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What The Job Paid

March 2023
2min read

Capone meanwhile quietly shifted his headquarters back to Chicago, settling eventually in the Lexington Hotel. The Lexington still occupies the corner of South Michigan Avenue and Cermak Road. The handsome edifice was built for the 1893 World’s Fair—President Cleveland addressed a crowd here—but its fortunes have gone downhill since the 1950s. Today it stands alone on a lonely block, its ornate terra-cotta trim surrounding gaping windows.

Once Capone’s entourage occupied most of two floors. Al’s office looked out from the turreted southwest corner of the building’s fourth floor. His bathroom featured gold-plated fittings. His initials were inlaid in the parquet floor. His high-back swivel chair was armored, and a bodyguard slept on a cot outside his bedroom door.

Al didn’t spend all his time at the Lexington oiling his machine gun. Visitors found a bespectacled executive behind a desk piled with papers, numerous phones ringing off the hook. Like any CEO of a prosperous business, he primarily occupied himself with decision-making and administrative detail. While monitoring the return on his investment, he searched for diversification opportunities. In spite of the frenzy that was then gripping Wall Street, the stock market was one area he steered clear of, labeling it “a racket.”

Aiding him were his accountant, Jake (“Greasy Thumb”) Guzik, and his chief of operations, Frank (“The Enforcer”) Nitti. (These gangster nicknames sprang mostly from the imaginations of newspaper rewrite men.) Guzik, a former pimp, was to have a long career in Chicago crime. The welldressed Nitti, a barber by profession, became Capone’s successor. He shot himself in 1947, one of the few gangsters to die by his own hand.

How much money did Capone make? During an era when fifty dollars a week would support a family comfortably, a Capone bodyguard or driver might make as much as a hundred dollars a day. The IRS later estimated Al’s 1927 receipts at a hundred million dollars, with his personal profit probably approaching ten million dollars. About 60 percent of the gross came from booze. His largest expense was graft, amounting to thirty million dollars in 1930 alone.

Capone lived large. His close friends called him Snorky, slang for stylish. He could reach into the pocket of his canary yellow suit and pull out a roll containing half of what a workingman made in his lifetime. He sometimes wagered a hundred thousand dollars on a roll of the dice and claimed to have lost ten million dollars playing the horses. He frequently drank until he was ossified. He enjoyed the favors of teenage girls from his own brothels—a habit that was to have mortal consequences. He once threw himself a champagne birthday party that lasted three days, with Fats Waller entertaining on piano.

While no Robin Hood, Capone did sponsor city soup kitchens during the Depression. He tipped waiters and musicians with hundred-dollar bills. His Christmas shopping set him back to the tune of a hundred thousand dollars. To special friends he handed out diamond belt buckles.

Capone’s celebrity was practically boundless. “I’m known all over the world,” he said. He was. The Russian commissar Vyacheslav Molotov denounced him as an emblem of capitalism. He sold papers. No top gangster has ever spoken to reporters with such candor, an openness that fueled his fame. He found that fame had its drawbacks too. In 1925 he applied for a life insurance policy. No company would take the risk.

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