Al Capone and His American Boys

If the gang-moll heroines played by Judy Holliday in Born Yesterday and Virginia Mayo in White Heat sat down to collaborate on a memoir, the result would read a lot like Al Capone and His American Boys: Memoirs of a Mobster's Wife. Though you wouldn’t necessarily know it from the confusing title and cover, this volume presents the autobiography of Georgette Winkeler, the wife of Gus Winkeler, a leading henchman in Capone's Chicago "Syndicate." In 1934, months after Gus was murdered by his erstwhile colleagues, Georgette decided to write about their life together, hoping to cash in on the public appetite for gangster lore. Her publisher, however, had second thoughts about bringing out a book so full of revelations about the Syndicate—sensibly enough, given the number of times Georgette herself writes about indiscreet mobsters getting rubbed out. Thwarted, she decided to turn her manuscript, "A Voice from the Grave," over to the FBI, before going on to make a new life for herself as the wife of a preacher. And there it lay for decades, forgotten in the archives, until Mob historian William J. Helmer brought out this edition. (Credited as the author, Helmer really serves as Winkeler's editor.)

If Georgette had published her book in 1934, it really would have made headlines, if only because Gus Winkeler was one of the shooters in the St. Valentine's Massacre—which she calls "a wholesale killing so vicious it shocked the entire nation." Gus was one of the four Capone gunmen who dressed up as cops and tommy-gunned six members of the rival Bugs Moran gang, on February 14, 1929. A few days earlier, Georgette had seen Gus and his pals trying on police uniforms at home; when she went out to buy the newspaper on the afternoon of the 14th and read about the Massacre, she knew that Gus had been involved. "When I got to the house," she writes, "I threw the papers in Gus’s face and went into my own room. I was too sick with horror to shed tears."

This is one of many, many moments when Georgette can be seen trying to have her cake and eat it, too: that is, to give the reader the violent inside dope about the Syndicate while making herself sound like a genteel bystander innocently caught up in the mayhem. This is cynical, but it is so naively, unselfconsciously cynical that "A Voice from the Grave" often makes you laugh out loud. If Georgette had been invented by, say, Damon Runyon, she would be a great comic creation.

Take the moment when, after chronicling a string of her husband's assassinations, kidnappings, and bank robberies, she writes: "When I was well enough to travel we went back to Chicago, and Gus promised he would grant my oft-repeated request that I be allowed to keep house. We had been jumping from one furnished flat to another, with a sprinkling of hotel rooms thrown in between. This had been far from satisfactory to me. I wanted a secluded little place where we were not likely to be bothered and where I could entertain a few friends." Her very diction strains foolishly after gentility; there’s nothing Georgette wants more than to have a "nice" place and "nice" friends.

Unfortunately, Gus—who was passed out drunk in a rooming house bathtub when she first laid eyes on him—tended to associate with people nicknamed Cokie and Snorting Whitey and Paul Revere (because he was always warning people that the cops were coming). It all sounds very Hollywood—someone actually says "Fade, gang, it’s the bulls"—but apparently the great gangster movies of the 1930s were practically documentaries. Just about everything that happens in Little Caesar or The Roaring Twenties also happened to Gus and Georgette—right down to the unhappy ending.


 

Footnotes:

 

Gordon Mathews examines the human cost of globalization in Ghetto at the Center of the World: Chungking Mansions, Hong Kong, a microstudy focusing on the residents of a decrepit Hong Kong apartment building—from African asylum seekers to Nepalese heroin addicts.

 

 

 

 

 

Two thousand years after Jesus, scholars keep discovering new pieces of Apocrypha—Christian texts written at the same time as the canonical Gospels but never included in the official New Testament. In The Apocryphal Gospels: Texts and Translations, Bart Ehrman and Zlatko Plese collect more than forty of these intriguing documents, including the much-debated Gospels of Thomas and Judas.

 

 

 

In January, the world was transfixed as protestors in Cairo's Tahrir Square brought down the Egyptian government of Hosni Mubarak. Karima Khalil's Messages from Tahrir documents the birth of the Arab Spring with photographs of the protestors' signs and placards, ranging from simple slogans to jokes, poems, and tributes to slain comrades.

Comments
by AllCapone on ‎07-30-2011 09:37 AM

Lame review! What is so confusing about the title? It states a Memoir of a mobster's wife right under the main one, which is what it's all about. I think you are totally in error by comparing Hollywood with Georgette's manuscript. Georgette's real stuff happened at a time before the Hollywood bull crap, and was only penned in 1934. I think it's more the case of Hollywood taking pointers from the gangsters. Edward G. Robinson went to Chicago in 1931 just to take a look at the real Capone before playing Little Caesar. 

Helmer does more than just edit Winkeler. He has researched each of the characters and shown their demise. Has verifed the contents of her claims, which are all on the up and up.

Slight errors on her part but the meat of her story is dead on and is what made Helmer proudly put his reputable name to this book.

 

You evidently haven't got a clue about this subject and are just superficially reviewing books.

Do some research before you claim to know what a book's subject is about.

 

Mario Gomes

www.myalcaponemuseum.com

 

 

 

 

 

by AlCaponeFan on ‎08-09-2011 02:47 PM

Thank you for this review! I had not yet heard of this book but based on the review and Mr. Gomes's comments I will certainly get this.

 

I do need to bring your attention to another book, though. It's the only other first-hand account of Al Capone that I know of. The book is "Uncle Al Capone" by his neice, Deirdre. It's still the only book about Al Capone that was written by someone who actually knew him. (it doesn't sound like Georgette Winkeler ever knew Al.) Obviously it's a different perspective (inside the family vs. outside the family) so to me it's even more compelling than Georgette's story.

 

Here's a link to the book on BN.com Uncle Al Capone on BN.com

 

And here's a link to the author's website: Uncle Al Capone

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