.
Oxfords are the most formal shoe for business wear, and Bugsy appears to be wearing a cap-toe pair in black leather. We don’t see much of Beatty’s footwear in this sequence at all, but the real Bugsy Siegel appears to have opted for dark gray socks with this outfit in reality… not that this sartorial wisdom was enough to save his life.
Beatty loads his left hand up with Bugsy’s “status jewelry”, including a gold pinky ring with a small, dark round stone. He also wears a yellow gold tank watch on a black leather strap with a light-colored square dial with a darker inset square.
The real Bugsy Siegel wore a similarly shaped watch, a gold-filled Bulova with a square case and 6:00 sub-dial on a rice grain bracelet, as seen here.
Go Big or Go Home
…but don’t go to Virginia Hill’s home!
It was at Hill’s house at 810 N. Linden Drive in Beverly Hills that Bugsy met his end. He was sitting with Allen Smiley, his friend with whom he’d dined earlier that evening at Jack’s-at-the-Beach in Ocean Park when nine .30-caliber rounds from an M1 Carbine interrupted his reading of the Los Angeles Times, peppering Siegel with four shots, including one that sent his eye flying across the room after hitting the right bridge of his nose.
I haven’t yet watched the 1940s-set Mob City on TNT, but the final episode depicted Bugsy Siegel’s assassination in a manner slightly closer to what reportedly happened in real life. The scene, featuring Edward Burns as Siegel, can be found on YouTube. (Beware of spoilers, of course.) Like Bugsy, Mob City features the correct weapon and even places Siegel in a Glen Urquhart plaid double-breasted suit.
More About That…
Okay, so since you’re all very patient and nice to me, please allow some indulgence here. When I was in – holy shit – ninth grade in 2004, one of the many short (and usually mob-centered) films I made with my friends was called The Flamingo and focused on the last days of Ben Siegel… with yours truly in the lead role as Bugsy himself.
Little did I know that I was so into menswear at the time, as I tracked down a glen plaid double-breasted 6×2 jacket and floral-printed tie to wear for the eye-popping final scene. Since I was wearing one of my #Good dress shirts, I wore an old white undershirt over the shirt (with the tie and shirt collar over it) for the sequence when I would needed to get bloodied – or, uh, ketchupped. Check it out below
How to Get the Look
- Black-and-white plain weave glen check worsted suit:
- Double-breasted 6×2-button jacket with wide peak lapels, welted breast pocket, slim-flapped straight hip pockets, 3-button cuffs, and ventless back
- Reverse-pleated full cut trousers with belt loops, side pockets, and turn-ups/cuffs
- White dress shirt with long point collar, front placket, and double/French cuffs
- Gold bar cuff links
- Dark silk tie (with a Deco-inspired style if you’re feeling jaunty)
- Black leather belt with gold squared single-prong buckle
- Black leather cap-toe balmorals/oxford shoes
- Dark gray socks
- Yellow gold tank watch on black leather strap
- Gold pinky ring with dark stone, worn on left pinky
Do Yourself a Favor and…
Buy the movie.
Joey, can ya hear me? You’re lucky I didn’t have a lot to drink tonight. Your apology is accepted.