When reporters worked up the nerve to ask, he’d say he got it from “a German machine gunner” in the trenches, or maybe while he was part of the Lost Battalion—but we already know he never served in World War I.1
So how exactly did Al get those famous scars?Back in 1917, Al was an eighteen-year-old hood working as a “main bouncer and bartender” at Frankie Yale’s Harvard Inn, a cheap bar and brothel off of Coney Island’s boardwalk in New York.2 One of Brooklyn’s biggest bootleggers during Prohibition, Yale was also Al’s first criminal employer, taking the young hood under his wing and giving him small-time jobs, including working at the Harvard. Al did a little of everything there, “from washing dishes to waiting on tables,” as well as bar-tending and bouncing.3 It wasn’t a glamorous or powerful job, but Al was good at it. Customers liked young Al and “the jolly way he served up the foamy beer at the bar and occasionally took a turn on the dance floor.”4 With eyes that could “bear a kindly, humorous glint or…flash black ferocity at a moment’s notice,” the young hood was also able to turn his manner from affable to violent on a dime.5 It was a useful skill in a sketchy dive bar like the Harvard, “where fights often led to killings.”6
One night after Al had been working there about a year some new customers walked into the joint: Frank Galluccio, a local tough, his kid sister, Lena Galluccio, and Frank’s date, Maria Tanzio. Al watched as they took a seat in the back and ordered some food and drink—or a lot of drinks, in Frank’s case. Frank proceeded to get completely hammered over the course of the night, but all Al noticed was Lena. According to Laurence Bergreen, author of Capone: The Man and the Era, Frank’s kid sister was a dark-haired Italian girl with “a gorgeous figure” that teenage Al couldn’t stop eyeing.7 Soon he just couldn’t take it anymore. He simply had to talk to her. Putting on his most charming smile, he intercepted her as she made her way across the dance floor and said, “in a very smooth and polite tone of voice, ‘And how are you this evening?’”8
But Lena wouldn’t even give him the time of day. She swept past him “without responding to his advance nor making the slightest bit of eye contact,” totally cold.9 Now Al felt like a fool.
But Al wasn’t the kind of guy to give up that easily. Throughout the night he kept finding excuses to come over to the trio’s table and chat with the girl—but his overtures fell on deaf ears. Lena just wasn’t interested. As Frank Galluccio said in an interview about the incident, “Lena ignored him every time, and every time he would pass our table he would try to talk to her. It seemed to me she didn’t want to be bothered with him.”10 Pretty soon “she was getting mad” and feeling like “he had a lot of nerve” to keep talking to her in spite of everything.11 After a while she suggested to her brother that “maybe you [could] ask him to please stop—but in a nice way.”12
Frank was about to do just that when Al leaned in close to Lena and said, loud enough so the people sitting at the next table could hear: “You got a nice ass, honey, and I mean that as a complement. Believe me.”13
That was the final straw. Frank lurched to his feet, drunk and mad as hell. As Robert J. Schoenberg writes in Mr. Capone, “the insult was bad enough; the fact that strangers had heard it made it insupportable.”14 Family was everything to a traditional Italian-American like Frank, and insulting a man’s family right in front of him was a horrible insult to his honor—not to mention Lena’s. “I won’t take that shit from nobody!” Galluccio roared. “Apologize to my sister now, you hear?”15
Accounts differ as to exactly what happened next.
Some say that Frank went nuts and launched himself at Capone in a drunken fury.16 Others say that Galluccio tried to make nice first, luring an oblivious Capone into range saying he “just wanted to talk”, then jumped “on his back like a cat” and went straight for his jugular with a pocketknife–or maybe a bottle opener, as “many old-timers in the Garfield neighborhood” of Brooklyn swear.17,18 Still others say that Galluccio, emboldened by alcohol, threw the first punch, but that it “was not enough to stop Capone;” after that, Al’s “unpredictable rage erupted” and Galluccio was forced to defend himself.19Galluccio’s story is a bit different. He claimed that Capone first tried to appease him by trying to pass his behavior off as a bit of harmless fun, coming towards him with “his most ingratiating, placating smile…arms spread wide, palms up and open,” as if to say “come on buddy, I’m only joking.”20,21 But Galluccio wasn’t buying it—he just got even madder. Didn’t Al realize what he’d done? “This is no fucking joke, Mister!” Frank shouted, trying to get it through the kid’s thick skull.22
That’s when things turned ugly. “Capone wasn’t smiling any more” after that, remembers Frank. “He…came towards me. I called for the owner. [But] [h]e just kept coming towards me.”23 Caught up in a boozy haze, Galluccio found Capone very intimidating: “…to me he looked big and stocky, and I’m only five feet six…148 pounds. This guy looked like he was 200 pounds”—and he wasn’t stopping.24 Suddenly Galluccio feared for his life. He thought to himself: “Hey, this guy could hurt me bad if I let him get me. I better strike first and quick.”25 So, he says, “I whipped out my pocketknife and went for the son of a bitch’s neck.”26
Whatever happened, the end result was the same: Frank slashed Capone three times across the face, leaving a trio of deep, ugly cuts. Capone clutched at himself, bleeding like a stuck pig. There was “blood everywhere now, blood on the knife, blood all over Capone, blood on the floor.”27 The sight was enough to jar Galluccio back to his senses. He grabbed his sister and his date and bolted out the door. No one stopped him.
Back on the barroom floor, Al was bleeding all over the place. A fellow waiter gave him some bar towels to staunch the flow—and then some of Yale’s people rushed him off to Coney Island Hospital just in time.28 Once there, Capone ended up with 30 stitches and a nickname he’d carry for the rest of his life: Scarface.But the story doesn’t end there. A few days later, Galluccio heard that some “cut-up bruiser” was out looking for him, saying he was part of “Yale’s crew.”29 Galluccio wasn’t too worried at first. As a low-level “spear-carrier in the Genovese crime family,” he had his own underworld connections.30 But when some “heavy hitters” from Yale’s gang came around to his favorite pool hall to ask where he lived, Galluccio figured he needed some extra help.31—so he went to visit his “friend from the East Side,” a small-time hood named Albert Alterio.32
Alterio took Galluccio to see Giuseppe “Joe the Boss” Masseria and Charles “Lucky” Luciano to discuss the problem. After listening to his story, both crime bosses “agreed [that] nobody should insult another man in front of his own family and get away with it.”33 Luciano proposed a sit-down between himself, Joe, Yale, Galluccio and Capone at the Harvard Inn to sort things out. Once everyone showed up, the elder gangsters decreed that no more blood would be spilled on either side. There are many different stories about what exactly went down at this meeting, but as Galluccio remembers it, “Capone was ordered…not to look for revenge, and I was ordered to apologize.”34 Galluccio did so readily, especially once he got a good look at Al’s new scars: “…the look of the cuts on his face kind of shook me up, because I was really sorry for what I had done to him.”35 Later on Al apologized to Galluccio directly, admitting that he “was wrong when he insulted [Lena] in public.”36
The meeting seemed to mollify Capone. He never sought revenge for his scars later in his life, not even once he’d risen to power in Chicago. Whenever he saw Galluccio in person, “he would smile like he was trying to be nice” and leave him be.37 He even went out of his way to hire Galluccio as an extra bodyguard whenever he visited New York, paying him $100 a week—an exorbitant salary at the time—for his service.38 Of course, these gestures have something to do with Al being told during the Harvard Inn meeting in no uncertain terms that “should he attempt to take revenge, it would be his funeral.”39 Personally, I prefer biographer Luciano Iorizzo’s explanation. He claims that Al refusing to take revenge on Galluccio later on in his career “suggests that his respect for family values, on which he prided himself, went beyond his personal relatives” and that he realized he was in the wrong regarding Lena, rather than simply trying to save his own skin.40As for Frank Galluccio, he felt completely justified in attacking Capone up until the day he died. “F*ck him, he deserved it,” said Galluccio in an interview with William Balsamo almost fifty years later.41 “I’m sure if it was the other way around, he would do the same thing . . . I mean, that was my kid sister, you know. Nobody likes to be insulted. Especially at a dance.”42 Even so, he seemed to feel genuinely awful about carving Al up so badly. At least he could have missed his face! As he told Balsamo: “Jesus, Bill, Capone had to through life with those scars…”43
1. There are two different sources for this quote. The “German machine gunner” comment comes from Richard Enright’s Capone’s Chicago (1987), while the Lost Battalion angle comes from Robert Schoenberg’s 1992 biography Mr. Capone.
Enright, Richard T., and Ray R. Cowdery. 1987. Capone’s Chicago. Lakeville, MN: Northstar Maschek Books. p 7.
Schoenberg, Robert J. 1992. Mr. Capone. New York, NY: Morrow. p 33.
2. Iorizzo, Luciano J. 2003. Al Capone a biography. Westport, CN: Greenwood Press. p 27.
3. Bergreen, Laurence. 1994. Capone: the man and the era. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster. p 49.
5. Enright, Richard T. Capone’s Chicago. p 7.
6. Iorizzo, Luciano J. Al Capone a biography. p 27.
7. Bergreen, Laurence. Capone: the man and the era. p 49.
8. Balsamo, William, and John Balsamo. 2011. Young Al Capone: the untold story of Scarface in New York, 1899-1925. New York, NY: Skyhorse Pub. p 112.
10. Balsamo, William. “Dillinger’s Brain!!!” Chicago Magazine, March 1990. p 113. (Content reprinted from a 1965 interview by William Balsamo)
12. Ibid. (All the other sources I consulted agreed on this point as well)
13. Balsamo, William. “Dillinger’s Brain!!!” p 114. (Again, all the sources agreed on this—but in this case, there were slight variations. Sources differ regarding who acted first (Al or Galluccio), exactly what was said, and how both of them reacted emotionally. Many sources took a lot of liberties ascribing motives, particularly Capone, and spun the story one way or another. Personally, I’m siding with the interview. However, many of the sources I referred to ALSO cited a Balsamo interview—a longer version of the one I’m quoting here—which I could not track down for the life of me.)
14. Schoenberg, Robert. Mr. Capone. p 33.
15. Balsamo, William. “Dillinger’s Brain!!!” p 114.
16. It’s interesting: if you type stuff like this into Google, many people seem to think this whole event was just a fit of drunken fury on Galluccio’s part. In actuality, while he was definitely mad about things, he was also very afraid of Capone.
17. Balsamo, William. Young Al Capone. p 118.
18. Iorizzo, Luciano J. Al Capone a biography. p 27.
19. Bergreen, Laurence. Capone: the man and the era. p 49.
20. Schoenberg, Robert. Mr. Capone. p 33.
21. Balsamo, William. “Dillinger’s Brain!!!” p 114.
22. Schoenberg, Robert. Mr. Capone. p 33.
24. Balsamo, William. “Dillinger’s Brain!!!” p 114.
27. Bergreen, Laurence. Capone: the man and the era. p 49.
28. Balsamo, William. Young Al Capone. p 118.
29. There are actually two sources cited here. The “cut up bruiser” comes from Schoenberg, the “Yale crew” bit is from p 114 of the Balsamo interview.
30. Schoenberg, Robert. Mr. Capone. p 33.
31. Balsamo, William. Young Al Capone. p 118.
32. Balsamo, William. “Dillinger’s Brain!!!” p 114.
38. Schoenberg, Robert. Mr. Capone. p 34.
39. Bergreen, Laurence. Capone: the man and the era. p 30.
40. Iorizzo, Luciano J. Al Capone a biography. p 27.
41. Balsamo, William. “Dillinger’s Brain!!!” p 114.