"Where you won't be gambling on a good time, but betting on a sure thing!"
Owen Vincent Madden was born December 18, 1891 - although his tombstone records his birth as December 25 - to Francis and Mary Madden in Leeds, England. The discrepancy between these dates is a reflection
of Madden's desire to not want any celebration or limelight cast upon himself, according to Billy Wells, Madden's long-time light duty man. Wells, in a 2009 interview with screen writer and executive director of The Gangster Museum
of America, Robert Raines, stated, "Owney didn't want no attention. He didn't want anyone making a fuss over him. He always said his birthday was on Christmas, so that no one would celebrate him." Wells said that he was very private,
but very generous with his money. And plenty of money he had. Years of prohibition liquor revenue from The Phoenix Cereal Beverage Company and the ownership of New York businesses, the Stork Club and the Cotton Club, left Madden
with considerable wealth. Madden served a second but short term at Sing Sing for a parole violation, and upon his release was informed that he was no longer welcome in the State of New York, by powerful politicians, federal prosecutor
Thomas Dewey, Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia, and then New York Governor, Franklin Roosevelt. Thus he decided to move his fortune and apply his organizational skills to a small valley town in Arkansas with a very large, and soon to be,
larger illegal gambling operation.
His old acquaintances from Hell's Kitchen, Meyer Lansky, Lucky Luciano, Ben Siegel, Dutch Schultz and even his Sing Sing
warden, Lewis Lawes would visit him regularly for advice, and in turn, Madden would be able to catch up on his beloved city,
New York. Norwood Phillips, a well-respected attorney and native of Hot Springs, considered Madden to be the most generous
wealthy man he had ever known. Madden's generosity had an impact on the youth of the community - by virtue of the largest
Boys Club constructed in the State of Arkansas at that time - and in the purchase of uniforms for the High School band, among
whose members included former President Bill Clinton, according to Phillips. "His passion to help the less fortunate, such as
churches and community organizations was unbelievable and mostly anonymous," said Phillips. This passion even extended to
the many pets he had (now buried around his former home at 506 West Grand) and the homing pigeons that he loved to utilize
as couriers of cryptic messages between himself and New York mobsters. However, he never relinquished his toughness and
his ability to strong arm a situation if needed, according to Billy Wells. This fact was well known by even his friends, as Mae
West once quoted that Madden was "sweet, but oh, so vicious." Meyer Lansky considered Madden the toughest man he knew,
and he knew plenty of tough men.
"For more eye-witness accounts and insight into the role these powerful people played in the life of Hot Springs,
Arkansas, visit the Gangster Museum of America, 510 Central Avenue, or visit the TGMOA Gift Shop on line."
Ben Siegel and actor George Raft
We Bring Bad Things to Life
Childhood friends of Owney Madden