“Scarface” Al Capone

I figured that to start with for my assignment I should look more into the Chicago Underworld (click here for a brief history), since that is what we usually associate with the Mafia in America.  I also thought that it would be best to start with researching the life of “Scarface” Al Capone, see he is the one Mafia leader Americans really recognize. To start with I did some basic research on Al Capone’s early years in Chicago. For this I turned to Herbert Asbury’s The Gangs of Chicago. I chose to start with this book for a couple reasons: A. In this text he provides a history of the underworld in Chicago and B. He actually wrote the original book in 1940, which is kinda good for my topic because I am looking at interpretations of the Mafia in the 1930′s. However as it turn’s out Herbert Asbury was a journalist who focused on crime in the 1930′s. I feel like I struck gold :)

Now, Al Capone’s story actually began with Johnny Terrio. When Johnny Terrio killed off Big Jim Colisimo he stepped up to become the new “Gangster Chieftan” in Chicago. 1 It was at this time where Al Capone steps into the picture because Terrio brought him from New York so that he could work with the Four Deuces. At this time Capone was only 23 and he already had a history of run ins with the law. He was also affiliated with the notorious 5 Points Gang.

However, he was still relatively anonymous to the public. In August 1922, he was in an automobile accident and the local papers referred to him as “Alfred Caponi.” 2 In the “underworld” he began gaining prestige and became known as “Scarface Al Brown.” 3

The time where Terrio was the Master Chieftan of the Underworld was a relatively peaceful time. The reason being that Terrio handled it like a business, he manipulated his partners and very rarely used violence, or brute force to make something happen. Which his unlike Capone, who did favor violence. The elaborate network that thrived during Capone’s time was actually put in place by Terrio! In a sense he was the “mastermind” behind Chicago crime. 4

The Movie- Scarface (1932)

This will be my next post! I plan on watching this movie first because it deals directly with the story of Al Capone. But first I want to do more research on film-making in the 1930′s. And then popular culture in the 1930′s, as you can see from the sources I have found so far. Basically I want to get a sense of  how much the Mafia influenced the popular culture of that time. Of course, if I hope to gain any sort of understanding of how that happened I need to research the real story of the Mafia, and then compare it to the possibly romanticized story. Sounds fun, right?  If anyone knows any good sources about the Mafia, or even has a suggestion of what I should research next let me know :)

  1. Herbert Asbury, The Gangs of Chicago: An Informal History of the Chicago Underworld (New York: Thunder’s Mouth Press, 2002), 318.
  2. Ibid., 319. –I want to find a copy of this paper, along with others, when I move on beyond secondary sources and onto primary…
  3. Story behind the name? Good Question! One that I plan on answering in the future!
  4. Asbury, The Gangs of Chicago, 324. –most likely I will include a blog post about Terrio himself, since he is so influential


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