'Eliot Ness': Actually Untouchable, Except When It Came To Women | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio

'Eliot Ness': Actually Untouchable, Except When It Came To Women

Hollywood's been known to dramatize even the most dramatic of real-life narratives. So of course the real Eliot Ness wasn't nearly as dashing as Robert Stack or Kevin Costner (although maybe he was).

He wasn't a G-man; he never carried an FBI badge. Nor was he the lawman who brought the tax case that put away America's most famous mobster, Al Capone — even though the Capone case made him a household name. But he was a genuine pioneer of modern police work.

Ness eventually left Capone and Chicago for an even bigger challenge in Cleveland, where he fought corruption and instituted what was then called "scientific policing." And while he was, yes, untouchable when it came to corruption, women were a different matter. The man who helped save two cities from being overwhelmed by crime had trouble saving himself.

Douglas Perry's new book is Eliot Ness: The Rise and Fall of an American Hero, and he tells Scott Simon that Ness got the go-ahead to form the Untouchables and go after Capone due to some good, old-fashioned Chicago nepotism.

"His brother-in-law was in charge of the Chicago prohibition office, and helped him get hired. But you know, he was part of the first wave of Prohibition bureau agents who were actually somewhat qualified."


Interview Highlights

On Capone's fame

He was huge. He was as big as the Kardashians, particularly in Chicago he was front page news, he was out on the town in the nightclubs. He was always dressed so nice, he always had a nice smile on his face for the news photographers, he always had a nice quote. He was better known and more popular than anyone who wasn't a Chicago Cub.

On whether Ness enjoyed his high-octane Capone capers

Absolutely. It gave him a rush, it gave him real rush that stuck with him. He had a depressive personality, he had a hard time kind of getting to highs — and he didn't know why, I mean, people then didn't understand depression or what it was. Even when the press was hailing him, he kind of felt like a failure, that was kind of inherent in him. And when he smashed through those doors with his men, and saw those brewers, their shock and their desperate attempts to escape, it gave him a rush — he chased that rush ever since. He loved it. Even when he became a high-up administrator, he insisted on being a man out in the streets, doing his own investigations.

On bringing crime down in Cleveland

The first thing he did was attack corruption. It was arguably the most corrupt police force in the country ... and Ness came in, he was 33 years old, he had kind of the arrogance of youth coming out of his success in Chicago, he said right out of the gate, he was going to find out which officers were on his team and which were not, and he was going to get rid of every traitor in the police department, and he was going to go out and investigate it himself. People were shocked. People could not believe he wasy saying these things. Ness, he helped invent the modern police force. He was a huge proponent of what was then called scientific policing — if you're a fan of CSI, Ness was into that stuff before there was even an FBI lab.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

NPR

New Biopic Returns A Beloved Mexican Icon To The Big Screen

The beloved Mexican actor known as Cantinflas is often referred to as the Latin Charlie Chaplin. His humor tweaked the rich and powerful. His speech was goofy and intelligent at the same time, and he made some 50 movies between 1936 and 1981. And now, a new film addresses the actor's life.
NPR

Real Vanilla Isn't Plain. It Depends On (Dare We Say It) Terroir

There's no such thing as plain vanilla — at least if you're talking about beans from the vanilla orchid. Whether it's from Tahiti or Madagascar, vanilla can be creamy, spicy or even floral.
NPR

Climate Policy Takes The Stage In Fla. Governor's Race

Rick Scott, Florida's GOP governor, has come under criticism for his record on the environment. Now, he's rolling out his own proposals for safeguarding the state's water and wildlife preserves.
NPR

An App Can Reveal When Withdrawal Tremors Are Real

You probably haven't thought about whether your phone could help diagnose alcohol withdrawal. Well, it can. An app for doctors measures tremors and may help tell if someone's faking it to get drugs.

Leave a Comment

Help keep the conversation civil. Please refer to our Terms of Use and Code of Conduct before posting your comments.