Capone to the third power

We hadn’t planned it this way, but this fall looks as though it’ll be all Prohibition all the time at Cladrite Headquarters.

It began when we picked up Al Capone and His American Boys: Memoirs of a Mobster’s Wife. William J. Helmer is listed as the author, but the bulk of the book comprises a 1934 memoir written by Georgette Winkeler, the widow of one of Capone’s primary lieutenants, Gus “Big Mike” Winkeler.

Winkeler, says his wife, was one of the men responsible for the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre, when seven members of Bugs Moran’s mob were lined up against the wall of a Chicago garage and murdered. And yet Big Mike’s wife, while not glossing over the hardships and regrets that accompany a life of crime, paints her husband as a likable, loyal fellow who tried to make a good life for his wife and himself.

Gus Winkeler was murdered in 1933, which inspired Georgette to compose her memoirs, telling a cautionary tale meant to warn other young women against taking up with the criminal element. The book was meant for publication in 1934, but given that many of the men portrayed in the book were still active gangland figures, someone played it safe and pulled the plug on the project, so Georgette passed the manuscript on to the FBI.

We’re not typically very interested in tales of organized crime, but the chance to read an inside account like this, one that had been hidden away in the FBI’s files for decades until very recently, appealed to us, and we’re finding it a compelling read (we’re about halfway through the book). If the above descriptions piques your interset, we’d recommend giving it a look.

But what we’re really looking forward to is Sunday’s Season Two premiere of HBO’s Boardwalk Empire. We found the first season very compelling indeed, in no small part because of the great performances turned in by Steve Buscemi, Kelly McDonald, Michael Pitt, Michael Shannon, Michael Kenneth Williams, and so many others. The series captures the feel of the 1920s very successfully, and a young Al Capone, assayed by Stephen Graham, is a recurring role. If you missed Season One, pick up the DVDs, pronto, and join in on the fun for the new season.

Then, on Sunday, October 2nd, 3rd and 4th arrives Prohibition, a three-part, five-and-a-half-hour documentary film series directed by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick that tells, as the PBS website puts it, “the story of the rise, rule, and fall of the Eighteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and the entire era it encompassed.”

Burns has his detractors these days, and we’ll have to agree that he’s not progressed beyond the techniques that first garnered him attention, that he hasn’t, perhaps, grown much as a filmmaker. But he picks interesting stories to tell and tells them in effective, if perhaps overly familiar, fashion—and let’s face it, Al Capone’s almost certain to crop up in this one, too, completing our Capone trifecta—so you can bet we’ll be in front of our televisions on that Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday, a highball made with bathtub gin in hand (actually, we’re not much for gin—have you got any tequila, or perhaps some scotch?).

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