Anthony Berardi

I guess there are positives to your basement flooding.

As I was going sheet by sheet through a wet file box today, I uncovered the original typed notes I had compiled after talking on the phone with Anthony Berardi. This is the man who took very famous pictures of Al Capone (see my earlier entry titled “My Visits With Al” for more about Berardi, including links, and the story on how I got the interview.)

If you want to hear at least some of what I heard from Mr. Berardi, he gave a series of short interviews to onlinefootage.tv a few years before his death. Just scroll down the page until you see his name. I think there are four interviews.

Anyway, here is the transcript of that interview. It is the typed version (word for word from what I typed in 1994) taken from the notes I was frantically scribbling on any scrap of paper I had as Mr. Berardi told story after story for more than an hour. I wonder now how much of importance I left out, thinking it was “less important” in 1994.

Interview with Anthony Berardi

March 28, 1994 telephone interview with Mr. Anthony Berardi, photographer for the Chicago Evening American (Hearst newspaper) who photographed Al Capone at various times and at his headquarters at the Lexington Hotel (the only photographer to be allowed inside Capone headquarters)

Mr. Berardi is retired (1974) and living in San Diego at ____ Cardinal Drive, phone 619-___-____. (Note: Mr. Berardi died in July, 2005. His obit in the Chicago Tribune is good reading about an interesting man.)

Berardi spent two days with Geraldo Rivera prior to the famed 1986 television production at the Lexington Hotel. “Don’t blame him for the ‘secret vault’ fiasco. “That was a Chicago Tribune production and they only hired him as the talking head. They didn’t do their research. As far as he could tell they broke into a coal chute or coal bin.”

Capone “always played the part of the hoodlum, always covered his face every time he was arrested.” Harry Reed, editor of the Evening American, knew Capone and convinced him that he needed a public relations boost. He told Capone that he was a public person and he ought to start acting like one instead of a hoodlum. That was the reason Berardi was assigned to take Capone’s picture at the Lexington. (Me – Call it a 1920s photo op)

“It (the Lexington) was a very nice hotel. I’d stay there in a minute.”

When Berardi went into the hotel, there were three or four guards at the elevator doors in the lobby. “Where you going?” they asked. “To Capone’s suite to take pictures.” Berardi was carrying a 45-lb. bag of photographic equipment (his Speedgraphic, plateholders, powder) and the guards went all through it looking for a gun. Berardi went up the elevator alone to the 5th floor. Off the elevator, then to the right and into the suite. There were four or five “goons” sitting around the reception room smoking cigars and laughing. They went through Berardi’s bag again, then one went into the next room to tell Capone he was there. Berardi was then ushered into the next room, where Capone was waiting for him. This was apparently Capone’s main office, furnished with a large desk and other office furnishings. There was an open door leading into yet another room, but Berardi couldn’t see into that room. The reception room and the office were lavishly furnished.

Capone, who had seen Berardi before both as a photographer and as an amateur boxer at a local gym, said, “I hear you’re pretty tough, kid. Can you lick me?” Berardi responded by telling Al to come down to the gym and they would find out. The picture-taking session was fairly brief, noted only by the fact that Al did not want his scar to show in any of the pictures. Berardi felt no nervousness – “just another job to do.” (The scar, Berardi believes, was acquired as a youth in a knife fight in New York.)

The only time Berardi took a picture of Capone with his scar was at Wrigley Field, a fairly famous shot of Capone shaking hands with Gabby Hartnett (?) of the Cubs.

Berardi notes that Capone never hurt any innocent people, only those that interfered with his business. But he “coud turn from a gentleman to a madman in a second.” Berardi witnessed this on one occasion after Capone returned to Chicago from a year in “jail” in Philadelphia (Berardi believes that Capone arranged this supposed jail term in Philly with Philadelphia officials in order to give him an alibi for a particularly bad year of gangland murders in Chicago (mostly Chicago Heights). This way Capone could not be blamed for the murders since he was “in jail” in Philadelphia. Berardi believes that Capone spent maybe one day in jail, the rest of the time running his operation from his Florida home.) Anyway, upon his “release” from jail, every Chicago crime prevention official from  chief of police to the detective bureau to Cook County Sheriff, etc. etc. made public statements to the effect that if Capone stepped foot in Chicago, they would personally arrest him. Mr. Reed talked with Capone and suggested this plan: Capone, accompanied by Berardi taking pictures (thus providing the newspaper a scoop) would personally visit every one of these officials at their stations, walk in and say, “Ok, here I am. What do you want?” Capone loved this plan and was having the time of his life with his first few visits, but by the time they reached Chicago Police HQ at 11th and State, word had travelled and the newsreel guys all started showing up. Capone went immediately ballistic on them. “He went nuts.”

Capone had a habit of roughing up photographers, but never did so to Berardi. Capone called him “the Kid”. Capone was especially tough on newsreel cameramen. He would rage, punch, kick, chase, break their cameras. Reason? Capone liked to go to the movies and take his wife and son. Every movie in those days began with a 15-minute newsreel, many of which would feature the latest misadventures of “Scarface”. This made Al look bad in front of his family.

Capone owned Hawthorne Racetrack at one point. Berardi was there covering a feature race one day, down at the finish line with his camera. Capone walked by with his goons; “How ya’ doin’, kid?” Capone told him to bet on Number (??) in the next race. Berardi had already placed a bet on a horse, but looked up the horse Capone mentioned in his tout sheet. It was a steeplechase horse that had never run on a flat course before and was positioned at 99/1. Berardi just laughed. Just before race time, one of Capone’s goons walked back to Berardi and stuck a $5 ticket in his breast pocket for that horse. The horse won in a landslide. A week later the horse raced again and won again, this time narrowly and a week after that it was destroyed. “Those races had to be fixed.”

Capone held regular “press” parties (these would be press conferences today) at ballrooms around Chicago. There would be a band, food and women.

Berardi was, incidentally, the second person on the scene at the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre. I asked him what his first impression was. He said that by that time he had taken pictures of so many bullet-riddled gangster bodies that this was just another job. “You get calloused. I had a job to do.” He mentioned scrambling “like lightning” to get pictures as fast as possible, climbing up on top of a truck and so forth.

Many of Berardi’s photographs of Capone were confiscated from the files of the Evening American by another reporter at the paper who used them and others to make a bootleg copy of a special edition newspaper about Capone after the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre. At a time when newspapers were selling for a nickel, this special edition sold for a dollar. It was done without authorization by the newspaper, and the reporter was fired, but Berardi lost many of his pictures. When he retired in 1974, the Chicago Tribune, (which had bought the Evening American in 1954) told Berardi he could go into the files and take any of his pictures that he wanted to. Nice gesture.

Personal Notes (1994): It becomes clear as I rewrite these notes that Mr. Reed (editor or city editor??) of Berardi’s newspaper, had an interesting relationship with Capone. It was Reed who recognized Capone’s need of a good PR image. It was Reed who contacted Capone with the idea of his cocky “triumphal” re-entry into Chicago after his “jail” term in Philadelphia. Capone, I’m sure, recognized that Reed’s ideas were good ones for him and that the Evening American was doing him a favor. One hand washed the other, quid pro quo. Both ideas (and Berardi’s pictures that accompanied them) certainly sold newspapers for the Evening American. Multiply this relationship with other power brokers throughout the city of Chicago, from the mayor’s office to police headquarters, and you begin to see just how and why Capone, an evil man, could attains such stardom and seem apparently immune to justice.

Berardi was pleasant to talk with, especially considering that I just called him out of the blue. We talked for more than an hour. I assume he is in his late 80’s or so.

His memory of the Lexington Hotel was pretty complete, considering that he was there for really just a short time. He new nothing of any passageways either inside the Lexington itself or between the Lexington and the Metropole. I didn’t ask about any underground connection with the Chicago Tunnel System.

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About robertwallacegraham

Retired high school teacher, curmudgeon, soccer coach, bicyclist, etc. etc.
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