The other night Dad and I watched a gangster movie. Don’t ask me which one because I have no idea, other than to say it was the one with the gangsters.
I didn’t watch it all that carefully. At one point, Dad even said, “Are you sure you want to watch this? It’s not exactly your kind of movie…” Let’s take one moment to guess who suggested it, shall we?
The point is, I started thinking about Al Capone.
Alphonse Gabriel Capone to be more precise. Scarface to be more colorful. (No, I never saw that movie either.)
Things you don’t know about Al Capone.
He was born in Brooklyn.
He did not like to behave conventionally which caused problems in school until he was about 14. It didn’t cause any problems after that because he was kicked out at that point.
In his early 20s he moved to Chicago where he was an enforcer and a bouncer at a brothel. Capone took his job a little too seriously and contracted syphilis (eventually the syphilis killed him, but that’s later in the story).
Skip the boring parts and…
Lots of people (and by “people” I mean gangsters and people who didn’t want to pay the gangsters) died in Chicago in the early 1920s. This wasn’t a problem for Capone, partly because he organized many of the killings and partly because he forgot to pack his moral compass when he moved to Chicago. (That’s probably an exaggeration, because he likely never had one to begin with.)
When Johnny Torrio (the head honcho and Capone’s boss) decided retirement was the best path to not being dead, he (Torrio) dubbed Capone HBIC (Head Boss in Charge). Capone was 26 at the time he took over.
For Capone, being Head Numero Uno was a most excellent place to be. He went around happily having people killed, managing mafia business (is that the same thing?), buying police and government officials, ordering massacres, selling illegal things, whacking people, running gambling businesses, bootlegging, and generally causing mayhem when he wasn’t giving money to various charities. (Seriously, he had a Robin Hood complex.)
Capone’s organizations sold over $60 million annually in illegal liquor. That’s a lot now. It was even more then.
While the Chicago officials were bought and paid for, national law enforcement was less than thrilled and spent a lot of time trying to figure out how to deal with Capone. But Capone was sneaky (and by “sneaky” I mean he was rich, had good lawyers, and people were terrified to testify against him) and while he bounced in and out of the courts and some detainment cells, he mostly stayed out jails.
Then someone had the great idea to go after Capone for tax fraud. The Supreme Court had ruled that ill-gotten gains were still subject to income tax. And Mr. Capone liked to brag about his income. Which he didn’t pay tax on.
Capone ended up in jail. He started in Atlanta, but he was caught bribing guards (old habits die hard) and he was sent to Alcatraz. After 6 and a half years, he was released to a mental hospital. The syphilis (I told you we’d get back to it) caused neurosyphilis (dementia). Eventually he was released. Then he died.
And while I’ve been writing about Capone, the soundtrack from Chicago has been playing in my mind. Which is a misfit because Capone couldn’t dance. Certainly not Fosse-style.