Al "Scarface" Capone was the most un-Mafia-like boss in the Mafia.
Alphonse Gabriel "Al" Capone (Jan. 17, 1899 – Jan. 25, 1947) is still the most popular of the American Gangsters, according to David Brooks, the proprietor of American Gangsters, a website that sells fans a range of products featuring images of famous mobsters in American history.
This is based on an analysis of what Brooks sells through his website. And the general public is still primarily interested in Capone, the most popular mobster in America, and probably has been since the Roaring Twenties, as Brooks told us in a recent interview.
True aficionados of the Mafia, however, are more interested in Lucky Luciano, Brooks noted.
Interestingly, both are ongoing characters on the running HBO series Boardwalk Empire. We were a bit let down this season; the show lacked a Gyp Rossetti, to put it briefly: a looming, growing threat menacing enough to retain our interest. I didn't think the Harlem drug-dealing "Libyan" thing was engaging enough, truth be told.
Stephen Graham as Al Capone on
The actor playing Capone is superb. As we noted in an earlier post: Stephen Graham is uncanny and ingenuous at playing a young and ruthless Al Capone. At this point in the story, which will presumably pick up next year, Capone is free of his mentor, Johnny Torrio, and assumes personal control of rackets in Chicago.
Graham is a Brit, too -- but got his Chi-Town accent down superbly. I know a lot about Capone -- but I didn't know he had had a deaf son, and it is here that Graham finds something he can really dig his thespian teeth into: Al Capone's soft side, the side of the murderous mobster who weeps bitterly at his child's bedside, dying inside because he knows his young boy will never hear the spirit-soaring beauty of music (Al was a great opera enthusiast).
Capone is an interesting mob figure -- primarily for the fact that it is not known if he even considered himself a member of the Mafia. He seemed to see his organization, called the Outfit, more as a separate entity. He ran the city for a while, and in those brief number of years became an historical figure who will probably remain as popular as he is today 100 years into the future.
Here are the basics:
"Scarface" ran a Prohibition-era crime syndicate in Chicago, which LCN dubbed "The Outfit," but which became better known as the Capone gang. His era ran from the early 1920s to 1931, after which he was convicted on federal charges of tax evasion, and sentenced to federal prison. His incarceration included a term at Alcatraz federal prison. Toward his end, he suffered mental and physical deterioration due to late-stage neurosyphilis, and on January 25, 1947, he died from cardiac arrest.
Despite his crimes, Capone's reputation soared due to his carefully orchestrated Depression-era acts -- donating to charity, opening soup kitchens, even positioning himself as a sort of Robin Hood, and was even "sympathetic" enough to weep during the more poignant moments of certain operas, which he loved (Stalin cried during opera, too, make of that what you will) -- but then fell into the sewer in the wake of his involvement in the Saint Valentine's Day Massacre, when seven rival gang members were executed, a crime so brutal and hideous, he lost his fan club.
Not so basic, is the fact that Capone was considered by his brothers in crime to be the least Mafia-like boss in probably all of American history; some even doubted if he considered himself a member. He was known for not following most of the edicts that Salvatore Lucania handed down, many of which had been built on top of the structure that Salvatore Maranzano, before his bloody death, had put in place and which lasts to this day.
- Declined to conduct ceremonies to officially induct men into his family -- "made men";
- Never appointed capos or even a consiglieri;
- Delegated high-level responsibilities to non-Italians, and his organization in fact did not function like a traditional borgata;
- Held a love of publicity that turned off many mob bosses of the era.
The Mafia families of his time wondered exactly whether he was even technically in the Mafia, and his fame was said to be far greater than the actual power he held within organized crime. He'd send subordinates to sit in on Commission meetings, and his territory was strictly confined to Chicago.
Mob bosses did learn from him, however, to do whatever they could to avoid spending time in the can for income tax evasion. Thousands of "legal" enterprises hence sprung up at the hands of other Mafiosi in Capone's wake. That is the great lesson of Al Capone to his peers.
Pay your goddamn taxes -- or at least create the perception that you are. Have legit businesses in place to plausibly explain away your extravagant lifestyle to the tax man.