Eliot Ness is probably the only name anyone could recall if asked about law enforcement in the prohibition era.
Everyone assumes that he’s the Prohibition agent responsible for the downfall of Al Capone, and that Ness was a man of high principle in a totally corrupt city.
And who knows what Ness really looked like? Most can only visualize how he was portrayed by actors Robert Stack on TV in the 1960’s, or Kevin Costner in the movie, “The Untouchables” in 1987.
The Associated Press reports that now,, almost 60 years after his death, Eliot Ness is still so highly regarded that Illinois’ two U.S. senators want to name a federal building after him in Washington, D.C.
Ed Burke, a Chicago alderman, is not so starry-eyed about Ness and his supposed exploits, and he wants to persuade the senators to drop the whole idea.
“There are literally hundreds of heroic law enforcement officials who would be deserving of the honor, but Eliot Ness is simply not one of them,” he said. He went further, and added that Eliot Ness “is a Hollywood myth,” and to honor him would be a disservice to others.
The problem is that most of what we think we know about Ness comes from either the television show with Robert Stack 50 years ago, or Kevin Costner’s portrayal of Ness in the 1987 movie.
Bob Fuesel, a former IRS agent said he told Costner that Ness had nothing to do with the tax-evasion case and that men who worked with Ness told stories about how he was afraid of guns.
“I told Kevin that Eliot Ness did not do any of this stuff, and Kevin said, ‘Bob, this is Hollywood…. We make it up as we go along.’ ”
The Associated Press sought confirmation that Costner actually said that, but have not yet received a reply.
Further confirmation of what Eliot Ness did – or didn’t – do, was provided by Jonathan Eig, author of “Get Capone.” This is the book which Ed Burke wants the senators to read. Eig says that there is no evidence that Capone and Ness ever even met.
“My guess is that Al Capone never heard of Eliot Ness,” he said, “even after he went to jail.”