21 THOSE SCARS
The bar fight happened in 1917. Writers are vague about the precise date. Al Capone was eighteen-years-old. The place where the two men fought was Harvard Inn in New York. The people involved were Al Capone, a young Italian girl called Lena Gallucio, her protective brother Frank and his date for the evening Maria Tanzio. The result of what happened was that the eighteen year old Al Capone needed 30 stitches in the left side of his face and carried three almost parallel scars for the rest of his life. After that the details are confused. Some say the damage to the face of Capone was done by a broken bottle, and others claim that Frank managed to slash Big Al three times with a knife. Despite what the movies tell us, Al Capone was an inch and a half under six foot. He was tall by the standards of 1920s Chicago. Frank Gallucio was no more than five foot six inches. Considering the reputation of Capone as a hard case, it is a surprise to discover that a smaller man would not have been prevented from making three knife wounds. Some witnesses claim that the fight between the two men was prolonged and that during the confrontation Capone became trapped in the legs of a bar stool. He became a sitting target for Gallucio. Perhaps, but trapped or not, Capone should have been able to shield his face. We expect more from our supervillains.
Al Capone was employed in a variety of roles at the Harvard Inn. He washed dishes, tended bar, acted as doorman and occasionally bouncer. He is remembered as being popular with customers and having a friendly smile. Capone was amusing, and his skills as a dancer would have also added to the fun. It weakens the myth but perhaps the truth is that Capone was, like a lot of his neighbours, merely tough and capable. Faced with a fully fledged gangster, Capone might not have been as accomplished as we would expect. The imposing bulk that features in the usual photographs of Capone had not yet arrived. The Harvard Inn was owned by Frankie Yale and located on Coney Island. The Harvard Inn offered cabaret and dancing to a jazz band. The adverts also refer to a seaside walk being a feature of the location. The sea air would have helped with fuzzy heads and weary stomachs. Capone had been employed by Johnny Torrio prior to working for Yale. The competence and enthusiastic determination of Capone were regarded as assets. The night Capone met Gallucio the enthusiasm proved to be a hindrance.
And this is where accounts differ. Capone is alleged to have said to Lena Gallucio, ‘You got a nice ass honey, and I mean that as a compliment.’ Maybe Capone did or maybe someone invented it as shorthand for Lena having to suffer the persistent attention of Capone. Either way, brother Frank took offence at the behaviour of the suitor. There is little agreement from bystanders about what happened. Frank either demanded an apology or without saying anything took immediate action. Gallucio might have launched a few blows or simply taken out his knife and slashed the face of Capone three times. Capone was rushed to hospital when a serious amount of blood appeared. In photographs of Capone only two scars can be seen on his left cheek. The third scar is on the neck and often hidden. That third scar may have minimised the facial disfigurement but it is also evidence of how close Capone came to losing his life. A fraction of an inch lower and the carotid artery would have been cut.
Both men were instructed by their gangster bosses to apologise and not take the matter further. Capone had to forfeit vengeance but was compensated with a financial gift of $1800, or so we believe. Capone was a big spender on everything and throughout his life he could have easily spent $1800 on cosmetics to hide the scars. After the death of Capone, any remorse felt by Gallucio about what he did that night at the Harvard Inn dissipated quickly. Gallucio said that Capone ‘had it coming to him’. Even allowing for bravado from an old man, these remarks are surprising. After he moved to Chicago and after he became the head of the Torrio organisation, Capone employed Frank Gallucio as a bodyguard. Gallucio earned $100 a week when he worked for Capone. The arrangement demonstrates the willingness of Capone not to bear grudges and also his ability to smooth out differences with words and gestures. The behaviour of Capone towards Lena Gallucio cannot be defended but her being the odd one out of three revellers would have persuaded Capone that he was entitled to show an interest in an unattached lady.
The route from working for Torrio to being employed by Yale began with Capone collecting money from the gambling saloons of Torrio. Capone did not collect money from the brothels when he began working for Torrio. That came later and prior to Capone moving to the Harvard Inn. The rapid rise of Al Capone in Chicago under Torrio can distort how we see the relationships within the Capone family. Before his exceptional success Al was not the dominant brother and role model in the family. Ralph was the first Capone to join a street gang, and Frank was appreciated for being clever and handsome. There is a photograph of Al and Mae having dinner. Mae is laughing but she turns her head to look at Frank who stands a couple of feet away from the table. It is Frank that has made the witty remark. The ambition and identity of Al Capone would have been shaped by a tough older brother and a brother that had superior looks and intelligence. Frank Capone did not survive the battle at the Cicero municipal elections of 1924. If he had, perhaps Johnny Torrio would have considered a different successor when he retired. Al Capone, though, was not stupid. Although rarely in school he obtained B grades. He quit school when he was fourteen years old but this would not have been exceptional for the children of working class families. Lucky Luciano was in the same class as Capone, so the poor teacher deserves some sympathy. Capone attended in one term just 33 of the required 90 days. There is a lack of precise evidence regarding what Capone did when he left New York just before he was 19 years old. Biographer Deidre Blair describes how Capone worked as a bookkeeper in a construction company in Baltimore. Based on conversations within the family that owned the firm, the son of the owner has described Capone as a model employee. The return of Capone to the mobs has been connected to the death of the father of Capone. This happened when Rafael Capone, the father, was 53 years old.
Al Capone either made an attempt to settle into normal employment in Baltimore or needed temporary relief from the tensions of working for a gangster. His wife Mae might have been an influence on his decision making but when his father died Al Capone had to return to New York. He needed to help support his mother and her family. No one can state with certainty what impact the death of the father had on Al Capone. What we do know is that a mild-mannered man that settled for being a barber left behind five sons that all became criminals. Al had been encouraged by his father to begin work as a shoeshine boy. Shining shoes did not appeal to someone impressed by what he had seen on the streets. He put the shoeshine box to one side and organised a racket that collected tributes from the other shoeshine boys. The initiative was successful because Mafia gangster Giuseppe Balsamo objected to a young gang moving into his territory. Balsamo forced Capone off the street. The young Al may have been a hustler but his mother insisted he was home at 10.30 each evening.
By 1921 all that was in the past and Al Capone was again working for Johnny Torrio but this time in Chicago. There must have been progress and maturity in the character of Al Capone because Torrio no longer had inhibitions about Capone visiting brothels. The Four Deuces was a brothel and a gambling saloon. The headquarters of Johnny Torrio were located on the first floor. Capone initially worked in the Four Deuces as a doorman that would entice customers inside. His skills and relationship with Torrio enabled Capone to progress from doorman to manager within two years.
The early assessment of the potential of Capone by Torrio cannot be described accurately. Torrio supported Capone in New York and found him work. The superior competence of Capone at the Four Deuces might have been a revelation. Capone had his reasons for leaving New York. One night he was collecting money for Frankie Yale, making the usual rounds that legmen make for gangsters. Capone encountered Arthur Finnegan. The Irish White Handers was a rival gang to Frankie Yale and employed Finnegan to do routine tasks. Finnegan taunted Capone with offensive remarks about Irish girls that married Italians. An encounter between Capone and Finnegan was always likely to be fraught. Hearing Finnegan criticise women for behaving like his wife was enough for Capone to lose his temper. A fight followed and Finnegan was beaten so badly that he was left close to death. Finnegan was taken to hospital. Wild Bill Lovett was either the leader of the Irish White Handers or close to being the leader. The kind describe Wild Bill Lovett as a temperamental alcoholic. The less kind identify him as a psychopath. He is supposed to have shot a fellow gang member that pulled the tail of a cat. Lovett was also a sharpshooter decorated for bravery in world war one. No one was surprised when Lovett swore vengeance and promised to kill Capone. A retaliation by Lovett would have escalated the rivalry between the gangs and perhaps produced a destructive war. Yale thought it best that Capone leave Chicago. The old friend Torrio was approached by Yale and asked if he could help. Without the impulsiveness of a twenty year old and the presence of a psychotic Irishman it could have been very different. Perhaps the most famous citizen of Chicago would have remained in New York and been nothing more than a loyal assistant to Frankie Yale.
Howard Jackson has had thirteen books published by Red Rattle Books including novels, short stories, travel books and collections of film criticism. His latest book Long After This is now available here.