I’ve come to Staten Island, a suburb of New York long popular with Italian Americans, to interview Jennifer Graziano.She is the daughter of a high-ranking mafioso – and the creator of a reality TV show, Mob Wives, starring her own friends and family.And no, I don’t mean the world of protection rackets and crooked politicians – thanks to the likes of Henry Hill (on whose testimony the film Goodfellas was based) and Joe Bonanno (whose autobiography helped Rudy Giuliani bring down the heads of New York’s five families in 1985) we already know plenty about that.'I wanted to show what this lifestyle is like for the women,’ says Graziano: how it feels to be a powerless bystander in a volatile world, to surrender the right to know your husband’s business and to pick up the pieces and explain it to the children when he’s thrown behind bars.'Eighty-five per cent of Staten Island women have had plastic surgery,’ she says with a laugh. All of the cast’s fathers and husbands are currently in prison so, reasons Graziano, the show 'isn’t exposing anything that wasn’t already public knowledge. You can’t go out unless you ask your husband for money.And the girls know what to say and what not to say; we’ve been trained.’ Still, I’m not surprised when she tells me her father was 'very angry’ when he found out about it. I said, “Oh, no, I’m not living that way.”’ One of the women, Drita D’Avanzo, has been married for 10 years, eight of which her husband has spent in prison.'Before, the sentences were light and often the mob could bribe a jury. 'They do it their own way.’ Do the women ever get involved in business? But in recent years some women have turned their backs on this tradition. 'Families are becoming more liberal and girls are going to college, and that means they’re meeting guys from outside the lifestyle.And if you talked, you were dead – there was no witness protection. It’s not usually approved of.’ She gives a wry smile.
It offers an irresistible glimpse into a secret world.
They moved to Arizona, and the return of his daughter, Karen, to Staten Island is the opening drama of Mob Wives. On the other hand, as Graziano says, 'My father is still who he is.’ The Big Short, the film adaptation of Michael Lewis' book of the same name about the causes of the financial crisis, opens in UK cinemas this weekend.
Gravano himself, a convicted hit-man with 19 known murders to his name, apparently told his daughter 'he didn’t like some of the language Karen used’ in the programme. How will the story stack up against the greatest films about business?
It is exactly as you’d imagine a gangster’s mansion: a grey limestone building with carved mahogany doors wide enough to drive a car through and ornamental trees trimmed into spirals dotting the kryptonite-bright lawn.
Inside, a gold and white shih-tzu called King Oscar pitter-patters on the tiled floors.