In the 1920s and ’30s, when Al Capone ruled the Chicago underworld, a party thrown by the infamous gangster was a major event.
His celebrations were massive, attracting city officials, celebrities and other dignitaries.
Now, 63 years after Capone’s death, Prospect Heights resident Richard Larsen is looking to make Capone’s 111th birthday an extravaganza Chicago area residents will not forget. On Jan. 17, Larsen will host his first Al Capone birthday bash at the Executive Plaza Hotel in Wheeling.
“God only knows” where the idea came from, said Larsen, a Capone historian, whose work on the subject includes a film titled “The Other Side of Capone,” which aims to show the softer, less notorious side of the man. “I was just sitting around, thinking of the next Capone promotion I could come up with.”
Larsen, who runs the Web site www.caponefanclub.com, said he is hoping to throw the type of party Capone himself would have thrown, with guests dressed to the nines, music and dancing.
The festivities will include numerous contests, including a Capone look-alike contest, Capone trivia and a best-dressed gangster contest. Winners will receive prizes like $50 gift certificates to Salerno’s Pizza in Glenview and packages from Sybaris Romantic Getaways.
Larsen said Richard Crowe, a Chicago historian well-known for his haunted Chicago tours, will serve as master of ceremonies, and Antoinette Giancana, the daughter of former Chicago mob boss Sam Giancana and author of books on the Chicago mob, has said she will attend. But the party also will be a promotional event, Larsen said. Guests will have a chance to view clips of “The Other Side of Capone,” which Larsen made with director Ron Karpman of Buffalo Grove, and listen to “Madonna Mia,” a love song Capone wrote for his wife while imprisoned at Alcatraz.
Larsen and Karpman have produced and released a CD of “Madonna Mia” as recorded in English and Italian by two vocalists backed by mandolin, accordion, violin, piano and upright bass.
The recording has served as a sort of lead-in to the duo’s next project. Larsen and Karpmen also are hoping to find actors willing to appear in a scene for their next film, “Capone the Music Man,” which they will be shooting at the party.
The scene will be a re-enactment of a banquet Capone threw in September 1927 in Chicago after the famous boxing match between Jack Dempsey and Gene Tunney. Karpman explained that Dempsey lost the fight and Capone lost thousands of dollars he had wagered, but Capone decided to throw a lavish party anyway.
During the party, Capone asked the bandleader if Capone himself could conduct the orchestra through “Rhapsody in Blue,” Karpman said. When the song ended, Capone turned around and had tears in his eyes.
“Here’s this brutal murderer crying,” Karpman said. “It underscores the saying that music soothes the savage beast.”
Larsen said he and Karpman recently found a band, the Glenview-based Ralph Wilder Orchestra, to perform “Rhapsody in Blue” at their party.
Both Larsen and Karpman said they realize that throwing a party in the name of a gangster could be considered unusual—controversial, even. They are aware that past Capone-related events in Chicago have been met with criticism and scorn by the likes of law enforcers and municipal officials.
When the subject came up, Larsen produced a laminated Chicago newspaper article in which a city of Chicago spokesperson declined to comment on an event that perpetuated Chicago’s image as a city of gangsters.
Larsen said he chose not to hold his event in Chicago, because he didn’t want to deal with the potential backlash—or the parking constraints.
Even though the party is to be held in Wheeling, Wheeling police asked that questions about the event be directed to Prospect Heights police, whose jurisdiction includes the Executive Plaza Hotel. Calls to the Prospect Heights Police Department were not returned. But Karpman said he and Larsen are not trying to deny the crimes Capone committed, and they “aren’t trying to put a halo over his head.”
“On the surface, it sounds very strange, and I think that’s the reason Rich decided to do this,” Karpman said.
Larsen said he hoped the prospect of a birthday bash for a dead gangster would draw attention. Perhaps, he said, people would attend and learn about the lesser-known side of Capone—the man that he said established soup kitchens during the Great Depression and gave money to a fund to support widows of police officers killed in gang warfare.
“Do we always have to focus on the negative?” Larsen said. “Have we not seen enough films on Capone as this horrible person?”
Larsen said with the event, he hopes to reflect Capone’s more generous acts by donating portions of proceeds from ticket sales to local charities, including Greater Wheeling Area Youth Outreach and the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless.
For that reason, Todd Hoffman, assistant general manager at the Executive Plaza Hotel, said he and the other hotel administrators were looking forward to the Capone birthday bash.
“We're hoping it's going to be a great event,” Hoffman said. “We're hoping the community supports it because a lot of the proceeds are going back into the community.”
Those involved with the event also anticipate a bash that reminds people of the how significant Capone was to Chicago.
“Chicago should get used to the idea that Capone is iconic in its history,” Larsen said.
Thanks to Jeff Danna
Friday, January 15, 2010
Best of the Month!
- Chicago Mob Infamous Locations Map
- The Chicago Syndicate AKA "The Outfit"
- One Family's Rise, A Century of Power
- THE OUTFIT'S GREATEST HITS
- Mafia Links of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons
- Top Ten Signs a Mafia Boss is Nuts
- Firm with reputed mob ties flourishes
- Profile: Harry Aleman
- Abraham Kiswani, Owner of World Security Bureau, Indicted on Tax Evasion Charges
- Chicago Alderman Ed Burke Charged with Extortion by Federal Prosecutors #Corruption