Saturday, December 29, 2012

Chicago Tribune Article

Deirdre Capone softens a notorious icon

In 'Uncle Al Capone,' Deirdre does what she can to humanize her great-uncle

By Donald Liebenson

4:17 PM CST, December 28, 2012

What's in a name? If you're a Chicagoan and your surname is Capone, everything. There is perhaps no more notorious name associated with the city (except perhaps Gacy, or for a time, Bartman). Growing up, Deirdre Marie Capone lived what she calls a "shame-based existence" and struggled with her family ties to one of the towering crime bosses of the 20th century.
So it's something of a new chapter in her life that she wrote a book, "Uncle Al Capone: The Untold Story from Inside His Family," which takes on the public's perception of her family as personified by Al, former "Public Enemy No.1," whose "Outfit" menaced Chicago during the Prohibition era and who remains the poster boy for Chicago's mob past.

Unlike Leonard Nimoy, who desperately tried to distance himself from his signature "Star Trek" character with his book, "I am not Spock," Capone confronts her family's legacy head on.
She's got her work cut out for her, considering what we think we know about Al Capone. That little matter of the St. Valentine's Day Massacre, for instance.
But here's the thing: What we know about Al Capone isn't necessarily true, and what we don't know would add a more human dimension to the quintessential gangster who inspired the 1932 crime classic film "Scarface."
"Was Al Capone a mobster?" Capone asks. "Yes, he was. Was he a monster? No, he was not."
Is the world ready for a more human Al Capone, one who, Capone writes, taught her to swim and ride a bike and traded knock-knock jokes? Chicagoan Jonathan Eig's 2010 book, "Get Capone," for one, has set the record straight on some of the more infamous aspects of the Capone mythology. But a piece of the puzzle is missing, Capone insists in an interview. "There are more than 100 books written about Al Capone," she says. "But no author ever knew the man, knew the color of his eyes, the way he smelled, the sound of his voice. This is an entirely different perspective."
For decades, when it came to Al Capone, the classic words spoken in the John Ford western "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance" applied: "When the legend becomes fact, print the legend." So, despite Eig's research and Capone's interviews with family members who, she insists, gave it to her straight, the public at large has Capone fingered as the orchestrator of the St. Valentine's Day Massacre. Which he probably was not.
"Al Capone was almost never linked directly to any murders," Eig said in an email. "He was a savvy businessman who kept his hands clean. It's very unlikely Capone was involved in that notorious crime."
Capone devotes a chapter in her book to the massacre, which was intended to be a hit on rival mob boss Bugs Moran. Seven people were slain. Moran was not present. Capone offers her own convincing case that Al was not involved based on talks she had with her grandfather, Al's brother, Ralph. "Anybody who studied Al Capone's M.O. would know that was not a Capone job," Capone says. "If Capone wanted to get Moran, he would have gotten him. There wouldn't have been that farce."
Capone, 72, who lives in Florida, was in Chicago recently in part to speak at a Chicago History Museum gala marking the 79th anniversary of the repeal of Prohibition. That she would stand before any size crowd to talk about her family would have been inconceivable as recently as two years ago, she says.
She did not tell her husband, to whom she has been married for 50 years, about her family tree until just before they were married and moved to Minnesota in 1972. Two years later, she writes in her book, her 9-year-old son came home from school, and in answer to her question "What did you learn today?" responded that he learned about a gangster named Al Capone.
She was finally compelled to have the conversation with her children that she had long dreaded.
"It was very difficult growing up in Chicago with the last name of Capone," she says. "My father was the first born of the second generation of Capones, and he had all the family hope and promise on his shoulders. He played the role in the Capone family that John Fitzgerald Kennedy played in the Kennedy family. He got his law degree from Loyola, but the Chicago Bar Association wouldn't allow him to practice because his last name was Capone." He took his own life when his daughter was 10.
As for Capone, she had been enrolled in elementary school as Deirdre Gabriel (her father's middle name). She was inadvertently outed, she recalls, in a newspaper story about a ceremony at which "Deirdre Capone" was among the second-grade students who had received their first communion. The ceremony had been held in the wake of Al Capone's death in 1947 on Jan. 25, Deirdre Capone's birthday. The family needed "something joyous," she says, and so the entire Capone clan attended the event. "The priests and nuns (at my school) knew who I was, but my classmates and their parents didn't," she says. "Two weeks later, every other classmate was invited to this girl's birthday party, but not me. I sent out invitations to my birthday party, but no one came."
Years later, she writes, she worked with an insurance company in downtown Chicago. She still went by the surname Gabriel, but six months into the job, she had to use her legal name to take advantage of the company's offer to its employees of a free insurance policy. When her boss learned she was a Capone, she says, she was let go.
She, too, had harbored thoughts of suicide, she admits, but credits the Capone "grit" with her drive to persevere. "I inherited that," she says.
But she still approached with trepidation the task of telling her children that she was a Capone. She was old enough to read when Al Capone died and had seen the obituaries and their recaps of his life of crime. "I couldn't figure it out" at the time, she says. "I knew something was different because when my father took me to grandma's house and Al was there, there would always be armed guards.
"But I loved those people, and they loved me. I was never afraid, and there was never anything awful that went on."
And so she sat down with her four children — then ages 9 through 14 — and told them about her ties to Al and the Capone family. Their response: "Cool."
Following the release in 1987 of Brian De Palma's "The Untouchables," featuring Robert De Niro as Al Capone, it was Deirdre Capone's sons who encouraged her to write a book that would offer at least a more nuanced portrait of Capone, who in the film bashes in an underling's head with a baseball bat.
Capone admires the film and DeNiro but argues that the movie "put a monstrous face on the Prohibition era. It wasn't that violent," she says.
(On this point, Eig disagrees. "Crime was rampant in Chicago in the 1920s, with something like 70 or 80 murders a year," he said).
Make no mistake; Capone is no Pollyanna. She allows for family bias, but just as she passionately knocks down commonly held assumptions about Al Capone, so does she own up to violence committed under Al's auspices. But that violence, she insists, never involved innocent citizens — only those who represented a threat to the business or the family.
In that respect, she says, she finds "The Godfather" movie the most authentic in portraying a sense of what it was like growing up a Capone.
She originally wrote her book as a family history for her children and grandchildren so they would have a better or fuller understanding of the Capone family. For decades she interviewed first-generation family members and kept her promise that the book would not be published until they all had passed. "My children said they really felt the public would want to read this," she says.
Not that the book will change anyone's mind about Al Capone. "There is a group of people out there who I call gangsterologists," Capone says. "They think they know more about my family than I do. They certainly know a lot about the era. But I grew up inside this family.
"Every time a relative died, the newspapers ran all the same stories, and believe me, most of what you read was not factual. I just want a chance to give anyone who's interested an opportunity to see there is a human being named Al Capone."
Are new books about Capone by Deidre Capone, Eig and others having an impact?
Capone points to the HBO series "Boardwalk Empire," in which Stephen Graham portrays Al Capone. True to form, the character is portrayed as violent and ruthless. But in a recent episode, Capone was seen comforting his deaf son, Sonny, who had been bullied at school, by tenderly playing him a song on a mandola, placing the child's hand on his throat so he could feel the vibrations of his voice.
It's a start.
For the past 23 years, Donald Liebenson has written features with an emphasis on culture, community and entertainment.

Non-bullet points

  • "I promise you, Dear Reader," Deirdre Capone writes in "Uncle Al Capone," "that after reading this book you will know things about Al Capone and his family that none of his biographers ever knew." Here are some tidbits, from the author or from her book:
  • In "The Untouchables," De Niro's Capone is overcome by an opera performance. But Al Capone was also a jazz buff. His brother Ralph opened a version of New York's famed Cotton Club in Cicero. In the 1950s, Deirdre recalls, "my grandfather took me to the Chez Paree (nightclub) to see Nat King Cole. We were invited to his dressing room."
  • Capone prided himself on his appearance. In exploring options for a legitimate business enterprise, he considered creating the "Al Capone Collection."
  • "Hits" associated with Al Capone would have taken on a whole new meaning if he had succeeded in his plan to buy the Chicago Cubs. "I love Wrigley Field," Al is quoted as saying. When his brother, Ralph, asked him what he was prepared to offer the Wrigley family for the team and ballpark, he is said to have actually replied, "I'll make him an offer he can't refuse."
  • Alphonse "Scarface" Capone had blue eyes.
  • Al Capone's son, Sonny, was a close childhood friend of Desi Arnaz, whose family Deirdre's grandfather Ralph was instrumental in getting out of Cuba following the 1933 revolution.
  • In the 1980s, while still playing down her family ties, Deirdre says she was approached by Geraldo Rivera's people to participate in the now infamous "The Mystery of Al Capone's Vaults" broadcast. She declined.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Cookie Curci's review

This is not your grandma`s Al Capone. No, you won`t find that notorious image in this book. He`s not the Al Capone we`ve seen in countless films, documentaries and TV programs, not the Al Capone (1899-1947) who ruled the Chicago underworld during the "Roaring Twenties" or masterminded the St. Valentine`s Day massacre. No, that`s not the man you`ll read about in this book...not the kingpin mobster pursued each week by FBI Agent Elliot Ness on the 1950`s TV series the "Untouchables".

In this revolutionary new book, you`ll read of a different Al Capone, one who is remembered through the eyes of a little girl who recalls what it was like to be a part of his real life Italian American family. And because of her Uncle Al and her Grandfather,( his brother) Ralph Gabriel Capone, (public enemy #3) she would carry the legacy of that family name throughout her life like a heavy,restraining, lead anchor.

The author of this book is Deirdre Marie Capone, she is the last living member of the Capone family to carry the name. Wanting to finally set the record straight about her infamous Uncle she has written this book, a book full of family stories, memories, wonderful family recipes, and how her life was burdened and changed forever by the name that became synonymous with the mob ...CAPONE!

Deirdre`s father, Ralph Gabriel, was only 33 years old and in the process of writing a book all about "the family", which he called "Sins of the Father" when he died unexpectedly. The official cause of death was determined to be suicide. Hedda Hopper mentioned the episode in her gossip column and the fact that he was working on the manuscript. So, there was a lot of speculation in the years after his death that perhaps it wasn`t suicide. Perhaps he had been murdered-not by any member of the family, but by some other member of either the Outfit or politics who was worried about being implicated with the Capones.

There are many Al Capone quotes from this book and I find this one the most timely,"A crook is a crook, and there`s something healthy about his frankness in the matter. But any guy who pretends he is enforcing the law and steals on his authority is a swell snake. The worst type of these punks is the big politician. You can only get a little of his time because he spends so much time covering up that no one will know that he is a thief. A hard-working crook will-and can-get those birds by the dozen, but right down in his heart he won`t depend on them-hates the sight of them."

The author of this successful book has graciously allowed me to ask her some very personal questions. So lets get to this fascinating lady and her revealing answers.

Cookie: Hello Deirdre and welcome. Thank you for giving us your time so that we might know more about your book and your famous Uncle . I noticed in your dedication of your book you mentioned your Dad and how you hoped that your success with this novel would help give his short life more meaning. Would you please expound on that for us?

Deirdre: My father`s life ended at the age of 33. My dedication was my way of saying that his short life produced me and I in turn produced 4 great children and 14 wonderful grandchildren all his descendants.

Cookie: You began writing this book as far back as the 1950s. With such an interesting frame of reference why did it take you so long to get it written and published?

Deirdre: I began keeping a diary as a young girl to record the facts as they were given to me. I began in earnest to write this book in 2000, but I came down with cancer in 2001. I needed to get myself strong and healthy first before I could take on the stress of reliving my past. It took me three years to write the book. It was released in December 2010.

Cookie: One of the things you mention in your book that caused you great anguish was the evil connotations attached to the Capone family name. Your early years were haunted by the name and you suffered because of it, would you please share some of the ways being a "Capone" negatively affected your life.

Deirdre: Everyone in my core family changed their last name to escape. My family thought that since I was a girl, and would probably marry one day (and take my husband`s last name) they would not go to the expense of changing my name. Children could not play with me after their parents found out who I was. The many lost jobs, how I was fired when my employer found out who I was.

Cookie: As we all know there has been so much information printed about AL Capone the mobster, in films, documentaries, books, plays, TV shows. In what way would you say your book differs the most from all these previous written works?

Deirdre: My book, out of the 100 other books, is the only one written by someone who actually knew Al Capone. I saw him laugh, I saw him cry, I saw him sleep, I saw him swim, I ate with him and prayed with him. We sang together, We cooked together.

Cookie: Deirdre, you lost both your father and brother to suicide. In your book you suggest the Capone legacy was responsible in many ways for both of these tragedies?

Deirdre: Yes, Cookie, there are many instances where the name of Capone put an end to a plan or dream they were working on. My father was working on a manuscript when he died. It was titled: "Sins of the Father ". It was never finished.

Cookie: Do you feel there was a connection to your Dad`s death and the manuscript he was writing?

Deirdre: Yes I do. My grandfather Ralph brought about an inquest. I have that transcript.
One point I want to make to you. The vendetta against Capone was started by a group of business men in Chicago. They called themselves `The Secret Six`. They started a very calculated war primarily because Capone was Italian. Joe Kennedy was the same sort of man in the same business as my family and there was no war against him, he was irish. The same for the Rockerfella family.

Cookie: Throughout your life you have had to hide your identity as the niece of Al Capone. You hid this fact from your children as well. But along came the day when you finally had to tell them the truth. How did this revelation come about and what was their reaction?

Deirdre: One of my sons came home from school one day. When asked what he learned that day, he replied "We are studying about this gangster called Al Capone". I knew it was time to reveal their heritage and it scared me. When they found out the four of them in unison went "Cool Mom"

Cookie: One of the most pleasant segments in your book deals with traditional family recipes and wonderful Italian food. Do you have a favorite among them?

Deirdre: Yes my two favorite are the meat balls and the lasagna.( recipes in the book for both of these delicious dishes)

Cookie: Deirdre, do you plan on continuing with your successful writing career. If so, will you share with us the subject of your next book?
Deirdre: I am an accomplished author in my married life. I am now 71 and have no plans to do any further writing.

Cookie: Thank you Deirdre, it`s been a pleasure getting a fresh perspective on this most infamous of crime bosses and how his notoriety painfully affected his loving family. We wish you the best of luck in all you do, Grazie e` bouna fortuna,

Dierdre: Thank you Cookie. And thank you for helping me tell a side of this story no one has ever heard before.