I chatted with Danny Greene’s ex-wife and daughter Friday night after the screening of Danny Greene: The Rise and Fall of the Irishman, the documentary about the late gangster's life, at the Cleveland International Film Festival. They gave it two thumbs-up.
“The documentary was very good,” said Nancy Greene, who married Greene twice, in the late '50s and early '60s; they divorced for good in the mid-'70s.
“They portrayed what they needed to," she said. "They got their point across about who Danny was. Yes, he was a son of a gun.”
Nancy Greene and her daughter, Sharon Greene Wehagen, both appear in the documentary. On screen, Nancy describes her ex-husband as a Jekyll and Hyde character. “He could be very nice; he could be very violent.”
Nancy also hinted at domestic conflicts when I asked her and Sharon what the documentary captured about Greene. Sharon said it portrayed her father’s charisma, “the way he walked into a room.”
“I could say what a son of a gun he is,” Nancy added, “and he would walk in, and project himself, and make ‘em say I was the liar and he was the good guy.
“He really won you over -- before he boiled your blood.”
The Greenes also liked Kill the Irishman, the feature-film biopic now playing at area theaters. Nancy said she identified with the scene where Greene’s fictional film wife leaves him, fearing Greene’s enemies would hurt their children. In real life, Nancy divorced him for the same reason.
Otherwise, “She’s totally opposite of me,” Nancy said. “I’m a hotheaded Slovenian. She was a quiet Irish girl.”
Nancy and Danny met, not at a bar like in the movie, but in the pool hall Nancy’s uncle owned. He was 22 and she was 18. “He wanted to make me Irish potatoes and pork chops.”
Sharon says she knew little about her father’s life of crime. “I knew he had a job, that he went to work.” He told his daughters he was a consultant. (Labor consultant was the profession listed on his death certificate, displayed in the documentary.)
“He treated us like special girls,” Sharon said. “He didn’t seem like any different dad than anybody else.”
Except for the one incident Sharon retells in the documentary, when Greene came home singed from head to toe, presumably by a bomb. He didn’t explain, and she, in fifth grade at the time, didn’t ask.
“We didn’t really talk to him about what he was doing,” Sharon recalled. “You just didn’t do that. You just took care of him. You don’t ask those questions.”
The film fest is showing Danny Greene: The Rise and Fall of the Irishman again tonight at 7:05. The showing is on standby, so head to Tower City early if you want a shot at getting in.
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