Aside from all the bickering, murdering, and car-bombing, Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman—which is now streaming on Netflix—has an inordinate amount of nicknames. There’s Sally Bugs, Skinny Razor, Whispers, Fitz, Fat Tony, and The Irishman, of course. (We should really have something like the Wu-Tang name generator for mob aliases.) The best of the lot, though, is the film’s most degrading: The Little Guy! That’s what Al Pacino’s Jimmy Hoffa not-so-lovingly calls Anthony ‘Tony Pro’ Provenzano, played by Stephen Graham in the film.
Middle school-level name-calling aside, Provenzano, who was reportedly a high-ranking member of New York City’s Genovese crime family in real life, gets a surprising amount of screentime in The Irishman. Especially considering he spent nearly his entire adult life in the International Brotherhood of Teamsters (the labor union depicted in the movie) orbit, holding leadership positions and partaking in an extortion or two. And while Graham’s schmoozing, hot-tempered take on Tony Pro is mostly played for laughs in The Irishman, in real life he was a dangerous man who was convicted of murder.
Here’s everything you need to know about his life of crime, relationship with Jimmy Hoffa, and how he was sentenced to life in prison.
Who was Anthony Provenzano?
Tony Pro was born in World War I-era New York City, dropping out of high school as a teenager to work at a trucking company. Described as a “short, stocky and ham-fisted man” in his New York Times obituary, Provenzano also spent his early life swinging his fists around as an amateur boxer (a skill which, if you’ve seen The Irishman, you know would come in handy later in his life).
Provenzano worked his way up to driving the trucks themselves—and naturally, as a Depression-era truck driver in New York City, he joined the Teamsters union. The enterprising guy he was, Tony Pro started to rise in the union’s ranks. He was made an organizer for the 13,000-member strong Teamsters Local 560 in Union City, New Jersey, sending him on a crash course toward Teamsters President Jimmy Hoffa in the 1960s and 1970s.
What was his relationship with Jimmy Hoffa and the Teamsters?
Provenzano works his way up to the vice president—and later, president—of Local 560, and that’s where the crime begins. In 1961, Tony Pro becomes involved with the crime that would, years later, put him in prison for life. On June 6, 1961, the secretary treasurer of Local 560 and union rival of Provenzano’s, Anthony Catellito, suddenly disappeared. According to The New York Times, prosecution charged that Tony Pro paid Harold Konigsberg (an alleged mob enforcer) $15,000 to kill Castellito. As depicted in The Irishman, Salvatore ‘Sally Bugs’ Briguglio, allegedly was part of the job, and (again, this part hasn’t been proven in court) used a tree shredder to dispose of the body. We’ll come back to Provenzano’s prison sentence in a bit.
In what might be a surprise to those who watched Hoffa and Provenzano snipe at each other for three-and-a-half hours in The Irishman, the two actually used to be work buds. But as Provenzano ascended in the Teamsters union, his relationship with Hoffa turned pretty nasty. According to Ryan White’s True Crime: 12 Most Famous Murder Stories, Tony Pro wanted Hoffa to help him get his hands on a loan for a restaurant he wanted to open, which the Teamsters president didn’t follow through on.
Later on, Hoffa supposedly made the “you people” comment we hear in the film to Tony Pro. The two also crossed paths in a Lewisburg prison (Provenzano was serving a seven-year sentence for his initial extortion conviction in the Castellitto disappearance), but according to White’s book, the brawl—where Pro allegedly smashed a bottle on Hoffa’s head—happened at an airport.
Was Provenzano involved in Hoffa’s death?
As with everything Jimmy-Hoffa-death-related, that’s a loaded question. Considering that the day Hoffa disappeared (July 30, 1975), he was on his way to a restaurant to meet with Tony Pro, the FBI named Provenzano and a few of his associates suspects in the 1976 Hoffex Memo. But still, no one has been convicted of any crime related to Hoffa’s death, so we can only continue to speculate if the Little Man came out big in the end.
Regardless, three years after Hoffa vanished, Tony Pro was sentenced to life imprisonment for the murder of Anthony Casetillo—and later, was also convicted of labor racketeering. He died in prison on December 12, 1998 of a heart attack—likely having just as sad of a last act as the men we see in The Irishman.