QUOTES by and about Capone

To set the scene, former president William Howard Taft said this about Prohibition:
"No tendency is quite so strong in human nature as the desire to lay down rules of conduct for other people."

Myth: Quite recently Capone has been widely "quoted" as saying "You can get a lot farther with a smile and a gun than you can with just a smile." No source is ever given for this-understandably, because there is no reason to think he said it. It does not reflect how he demonstrably thought. Not that he ever hesitated to use a gun-but always as a last resort, when appeals to self-interest failed. Torrio had taught him "the value of a bland smile and a ready handshake," as newspaperman Fred D. Pasley, who knew Capone well, put it in 1930. Capone adopted Torrio's signature remark as his motto: "We don't want any trouble." The spurious "smile/gun" quote sounds gratifyingly tough, cynical and wise; but Capone realized that, in fact, you get farther when associates cooperate because of that self-interest he appealed to rather than fear.

The following quotes are authentic, in some instances from stenographic records, in all others confirmed by two or more newspaper accounts of what he said.

Asked if he was a bootlegger: "Sure, and some of our best judges use my stuff."

"They call Al Capone a bootlegger. Yes, it's bootlegging while it's on the trucks, but when your host at the club, in the locker room, or on the Gold Coast hands it to you on a silver tray, it's hospitality."

"All I ever did was sell beer and whiskey to our best people. All I ever did was to supply a demand that was pretty popular."

"Public service is my motto. Ninety percent of the people of Cook County drink and gamble and my offense has been to furnish them with those amusements. My booze has been good and my games on the square."

On his reputation: "Today I got a letter from a woman in England. Even over there I'm known as a gorilla. She offered to pay my passage to London if I'd kill some neighbors she's been having a quarrel with."

"They've hung everything on me except the Chicago fire."

"Every time a boy falls off a tricycle, every time a black cat has gray kittens, every time someone stubs a toe, every time there's a murder or a fire or the marines land in Nicaragua, the police and the newspapers holler 'get Capone.' "

On the stock market crash of '29: "I deny absolutely that I am responsible."

On corruption: "I got nothing against the honest cop on the beat. You just have them transferred someplace where they can't do you any harm. But don't ever talk to me about the honor of police captains or judges. If they couldn't be bought they wouldn't have the job."

"A crook is a crook, and there's something healthy about his frankness in the matter. But any guy who pretends he is enforcing the law and steals on his authority is a swell snake. The worst type of these punks is the big politician. You can only get a little of his time because he spends so much time covering up that no one will know that he is a thief. A hard-working crook will-and can-get those birds by the dozen, but right down in his heart he won't depend on them-hates the sight of them."

On loyalty: "Nobody's on the legit. Your brother or your father gets in a jam. What do you do? Do you sit back and let him go over the road without trying to help him? You'd be a yellow dog if you did. Nobody's really on the legit when it comes down to cases."

On the need for gang peace: "I don't want to die. Especially I don't want to die in the street, punctured by machine gun fire. That's the reason I've asked for peace. I've begged those fellows to put away their pistols and talk sense. They've all got families, too. I know I've tried since the first pistol was drawn in this fight to show them that there's enough business for all of us without killing each other like animals in the street. Competition needn't be a matter of murder, anyway. But they don't see it." So much for "smile/gun"

On his gambling habit: I've lost a million and a half on the horses and dice in the last two years. And the funny part is, I still like 'em, and if someone handed me another million I'd put it right in the nose of some horse that looked good to me."

When Capone established a milk distributor, Meadowmoor Dairy, after learning that the profit margin was higher than on booze or beer: "Honest to God, we've been in the wrong racket right along!"

When run out of Los Angeles by the police after a few days visit: "I thought that you folks liked tourists. I have a lot of money to spend that I made in Chicago. Whoever heard of anybody being run out of Los Angeles that had money?"

After reading a biography: "I'll have to hand it to Napoleon as the world's greatest racketeer. But I could have wised him up on some things. [His trouble was a swelled head; Elba should have been a warning.] "But he was just like the rest of us. He didn't know when to quit and had to get back in the racket. He simply put himself on the spot."

When he thought he had a deal to spend only 2 1/2 years in jail for tax evasion: "If the United States government thinks it can clean up Chicago by sending me to jail, well, it's all right with me. I guess maybe I owe the government this stretch in jail, anyway."

About Capone

By a lifelong Chicago resident of Italian extraction who was 16 in 1927: "You can say what you want about Al Capone. If people were desperate and needed help, he was there to help them. As long as you were on the up-and-up. He didn't expect anything in return and he never expected you to pay him back."

By her son, a Chicago police sergeant:"My people thought of Capone as Robin Hood."

By Capone's favorite newspaper photographer, Anthony Berardi: "He was no hero to me. He hurt the Italian people."

By James O'Donnell Bennett, Chicago newsman, otherwise sharply critical of Capone in a 1929 book: "If he gives you his word, you can believe him." Bennett also wrote, "With no conscious effort he emanated menace while saying please."

By Eleanor Medill Patterson, newswoman, interviewing Capone:"Capone's eyes are 'dime novel' gangster's eyes. Ice-gray. Ice-cold. I could feel their menace." In fact she liked him.

By Morris Becker, dry cleaner, who enlisted Capone as a partner to fight extortion by the Master Cleaners Association: "Al Capone was scrupulous in living up to his bargain. If I had it to do over again I would never ask a more honest partner in any business."

By magazine writer Katherine Geroud in 1931: "It is not because Capone is different that he takes the imagination; it is because he is so gorgeously and typically American."

If you would like access to more of what Capone said—and what was said about him, his full story, click here: Know More.

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PHOTOS Top Row: mug shot at Terminal Island; the "Big Fellow"; giving "the Look"; the scars; late '20s; in car after release in '39.