Deirdre, niece of legendary Chicago gangster Al Capone
October 30, 2012 3:00 AM
by Mark Mayer
With Las Vegas and its fascination about gangsters in the form of the Mob Museum, perhaps a future booking for Deirdre Capone is in order.
Deirdre has certainly paid the ultimate price for being a niece of the legendary Chicago gangster Al Capone. Twice she tried to take her own life, and her father Ralph did.
Living in southwest Florida, Deirdre now has a chance to finally benefit from seven decades of carrying that infamous name. A story Ralph made her swear not to reveal until she became the only living family member is now in second printing with the hope of going hard cover and being made into a screenplay.
“It was very difficult to grow up in Chicago with the last name Capone and without a mom and dad,” Deirdre told GamingToday. I was always aware of Al and the armed guards at his house.”
The book, Uncle Al Capone, The Untold Story from Inside His Family, reveals for the first time many startling facts about one of the most famous gangsters of the 20th century. Deirdre recreates the setting, the flamboyant, careless generation that made illegal drinking a glamorous pastime.
“The book doesn’t even begin to cover all the stories I could tell,” she notes.
Deirdre only knew Capone as Uncle Al, who taught her how to swim, ride a bike, and play the mandolin. It was when Capone died on her seventh birthday (Feb. 25, 1947) that she began paying the price for being a family member of Public Enemy No. 1.
“I was reading at age 4 and saw all the newspaper articles in the Chicago Tribune and Sun-Times. When I was 10, my grandfather (Ralph Capone) was brought before the Senate Committee on television to answer questions about racketeering.”
The fallout was immediate. Deirdre was ostracized. Her classmates wanted nothing to do with her. No birthday parties, no movies. No friends.
“My dad entered me in school using my middle name Gabriel,” she said. “I knew enough about Al through my family. My mom told me how he treated animals. Songs he liked to sing. My dad wasn’t involved in Al’s affairs. It’s amazing that my grandfather (Ralph) shared things with me. He regretted the distance with his son and reached out to me. When my dad committed suicide I kept a diary. We were a very close family.”
From age 7 to 13 Deirdre’s classmates were forbidden to play with her. At age 10, her father committed suicide due to the burden of the Capone name. At age 18 she was fired from her first full-time job for the same reason.
The feds nailed Al Capone on tax evasion and he did time, serving seven years of an 11-year jail sentence. Capone was first held in Cook County then sent to Atlanta before being transferred to Alcatraz.
“Being sent to Alcatraz sullied the Capone name more than anything,” Deirdre said. “Alcatraz was for people who would never be put back in society. Al served five years in Alcatraz. He went back to his home in Miami. That was in 1939. I was born in 1940.”
Among the many stories only Deirdre could tell were some major points she wanted to stress.
“My uncle was not part of the Mob or the Mafia,” she said. “The Mafia is only Sicilian. My family is Italian. We were called The Outfit. Gambling, prostitution and alcohol were the business. The U.S. government in 1920 gave women right to vote. Jazz was the music of the day. Italians were the last to be hired and first to be fired. Prohibition opened up opportunity for them.”
Though never involved in her uncle’s affairs, Deirdre danced with some of the biggest gangsters in the business.
“Old Joe Kennedy was every bit a bootlegger as Al Capone was but his boys got into power and purged all the records,” she said. “Al and Ralph were the first Italian millionaires in America. They were resented in the community for that reason.”
When the television show The Untouchables came out in 1956, Al Capone was again prominent nationally and Deirdre once more had to deal with all the repercussions of carrying that name.
“Sonny (Al’s only child) was very good friends with Desi Arnaz, who owned Desilu Productions along with his wife Lucille Ball. The first thing they did was The Untouchables (in 1959). Sonny was crushed. He told Desi things in confidence. I was asked to sit and write down every time Al’s name was mentioned. Lucille Ball then insisted the main character be Eliot Ness (played by Robert Stack), who in real life never knew Capone.”
Finally able, she left Chicago and her family name behind. Deirdre married her current husband at age 32 and moved to Minnesota.
“Nobody knew who I was and my kids didn’t know about Al until they found out in school,” she said. “When I finally told them they said, ‘Cool, Mom.’ It was 1976, a different time.”
Deirdre’s children eventually went to Northwestern and did graduate work at University of Chicago. When The Untouchables movie came out (1987), it brought back all the bad memories again.
“Being judged with the last name Capone pretty much scarred my family name,” she said. “My four children and 14 grandchildren only had a speeding ticket.”
Deirdre is now 72, her husband 77. She finally has the opportunity to make the Capone name work for her rather than against her.
“I am very pleased the book was received so well,” she said. “I have become an expert in crime families and how they evolve. Crime during the Capone era was limited to the men who ran the businesses. I can tell my father’s story now. He grew up during a remarkable era of our country’s history, and it cost him his life.”
Mark Mayer has over 35 years covering sports events and is the sports editor at GT. Reach him at MarkMayer@GamingToday.com.