Reportedly, Al Capone (image above) wrote memoirs which were eventually published and presumably would shed more light upon the true story of the purported underworld czar. Rival newspaper to the Chicago Tribune was the Chicago Daily News, whose reporter Howard O’Brien was authorized by Capone to interview him. O’Brien got scared about things Capone had revealed to him, and delayed publication of Capone’s memoirs until after the Chicago crime boss finally died, in 1947. Thus claimed author Bill Nunes in his fascinating book (privately published), Illinois Crime. (Further background: Al Capone Revisited, Ersjdamoo’s Blog entry of June 30, 2013)
Looking into this claim of “Al Capone’s memoirs” I came across a book by Howard Vincent O’Brien, All Things Considered, published in 1948. Therein are contained some vignettes of Al Capone, but by no means a personal memoir written by the notorious Chicago gangster.
Al Capone, according to O’Brien, was incensed about a book written by Fred Paisley. Apparently the book was titled, Al Capone: The Biography of a Self-Made Man. (Garden City, 1930). Capone felt that “cruel and unkind things” had been written about him by Mr. Paisley. Paisley was a reporter for the Chicago Tribune newspaper. Capone caused inquiries to be made, and his henchmen reported back to him that Howard O’Brien, a popular columnist with the old Chicago Daily News, was “a square guy.”
O’Brien first met with Al Capone at the now-vanished Lexington Hotel, at 22nd & Michigan Avenue. Capone’s sanctum there “resembled the office of a corporation executive.” Capone’s “manner was suave, his voice gently modulated.” While they were chatting, a “dark young man” entered and informed Al Capone, “Washington is calling. The senator wants to speak with you.”
Eventually, Al Capone agreed to sign a statement which said Howard O’Brien was Al Capone’s only authorized biographer. Capone wanted O’Brien not to dwell on the sordid, but on such things as Capone’s soup kitchen, charitable work with the unemployed, and how he was a dutiful son who telephoned his mother every day.
Once, O’Brien asked Capone “if the story was true that Anselmi and friend who had plotted against his [Capone’s] life had been invited to a banquet at which bygones were to be bygones but at the end of which the two plotters were murdered with baseball bats.” Capone mused for a moment, then answered, “I can’t tell you that. It wouldn’t be fair to my people.”
Usually Al Capone was calm when he chatted with Howard O’Brien. But one time Capone flew into a rage over Parmesan cheese! O’Brien had been invited to have dinner with Capone. At that time they “talked a great deal about Parmesan cheese and the rank imitations of that delicacy which were being foisted upon an untutored American public.” Said Al Capone to O’Brien, “I promise you that the feature of this dinner will be veritable Parmesan cheese imported directly from Italy.” But when the cheese arrived, it was just ordinary cheese! “Capone flew into a rage. His dark face grew darker and I thought he’d tear the waiter in two. He behaved like an angry leopard.”
“My impression,” finally revealed O’Brien in 1948, “that Capone was merely a cog in the machine and not a ruler was confirmed when I was asked to come down to his office one day and there met three men.” These three unknown men “sat like three shadows behind Capone and eyed me with what appeared to be cold, unfriendly eyes.” O’Brien “got the impression that [he] was being examined by the Supreme Board of Directors.” And it seemed to O’Brien that even behind these three shadowy men “were probably figures still more shadowy extending on and perhaps up into the world of seeming respectability.”
“More and more I wanted to write the true and complete story of Al Capone and his world but more and more it became clear that it never could be done.” Howard O’Brien was “learning a great deal more than was perhaps good for [his] health.” Thus it was that the project of writing Al Capone’s memoirs was at last dropped.
O’Brien believed that Jake “Greasy Thumb” Gusik “was on a higher level of authority than Capone was.” Another reputed “cog in the machine” was one Joe Fusco, an important figure about whom not much was ever heard.
Countering the shadowy “machine” during the Al Capone times was “a mysterious committee called the ‘Secret Six’” overseen by one Robert Isham Randolph. This “Secret Six” group, not to be confused with the so-called “Untouchables”, had been formed by the Association of Commerce, according to O’Brien. These people had not minded gangsters killing each other. But when bombs called “pineapples” began to be tossed into retail establishments which had refused offers of “protection” from the syndicate, that finally aroused vigilante counter-measures.