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JOE E. LEWIS
(and The Green Mill)
Joseph Klewan known as Joe E. Lewis
was a comedian / singer in the 1920's and later in the 40's,50,s and 60's.
His career took off in the twenties appearing in cabarets in Chicago.
He was appearing at the Green Mill Gardens a popular nightspot for gangsters and stars of the day.Notables such as Charlie Chaplin,Sophie Tucker,Eddie Cantor,Texas Guinan and Al Capone frequented this club which is still opened today.It still has retained it's beauty as i have visited the place myself much to my satisfaction.At the moment Lewis was appearing there, the club was partly owned by Machinegun Jack McGurn,one of Al Capone's favorite hitmen and bodyguards.Lewis was offered a pay raise if he would leave the Green Mill.He was making $650 a week at the Green Mill and was now being offered $1000 a week plus a % of the cover charges to boot at The New Rendez-vous cafe on the northside.Joe was happy to move on from the Green Mill especially since his contract was about to expire. ****He mentioned to Mc Gurn that he was leaving the Green Mill and wasn't renewing his contract. Mcgurn warned him to stay or else he would never live to open at The New Rendez-Vous. Joe told him he would easily find somebody to replace him ,but McGurn was insistant. Joe would leave his hotel every day nervously expecting to get whacked and even had a bodyguard protecting him for a while. Slowly he began to think that McGurn was bluffing as he did his opening night at the New Rendez-Vous Cafe without a hitch.Mcgurn one day caught up with him and told him how the Green Mill was morgue without him.The attack on Joe did come and it came in November 1927.
**** There is much debate about what the attack may have been about. No evidence has shown that McGurn had any ownership or interest in the Green Mill. The gangster that had a piece in that place was Ted Newberry, which at the time was also a McGurn rival.
The Rendez Vous Cafe was also said to be a Northside connected place.
Since Joe Lewis at that time refused to name McGurn by name no one was ever arrested for this crime. The possible reason was that Joe Lewis did something he was embarrassed about and didn't want to expose himself out to the media and public.
Like McGurn, Lewis an ardent drinker and a womanizer. He was always in company of women who enjoyed hanging around entertainers. The theory is that Lewis was having sex with the same blonde woman that was also McGurn's mistress. That may have led to McGurn's jealous drunken rage to get even with Lewis. McGurn already disliked Lewis' stage antics beforehand and was probably jealous of his easy growing success.
This wasn't the first time a drunken McGurn had accused men of trying to sleep with his women. McGurn didn't only have Louise Rolfe and like many of the Capone gang had several women on the side.
Machinegun Jack McGurn
He was sleeping when a knock came at his hotel room door.He was living at the Commonwealth Hotel at the time.With sleep still in his eyes,he opened the door of his suite totally forgetting about the threats McGurn had made in the past. Three hoodlums pushed into his room. He was warned not to scream. One grabbed a hold of Lewis while the other two began to pistol whip him on the head with their gun butts one with a .45 and the other with a .38. They pounded so hard that pieces of bone from his skull entered his brain. While still holding him up the third hoodlum took out a long hunting knife and proceeded to carve his face.He began at the left ear and went under his throat.He took a piece of his tongue off. Blood began to gush out as Lewis made gurgling noises.Lewis inevitably passed out.The hoodlumsleft him for dead. Lewis amazingly crawled from his appartment into the hallway. At first, the chamber maid who knew him thought it was a joke, knowing stunts done by Joe in the past.
Joe E. Lewis in hospital after McGurn thugs got a hold of him.
Finally he was rescued by ambulance to the hospital.The killers who botched up the hit were supposedly killed. This may be just lore. Lewis took a couple of years to learn how to speak and regain his confidence.
Joe E. Lewis months after the attack.
The outside of the Rendez Vous Cafe where Lewis was supposed to have start playing before his attack. The Cafe kept updates on the window of Lewis' condition while at hospital.
After many disappointing appearances he left his burlesque vaudevillian singing and stuck with stand up comedy. He flourished in the 40's 50's and 60's appearing frequently in Las Vegas and hanging around with people like Milton Berle,Red Skelton,Frank Sinatra.
Lewis had mentioned many years later that it was Jack McGurn who indeed attacked him in 1927.
Frank Sinatra starred in a movie based on his life called "The Joker is Wild" The movie was based on a book of the same name authored by Art Cohn. He was a heavy drinker, gambler and smoker. He died in 1971 from a stroke.
Joe the clown with a girl named Dorothy.
She may have been one of added reasons why he was hit upon. McGurn may have been seeing her also. Both were into Blondes and McGurn was a jealous lunatic when drunk.
"The Joker is Wild" movie about Joe E. Lewis
Book on Joe E.Lewis.I find alot of his stories are far too embellished,although the attack on him was the real deal.
Joe E. Lewis personal lighter
Once held by Frank Sinatra.
Second view of lighter
First Posted July 2002