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Useful Notes / Al Capone

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"Hell, it's a business... All I do is supply a public demand. I do it in the best and least harmful way I can. I can't change the conditions. I just meet them without backing up."

"He's OK. He's from Brooklyn, that's it."
Jimmy Darmody, Boardwalk Empire

Alphonse Gabriel Capone (January 17, 1899 – January 25, 1947) was one of the first iconic American gangsters of the 20th century. He was the fourth son of first-generation Neapolitan immigrants. Born in New York City on January 17, 1899, Capone dropped out of school and let himself be caught up in street gangs. He received his famous facial scars as a teenager, during an altercation with a man whose sister he had insulted. As an adult, his brawling behavior brought him to the attention of racketeers Frankie Yale and Johnny Torrio.

Torrio subsequently invited Capone to join him as a partner when he took over the businesses of Chicago crime lord "Big Jim" Colosimo and soon expanded his operations to take advantage of the lucrative market for bootlegging created by the passage of the 18th Amendment and the Volstead Act, which banned the manufacture, importation, and sale of alcoholic drinks within the United States. Following Colosimo's never-solved assassination in May 1920 (many believe that Capone personally killed him), Torrio and Capone quickly established themselves as major players in Chicago's rising organized crime world.

Torrio and Capone established a monopoly for illegal activities in the nearby town of Cicero, but their South Side Gang was still caught up in a mild turf war with Irish-American bootlegger Dion O'Banion and his North Side Gang. When O'Banion was murdered, all hell broke loose amongst the gangs in Chicago and a Mob War began as his subordinates sought revenge. Torrio, a pacifist who narrowly survived an assassination attempt during these events, finally opted to abandon Chicago and left all his operations to Capone.

Capone brought things under control with the murder of O'Banion's successor, Hymie Weiss, and set about establishing himself in the establishment of Chicago. Though he encountered resistance from other gangland rivals, like George "Bugs" Moran (who'd inherited O'Banion and Weiss's North Side Gang) and his former mentor Frankie Yale (whom Capone's henchmen assassinated in New York in July 1928), by 1928 he largely dominated Chicago's rackets and began expanding his influence into other cities as well.

More than his contemporaries, Capone also cultivated a public reputation as a "businessman" who merely answered a public need by providing alcohol; his friendliness with the media and associations with various athletes and celebrities in Chicago didn't hurt. Capone often hosted soup kitchens for the poor, and paid the hospital bills of bystanders, especially children, who were wounded in gangland disputes. (His affection for children, at least, appears to have been sincere, considering that he was a doting father to his only son, Albert Francis "Sonny" Capone.) He also established ties with Chicago politicians, including the corrupt Mayor, William "Big Bill" Thompson, which prevented his prosecution by local authorities.

Things started going downhill again when Capone had seven rival gangsters, mostly members of Moran's South Side Gang, killed in the 1929 Saint Valentine's Day Massacre, bringing him unwanted national attention. While there is some speculation that he was innocent of that particular crime, or that the killing was engineered by his subordinates without Capone's knowledge, a number of his henchmen (among them "Machine Gun" Jack McGurn, Fred "Killer Burke" and John Scalise) were soon connected to the massacre through circumstantial evidence and their own, after-the-fact boasting. The brutality of the killings shocked the nation and Capone's reputation with both the press and public immediately nosedived.

At this point, the Federal government finally stepped in. The FBI arrested Capone in March 1929 for failing to testify in a grand jury investigation. Though he was soon released, this incident showed that Capone was no longer immune from prosecution, and he found himself increasingly unwelcome anywhere outside of Chicago. The Treasury Department, which directly oversaw the enforcement of Prohibition, assigned Eliot Ness to do some damage against Capone with his handpicked team of incorruptible agents nicknamed The Untouchables, while IRS investigations into his massive secret income for the purpose of tax evasion charges were underway.

Capone finally went to trial in 1931 and though he was able to avoid being tried for myriad crimes, the courts ultimately convicted him for something he didn't see coming - tax evasion. He couldn't fix that jury, owing to the judge on the case switching the jury pools at the last minute, preventing Capone's men from bribing or threatening them. After being convicted, Capone was imprisoned at Alcatraz Island in San Francisco. During his imprisonment, a latent case of syphilis he had developed finally hit the tertiary stage, and the damage to his nervous system completely destroyed him. He was released in 1939; too ill to resume command of the Chicago Outfit, he retired to Palm Island, Florida with his family and died eight years later, eight days after his 48th birthday.

Not a member of The Mafia, although his organization, the Chicago Outfit, as well as Capone himself, sat on The Commission.

Associated Tropes:

  • Actually Pretty Funny: Despite his disdain for the nickname, Al was said to have enjoyed Scarface (1932). An apocryphal story has Capone sending hoodlums to the screenwriter, worried about a scandalous portrayal of himself, only for the screenwriter to tell the goons that while the name was based on Capone for publicity purposes, the actual events of the film were based on other gangsters. Both the leg-breakers and their boss apparently got a big kick out the fact that showbiz was another racket.
  • The Alcatraz: Where Capone went to prison, becoming one of the most famous "guests" there.
  • Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking: Capone was ultimately arrested, not for any of his gangster activities, but for not paying his taxes.
  • Batter Up!: One story about Capone is that one time, he discovered that three of his men were conspiring against him with a rival gangster to overthrow him. He arranged for the conspirators to dine with him and his bodyguards. Once they were drunk, Capone beat the men to within an inch of their lives with a baseball bat and then ordered his bodyguards to remove them and have them executed with bullets to the back of the head.
  • Big Bad: From 1925 to 1931, Capone was the crime lord of Chicago. He was so powerful, he had politicians, judges, and even the police in his pocket. Many of the gangland killings and racketeering were perpetuated by Capone.
  • Bribe Backfire: Like shown in the film The Untouchables, Capone tried to bribe Elliot Ness and his team into silence with a promise of $2,000 a week (which was a Treasury agent's annual salary). Ness refused the bribe, and that was where his group gained their name "the Untouchables".
  • Briefer Than They Think: He only was in charge of the Chicago Outfit for six years, from 1925 (when Torrio retired) to 1931 (when he was convicted for his tax evasion).
  • Brooklyn Rage: Capone hailed from the rough parts of Brooklyn.
  • Dirty Cop: Capone bought off cops and Prohibition agents by the dozens, ensuring that investigations against his organization never went too far.
  • Dragon Ascendant: Al Capone started as The Dragon for his mentor Johnny Torrio, until an assassination attempt almost ended his life. Seeing how brutal the underworld was becoming, Torrio returned to Italy, but not before handing over leadership of the South Side gang to Capone, and the rest is history.
    • After his conviction, Capone was eventually succeeded by his own Dragon, Frank "The Enforcer" Nitti.
  • Dragon-in-Chief: For his predecessor Johnny Torrio, who usually opted for diplomacy to prevent Mob Wars, especially with the North Side gang. After Torrio almost got whacked, he fled Chicago and left Capone in charge, who was more willing to resort to violence to get his way. The gangland killings and ruthlessness associated with organized crime quickly followed.
  • Embarrassing Nickname: "Scarface", on account of the scars on his face. Capone liked to claim that his scars were war wounds, but he really got them in a knife fight as a kid.
  • Improbable Age: Capone was only 26 years old when he took over the Chicago Outfit, and 32 when his reign ended with his conviction. He was only 48 when he died.
  • Justice by Other Legal Means: Capone is probably the Trope Codifier for this. The government couldn't make the case that Capone was a crime kingpin, but they could point to his lifestyle and Suspicious Spending habits and say he was earning money he hadn't paid taxes on. It was pointed out at the time that the government was consciously ignoring how Capone had earned the money (which they couldn't prove), and instead focusing on the fact that he had the money and owed taxes on it. It's also necessary to consider that when charged with other sorts of crimes, Capone usually got a "not guilty" verdict from the jury by having his men bribe or intimidate them. To make extra sure that Capone couldn't weasel his way out of the tax evasion charges, the non-corrupt judge, who anticipated that Capone would bribe the jury pool, switched the jury pool for his case at the last minute, and the trial was started before the jurors could be coerced.
  • Landslide Election: Capone was behind the Pineapple Primary, wherein he ordered a man on his payroll named James Belcastro to carry out a bombing campaign against the opponents of Capone ally and Chicago Mayor William Hale Thompson. He primarily attacked voting stations in Chicago wards where opinion was thought to oppose Thompson, killing at least 15 people.
  • Man of Wealth and Taste: He was known for his love of the finer things in life such as expensive suits, attending the opera and theatre and dining at fine restaurants.
  • Massively Numbered Siblings: He was one of nine children.
  • Might as Well Not Be in Prison at All: During his initial incarceration in Atlanta, he was still able to run his empire in much the same way as before. This changed after he was transferred to Alcatraz.
  • Mob War: Much of Capone's tenure as the big boss of Chicago was spent locked in a fierce turf war with the notorious North Side gang. Capone and the North Side leaders would put out hits to take each other out, and Capone's gang succeeded in wiping out most of their leadership until Bugs Moran was the last one standing.
  • Neighborhood-Friendly Gangsters: Capone donated to charities and sponsored a soup kitchen in Chicago during the Depression. Capone had a soft spot for children, once trying to see that they got good milk (this actually led to the creation of expiration dates on food) and telling a paperboy to take the day off before handing him a $20. Ironically, the supplies for Capone's soup kitchens were acquired by threatening bakeries, packinghouses and other food suppliers if they didn't meet the quota the gangsters demanded. Al himself also tried to endear himself to the public, such as paying the rents of poor tenants, and had a reputation for magnificent PR skills. He succeeded fairly well, and it appears that he actually enjoyed helping his city out when not ordering the assassinations of potential threats to him. However, following the St. Valentine's Day Massacre and the Mob War putting more and more innocent people in danger, public opinions turned against him.
  • Non-Action Big Bad: Capone was always careful to insulate himself from his illegal activities, always having others do his dirty work for him.
  • Older Sidekick: His right hand man, Frank Nitti, was thirteen years his senior.
  • Phony Veteran: He would often claim the famous scars on his face were received in combat during World War I. In reality, he never served.
  • Sibling Yin-Yang: His brother James became a prohibition agent under the name Richard Hart.
  • Two-Faced: He only had his distinctive scars on one side of his face.
  • Villain with Good Publicity: Capone understood there were benefits in cajoling the favor of the public, and would openly provide public services, like soup kitchens during the Great Depression or ensuring expiration dates on food and milk. This all went down the drain after the St. Valentine's Day Massacre. Although Capone was never officially convicted for the hit, public favor turned against him as they began to recognize Capone's involvement in the Mob War with the North Side gang.

Fictional works portraying Al Capone:

  • Capone has been the subject of two theatrical-release biopics: Al Capone (1959), starring Rod Steiger as the Big Fella, and Capone (1975), with Ben Gazzara as Scarface. He appears as a character in literally dozens of other movies, TV shows, and other media set in the period.
  • Appears briefly in Tintin in America. Notable for being only real-life character in the entire series.
  • The Finger Points is a 1931 Roman à Clef film made while Capone was still running the Chicago Outfit, about a reporter who was on Capone's payroll. In the film Capone is The Faceless and is only referred to as "Number One".
  • Scarface, the original B&W film from 1932, in which the protagonist, Tony Camonte, was inspired by Al Capone. The first adaptation of the novel Scarface.
  • The 1959 Film Noir Biopic Al Capone starring Rod Steiger. Directed by Richard Wilson, it is pretty accurate to the record, with only a romantic subplot made-up for the film. It is highly accurate and deglamorized in its depiction of Capone's racket.
  • Played by Jason Robards in Roger Corman's The St. Valentine's Day Massacre (1967).
  • The Untouchables: The villain of two television shows and a film, all of the same name. In the film, he's played by Robert De Niro.
  • The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles
  • Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian has an animated photo of him (played by Jon Bernthal) recruited by Kahmunrah, along with wax statues of Napoleon and Ivan the Terrible.
  • Road to Perdition: A mob movie set in the early days of Capone's imprisonment, when Frank Nitti (played by Stanley Tucci) has just recently assumed control of the Chicago Outfit, and still sees himself as interim leader until Capone is released. A scene was filmed in which Capone is portrayed by Anthony LaPaglia, but it was eventually decided that it would be more effective if he never appeared directly at all.
  • Boardwalk Empire: Portrayed by Stephen Graham in this show, he first appears as a young thug trying to expand his share in the business. Over the course of five seasons, we see him becoming the crime boss of Chicago.
  • Deadliest Warrior: A foil for Jesse James in the second season. He loses.
  • Soul Eater: Him and his gang are Kishin eggs, though the writer seems to have made the "mafia" mistake.
  • The Night Chicago Died: about a fictional account of Capone and his gang murdering at least 100 police but not including the narrator's father.
  • Earnest Evans: Shows up as one of the main villains, with his thugs appearing as some of the game's assorted Mooks. He and his minions later show up in the sequel, El Viento. Later translations changed his name to Brady Tressider or Vincente DeMarco.
  • The Untouchables of Eliot Mouse: a family-oriented animated series by BRB Internaciónal (of The World of David the Gnome fame) set in a version of Earth populated by cats and mice, and featuring a feline version named "Al Catone" (get it?) who operates in "Cheesecago", is pursued by the Eliot "Mouse" of the title and has "Dog" Moran and his gang as his main rivals.
  • Bill and Ted's Excellent Video Game Adventure: Capone is one of the many historical figures featured in this NES game.
  • Shadow Hearts: From The New World: In this PlayStation 2 RPG, Capone has a giant talking cat martial artist under his employ.
  • Time Squad: In "The Clownfather", Al Capone had his henchmen act as clowns for one of his children's (or grandchildren's) birthday party and had clowns running his criminal empire. When he learned how the clowns were doing it, he switched them back.
  • Lois & Clark: A scientist used cloning techniques to bring gangsters back to life. Scarface was one of them.
  • The Super Mario Bros. Super Show!: King Koopa once took the moniker of Al Koopone.
  • Married... with Children: When Al and Jefferson found a secret compartment inside the shoe store, Al suggested it was Al Capone's treasure.
  • Billibub Baddings: Al Capone plays a semi-major role in the first book, The Case of the Singing Sword, and the conflict between him and "Bugs" Moran drives much of the plot.
  • Dick Tracy's first arch enemy was a Capone expy named Big Boy Caprice.
  • Epic Rap Battles of History pits him against Blackbeard.
  • One episode of The Real Ghostbusters features him leading a gang of demonic mobsters ruling another dimension that's a cross between Hell and Prohibition-era Chicago.
  • The Night's Dawn Trilogy has Al Capone return from The Beyond at the height of the reality dysfunction. He effectively takes over a planetary government using the same brutal techniques he used to rule the Chicago underworld.
  • Legends of Tomorrow has the Legends help Ness take down Capone after another group of time travelers stops him from doing it on his own.
  • Timeless: A first season episode has Flynn helping Capone by stealing all the evidence against him, and later helping kill Ness, in exchange for a meeting with the Mayor (who is in fact a member of Rittenhouse). The heroes try to counter this change to the timeline by helping Capone's Marshal brother arrest him, leading to a shootout that ends with Capone being gunned down.
  • An episode of The Simpsons had him dancing the Charleston on top of a flagpole in a Cutaway Gag.
  • The episode "The Motorcross Trap" of Biker Mice from Mars has him and several other gangsters returns as zombies and fight the titular heroes. A later episode (" My Cheese Is Quick"), namedrops him when the Big Bad Limburger gets in trouble from tax evasion.
  • 2020's Capone (where he's played by Tom Hardy) concerns his descent into dementia in the last years of his life.
  • Peaky Blinders' fourth series has British gangster Thomas Shelby (Cillian Murphy) making a deal with an off-screen "Mr. Alphonse Capone" to eliminate their mutual enemy, Luca Changretta (Adrien Brody). Capone is still an up-and-coming player by this point (early 1926), but already established as not someone you want to mess with, from the general reaction when his name is mentioned.
  • The Punisher had a story where Frank goes back in time and works for Capone, eradicating rival gang members with his usual level of violence. This leads to Frank being a participant in the dinner mentioned under Batter Up! (where the others were there for betraying Capone, Frank was a dangerous loose end), where he escapes from his bonds and kills Capone, ensuring organized crime never takes off in the U.S, meaning there's no Mafia shootout in Central Park decades later, meaning his family is still alive... and then he wakes up. The story's title is found at the very end: "When Frank Sleeps".
  • The Judge Dredd Alternity special had Capone as the Big Bad of one story with Dredd leading The Untouchables. His arrest file implies that he's Dredd's brother, Rico.
  • In The Godfather (the original book, not the movie), it's part of the backstory that the Corleone Family are what kept Capone from expanding his interests into New York, when he briefly tried to use a war between the Corleones and the rival Maranzano Family as an opening. Don Corleone had Capone's hitmen killed with startling efficiency, and then sent him a sternly-worded letter advising him, as a Neapolitan, not to interfere in a matter between two Sicilian families. Capone, thoroughly impressed and intimidated, backed off immediately.
  • In The World Of Fight And Be Right, Al Capone's parents emigrated to France instead of the United States. As of 1940, he has recently been elected Chief of State of France.
  • In The Fire Never Dies, Capone turns against his fellow gangsters during their turf war with the IWW, betraying the Five Points Gang. During the Second American Revolution, he leads a Red commando unit known as the Outfit.
  • He is featured in the flashbacks of the Ghosts (US) episode “Whodunnit” where he tries to commit suicide after Alberta, one of the ghosts, rejected him. Her sister manages to talks about of it.