Martin Scorsese has brought aboard Canadian actor Gary Basaraba to play deceased Teamsters union boss and reputed mob puppet Frank (Big Fitzy) Fitzsimmons in The Irishman, the much-anticipated gangster “supergroup” film currently in production on the east coast about the relationship between hit man Frank (The Irishman) Sheeran and iconic slain labor union boss Jimmy Hoffa, Fitzsimmons’ mentor in organized labor politics. Bararaba is best known for television roles in a variety of cop dramas and appeared in the Ben Affleck movie The Accountant last year.

Hoffa, the fiery, notoriously stubborn and hard-nosed former president of the Teamsters, vanished from a suburban Detroit restaurant parking lot on the afternoon of July 30, 1975 on his way to a lunch with mob capos from Italian crime families representing Michigan and New York. With Fitzsimmons by his side and the mafia in their home base of Detroit and beyond supporting them with their immense muscle and contacts, Hoffa rose to the Teamsters’ international presidency in 1958.

Fitzsimmons, a native Detroiter considerably larger in physical stature, but much less charismatic and iron-willed than Hoffa, became his vice president in 1961. Big Fitzy succeeded him as president of the union upon negotiating an imprisoned Hoffa a commutation from U.S. President Richard Nixon on his conviction for jury tampering, bribery and fraud in which Hoffa had to step down.

In the years preceding his kidnapping and murder, Hoffa was in a growing beef with both the oafish and fleshy Fitzsimmons, who he felt personally betrayed him, and his one-time allies in the mob he had ridden to power. Fitzsimmons was reportedly much easier to control and manipulate from behind the scenes for the organized crime figures he was beholden to than Hoffa had been and Hoffa became intent on challenging his former right-hand man and VP for the presidency of the Teamsters in the 1976 election — Hoffa, 62, was told the meeting he was to attend the day he disappeared was going to help his re-election bid.

Nobody has ever been arrested or charged in the Hoffa homicide probe. Fitzsimmons died in office as the top dog in the Teamsters in May 1981, succumbing to a bout with lung cancer at age 72.

Authorities and researchers believe it was an attempt to blow up Fitzsimmons and his son and fellow labor leader Richard (Little Fitz) Fitzsimmons in a car bomb in the summer of 1975 that fast-tracked the Hoffa slaying. Whether the unsuccessful attack, which occurred in the parking lot of Nemo’s Bar, a Teamsters hangout in southwest Detroit just a stone’s throw from Local 299, was set in motion by Hoffa or people trying to make it look that way remains unknown to this very day. Less than three weeks later, Hoffa went missing.

Scorsese has collected a star-studded ensemble for his adaption of Charles Brandt’s 2004 best-selling book, I Heard You Paint Houses, in which Sheeran, on his deathbed, claims to have been the man who shot and killed Hoffa. Robert De Niro will play Sheeran and the equally-legendary Al Pacino is slated to play Hoffa in his first-ever collaboration with Scorsese. Fresh out of retirement, Joe Pesci plays rural Pennsylvania mob boss Russell Bufalino and Harvey Keitel is playing Philadelphia mafia don Angelo Bruno. Cameras began rolling on the 100-million dollar Netflix production in New York City earlier this month and the movie is expected to have a limited theatre run in late 2018 or early 2019.

Gary Basaraba

Jimmy Hoffa and Frank Fitzsimmons

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