THE ST. VALENTINE’S DAY MASSACRE (1967)
The actual garage in Chicago in which the real massacre took place in 1929, was torn down just three months after this picture’s release in 1967. Gangland killings had been commonplace in Chicago during the 1920s, but the execution of seven men by opposing gang members masquerading as police officers was something quite different. Society in general was appalled and for several reasons. First, the newspapers blared titillating headlines that sold thousands of papers and kept the atrocity in the public’s eye. Second, until this mass execution, the media had always drawn the line at showing the faces of murdered mobsters. Until now they had always been partially obscured by a large ‘X’, but the St Valentine’s Day Massacre’ resulted in graphic photographs, totally uncensored, being displayed in the tabloids – and the public ate them up! Third, rival gang leader George ‘Bugs’ Moran, when asked by a reporter who he felt was responsible for the gunning down of his gang members, replied without hesitation: ‘You must be new to this town, mister. Only Al Capone kills like that!’ Such statements only fed the sensationalist press and its feeding frenzy. In fact, Capone was thousands of miles away in Miami when the killings took place. He had certainly ordered the hit but was far too cagey to be there in person when his orders were carried out.
Jason Robards as Al Capone
Even so, the man was known to personally kill in fits of rage, although only rarely. The movie mostly adheres quite rigidly to the truth except with regard to one issue, the murder of Joe Aiello. In real life he was not personally killed by Capone aboard a train as he tried to leave town. The very frightened Mr. Aiello, desperate to skip town, had indeed got a cousin to purchase a train ticket for him but his luck had well and truly run out. Capone had machine-gunners finished him from a window opposite his apartment building as he emerged on his way to the railway station. The film’s producers indulged in a further slice of poetic license. Aiello was actually murdered on October 23, 1930, almost twenty-one months after the massacre – not before it, as depicted here.
Director Roger Corman wanted Marlon Brando to play Capone, then chose Orson Welles when Brando turned him down. Jason Robards, Jr. was set to play Moran. Fox soon vetoed the Welles deal, however. They felt Orson was ‘undirectable’ and they may well have been right. Consequently, Robards became Capone and Ralph Meeker was brought in to play Moran. Beautiful Jean Hale landed the female lead, playing George Segal’s moll, Myrtle. She was married to actor Dabney Coleman at the time and was already gaining a reputation for being averse to playing sex kitten roles that required her to wear skimpy outfits to accentuate her shapely body. This movie involved a fight scene between her character and George’s; a scene in which studio head Richard Zanuck wanted Jean to wear very revealing, see-through lingerie. She refused, but managed to talk them into allowing lace to be sewn onto areas of the lingerie that covered certain parts of her anatomy. That same year she turned down a role in Valley of the Dolls because of the semi-nudity requirement. She also missed out on playing Bonnie in Bonnie and Clyde (1967), the role going to Faye Dunaway instead. When she turned down a Playboy magazine spread that required her to model men’s pyjama tops for an In Like Flint promotion, the annoyed heads at 20th Century Fox released her from her contract.
Jean and Dabney produced three children but separated in the early sixties, although they did not actually divorce until December 1984! Singer Quincy Coleman is their daughter. No longer contracted to Fox, Jean returned to the small screen, picking up guest appearances in several popular series such as, ‘Perry Mason’, ‘Mod Squad’, ‘Hawaii Five-0’, ‘Cannon’, ‘The Virginian’, ‘Batman’, ‘The Fugitive”, ‘My Favourite Martian’, ‘The Alfred Hitchcock Hour’, McHale’s Navy’, ‘Hogan’s Heroes’, ‘Wagon Train’ and ‘Bonanza’. On a rather curious note, a woman decided to impersonate her in 1965 and steal $10,000 worth of merchandise from several boutiques in Los Angeles. The culprit was caught and imprisoned. Released several years later, she again began impersonating Jean, but with a different project in mind. This time the lady, pretending to be the glamorous actress, married a total of ten men across Texas and Oklahoma!
Jean’s ex-husband Dabney Coleman
At the height of Prohibition, Chicago boasted more than twenty thousand ‘speak-easies’; the name given to illegal joints that sold booze to the public. Society was split down the middle on the issue. On one side were the ‘dries’, mostly church-going Protestants, who believed that alcohol consumed by Irish, Italian and German immigrants in particular, was responsible for much of the violence and criminal activity in America. On the other side were the ‘wets’, many of whom were Catholics who favoured the consumption of alcohol as a God-given right. As organized crime took a stranglehold on the illegal booze-making industry; as rival gang members began killing one another in pursuit of the millions of dollars there for the taking; as both police and politicians accepted bribes to look the other way, the scene was set for an explosion. The massacre in a Chicago garage provided that explosion.
Up until February 1929, Capone had wooed the press and public alike. He was actually quite popular, despite his reputation as a violent crime lord. When the Wall Street crash of 1929 put millions of Americans out of work, it was Capone who opened a soup kitchen in Chicago that offered three free meals a day to the down and out. It was a public relations exercise that worked until Valentine’s Day exposed him for what he was. It was a major mistake. The US Government had had enough. A band of ten hand-picked Treasury agents, led by Elliott Ness, was instructed to go to Chicago and bring him down in whatever way they could. It took until 1931 before these agents could arrest him for income tax evasion. In October 1931 he was found guilty and sentenced to eleven years prison. In May 1932, the 33 year-old crime boss was packed off to Atlanta U.S. Penitentiary where he was immediately diagnosed with syphilis and gonorrhoea. He was later moved (in August 1934) to Alcatraz State Penitentiary in San Francisco Bay. Neuro-syphilis eventually eroded his mental faculties until, in November 1939, he was paroled. He died in January 1947.