It could have been any traditional Catholic wedding: a Saturday afternoon high mass at a suburban church, a young bride and groom standing on the altar flanked by a dozen bridesmaids and groomsmen -- all sisters and brothers -- facing a priest, two deacons and several altar boys, with proud parents beaming from the front pews.
But the several hundred people present knew this was no ordinary ceremony.
For one thing, the groom was Joseph Gregory Bonanno, 25, recently graduated from University of Arizona Medical School. He is the first-born son of the first-born son of Joseph Bonanno Sr., "Joe Bananas," one of the most powerful and famous Mafia bosses of all time.
The elder Bonanno couldn't attend the wedding. Now 82 and ailing, he's in the U.S. Penitentiary at Leavenworth, Kan., for refusing to testify in an ongoing Mafia trial in New York. Ironically, he had written an autobiography about his Mafia career -- but refused to testify about it. Thus, contempt of court.
But the presence of the missing Bonanno was palpable. Sprinkled throughout Saints Simon and Jude Cathedral were a score of men who were unmistakably from his world, aging "wiseguys" dressed in ill-fitting suits, with famous names out of Mafia lore like Profaci and Trafficante, who embraced and exchanged Sicilian greetings with Salvatore (Bill) Bonanno, 53, the father of the groom.
Later that evening, the elder patriarch telephoned from prison in Kansas to the reception hall of the Mountains Shadows Resort in Scottsdale. The call was plugged into the public-address system and 400 dinner guests stood up rapt, as if in reverence, some with tears in their eyes, as they listened.
"This is grandfather Bonanno," he said, in his thick Sicilian accent. "I'm calling to share this glorious day with you."
He said he couldn't be there "because, as you all know, I'm still on vacation," drawing a laugh from the crowd. But he was there "in spirit," he said. And he told his grandson to always be proud of his family name.
When he addressed the groom as "Dr. Joseph Bonanno," the crowd broke into cheers and applause.
At that moment, Hollywood writer-producer Bob Dellinger, standing at his table in the center of the room, was filled with another kind of elation. He embraced his wife Blenda, lit up a cigar and turned to the small Hollywood contingent with him. "Life imitating art," he said. "You couldn't have written this any more dramatically."
For those at the Dellinger table, the evening represented the real-life finale in a planned TV movie based on the life of Rosalie Bonanno, the groom's mother and Bill Bonanno's wife of nearly 30 years, tentatively titled "Veiled Shadow: The Story of a Mafia Wife."
It's to be produced by Group W Productions, which scored a notable TV ratings success on NBC in January with "Mafia Princess." That was based on the book by Antoinette Giancana, daughter of Sam Giancana, the late Mafia boss of Chicago. Dellinger's dinner partners were about the only non-Italian or non-Sicilian-descended guests at the affair. They included Christine Foster, Group W vice president of development, and Hollywood agent Mickey Freiberg, a founding partner of the Artists Agency. He sold the project to Group W and is negotiating with a New York publisher.
Dellinger first met Bill Bonanno in 1972 when both were in prison at Terminal Island. Formerly a successful advertising executive and TV producer, Dellinger was doing time for attempted extortion and assaulting a federal officer. Bonanno, serving a three-year sentence for mail fraud, was a student in the creative-writing class that Dellinger organized.
Following their releases in 1973, Dellinger wrote an article about Bonanno and met Rosalie.
"To me, the real story of the Bonannos was this petite, gracious woman," he said. "She's been through hell with this guy, endured public humiliation, ridicule and gossip, been left alone for months, even years at a time when he was in prison or on the run, been forced to go on welfare once.
"Yet through it all, she's managed to build her own career as a real estate broker and raise four beautiful children, get them through college and keep them completely apart from her husband's life style. That's amazing to me.
"So this will be Rosalie's story."
She was born Rosalie Profaci, the daughter of Salvatore Profaci, who was consiglieri to his brother, Joseph Profaci, the don of the powerful Profaci crime family during its heyday between the 1930s and '50s. The product of a strict Sicilian Catholic upbringing, she was sent off to a convent school at age 7. But, as she related to Dellinger, she grew to resent the constant dark presence of the Mafia, especially after her father was burned to death in a suspicious boating accident when she was 18.
When she became engaged to Bill Bonanno a year later, Rosalie thought she was about to get away from the suffocating traditions of her father and uncle.
But the Bonanno-Profaci wedding on Aug. 18, 1956, turned out to be a historic affair in the annals of organized crime: It was the symbolic marriage of the two largest crime families in America. It was highlighted by a formal sit-down dinner reception at the Hotel Astor in New York that was attended by nearly 3,000 people, including the heads of all 24 Mafia families from around the country -- among them Vito Genovese, Albert Anastasia, Sam Giancana and Tony Accardo.
The wedding cake was 17 feet high. Tony Bennett and the Four Lads performed for free. The pope sent best wishes. And Joseph Bonanno Sr., who would soon make an ultimately unsuccessful bid to become the Mafia's "boss of bosses," presided.
The way Dellinger plans it, the Bonanno-Profaci wedding will be the opening scene of his film and the wedding of Dr. Joseph Bonanno and Kathleen Milo in 1986 will be its climax.
But Dellinger emphasized the contrast betweenthe two affairs: "In 1956, it was a Family wedding, with a capital F. The Mafia and its traditions dominated. Tonight, it's family with a small f.
"Tonight is Rosalie's triumph," Dellinger said. "She grew up in this Sicilian world and she has always hated its tradition, just hated it. In the Sicilian tradition, it's always the first-born son who carries on the family business. But Rosalie was always determined: 'You will not have my son.' And tonight she's won. At her wedding, Joseph Bonanno Sr. was the Godfather; tonight he's just the grandfather."
The father of the groom was being interviewed over dinner the night before the wedding. He was seated at a center table in the restaurant of the resort where the reception was to be held and where the family had booked eight rooms for the weekend and appeared remarkably relaxed and in good spirits for a man facing a seemingly endless chain of legal problems.
Having already spent nine years in prison on a variety of racketeering and fraud convictions, he's currently appealing a four-year prison sentence for allegedly bilking nine elderly people out of $110,000 dollars in a home-improvement scam. His brother Joseph Jr. also was charged in that case but has yet to be tried.
"I take things a day at a time," Bill Bonanno said, shrugging. "I have to."
Having gone through his whole life being described in the press as "the son of Mafia chieftain Joe Bonanno," he said he hopes his own children don't suffer the same fate because of what he refers to euphemistically as "my life style."
He has four children: Charles, 28, who is adopted; Joseph, 25, who has been accepted into a surgery residency program at Loyola Medical Center in Chicago; Salvatore, 23, a recent graduate of the University of Arizona College of Business; and Felippa, known as Gigi, 22, who is a grade-school teacher in Grass Valley, Calif.
"In moments of somber reflection, I often wonder, 'When it will all end? When will the sins of the father stop being visited upon the sons?' I hope it ends here, with this wedding. Finally, we have a first-born who is breaking away to go off on his own, and hopefully the others will follow."
Bonanno is a dichotomy. A seemingly modern man, he nonetheless can launch unabashedly into a treatise on Sicilian tradition that would strike anyone unfamiliar with that tradition as appallingly archaic.
For example, early on in son Joseph's relationship with Milo, Bonanno sat his future daughter-in-law down and explained to her "how she would be a special person if she married Joe, the first-born son of the first-born son, because she would then become the vehicle for carrying on the family name, tradition and heritage," Bonanno related. "In our philosophy, there's a tremendous emphasis placed on the first-born son -- he occupies a special place in the hearts and minds of Sicilians."
But why isn't the adopted son Charles, who's three years older than Joseph, considered the first born?
He paused for a moment. "I feel guilty saying this, and it's not to minimize the love and affection we feel for him, but it's the tradition.
"In fact," he added, "I've often thought that Rosalie always had a special place in her heart for [Charles], was closer to him than the others, because he was adopted."
The new Mrs. Bonanno, 24, called "Beany" by her friends, is a stockbroker for Dean Witter Reynolds. Her parents, Charles and Mary Hoiness (Charles is Kathleen's stepfather), are teachers in the Phoenix area.
The Bonanno-Milo wedding carried the unmistakable imprint of a Bill Bonanno production -- right down to white lace tablecloths and Joe Vaccaro's (all-Sicilian) Band, which alternated standards of the 1930s and '40s with such Sicilian favorites as "La Tarantella" ("The Spider"), "Anema E Core" ("Love of My Heart") and "Non Ti Scordare di Me" ("Please Don't Forget Me").
The day before the wedding, Bill Bonanno seemed to be everywhere, overseeing preparations despite being on crutches after a boating accident.
"I told the hotel staff that I wanted every glass and every piece of china and silverware inspected before it came out of the kitchen," he said. "I told them I'd leave it up to them, but that if I found one spot on anything, I'd have my people do it for them."
He said that his own father had done exactly the same thing at his wedding almost 30 years before.
On the Friday night before this wedding, Bonanno called a meeting of all the male members of the wedding party. "I said, 'I expect you to conduct themselves as gentlemen and representatives of our family. I want to see dignity, and keep your heads up.' "
He also instructed them to double-check all their rented formal wear that night to make sure everything was right.
One nephew, Joseph Genovese, apparently didn't check -- only to discover the next morning that he's been given two left shoes. But rather than admit to his uncle he hadn't followed instructions, the young man wore the shoes all day Saturday. By Sunday, he could hardly walk at all.
On Sunday morning following the wedding, Bill Bonanno met again with a reporter and photographer at the resort restaurant. He was to sit in on what would be his wife's first one-on-one encounter with a representative of the press.
"Rosalie will be along in a minute," he said, explaining that while he had nothing to do with the TV movie project, he was concerned about the way his wife might be treated by the press. "I've had a lot of experience with the media and publishers and agents," he said. "So I know all about the kind of backslapping-backstabbing that goes on. I know that their goals are different from yours meaning the interviewee and I don't want her to be a lamb led to the slaughter. She's going to be speaking to you from the heart and she'll be trusting that you have her interests at heart."
As he waited for his wife, Bonanno gave his view of her story, saying, "Of course, she may come along and tell you I'm full of it."
After the wedding in 1956, "She became the proper Sicilian-American housewife with a domineering husband who didn't know what price she was paying," he said. "But I remember the exact moment when I realized that things were going to change -- I call it 'the Americanization of Rosalie.'
"It was 1969, I was facing a 15-year prison sentence, and she had just started going to Finch College, computer school. She had four kids in the house. It was 6 p.m. and I stood watching out the kitchen window as she got into a car with this guy from her class, her ride. I said to myself, 'This is the beginning of the end.'
"You have to understand the trauma of that moment for someone who was raised with my traditional overbearing Sicilian sense of what's right and wrong. Here she was getting into a car with some guy I hadn't met yet.
"So she became a modern American woman. She's a real estate broker now and it's hard for me to understand."
Rosalie finally arrived, the picture of a modern American woman. The night before, she'd greeted hundreds of people, made scores of introductions, posed for dozens of photographs and danced for hours.
On this morning, however, Rosalie Bonanno was clearly nervous.
The reporter asked what she hoped to accomplish by opening up her private life to the public and was she frightened at the prospect?
"That's a tough question," she said. "I really don't know. I don't see any reason why people would find my story all that interesting . . . I still can't believe it's really going to happen."
She looked to her husband. "You think it's too late to back out?"
He was wincing, clearly pained by her discomfort. He jumped back in to pick up the slack. But after a few minutes, he stopped short. "There I go again," he said. "It's her conversation and I'm dominating it."