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'Gangster Squad' Author Sorts Truth From Hollywood Tale

Paul Lieberman,at left, signs copies of his book "Gangster Squad" for Rocco Dapice and his son, R.J., at the Greenburgh Public Library on Tuesday night.
Paul Lieberman,at left, signs copies of his book "Gangster Squad" for Rocco Dapice and his son, R.J., at the Greenburgh Public Library on Tuesday night. Photo Credit: Samantha Kramer

GREENBURGH, N.Y. — Greenburgh author Paul Lieberman may know actors Sean Penn and Ryan Gosling, but he knows the characters played by the two in "Gangster Squad" even better.

Lieberman, of Hartsdale, tracked down members of the real Gangster Squad during his 24-year career at The Los Angeles Times . He put together more than 300 interviews to tell the true story of the mob crimes and the work of the Los Angeles Police Department to bring the mobsters down in his book "Gangster Squad," the basis of the newly-released movie.

While Lieberman was also the screenwriter and movie consultant, he said he accepted the fact that his work would be "very fictionalized."

"I knew it would be based a little on reality, and more on the reality of a Hollywood gangster film," he said. "The line between reality and fantasy always gives way to fantasy."

During an event at the Greenburgh Public Library on Tuesday night, Lieberman used a photo slideshow and video interview clips to unveil how he put the book together, revealing differences between the movie - released on Jan. 11 - and his book. He spoke with LAPD and Gangster Squad members like John O'Mara, Jerry Wooters and Conway Keeler about their attempts to bring down Los Angeles big-time mobster Mickey Cohen.

Not only was it difficult to find some real-life Gangster Squad members - considering many were in their 80s and 90s - but Lieberman faced obstacles in sorting the truth from the "mealy-mouthed." It took Lieberman 10 years of asking until Keeler agreed to be interviewed, he added.

Greenburgh residents Richard Jackel and his wife, Francine Jackel, said they thought Lieberman's presentation was excellent, and that it convinced them to see the movie.

"He's very knowledgeable," Richard Jackel said. "We haven't read his book, but this really made me want to see the movie."

Rocco Dapice, pastor of People's Church in Elmsford, bought three copies of "Gangster Squad" after listening to Lieberman's presentation with his son, R.J.

"I knew the movie had come out, and when I saw that the book's author was a local, I thought, 'How cool,'" Rocco Dapice said, adding that he isn't sure he wants to see the movie yet because of Lieberman's emphasis on it being fictionalized. "But I'm definitely going to read the book."

At the end of his presentation, Lieberman said he didn't mind that Warner Brothers turned the true story he'd written into a Hollywood tale.

"The joy is not so much the Hollywood glitz, but these people having their lives memorialized," said Lieberman about those he interviewed.