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BIOGRAPHY - AL CAPONE: FATHER OF THE CHICAGO MOB Now can you guess which Batman villain was modelled after the Chicago based gang-boss, Al Capone? No. It's not the harlequin of hate known as, the Joker. And no. It's not the multi-faceted mobster called Two-Face, either. It's the Ventriloquist, dummy. Aptly named 'Scarface' of course. Here, for more information about this King of Crime, please check out this 45 minute documentary made in 1995, as its gun-toting-tastics.

Biography - Al Capone: Scarface (A&E DVD Archives)

In this 'Biography' special, its host, John Mahoney, chairs the life and times of Al Capone, and explains the rise and fall of this one time mobster. Of course, this task is aided and abetted with numerous pieces of archival footage, voice over narration, plus one on one interviews with people who knew of his murderous pastimes. This includes such individuals as: Tony Berardi, Laurence Bergreen, John Binder, Matthew Luzi, Art Petacque, Robert Joseph Schoenberg, and Robert St. John.

What now follows is a basic breakdown of how this documentary plays out.

  • What was Al's early life like?   On a certain level, it must have been fairly normal I suppose. His mother and father were common day hardworking folk living in Brooklyn, who brought up Al and his siblings in a very traditional manner similar to their Naples roots.
  • Did Al show any signs of becoming a hoodlum when he was young?   Yeah! You can safely say that he must have visualised himself as being some type of Robin Hood' figure really. Stealing from the rich, and giving to the poor for some profit.
  • Who was Johnny Torrio?   Johnny was the New York gangster who took Al under his wing, and then took him and his fledgling family over to Chicago to start up a new criminal empire over there.
  • Define 'Empire'?   Bootlegging. Prostitution. Gambling. Mob hits. And anything else that took Al away from his family and into a life of crime.
  • Did Capone see himself a criminal then?   No. Not at all. He saw himself as a businessman of sorts, who was surrounded by people who did 'tasks' for him as he saw fit.
  • So when did Al first hit the headlines? In 1922, when he was arrested by a police officer for being drunk and disorderly. Of course this charge never stuck.
  • Why?   During this time Al and Johnny carved out a rather well organised criminal empire for themselves, by bribing statesmen, unifying rivals, and basically doing whatever they had to do to stay afloat.
  • Was there any opposition to this 'unification'?   Yes. Not that this did them any good. Again and again Al arraigned for these characters to get 'whacked' under mysterious circumstances. By gun or by bat.  
  • So when did Al take over from Johnny?    Sometime in the mid 1920's after Al branched out into the suburbs and built up 'his own empire', whilst Johnny was away in hotter climes. He didn't have Johnny 'done in' though. Oh no. Johnny gave up his life of crime when he was shot at and then spent some time in prison for prohibition violations. He finally spent his last days in Italy.
  • What was the 'Valentines Day Massacre'?   It was a hit Al arranged on a rival mobster called Charles O'Banion, who didn't want to play things Al's way. Furthermore, due to this mass slaughter, public unrest propelled the Capone criminal organisation into disarray. The public started to hate him. Other mobsters placed a bounty on his head. And the only way that Al could get himself out of trouble, was to get himself deliberately arrested so nobody could touch him.
  • And did this work?   Yes. In a roundabout way it did. But once he was eventually released from prison, the IRS started to hound him for unpaid taxes, and the rest is now history.

Al Capone died of syphilis a couple of years after he was set free. And although he's now gone, he's surely not forgotten.

Now as per usual with these 'Biography' specials, I did enjoy the manner in which this one presented the criminal life and crimes of the one and only, Al Capone. Granted, this feature wasn't a in depth study on what he was like as a person, or how he acted towards his family. Yet, whilst saying that, it did manage to relay some very interesting facts about Al and his underhanded ways, which got me to thinking about why he became a crime boss in the first place.

Al Capone Prison Record
You see, during the closing portion if this program, a quote was given by the son who sentenced Al to Jail -- George E.Q. Johnson -- elaborating that Al could have been an upstanding businessman if he wasn't such a c*nt (or words to that effect). But could this possibly be true? Could Alphonse have been an 'upstanding pillar of the community' -- which is how he saw himself -- if his career was steered in the right direction beforehand? Moreover, and this statement is a valid one, why wasn't this so?

Well, by all accounts, his parents were your everyday garden variety 'nine to fivers'. Plus he himself was charming, fairly well educated, and had a very large and warm family unit surrounding him, that appeared to stick together through thick in thin.

Al Capone The Kingpin of Chicago
Oh! I know what I will do to try to appease my curiosity. Its fact time folks! (1) Alphonse Gabriel Capone shares the same birth-date as the British novelist and aeronautical engineer, Nevil Shute Norway -- the 17th of January, 1899 -- and died on the same day Thomas Goldsmith Jr. first patented the cathode ray tube -- the 25th of January, 1947. (2) Both of Al's parents came from Napels, in Italy. His father, Gabriele, was a barber. And his mother, Teresina, was a seamstress. He was one of nine children. (3) Whilst he was working as a bouncer in a Coney Island bar, allegedly, it was a local gangster called Frank Gallucio who gave Al his famous scar, because Al insulted his sister in front of him. (4) If you look very closely at the Francis Ford Coppola film -- 'The Godfather' -- the aforementioned Alphonse is actually depicted in a scene where he sends two of Luca Brasi's henchmen to kill Don Vito Corleone. (5) Capone liked the nickname 'Snorkey' given to him by his close personal friends; because this title denoted a very snappy dresser. (6) Despite his extremely dodgy occupation, Al was once viewed upon as the 'modern day Robin Hood', due to his many charitable donations. (7) Rod Steiger, Neville Brand, Jason Robards, Ben Gazzara, Robert De Niro, Ray Sharkey, Eric Roberts, William Forsythe, F. Murray Abraham, and quite a few more, have all played Al Capone on the television or the big screen. (8) Throughout his life, Al suffered from a mental health problem that eventually resulted in him being diagnosed with neurosyphilis -- an infection of the brain. Later on, when he was incarcerated at Baltimore, a psychiatrist performed tests on him, which proved that he had a mental capacity of a 12-year-old child. (9) Al was buried in a Roman Catholic cemetery located in Chicago, Illinois, named the Mount Carmel Cemetery. There are also a number of other noted criminals buried here as well.

Al Capone Art By Kingsley Wallis

Al Capone and His Family
Hey! Did you notice point eight in my trivia spurge, dear reader? Relating to Al's own mental health issues! Well, this 'Biography' special didn't touch upon that specific aspect about his life, huh? Because if it did, it would have cleared up my initial 'E.Q. Johnson' quandary.  

Come on. Let's face it. In many ways this 'illness' explains away why Al was the way he was. On the one hand he thought of himself as a businessman / whilst on the other hand he was a very high profile criminal. On the one hand he gave away money to charity / whilst on the other hand he had to commit some pretty dastardly deeds to get the money in question. On the one hand he had and wanted a loving family / whilst on the other hand he was more than willing to cheat on them and put their lives in danger. Etcetera. Etcetera. Etcetera.

The Valentines Day Massacre
Do you see what I'm driving at, dear reader? Al Capone must have been a bi-polar narcissist who deluded himself more than he did other people! Well, what other way could he justify his own antics? He must have put up a smokescreen to his shenanigans, just to clarify to himself -- plus those around him -- that he was a fairly down to earth type of an orator.

Then again, I could also be speaking out of my own ass. But I don't think I am you know. No. Not really. Most of history's villains think of themselves as heroes, and this -- in my opinion -- is one of the only decisive factors that links people like Al to Hitler, to any other serial killer that was born to kill. Trust me. I read a lot. And that's why I'm sticking with his Biography series like glue to a drug addict.

Please stay tuned. There's more to come from this great-great series.  


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