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Filmmaker Seeks to Show a Softer Side of Capone

By Mina Bloom | October 6, 2014 5:23am
 Filmmaker Richard Larsen is producing a movie showcasing Al Capone and his love of jazz. On Saturday at the Copernicus Center, Larsen hosted the Gangster Convention, seeking extras for the film.
Capone and Jazz
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JEFFERSON PARK — While Al Capone is known for being a notorious gangster synonymous with organized crime in Chicago during Prohibition, the man had redeemable qualities, too. 

At least that's the thinking behind the documentary film Richard Larsen is producing: "Capone's Treasure of the Heart." 

"Every [Capone] film has been about the same rat-a-tat-tat murder stuff," said Larsen, who has been running a fan website for 4½ years. "We know about it. We've seen it a million times. But he was much more than a merciless killer."

Heather Cherone says the Northwest Side may have been farmland in the '20s, but residents still got into the Prohibition spirit:

The film was born out of Larsen's desire to showcase Capone's contribution to jazz music, rather than his criminal legacy. Larsen said he's spent 18 years researching Capone.

"I’m talking about Nat King Cole, Louis Armstrong, you read their autobiographies and they give due credit [to Capone] for helping to launch their careers," said Larsen, who currently lives in Arlington Heights but spent years living in Rogers Park, among other city neighborhoods.

"They were playing for nickels and dimes and being abused in the Southern states. Al Capone brought them up to Chicago and asked them to play in his speakeasies and they developed their careers" there.

Larsen enlisted Robert McCrea, author of the 2006 film "Find Me Guilty," to write the screenplay.

With the help of local musicians dressed in 1920s garb and director Ron Karpman, Larsen filmed the first scene of the film Sunday at an event he designed partially to help draw actors: the inaugural Gangster Convention.

Only about 10 people wearing '20s garb showed up to the event held at Copernicus Center, 5216 W. Lawrence Ave., which Larsen admitted was not what he had hoped for.

But they were still able to film a performance of the song "Madonna Mia," a song Capone wrote for his wife, Mae, during his prison sentence in Alcatraz.

Capone gave the sheet music to a priest he befriended while he was in prison, Larsen said. In the 1980s, the priest died and left the sheet music to his son, who sent Larsen a copy several years later.

"He had a good heart," Larsen said of Capone.

Larsen isn't the first to attempt to shine a different light on Capone. People claiming Capone lineage starred in a Reelz channel reality show that aired this year called "The Capones." Another Capone descendent celebrated her uncle at an event put on by the Chicago History Museum last year.

Larsen said that there are several examples of Capone's influence on jazz music, which he intends to showcase in the movie.

One of them involved legendary jazz bassist Milt Hinton.

In the 1920s, Hinton, who had been playing in Capone's speakeasies, was in a car accident on the South Side. Capone rushed to the hospital, Larsen said, only to find that Hinton had severely injured his index finger, the one he uses to pluck his bass.

"That finger was so injured that the doctors wanted to amputate it," Larsen said. Al Capone insisted that they do whatever they could to fix that finger. Not too many people are going to argue with Al Capone, so they indeed stitched up the index finger of Milt Hilton. He went on to be very successful in the jazz world."

In addition to filming the performance of "Madonna Mia" Sunday, authors of books detailing untold stories of gangsters set up booths at the event. 

The film will premiere Valentine's Day 2015, Larsen said. 

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