Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Last of the Capones Talks About Her Uncle Al

“They’ve hung everything on me but the Chicago fire.” ~Al Capone

My first experience of “racism” against Italians was in New Jersey when I had a summer job working for a landscaper named DiMartino. I was doing some work in his yard and while he was standing in the driveway the neighbor across the street shouted, “Hey shoemaker,” something that seemed innocuous to me. I did not understand that “hey shoemaker” was a put-down akin to calling a black man “boy.” I was critical of my boss at the time, I’m embarrassed to admit, because of his reaction toward his neighbor. The reality is that we’ve forgotten the mistreatment endured by Italians in earlier days. Hence, a man named Dino Crocetti changed his name to Martin when he went to Hollywood. Understanding this is an important detail with regard to the Al Capone story.

Al Capone received no special treatment here at Alcatraz.
At one time Deirdre Marie Capone was ashamed to be a Capone. It was bad enough that her great uncle has been blamed for the St. Valentine's Day Massacre, but when when Robert DeNiro portrayed Uncle Al as a psychopath, this just didn't square with her experience. As her children were growing up she was concerned about how her children would be treated because she had been on the receiving end of her own measure of taunting. She was relieved when they reach adolescence, however, and had different emotions about being a Capone than she had had growing up. 

I had just watched Ken Burns' documentary on Prohibition when the opportunity arose to interview Ms. Capone and review her book. It's a fast read and does succeed in bringing out new perspectives on the mythology of that era. 

My correspondence with Deirdre was by email and though not as loquacious as many people I’ve interviewed, she certainly has a fascinating story. In an attempt to clear the name she wrote a book based on extensive research and sharing family stories that only an insider could know. 

EN:  How old were you when you knew you great uncle?
Deirdre Marie Capone: My grandfather Ralph was Al's older brother and business partner. I had him until I was 34. Al died on my 7th birthday.

EN:  Why was it that Al Capone was so wanted by the FBI?
DMC: It was a personal vendetta brought about by a couple of business men who wanted to bring Al down, mainly because he was Italian.

EN: How close were your parents to Al Capone? How did your parents feel about him? Where did you grow up?
DMC: My parents were very close. My father was raised by Al's mother as the youngest sibling of Al. My parents were living in Al's home the day I was born.

EN: Did you ever go to his hideaway up in Northwest Wisconsin?
DMC: Yes, many times.

EN:  What was Uncle Al’s involvement in the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre?
DMC: He, nor any of his hench men were involved in this crime.

EN: What were his years at Alcatraz like? Do you have any correspondence from that period in your book?
DMC: Yes, I do have correspondence from him. His years in Alcatraz were very hard on him.

EN: Where can people find a copy of this book if they want to read more?
DMC: From every major book selling outlet, plus you can get an autographed copy from my website, www.unclealcapone.com

Alcatraz was very hard on Al Capone.
EN: Where did you grow up?
DMC: I grew up on the south side of Chicago and spent most of my time inside the Capone family residences.
EN: What did your grandfather Ralph do for a living?
DMC: My grandfather was Al's older brother and business partner. It was my grandfather who gave me most of the information about their business.

EN: Lots of people were involved in the illegal liquor business. In what way was your uncle Al Capone involved?
DMC: My grandfather and uncle ran the most profitable and successful bootlegging business in the world..
EN: What is your most painful memory with regard to the Capone legacy?
DMC: There are two, my father's suicide and being date-raped by a person who wanted to be part of the 'outfit'. 

* * * 

The book is called Uncle Al Capone: The Untold Story From Inside His Family.


Denise Costello said...

Fascinating interview, Ed!

ENNYMAN said...

Yes, it does seem like something you would especially enjoy, fan that you are of the Roaring Twenties. Thanks for the note.