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‘Boardwalk Empire’ Revisits Variety’s 1931 Interview with Al Capone

Variety had a guest shot in Sunday’s episode of HBO’s “Boardwalk Empire” in a storyline involving our famous 1931 interview with Al Capone.

The June 30, 1931, edition of Variety featured the banner story “Capone Kids Gang Films,” written by staff scribe Lou Greenspan. The story detailed Capone’s amused reaction to the gangster films that were then flooding theaters, including now-classics “Scarface” and “Public Enemy.”

Played by British thesp Stephen Graham (pictured far right), Al Capone has been a regular character in the Prohibition-era drama that revolves around bootleggers and mobsters in Atlantic City. In the second episode of the show’s final season, “The Good Listener,” written by series creator Terence Winter and directed by Allen Coulter, the Variety interview is depicted as taking place in Capone’s Chicago headquarters while the notoriously fashion-conscious Little Caesar is surrounded by henchmen and getting fitted for a suit.

The enterprising reporter behind the story was Greenspan, who worked out of Variety’s Hollywood bureau (this was two years before Daily Variety launched in Hollywood) but had deep roots in Chicago. Winter noted that several lines of dialogue for the episode were taken directly from the article.

Greenspan revealed that Capone scoffed at the slew of mob-focused movies and books that were popular in the day, thanks in no small part to Capone’s growing celebrity. He noted that Capone’s many bodyguards and assistants called their boss “Snorky,” and that Capone had pictures of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln hanging on the wall behind his desk.

Capone bragged to Greenspan that he’d been approached “many times” to star in a movie but had no interest.

“I wouldn’t go into a picture for all the money in the world,” Capone said. He also used Variety to send a message to one particular book writer who claimed to have gotten the inside dope on the Capone operation from the boss himself.

“If you ever meet that guy give him a punch in the nose with my compliments,” Capone instructed Greenspan.

A few months after the interview, Capone was in the clink following his conviction on tax evasion charges. And Lou Greenspan? He left Variety a few years later to go into marketing and publicity.

Here’s the original story in its entirety:

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