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Sculptor immortalizes mobsters' mugs in 3-D pieces

They' re ba-aack. The mobsters who helped shape Las Vegas' early days have returned, or at least their likenesses have.

Local artist and Summerlin-area resident Ruel James has made realistic representations of eight Mafia associates -- Benjamin "Bugsy" Siegel, Sam Giancana, Charles "Lucky" Luciano, Meyer Lansky, Tony "The Ant" Spilotro, Frank "Lefty" Rosenthal, Frank Costello and Mickey Cohen. He also made a likeness of Virginia Hill, Siegel 's girlfriend.

The figures are part of the Las Vegas Mob Experience, which was scheduled to open today at the Tropicana, 3801 Las Vegas Blvd. South.

All of them had to be sculpted in 3-D, using photographs for references. Luckily, many of the mobsters had prison mug shots, showing them in front and side views.

"Without a profile, you're pretty much doomed," James said.

James was approached by the Las Vegas Mob Experience principals in 2009 after they saw his work on Strip hotels. James' sculpting graces the exteriors of the Palazzo, Paris Las Vegas and The Venetian.

"We understood he had a background with Madame Tussauds," said Jay Bloom, managing partner. Having mannequins that looked realistic "was very important for such a high-profile project."

To make the mannequins at his studio at 2121 Industrial Road, Suite 215 , James sculpted the heads in clay, got the final OK and then made them into molds and plaster casts. Spilo tro's head of hair called for thicker plaster, the weight of which caused the thinner parts to crack three times.

There also were family memories that came into play. Giancana's likeness was made from photos showing him later in life. His daughter, Antoinette Giancana, initiated changes. Why? She remembered the man in his younger years.

Similarly, Siegel 's family wanted youthful changes before signing off on his likeness.

"We ended up giving everyone a face lift ... of sorts," James said.

Oddly enough, Siegel 's daughter, Millicent Rosen, said that Virginia Hill's sculpture made her look "too pretty," and James ended up aging her features.

Kit Rogers, a fellow artist, said James finds a way to instill the essence of a person in his work, "so he's the perfect person for the Mob Experience. One of the daughters came in, saw her father's piece and began to cry, he'd captured him so well."

James' finesse didn't stop with the heads. He had to find mannequin bodies that fit the part. Department store mannequins are notoriously thin, so he beefed up their waistlines.

"One of them was only, like, 5-foot-4 ... I had to cut his limbs down," said James. "I had to be part engineer, part artist."

The Las Vegas Mob Experience also had James reverse sculpt the figures' faces to make them concave, similar to the haunted house tour at Disneyland. The resulting optical illusion makes it appear as though the sculpture's eyes are following you. James took the concept even further than the Disney attraction by making the sides shallower.

"It's crazy the way the eyes follow you," said Sheryl James, his wife.

The hall where the concave sculptures are located also has a movement-activated audio feature that gives the impression that an unseen person is walking right behind you.

For more information on the Las Vegas Mob Experience, visit

For more information on Ruel James' work, visit

Contact Summerlin and Summerlin South View reporter Jan Hogan at or 387-2949.