Al Capone Never Said That Famous Line Attributed to Him

Odd-looking wax figures of Bugs Moran, Capone, Machine Gun McGurn (Potter’s Wax Museum)

You can get more with a nice word and a gun than you can with a kind word.” 
-- Al Capone


Apocryphal quotes are a pet peeve of mine. (Another is high priced escorts who--but let’s not go into that, thank you very much.) Which reminds me of another quote, not apocryphal, by the great philosopher George Carlin: "I don't have pet peeves - I have major psychotic fcking hatreds.”

I was pondering that quote historically attributed to Al Capone -- is a nice word also a kind one? -- when quite suddenly an unbiddened thought blossomed in my caffeinated brain: That's clever, witty stuff--but Al Capone never said it.



I don't mean to imply he wasn't intelligent enough to think of it. In fact to rise to the top of such a ruthless entity as the Chicago Outfit, Capone had to possess an abundance of intelligence, among other traits.

Anyways, I'm correct, it turns out. Alphonse Capone never said that oft-quoted line italicized above. Just like Bogie never asked Sam the piano player to "play it again," and Sherlock Holmes never said anything about anything being "elementary" to dear Watson between toots of cocaine, and Siggy Freud never said something about cigars being cigars, etc.
This holds for the numerous variations too:

You get a lot more from a kind word and a gun than from a kind word alone.

You can go further with a smile and a gun, then with a smile alone.

You can get more with a kind word and a gun than with just a kind word.


Capone died in 1947. I subscribe to a ton of news sites and researched this thoroughly. No version was ever attributed to him while he was anong the living.



Now someone did say it — Robert De Niro (whatever happened to him?) while playing Capone in The Untouchables (1987).

Signing on to the David Mamet-written film “was the easy part,” as De Niro said. (Not an apocryphal quote.) The hard part was his methodical "method" approach to acting. "There’s a certain level of pressure that comes with playing a historical character, especially one who has achieved such mythic stature in the collective imagination as Capone," as Entertainment Weekly's Mary Sollosi recently noted in an Untouchables retrospective. De Niro read My Years With Capone: Jack Woodford and Al Capone, which "gave him crucial insight about the legendary gangster." Speaking of the book, De Niro recalled: “It was supposedly written by a young kid, a piano-player, a prep school-type kid. Capone would take him around as kind of, I felt, maybe as a chronicler of his exploits, and he played at one of his speakeasies.” The Oscar winner also reviewed footage of Capone and “tried to gain as much weight as I could and shave my head more so I could look as round as I could in the time that I had to prepare for it.”.
But back to Capone:

I’ll repeat: no evidence exists that Al Capone ever uttered anything like the above noted line.

Based on available evidence, the earliest reference that this blogger  could find suggests the line was created by a now-obscure comedian, one "Professor" Irwin Corey (July 29, 1914 – February 6, 2017). An American stand-up comic, film actor and activist, aka The World's Foremost Authority, he introduced his unscripted, improvisational style of stand-up comedy at the San Francisco club the hungry i.

Lenny Bruce himself has described Corey as "one of the most brilliant comedians of all time."

In 1953 Variety published a transcript of an NBC radio broadcast presenting a “survey of humor, down through the ages" during which Corey appeared as a comical Hamlet-like character, saying: "I have a simple philosophy which is poignant. Shoot a point, point blank, unsubtle, simple, poignant. My philosophy is you can get more with a kind word and a gun than with just a kind word." (Hamlet wields a sword and not a gun.)

It took him around 16 years, but by 1969 Corey successfully attached the line to Al Capone, giving it near-immortatlity (until maybe now?).

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