Izzy and Moe: New York’s top Prohibition cops

After Prohibition was ratified in 1919, a new career opportunity was born: Prohibition agent. An army of men were needed to enforce the law by raiding speakeasies and busting bootleggers.

Two men who took up this line of work were New Yorkers Izzy Einstein and Moe Smith (left, as a rabbi and in drag).

Friends (and Masons) before they got the gig, they quickly became famous for the astounding 4,932 arrests they made citywide—and the outrageous lengths they went to pull each one off.

“Moe, although somewhat in the role of straight man, was a highly effective agent, but Izzy (the human chameleon), with his numberless disguises, was the color and front man,” states this Mason newsletter.

“He was, in turn, a traveling salesman, a street cleaner, a banker, a bartender, a grave digger, a streetcar conductor, a Texas cattleman and, in Hollywood, a movie extra.”

Izzy and Moe were hugely popular with the public and the press, and they loved the attention, allowing reporters to cover their raids.

They also loved alcohol, reports one source. “After a busy day arresting Prohibition offenders, Izzy and Moe enjoyed sitting back and enjoying their favorite beverages, which were beer and cocktails.”

In 1925, their D.C. bosses had enough of the Izzy and Moe show and discharged them.

Both became successful insurance agents. Izzy died in 1937, and Moe passed on in 1960.

[Above photo: posing in 1935 for the New York World Telegram and Star]

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8 Responses to “Izzy and Moe: New York’s top Prohibition cops”

  1. Lady G. Says:

    Now someone should make a fun movie about these two!

  2. wildnewyork Says:

    They did! Starring Jackie Gleason and Art Carney in the 1970s!

  3. Carol Says:

    What is the title of the Gleason/Carney movie?

    I love reading your blog!

  4. wildnewyork Says:

    Thank you! “Izzy and Moe” came out in 1985. They took some license with the facts, it seems; nothing I read about either man indicated that they were retired vaudeville stars. Izzy was a mail sorter before becoming a Prohibition agent.

  5. Beth Says:

    Talk about random NY facts – cool story!

  6. Bob_in_MA Says:

    I read Izzy’s book a while back, “Prohibition Agent No.1”. I think you have to take the anecdotes with a grain of salt, some of it was just silly.

    Self-mythologizing was fairly acceptable in the old days and for retired crime fighters (Pinkerton, Byrnes, Hammett, to name a few) it seems to have been de rigueur.

    But that doesn’t mean it isn’t entertaining.

  7. Isaac Moore Says:

    Their Lodge is still going strong too.
    I visit them often.

    Bro. Isaac Ambrose Moore
    Mariners Lodge No.67
    F.& A.M.
    New York City

  8. Sick of Prohibition, New York holds a beer parade | Ephemeral New York Says:

    […] years, Prohibition had been the law of the land, a law enforced in the city by a team of sometimes crooked prohibition cops and ignored by people who openly drank at the city’s legendary […]

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