William Morris "Willie" Bioff (1900 – November 4, 1955) was an American organized crime figure who operated as a labor leader in the movie production business from the 1920s through the 1940s. During this time, Bioff extorted millions of dollars from movie studios with the threat of mass union work stoppages.
Bioff was born and briefly raised in a kosher Jewish household in Chicago, but his father kicked him out on the street when he was eight years old. Bioff soon became involved in criminal ventures, beginning with petty theft, then minor protection rackets and working his way up to pimping in Chicago's Levee vice district, of which he was later convicted in 1922. Bioff later worked for Harry and "Greasy Thumb" Jake Guzik where, through Guzik, Bioff met Al Capone and later "The Enforcer" Frank Nitti.
In the 1930s, Nitti sent Bioff to California as an enforcer for Mafia-controlled union leader George Browne, who later became President of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees. Bioff, aided by "Handsome Johnny" Johnny Roselli, and eventually became the collector for the Syndicate-controlled unions in Hollywood, extorting millions of dollars from major motion-picture studios, and keeping several hundred thousand for himself. As one source notes, however, "Amusingly, Bioff, a glorified Chicago thug, went Hollywood in a big way with his sudden wealth. But his fancy suits and solid gold business cards made him too high profile ... - hence the indictment."
Bioff later threatened a strike against New York movie theaters by demanding two projectionists in each theater. When owners complained they would go broke under the terms he demanded, Bioff agreed to an arrangement for two projectionists in exchange for reduced pay, much of which went to Bioff. By the late 1930s, a newspaper campaign began bringing attention to the Bioff-Browne extortion operation creating a huge scandal in Hollywood. He was exposed by conservative newspaper columnist Westbrook Pegler, who was trying to prove that criminal corruption was rampant in labor unions.
Indictment and testimony
In 1943, Bioff was indicted for tax evasion and related crimes, as well as extortion and racketeering, along with a number of his associates. Rather than face prison, Bioff testified against his companions, including "The Waiter" Paul Ricca, Philip D'Andrea, "Cherry Nose" Charles Gioe, Johnny Rosselli, Lou Kaufman, and Frank "The Enforcer" Nitti. Nitti committed suicide shortly after Bioff's testimony. Bioff received a reduced sentence along with Browne.
Upon his release, Bioff moved to Arizona and assumed a new identity, "William Nelson," and even reportedly developed a friendship with then Senator Barry Goldwater helping contribute to his re-election campaign fund and even going into business with the senator's nephew, Bobby. Bioff, however, soon began working for Riviera Casino manager Gus Greenbaum, at the Chicago Outfit-owned Las Vegas casino. Bioff was assassinated on November 4, 1955, through a bombing described as follows:
"Bioff walked out of his home and slid behind the wheel of his truck. A moment later, an explosion rocked the neighborhood. Parts of Bioff and his truck were strewn all over the driveway. Police found the remains of a dynamite bomb wired to the starter. The killers were never found."
Bioff's name appears to have inspired the fictional "Billy Goff," a Hollywood labor leader with ties to organized crime who makes an appearance in The Godfather novel by Mario Puzo. Like his real-life counterpart, he is killed by unknown enemies.