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No matter where he isChicago, New York, Los Angeles or Washingtonhe lives in a portable bedlam of telephone calls, popping flashbulbs and profane argument. But his pleasures are simple. He enjoys baseball and heavy German food. He loves ale, seldom drinks hard liquor and never smokes. He enjoys allowing union members to come in and admire him, though he complains wildly when they linger. "It takes them 20 minutes just to look at me," he says. He works ten, twelve, 16 hours a day, seven days a week.
Family Man. Despite the showiness of his existence as a union president, his private life is almost humble. His home is a modest, five-room apartment on Chicago's middle-class North Austin Boulevard. He is passionately devoted to his family. He still sorrows over his son, Lester, who died 15 years ago after a football accident. He seldom travels without bring ing home princely bundles of expensive clothes, books and toys for his six grand children. The family regards him with awed admiration. His brother, Radio Executive Caesar James Petrillo,* says: "Sometimes his mind scares me."
The musicians' chieftain began life in the squalid tenements of Chicago's old 19th ward. He grew up on garbage-littered streets where gangs of Italian, Jewish and Irish kids fought like little animals. He was a hard-eyed conqueror from the time he could toddle he would swing his fists against any odds and for any reason. He quit school after the fourth grade; he rebelled against the discipline and, besides, the Petrillo family needed the money he could make as a peanut and newspaper vendor. But he learned to play the trumpet. His father, a city sewer digger, sent $24 to Italy to buy the instrument, unpacked it from the box of hay in which it arrived, and grimly set Jimmy to tooting it six nights a week.
By the time he was 14 it was "strictly a business trumpet." He organized a four-piece band, got jobs at picnics, weddings and at dances at the Hod Carriers Hall at Harrison and Green Streets. In the summer, he donned chaps and a big hat, and tooted his brass on horseback with traveling Wild West shows.
He was a mediocre musician. But he was a good mixer, a loud and confident talker. By 1915 he was running Chicago's independent American Musicians at $150 a month. Three years later he joined the more powerful Local 10 of the American Federation of Musicians, and in 1922 was elected its president. He was a labor boss for good and he liked it.
No Artists. Times were hard. Prohibition had thrown hundreds of cabaret and saloon musicians out of work, the union wage was a sad fiction. Even worse, many a musician had no use for the union. Says Petrillo with scorn: "They thought they were artists." He went to work to change all that. He organized the Chinese restaurants. He organized the theaters. He screamed, cajoled, and "pulled out the boys." He built Local 10 into a disciplined, airtight and ruthless organization. And he made it Petrillo's unionwhere nobody muscled in on Jimmy.