Your No-Cover, No-Minimum Guide to the Seamier Side of 1959 Chicago
With Your Cordial Host Dave Burge
Consider the week of April 3, 1959. Chicago was teeming with conventioneers ranging from the American Welding Society, National Automatic Merchandising Association, Music Operators of America, National Association of Waste Material Dealers, Life & Casualty Insurance Conference, International Council of Shopping Centers, National Association of Tobacco Distributors, and (I am not making this up), the "National Military-Industrial Conference" at the Palmer House April 5-8.
Now imagine all those thousands of fun-loving insurance and tobacco and waste material and military-industrialist men in Chicago, away from the wives, looking for a good time. They had no further to look than Maury Kahn's terrific "Night Life" Chicago entertainment guide, the April 3 edition of which occupies an honored nook in the iowahawk museum. Now, through the magic of scanner technology, I am sharing this treasure with the general public.
Gracing the cover: exotic Hawaiian bump-and-grind artist Sunni Daye, about whom we will soon learn more.
Inside cover... wowie wow wow! The L&L Cafe on West Madison trumpets air conditioning and the "WORLD'S MOST GORGEOUS SHOWGIRLS," including a lineup of enticing names like 'Xonia,' 'Roszika,' 'Deidre' and 'Jackie Joy.' A little Googling reveals that the L&L was originally a swank, wife/sweetheart-friendly nightclub during WWII, but it is unclear when it transformed into a girl-ogling joint. More research shows that one of the L's in 'L&L' was Chicago restaurateur Danny Lardas, which might explain the need for abbreviation; I suppose "Lardas Showgirls" might have been a difficult sale. It's also unclear whether the old L&L has any relation to the current L&L Tavern on North Clark - a purported onetime hangout of John Wayne Gacy, Jeffery Daumer, and yours truly.
Adventuresome conventioneers lured to the deep South Side by the Theater Room's ad would have seen one hell of a jazz and R&B show - headliner Bill Doggett of 'Honky Tonk' fame, Bronzeville favorite Lonnie Simmons, Johnny Hartman, Andrew Hill, and R&B crooner deluxe Tommy Edwards. Plus Cha-Cha and Mamba Tuesdays with Rogerio Dominguez! It shames the adjacent ad for the Patio, which pitifully offers only the piano stylings of Nelda (but in the relative safety of the Gold Coast).
Page 3: the masthead listing Maury Kahn as editor, at 20 E. Delaware. Wait - where have we seen that address before? On the previous page! The same address as the Patio, home of the fabulous piano stylings of Nelda! Did Maury own the Patio? What was his relationship with mystery piano woman Nelda? We may never know, for today it is the Talbott Hotel and I am banned there for life. At the bottom of the masthead, more information on the cover girl:
Pictured on our front cover this week is SUNNI DAYE, "The Girl with the Sunshine Personality." This young Hawaiian entertainer is currently celebrating Hawaii's honor in being elected as the 50th state. An exotic dance which has thrilled nightery goers from coast to coast. Also featured in this all-star all-girl revue at the MARK TWAIN lounge is a continuous entertainment program featuring girls -- girls -- girls in an array called "BEAUTY ON PARADE."
Bellhop, have the concierge make reservations!
Page 4: Ad for the Surfcomber Hotel in Miami Beach, which today is known as the Surfcomber Hotel in Miami Beach. Although, I don't think you can get a room there for eight bucks (add three bucks a day for breakfast and dinner). Column 2: News of the Night from our genial slab-faced host Maury. Here we get several harbingers of the coming turbulence of the Sixties: Maury informs us that "Illinois is winning the war against dope," and that a new print guide is coming to keep track of all 14 of the newfangled FM radio stations in Chicago. In a stark reminder that the 50's weren't as innocent as we all believe, Maury notes with amusement that
Christine Jorgensen and a lad from Waukegan are attempting to get a marriage license. We keep wondering if the union takes place, who'll do what to whom with what??????
Page 5: What's a conventioneer to do? At the Black Orchid at Rush & Ontario (now site of the hipster James Hotel, and no relation to the new noir-chic Black Orchid on North Avenue) a pre-Rat Pack Joey Bishop was on stage peddling jokes with "exciting young songbird" Patty Clark. But hello... who's this busty temptress with the rose in her teeth? None other than "glamorous BARBARA VELASCO, the most daring show in Chicago" at the Blue Angel. 3 shows nightly, no cover, West Indies dinners for $2.50? Screw Joey Bishop! Tell me more.
Thank you, Page 6.
"Calypso Tropicana" is the brilliant new revue at the popular Blue Angel, 801 Rush St.
Sexy Barbara Velasco, glamorous vocalist, is back for a quick return engagement with an all-star cast with songs and dances that must be heard and seen to be appreciated.
The Mighty Panther who was named the "King of Calypso" in Trinidad, Malley and Margot, exciting Afro-Cuban dance team, Sir Tony Anthony, young master of the bongos, and, to open the all new Blue Angel Show Bar, Priscilla Hood and Sir James Caffey.
Hot dang! We never see anything like that in Dubuque. Sadly the entire lineup at the Blue Angel that week seems to have vanished without a trace, with the exception of "Mighty Panther." The previous revue at the the Blue Angel, "Calypso Follies," had a bigger star in young singer "The Charmer," a/k/a Louis Walcott, a/k/a Louis Farrakhan, who ended up staying in Chicago permanently.
Another page 6 item with Chicago staying power: "Pizzeria No. Uno" (the first deep dish) is still at 29 E. Ohio, though they've dropped the "No." from the name.
Alrighty, page 7. Trust me, don't strain your eyes trying to read "Best Laughs of the Week." They all stink. What's noteworthy here is what happened to all of the advertisers. Jack Scanlon's Embassy Club? Crappy hotel. La Rue 32, "Chicago's Most Intimate Parisian Rendezvous"? Now a Starbucks. Art Adler's Internationally Famous Tradewinds Restaurant and Lounge? Parking garage.
Pages 8-9: The big comprehensive center spread of conventioneer stuff to do! Nite Clubs, Fine Foods, Cocktail Lounges, and... howdy do! "Here Are the Girls." For convention-attending sticks in the mud, a list of movies.
One thing is for certain: 1959 Chicago was clearly the Athens of the hosting arts. According to this document, every place in town had at least one "genial host" on the payroll, with one or two "cordial hosts" in the bullpen, with great names like Joe Bonafede and Joe Biancalana, Red Forrest and Johnny Barrels, and some fellow named "Alabam." For out-and-out genial hosting overkill, it's hard to beat the Lakeland Lounge with "Mr. Versatility" Lenny Carson, Irv Kahn and Sammy Spitzer, and featuring Joey Martin "Behind The Log." I hope this means he was the bartender. Today, it's a soup kitchen run by the Chicago Jewish Federation.
Page 10: Dominated by the "Plain Talk" column of a certain Jack Begun, apparently the second installment of an n-installment epic rant, chronicling Begun's travails with the Illinois Boxing Commission over his disputed promoter's license. So I guess Jack Begun was the first blogger or something. The whole thing is really confusing, so I decided to do some additional research. It seems Begun ran a boxing gym called "The Ringside" along with Irv Schoenald, and was sort of the Jewish Don King of Chicago, managing fighters and promoting matches from the 30's through the 60's.
Still, the rant is confusing, and it's odder yet why there would be a multi-part column in a free strip joint mag targeted at out-of-town conventioneers. I'm guessing Begun was pals with Maury Kahn, who gave him space to vent against his torquemadas on the IBC. I'm thinking about turning it into a one man performance art thing like "Swimming to Cambodia" or something.
Page 11's Where Are They Now - M. Hyman and Son: office towers. Al Horn's Wholesale Meats: Italian deli. Mardi Gras: metrosexual boutique. Victory Club/Five Point Social Club: Bed Bath & Beyond. Texas Hot Tamale Shop: obnoxious disco. The Little Square Restaurant: ask a Chicago oldtimer, I have no idea. Cities Service: a convenience/gas mart owned by a semi-retarded South American dictator.
Page 12: Pity poor Herbie Duncan. In the competition for Chicago's conventioneer entertainment dollars, the hillbilly crooner in column 1 was no match for the ample assets of column 2 showgals Jackie Joy and Gerri Wair.
Caution: dubiously work-safe
Page 13. Peel your eyes from the Club 19 illustration for a minute to read Thru The Keyhole, a weekly heapin' helpin' of celebrity dirt from the anonymous "Your Hollywood Reporter." Some gems here like "Robert Mitchum busted up a saloon in Mexico after polishing off a few bottles of booze" and "Anita Ekberg got blind drunk the other night and did a torrid dance on a table in a bar" (emphasis in the original). Mere spring break capers compared to this dish:
STRICTLY HUSH-HUSH -- Lauren Bacall is still burning up over the embarrassment she suffered when she and her debonair escort stopped at a side street bar. Lauren's escort not only paid very little attention to Lauren but wound up falling all over another debonair young man at the bar. When the two fellows started kissing each other on the mouth Bacall decided it was no place for her and left the two lovers alone.
Read the whole thing if you think that celebrity debauchery began with Paris Hilton and Lindsay Lohan.
Oh, by the way: the Time Out Lounge and Club 19 are now both apartments.
Caution: dubiously work-safe
Page 14 - He-llloooo! Now we're talking convention-ese. Our earlier encounter with Sunni Daye and the fabulous "Beauty on Parade" show at the Mark Twain Lounge (now a Subway sandwich shop). But what's this? An equally glamorous, equally Polynesian parade of girls at Club Aloha (the site of which was recently destroyed by fire). Meanwhile a "thrilling all-star revue" at the Talk of the Town beckons. A talkative cabby might even explain the club's mob ties - as the Primrose Path, it was once owned by Capone crony Johnny Borcia. A pre-PC, pre-Civil Rights Act ad for the Show Lounge (now a dry cleaning shop) trumpets its "all-colored all-star all-girl revue." For early risers, there's the "Girls- Gags-Fun" of the "Gayety [sic] Burlesk [sic] Theatre." Today it's a parking lot, but back in the day an ambitious Shriner could head down to the Gayety at 10 am for non-stop burlesque featuring the likes of Teddi Bare and Tempest Storm.
Inside back cover. Prime advertising real estate to reach that hardcore convention goer who isn't going to waste any time in actual conventioning. The sort of man that knows the real action is in far south Calumet City, "Where Glamorous All-Girl-Shows Reign Supreme."
Hey, wait a minute - isn't that the same motto as Talk of the Town, on the previous page? As a disinterested outside observer I would say Calumet City is more deserving the motto, seeing as they have a solid array of shows featuring attractions like Cynthia, "the Body Beautiful," and Shallimar, "The Elizabeth Taylor of Burlesk." I don't know if any of the clubs still survive, but apparently Calumet City lost its title of "The Nation's Fun Capitol" sometime before the creation of the internet.
But the best back story of all belongs to the 606 Club at 606 S. Wabash. By all accounts this discreet gentleman's club -- which started as a Prohibition-era speakeasy -- was the swankiest joint in town, with the prettiest girls, and catered to a clientele of the rich and powerful. Among them was a young Chicago magazine publisher named Hugh Hefner, who used the 606 as a model for the new "Playboy Club" he would open on the Northside in 1960.
The 606 was also a nexus for Chicago's powerful political machine. Its owner, Louis W. Nathan, was Democratic precinct captain for the city's First Ward and was a ninja in the ancient Chicago art of vote manufacturing. In fact, he was convicted of election fraud in 1956 for his part in a 1954 vote-rigging scheme. The conviction cost him his job as precinct captain, but not his liquor license; and the 606 continued to be a popular destination for locals and visitors alike. According to legend, the 606 Club is the site where Nathan, Chicago mayor Richard J. Daley, and a Massachusetts senator named Jack Kennedy first worked out a plan to deliver enough Chicago "votes" for Kennedy to take the 1960 presidential election.
The kicker: according to the same legend, when the first US postal zip codes were being assigned in the early days of the Kennedy administration, both Kennedy and Daley insisted on the strangely out-of-sequence "606" prefix for all Chicago zip codes, as an eternal tribute and inside joke.
Apocryphal? I'll let the conspiracy buffs take it from here.
Back cover: a Venus-like employee of the Showboat swathed in a diaphanous toga, sans clamshell. Today the site is home to a more mundane joint, but it draws some thirsty students from the nearby Art Institute, perhaps instinctively drawn by its neo-classical heritage.
Well, that's it. Like a wild and woolly Chicago convention, all good things must come to an end. Time to put "Night Life ...in Chicago" back into its hermetically sealed container to preserve for future generations of girlie show enthusiasts and scholars. Because, even though the publication internally brags of a circulation of 75,000 weekly copies, I think this is a pretty damn rare item; I'd wager most every copy of this magazine got destroyed, lest it be discovered in the back of the suitcase by an angry wife.
So, to that nameless 1959 conventioneer who risked a rolling pin upside the head in order to save this fine specimen of postwar debauchery, we doff our tasseled fez and raise a frosty cocktail in salute.
Now if we can only find another joint with 55 cent martinis.