tv Al Capone CSPAN November 12, 2016 9:00pm-10:01pm EST
>> watching the knopp fiction authors on booktv is the best television for serious e.r.a. >> on c-span they can have a longer conversation and delve into their subjects. >> booktv weekends. they bring you author after author after author, and and they're fascinating people. >> i'm a c-span fan. >> good evening, ladies and gentlemen. welcome to the 52nd season at feet their 80. the seventh 'er for the museum of american gangster. welcome to the c-span audience. i am extraordinarily happy to have deirdre here to speak about this book. it is one of my great interests
growing up in organized crime. was raised in the religious society of friends. what anybody ever says, oh, you know, don't subscribe to organized religion, i always say issue don't, either issue grew up quaker. the only thing we ever did in an organized way, dough don't have threology, is break the law, from the 1600s when we came about until now with draft resistance, the underground railroad, the sanctuary movement. the only thing we do an organized way is break the law. so in our museum, we began to redefine the way people look at organized crime as a struggle between american moral certainty, the, thou shalt not rule, and the liberty where people say, but it's our right to, and organized crime has always come out of that intersection between this two
great concepts that are always at war, and define us. and one of the great, great characters in this story, one of the true geniuses is al capone and it is so wonderful to have a new book that really delves into him as something more than the stereotypes and cartoon figures that you see on tv, and so enough frommer other than a little housekeep are. if anything horrible happens, the exits are here and here. if you have anything that will make noise during the talk, cell phones, beepers, small children, dates from new jersey, please do turn them off now. also, please, do not take any film or recordings of the talk in progress. very important. without further adieu, with
great joy, deidre bair. thank you. there will be a questions and answer period afterwards. you can step up to the mic in and ask your question. >> well, thank you all for coming adelightful to see everyone here and so many good friends that makes me especially happy. i'm going to begin tonight by reading a few pages from the book it's going to give you a brief introduction to al capone, starting with the man himself and then with the legend that he became, and then i'm going to talk a little bit about his life and his legacy to sort of give you a sense what you're going to find when you read the book yourself. this is how i begin the book. this is the story of a ruthless killer, scofflaw.
a kipper of brothels and bore del load, tax chill, a perpetrator of fraud, convict felon, and a mindless, blubbering idiot. this is also the story of a loving son, a husband, and a father, who described himself as a businessman, whose job was to serve the people what they wanted. al capone was all of these. he died in 1947 and almost seven decades later it seems almost where anyone travel thursday the world people still recognize his statement have something to say about who he was and what he did. everyone has an opinion, and yet within the deeply private world of his extended family, there's an ongoing quest to find definitive answers about the family's most famous member. the sagos that all family history is often a mystery and
that all families are closed narratives, difficult to read from the outside. attempting to reconstruction the truth of a family is very much like trying to solve most complicated puzzles imaginable and in case of those who bear name that is famous, or in the case of cal -- al capones -- the texas can -- some relatives founded easier to change their surname than to deal with the history. they chose to distance themselves and deny the relationship for a number of reasons. some merely wanted to lead ordinary, private lives. some said they feared reprisals from gangland chicago while still others who remained connected in varying degrees, said they wanted to make their way in in the world uneven coupleberred by the long shadow
of al capone. and still, there were those who kept the capone name, but said it was the reason why they had to leave lives -- some moving as far away that's could get while others only moved cautiously from one town to another throughout northern illinois, never far from the security and the familiar environment of chicago. in recent years the question of who has the right to claim a legitimate place within the family of al capone has resulted in some interesting pieces that may or may not fit into the puzzle of its history. you who only know him from newspaper stories will never realize the real man he is. said his sister 1929 when he was in his prime. a remark echoed today by his
granddaughters, who have only recently become involved in sorting out what they call their amazing family history. one of the questions they ponder repeatedly is how one man could embody so many different personality traits. they talk among themselves about their family history, and they argue and they debate about whose memory is the most correct and which is the closest to the truth. they strive to assess their grandparents and parents with honesty, objectivity, distance, and detachment, and admit the difficulty, if not the impossibility, of arriving at definitive conclusion. when they talk about their papa, that's call him, they first put al capone in air quotes and they ask themselves, what gave rise to the myth and to the legend.
how did the grandfather they adored fit into all these stories? where was the real person within the grandiose and exaggerated public personality whose exploits continue to grow evermore outrageous, seven decades after his death. it will be 80 years next year that al capone has been dead. what was it that make this name of a man two died sick, broke and dimpledded in 1947, so instantly recognizable a decade and a half into a brand new century. are we far nate with him d -- fascinate with him because of the so-called roaring 20s, the anytime which he lived? is it because we now seek to understand the many ethnic histories that formed our country and, therefore the circumstances of his birth and family life as an italian american?
that might shed some light on our own assimilation as americans. er simply al capone's larger than life permit. this outsized figure who strutted across our historical stage for such a brief time that we did not have enough time when he was with us, to assess him. after so many intervening years, can we figure him out? and after seven decades, is nothing left but a myth? the members of his family agree with me that the enigma of al capone is a rid toll be solved and now it's -- riddle to be solved and now is the time to try to do it. now i'm going to read you a little bit about the legend of al capone as it is today. al capone's brief life was flower flowered and dramatic but
his afterlife is even more controversial and just surprised. his reign as a the king of crime lasted six short years and even after he was stripped of power, the public still could not get enough of him. since he died the frenzy of publicity he inspired during his lifetime as increased exponentially and shows no sign of slowing down. the died 1947, and in 2016, the daily google alert still records anywhere from half a dozen to two dozen new hits every single day. new books and films appear about him almost every year, and this clue novels, biopicks, documentary, even mock umen tries there memoirs that per put to -- purport to tell the rather truth for audiences that include young adults and very, very young children.
one eight-year-old told me he killed bad guys and that was okay because it let him feed for a people. the division series, boardwalk empire, has made this surprising ily not an anti hero but a genuine hero and new englander viewers cannot get enough of him. his name appears on all sorts of lists, including one from the smithsonian magazine that named him one of the 100 most influential americans of all time in the entire history of our country web sites are devoted to him and the mob museum in las vegas get the best crowd when its features him. madame tussaud's capture him after his disease took over and the life-size statue of cal pennsylvania capone in this cell playing the mandolin, and
gangsterrologists, and professors who proclaim themselves capone scholars debate every aspect of his life and if it can be called as such, his work. law schools study his court indication. bar associations re-enact it. and academic institutions from the most august to the most local, offer courses. harvard business school examines the capone outfit as a case study. the community college in illinois, holds a course entitled simply eye al capone company and when it was finch given was so popular it was oversubdescribedded and two more sessions had to be scheduled. restaurants claim he ate there. cocktails and sandwiches are name for him home. tells claim he slept there, and there's even the laughable contention that he often sneaked off anonymously to play golf on scottish courses.
one reporter said it best. if al capone frequented even a tenth of the places he is said to have, the notorious mobster hardly would have had time to build his chicago crime empire, let alone run the thing. from musical groups to young adult novels just his name in the title can command far more interest than most of them merit. cats and dogs on internet postings, especially the countless pit bulls who bear his name, are sure to be quickly adopted. his name alone can secure a good table as a young woman in san francisco, who bears the capone surname issue finds, every time she tries to reserve a table in a posh restaurant. this face is on postage stamps in ka joog stan where they have one of may, hiding her face behind a fur coat. and in -- where his image is
centrally placed among the notorious gangsters mug shots, al capone is at the center. in row main ya, websites and immediateup groups prolive late and writers seek contact with americans who write about kalpoe's life and crime in bulgaria, the bulgarian mafia claims they studied the outfit to learn how to conduct their business in england in the 1960s the creigh brothers, notorious for murder and extortion, modeled themes after, quote, that upper class criminal, al capone. and in iceland, the entire town of abberg is agendaly obsessed with its weak-long al capone festival where all the residents are devoted to the scourge of chicago.
when the mexican drug lord, "el chapo," escaped from prison, the comparison to al capone was immediate, and "el chapo" was quickly duped the new public enany number one. reporters don't strength their intellected when write stores about hedge fund manager. they just make a comparison to al capone and the public gets the message. amazing, cues are accused a criminal defense lawyer in chicago, how often his name is used to spice up a story. and without any reference to who is, was or might have been, al capone's name is the one to grasp when making comparisons with everything from the current presidential election, to the finale of the popular television series ""downton abbey."." it's so easy for everyone to
compare donald trump to al capone, but hillary clinton gets her comparisons as well. donald trump is al capone on steroids. and hillary clinton is al capone in a pant suit. and donald trump's tax situation and hillary clinton's e-mails get plenty of comparison, and as for downton aberdeeney, "the new york times" summing up the six seasons of the pbs serial, wrote that the hapless servant couple who were each charged witch separate murders, quote, have spent more combined time in jail than al capone. >> people from chicago who travel abroad have a tale to tell when they say they're from chicago. local residents quickly form
their hands into a tommy gun and make the ak-ak sound, and one young man wrote i get circumstance and tired of tourists coming here in al capone tv shirts but one therefore mow most thought replies says the fascination continues because idolizing al capone gets easier has time goes by, and we get more and more disconnected from what he actually did and it's precisely this disconnect that hat corrected to the unending question of what was there about this man to turn him into an international culture icon, and why the mere mention of his name sets up a chain of immediate associations. writers have long pondered the question of why this particular man became the uber-celebrity amongst so many other colorful
gangsters and mobsters, and why the legends that have grope -- grown up around both sides of his life. the violent and benevolent, have become to shrouded in myth. how did he, of all the other outside criminal characters of his era, become an internationally recognized cultural reference while so many others go unrecognized today? so, now i'm going to talk a little bit and i'm going to start by telling you he was born in brooklyn, january 17, 1899. and he was the fourth son and the second one born in united states to italian immigrant parents, gabriel and teresa capone, he grew up in a family that kept to the ways of the old country and was deeply steeped in every italian custom and tradition, but all his life he
was quick to correct anyone and to become angry every time he was called italian. i'm an american. i was born in brooklyn, he would say, and i am proud of it. his first home was a crowded tenement on the street that led to the maingate of the brooklyn navy yard, and he grew up watching the boys, who were in a local gang called the boys of navy street, he watched while they'd hassle hassle and assaule sailors and as soon as he was old enough, which is probably when he was eight years old, he joined this gang. he was big for his age, and he was a fast runner. so no sailor ever caught him. and by the time he was 12 he had grated from being the gang's mascot to beg one of the most dependable and fearless fighters. he stayed in school through the sixth grade, which he had to repeat, but not because he was a good are bad student, because actually he was a very good
student, but because he played hooky so often he was seldom in the classroom. his parents believed in educationen and wade all their sons to stay in school as long as possible, but every one of them quit at the first opportunity, and they found work such as it was in penny ante criminal activity. al liked school and he might have stayed longer if he had not gotten into a brawl with his teacher. he knocked her down, or maybe ehen knocked her out, and then he simply walked out of school and never went back. and after that he followed his two older brothers, ralph and frank, into the criminal world. and this was after the oldest brother simply walked out of the house one day and disappeared, not to be heard from again for the next 40 some years, and when he came back, he was known as two-gun hart, gun-toting,
horse-riding, cowboy in full regalia, who had been the lawman in nebraska, dedicated to smashing stills and enforcing the laws of prohibition all of which his brothers had been actively flaunting. you can't make that up. al's leaving school was a particular blow to his father who had worked hard to learn english and hoped his sons would lead better lives than his own. he set himself up as a barber, while his wife took in borders and did piecework sewing to help keep the family afloat. gabriele thought he was encouraging tool become a legitimate business man when he bought home shoe sign box and set imare him up on columbia street under the famous clock. instead al became just the opposite. from the ages of 14 to 18, he was a brooklyn punk, who very
early showed signs of the street smarts that he later used to run the chicago outfit. now, his father did want al to learn the lessons of capital limp, in a very real sense he did. when the other boys saw what good location al had chosen they set up their own boxes near his. well, al didn't want to get his hands dirty so he sold his box and then he rounded up some other boys to intimidate the other enterprising shoe shiners into paying him protection money. if they wanted to keep on doing business, they had to pay al capone, or else. so what are we going to call this? are we going to call it talent? and such talent did no go unnotice various brooklyn crime bosses, who were always on the lookout for young and enterprises -- hood hims to join
their racks and by the time hi was 18 he was working are for the crime boss responsible for bring him to chicago. and by the time he was 19, al capone was also a father. several weeks before he became a married man. it was a most unlikely marriage for this was early in the 20th 20th century when immigrant ethnic groups lived in their own enclaves and tended to stick to their own kind. and mary josephine coughlin, who was called are always called mae, was irish. she was two years older than al and very much above him on the social rung of the immigrant groups who were pouring into the country. mae's family was lace curtain irish and al's was the poorest of the poor. the coughlins lived in their own ohio while the capones lived in four small rooms of a tenement
walkup that was jam packed with others just like them. her father went to work in an office every day in a white shirt and tie. while his father cut hair in the family kitchen until he could save enough to set up his own shop. her mother went directly from her parents' house to her own house, and she never worked as so many irish girls did as a household servant. his mother clung to the wives the old country, and was so frightened of the world outside her building that she never left it except for food, shopping, and she called that going down to america. the marriage of al and mae was high i hundred u-for several reins. in those dies irish girls who married it at that timan men were said to have made mixed marriages and the italian partner was commonly referred to as the cult.
even more unusual the marriage did not take place until sever weeks of the birth of their only child, albert francis capone, who was always called sonny. a mixed marriage such as this brought almost as much shame to an irish family as did a pregnancy before marriage, but mae stayed throughout the pregnancy, openly and proudly in her family home. al-stayed in his and had to visit the woman he desperately wanted to mary but only when her mother wasn't there. it's generally believed by the capone descendents that ms. coughlin was responsible for the delay because mae's pregnancy was a difficult one, and her mother thought she would miscarry and therefore there would be no need for a mixed wedding. but sonny was born prematurely after a troubled pregnancy to mae held firm and self weeks
after the gave birth she and al were married. before i talk about his life in crime i want to take a moment to talk about the circumstances in which italian immigrants lived in the early years of the 20th 20th century. i'm not using it to defend the reasons that al capone turned to a career in crime. but i want to use it to explain the world in which he grew up. it was a time when the new york metropolitan area was swelled by around 800 town people who came from southern and eastern europe and it was when people like john quin, the wealthy manhattan lawyer who bank rolled writers, despised every one of these newcomers, and this is what quin said using one over then many slurs for italians, and i quote there are seven or
800,000deigos, couple hundred how to slovacs. 50,000 or 60,000 crow ceo crow coasts and germans, they're all nothing but walking appetites but new york city government officials had dis. we can't get along with without the italian. need somebody to do our dirty work and at the irish won't do it anymore. only jacob reese, who wrote about italian immigrants in his book "how the other half lives" saw the italian american situation for what it was and this what he said. italians have the instinct of cleanliness but it is drowned out by the nastiness of the tenements. gangs of every sort were rampant, and it was almost as if there was no other possibility for an upwardly striving boy to
better himself than through a life of crime. now, several things came together just after sonny capone was born and just after al married mae. and their descendents and many of the scholars who study his life and work, believe this is why turned away from legitimate two, alive of crime. just after he was married, his father died of a heart attack, at a very young age, 59 years old, and even though al was the fourth son, he was the dependable one, so he became the patriarch and the head of his family. older brother disappeared the next to could not be counted 2014 their mother, their sister, and three younger brothers and it fell to al to provide for those five people as well as his own wife and son. his family thinks he might have been the legitimate businessman he always proclaimed himself to
be if he had not suddenly become the sole support for seven people, and writers who study al capone, when he started his philosophy crime, make remarks such as, if he had been born 30 or 40 years later, he could have been lee iacocca, and the fact that they harvard business school makes a case study sort of supports that possibility. so i'm not going to go into details now about how he got chicago except i'm going to say that he claimed one simple reason for going there. and i quote al capone here: i needed to make a living, and i thought i needed more. once he got there his rise was spectacular. as one write are put it, and i quote here, capone would go from a $15 a weak -- week mop boy and occasional whore beater to one
most powerful and wealthy men in the world and did all this in a year six years. he was 25 when he took over and 31 when it all ended. and during those six years, his personal fortune was estimated at over $40 million, and by the time he went to jail, he was broke. in the book i wrote that his ascent in mop dom was -- mob dom was sensational and his downfall mid-you'ric, and -- meteoric, and here we are almost 80 years later and everything about they brief item continues to command worldwide attention, interest, and speculation. and one of the reason is think is because early on, he learned how to coopt the media. i credit al capone with the invention of spin. while other gangsters said out of the limelight, he courted it,
he put reporters on his payroll. and with one editor in particular he offered the first crack at scoops in exchange for positive stories being written about him. he even tried to hire one of the earliest and most famous publicists to polish his public image, man ivy league, who was known to all as poison ivy lee, he was the man who changed the public image of clients such as john d. rock feller and charles behindburg and he very quickly declined al capone's lucrative offer. al-even tried to hire a writer to ghost write his autobiographyy, painting him as the saint and savior of everybody in chicago, but this terrified fellow was let off the hook objects the government set his sights -- set its sites on al capone and al had other things to worry about. again, hesitate to make
comparisons to the political climate of the current election year but i can't resist doing it. record reporters vied to describe the clothing he wore, the yell low or pea green suit thor diamond pinkey ring that was anything from four to 11-carats depending on who was writeweight athlete would have had silver dollars he alleged hill threw from his fleet of bulletproof cars. and when he set up a soon kitchen as a genuine act of kindness in depression, reporters were quickly say, yeah, sure, kinds in, but he extorted all the food he served from small businesses. and even after he went to prison, when there was nothing to report or write about, they invent stories. one headline read, al capown lost 11 points. and another one was, al capone
read a biography of napoleon, and the biggest scoop in 1935 two russian soviet writers were touring the united states and in their book, they wrote that al was sitting in his alcatraz cell, secretly writing antisoviet articles that the hearst newspapers were publishing. so, i found out lot otherwise surprising things about al capone during the four years i spent researching and writing the book, but one of the most surprising was how briefly he was on top of the criminal world. he was in a courtroom five and a half year after he ascended to power, defending him himself but not from the several hundred murder he was taught have the ordered and the several dozen or so he was alleged to have been directly involved in.
he was in the courtroom for tax evasion. particularly his income tax. and by 1931, he was in the that federal d the atlanta federal prison, the most punitive principle in the country, until alcatraz was set up in 1934 because the government wandded to sent a lesson to the criminal world this would be a prison whose name would send shivers down the spines of the most hardened criminals and who better to imprison a than public enemy number one, al capone, never mind his brain was already so riddled by syphilis that he had the mentality of somewhere between seven and 12 years of age. his end was a sad one. as he was released early on because the syphilis, which he had contracted as a very young man, and which he gave to his wife and son, had so riddled that mentality. he didn't die in prison help
died in his own bed in his miami house, vended by the family that loved him, and the wife who claimed she knew every terrible thing he had ever done but she still loved him anyway. he was only 48 years old. and as i said here we are, almost 80 years later, with his name so widely known, that the smithsonian put him on its list of the 100 most influential americans of all time. what was there then about al capone that captured so many different kinds of imagination and i'm going to end by reading just a few paragraphs again from the book. a writer named catherine full areton in 1931 wrote an article about al capone, and she called
him gorgeously and typically american. and i think she was correct to say that about him. because his rise to fame so parallelled a most unusual moment in american history, one that could well fit that same description, and of course i refer to prohibition. it was curious early form of political correctness that was imposed upon the entire country when a small number of fan nat counties convince the federal got that laws controlling behavior could be enforce it. a weird live schizophrenic time when even the former president some later chief justice of the supreme court, william howard taft, observed with regret that the strongest tendency of human nature was the desire to lay down rules of conduct for other people.
don't think we've changed very much, have we, since then. unlike others who had wealth and social station and used them surreptitiously to defy the unpopular law, that it were often charged with enforcing, al capone ignored it. and he told the truth about why he did so. he openly admitted that he sold illegal alcohol to the best people. and he said he did it as a public service to supply a demand that was pretty popular for most americans. and in the 1920s, it made him an american hero because he did publicly what most of them had to do in hiding. al capone defied the law and got away with it. it's an accepted truism that cultural norms underwent seismic change tide end of world war. women got the vote, smarten
third skirts and went to work. jaded and disillusioned men refused to join the traditional work force and they took off for foreign climes to create the great american novel, or to revolutionize the art world, and they're opt out of what was known as the traditional american way, gave rise to the glamorous myths that have since surrounded european expatriates. the rich, who always got richer, suddenly found they had lots of company as the economy soared and the middle class found themselves with lots of disposable income. the time was right for thumbing one's nose at what constituted acceptable social conduct and with the flamboyant boot leaguer leading the way many others wars eager to break all the small construction thousands of private lives as they were to
disobey the large one forkedded upon them by the 18th 18th amendment. al capone let them on. and the public loved him. even though he was largely responsible for watching the streets of chicago in blood. for most americans who did not experience such sights directly, newspaper photographs and movies, that portrayed sprawled and bloody dead gangsters and bullet ridden cars, can be only entertainment and far removed from real life. evil was appealing. it was even enticing as long as it didn't touch them directly. evil had become entertainment ex-disconnecting the public even more from the violence of the gang wars and al capone's part of them. james o'donnell bennett was one
of the first journalis to explain the phenomenon that al capone holm and how, i quote here, with no cob shoes effort he emanate menace while saying, please. he was the criminal version of a foppish dandy in his luredly colder i bet exquisite taylored suits were the handkerchief neatly folded in his breast pocket, readiy to be ripped out to cover the disfiguring scars whenever he needed to smile for the cameras. everyone knew to be wear of that smile for it could turn sinister in a moment. he was in short the perfect human paradox and the counterpoint to the political paradox that was prohibition. he was so wildly charming so blatantly outsized in everything he did, and so fully in the public eye that's was hard to
believe that such a good fellow and one so highly entertaining, heaved the pithedy quote take and at the catchy phrase he couldn't be al that bad and as for prohibition might have been the law of the land but nobody took it seriously. so why not have the drink? that was how al capone fulfilled the public's imagination, and that was how he was regarded until the market crashed. and once that happened, public opinion reflected the changed new world of the great depressionment public opinion is easily divertedded and fickle at best, and it turned against him. not entirely, but just enough for people to feel self-righteous satisfaction to say in one breath that he got what was coming to him, and in the next that he got that comeuppance in the shaky trial
on trumped up charges, and yet even as they passed righteous. , they remains alert for every scrap of information about al capone's life in prison and his tales of miss mental decline seeped out. they're were ghoul issuely of avoid for news, the more bizarre the better. the stories written about him during this lifetime are often flawed in both content and interpretation. so, arriving at the factual certainty of public events is difficult. the consensus is that arriving at anything approaching a definitive interpretation of the man who was al capone remains elusive. all that we have are speculation, and probability,
and they only lead to endless possibilities. oscar wilde said of himself, god knows, when he was asked what posterity going to make of you? his answer, oscar wilde's answer is something that al capone could have sad is a well and i quote, somehow or other'll be famous. and if not famous, i'll be notorious. wilde envisioned himself also leading -- and again i quote -- a life of pleasure for a time and then after that, who knows, perhaps that will be the end of me, too. and for now the only certainty is time passes and the man who was al capone recedes into history, the legend shows no sign of stopping. thank you. [applause]
>> so often whenow read a book it's a one-way conversation. after you head -- i know you're going want to have the opportunity, as you're going to have right now. if you have a question, please line up on the fourth stair back and we'll have you come forward and ask a question. >> happy to ain't. -- happy to answer. >> i'll repeat at the question. [inaudible question] [inaudible question] >> host: the blazic question is
how he got away with all those murders. well, he delegated. he learned that from joby tour ya and johnnier to yo deserves a biography of his own but i'm notice going to write it. joby was a great delegator. al didn't get his hands dirt where with the shoe shine kit and didn't get his hands dirty if the murders. the st. valentine's day murder, if you're like me i had 12 different books in any office and every single one of them had a different version of who did what to whom. so, i gave up on trying to settle that question once and for all, but the point is, when the st. valentine's day mass kerr took place, al capone was throwing a party for miami city government officials in his miami house and that is one of the ways he got away with. no murder was ever pinned on him
as everybody seems to know. he went to jail for tax evasion. and even that was very shaky because income tax was so knew new and is there were so many differences in the laws to at the time. another question? yes. >> thank you so much for the wonderful, stimulating talk about your book. -- how you came to write the book. >> that is a very interesting story. all of my books begin -- everything i write begins with either an idea that i have or a question that i want to find an answer for. in this one in a sense was a whole lot of questions i wanted answers for, but it began when a young man with a surname capone, wanted to know his family history. he had heard a particular version of his family history
that one of his uncles or perhaps even his own grandfather, could have been an illegitimate son of al capone. and he through a friend of his contacted the friend's sister who worked in publishing in new york city, and the found me one day and said, what should i tell system shy tell him to gate private detective or tell him to get a ghost writer? some i said, well, don't know because i don't really know what it is that they want to find out. so, she said she'd get back to me and let me know perhaps i could help her and help him. and i started reading books. went to library and picked up two or three books about al capone, and i thought, this is an incredibly fascinating man, and having been a former journalist and investigative reporter, i thought, wow, wouldn't this be a scoop of the century in and so one thing led
to another and i started out to write the book. so i went to my agent, and my publisher, and told them that it wanted to write at al capone and i will are'll never forget the shocked expressions on their faced. you, al capone? but i'm very happy to say that they both decided that might be a pretty decent book so why didn't i go ahead and write it. >> well, you think of a question or two more, just want to remind you that the book is available in lobby, which the author will sign for you. come up and use the mic so c-span can hear you. this microphone right here. >> why do you think people in bulgaria or -- what particular
suspect aspect of al capon they admired, his murder organize extortion? >> guest: it really boggled the mind, doesn't it? i wish i could give you an answer. i income there are probably many, many answers to such a quit, but those countries, i do hate to generalize but they do have a reputation for what shall we call i, disreputable behavior and prance that has something to do with. at love 0 gangs there and a lot of poverty in romania in particular, i know hoe mainous because write about sal steinberg. don't know much about bull grand jury and other countries nut poverty, the ghetto-like ways certain ethnic groups have to live there are so many parallels to the immigrant experience in the early years of the 20th 20th under and i think that might have something to do with it. they look at this immigrant boy
in brooklyn who became a success, and they may think that's the way for them to go. other than that it can answer it. >> going long with the different do you recalls and being attracted to him there's a lot of myths within mexico and -- who is this robin hood type, and maybe they have like some sort of myth of their own that sort of goes along with the lines -- like al capone, they have this myth of this robin hood type character and that's what they're sort of like grabbing on
to as far as, like, ideologizing him. >> host: sure. excellent observation. >> going once. >> here comes someone. >> i've had the joy and and pleasure of reading the book and is it phenomenal and one of the thing is understand that distinguishes this book is because of your talk and work with the family bit, you -- the man is more human than we have ever known. this side of him. that he family man, from their point of view. so could you say some more about that now? >> sure. as i said he had -- he and mae
had one son, always known at sonny, and perhaps because sonny was a sickly child, sonny did not go to school until the was in i think the seventh grade. hi was home-schooled, and mae was very protective of sonny. that might have had something to do with wife he did not follow his father into a life of crime, but also i believe that mae was responsible -- and i think al wanted sonny to grow up straight, if we will. sonny went to notre dame and started at notre dame the joy that al felt in his son being a student at notre dame university, was beyond stratospheric. so, sonny had four daughters. he married his high school sweetheart, and the -- of the four daughters, one of them died
of cancer, and the three others are still alive, and i had the great pleasure of getting to know them as well as so many other family members, and they were young. they were children, very small children, but they were old enough to have strong memories of their grandfather and their grandmother and they told me the stories of being -- they grew up in miami and told me the stories of being at the palm island house with their grand rapidses who adored them -- grandparents who adored them and mae lived to be 86. al died when he was 48. she was 50 then so she lived a very long life after his death. and the would often visit these grandchildren and she would tell them her stories, and as one of them said to me, it was mama plea -- it was her reality and
of course it was reality with rose colored glasses. we in other words that and we knew it, but we loved her so we let her tell us these stories. so, that was how a lot of family background came in. then something very interesting. when i first started talking to the granddaughters, and i had met a couple of other family members in the chicago area, who were the descendents of one of his brothers and then someone phoned me and said, you know, i'm living in the midwest, and i know a whole big capone family here and maybe you'd like to talk to them. they have another name. they were all deeply closeted, all the brothers except ralph, changed their name from capone and they did this during al's lifetime. they wanted to get away from under his shadow. and i joke about this but this true.
i'm sponsor to many capone family reunions i can't tell you because i introduced the cousins on the west coast to the midwest cousins to the chicago area cousins, to the eastern cousins, and they've all met each other. i i've been able to see some of these reunions, the great emotion that takes place when they see each other. so i had lots of stories from lots of different family members, and friends. there was a 96-year-old woman still alive who knew many people in al capone's immediate personal world, and my job was to take all of these stories and to factor them into what -- the most objective, the most real, the most probable, possible, version of his life, and so that's what i tried do. and it's really interesting to me.
the reviews and comments are starting to come out. the internet is a great thing. we all let loose and say what we think on it. and there are people --ly was one man just the other day who wrote, yeah, sure, he was good family man but hitler loved his dog, too. so there's going to be that kind of response to the book. and it's probably appropriate and it's probably necessary. because he was so -- he had so many different facets of his personality, every time i talk to the family members, particular through granddaughters, we would use words like enigma, conundrum, riddle, and we all -- they all read the book and i'm happy to say they had very positive things to say about it. but we all i agreed that my book is the first step. it's not the final hold the view
that no biography is defebruaritive. every generation needs its own. we don't know the questions the next generation is going to want to get answers for. we can only take care of our own time, and offer possibilities for further research, further writing writing writing and thinking, further understanding and that's how i see this book. see this book as the tools that other writers are going to need to explore different facets of the al capone's life and again i'll use the word, his work. [applause] >> let me end with a very short store from our miami which is open every day from 1:00 to 5:00. we have the forensic evidence, the bullets from the st. valentine's day massacre. lots of interesting things and we give you a tour of all of
this place but we also have remarkable oral histories. and i'm going to butcher the last name because i'm doing this from memory but a little new york companion, one of cam opinion's lieutenant's granddaughter dime museum and told us a wonderful story about ralph capone, which is so sad it's why books like there is are so important. she said she would go and visit her grandfather in the old people's home where he was in the same home as ralph capone, who would it? a wheelchair with a large fedora and she would notice him all the time and instead of interesting her grandfather who it was, she asked one of the nurses and she said, oh, that's ralph capone. he still thinks that he is somebody. and it's books like this that so remind us of the importance of everybody's life and that these old treasures of memory need to
be found and talked about and written about and thank you so much, and again, please join us in the front lobby and meet professor deidre bair. thank you. [applause] >> at the all. you're a great audience. >> here's a look at some upcoming book fairs and festivals happening around the country. on wednesday, november 16th, we're in new york for the 2016 national book awards. then friday, november 18th, it's the national press club's annual book fair and author's night in washington, dc. and later this month, we'll be live from the miami book fair on
november 19th and 20th. our coverage includes author discussions and call-in programs featuring senator bernie sanders, dana perino and national book award finalist, coal son whitehead. for more information about the book fairs and festivals book tv will be covering to watch previous coverage college the book fairs tab on our web site, booktv.org. >> c-span, where history unfolds daily. in 1979, c-span was created as a public service by america's cable television companies. and is brought to you today by you cable or satellite provider. harvard university economist george borjas is next on the "after words" program. and examines the impact of immigration top the u.s. economy throughout history.