Dan Blanco Vaudevillian

Dan Blanco in “Birds of a Feather.”

Dan Blanco, founder of Chicago’s Club Alabam, spent many years as a performer in cabarets and in vaudeville, learning what it took to put on a good show.

In January of 1919, Blanco starred in a musical skit, “Birds of a Feather,” playing a week’s engagement at Indianapolis’ Lyric Theater where seats sold for 10, 20 and 30 cents. There, he received positive reviews in the Indianapolis Star.  The show was described as a nautical musical comedy. Dan Blanco portrayed Capt. Kidd, who is discovered on his treasure island by members of a twelve person company. Inez Bellaire, whose dimpled cheeks and blonde curls were featured on the sheet music for “The Girl You Can’t Forget” (1916), played the ingénue and the act was said to be one of the costliest then touring the vaudeville circuits. The costumes and scenery were particularly lavish and Blanco was called “a funmaker well known to devotees of musical farce.” One review noted that Blanco’s “piratical mustaches” and Bellaire’s “graceful dancing” were received with “hearty and impartial applause.”

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If you enjoy local history, especially the world of entertainment, follow me at joannelyeck.com or on the Facebook page: The Blackest Sheep.

The Blackest Sheep: Dan Blanco, Evelyn Nesbit, Gene Harris and Chicago’s Club Alabam is available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and many other online bookstores.

 

Evelyn Nesbit & John Barrymore

John Barrymore in My Dear Children.

In 1939, Evelyn Nesbit made her last known appearance at Chicago’s Club Alabam.  During this engagement, she was reunited with an old flame, John Barrymore.

That spring, Barrymore was appearing at Chicago’s Selwyn Theater in the comedy My Dear Children. Following one rollicking evening on stage, the tired thespian found his way to Gene Harris’ Club Alabam, to find Evelyn Nesbit on stage. The histrionic Barrymore publically declared his love for her, recalling their unrequited, youthful romance, no doubt receiving shocked applause from the Club Alabam regulars.

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If you enjoy local history, especially the world of entertainment, follow me at joannelyeck.com or on the Facebook page: The Blackest Sheep.

The Blackest Sheep: Dan Blanco, Evelyn Nesbit, Gene Harris and Chicago’s Club Alabam is available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and many other online bookstores.

Gene Harris: The Pony King

Gene Harris poses with pony in Leon, Iowa.

By 1955, the breeding, raising, selling and showing of Shetland ponies was a $31 million industry in America. Gene Harris expected demand to double. Illinois became the world’s capital of Shetland Pony breeding and, by 1958, Harris described himself as the “world’s largest pony dealer,” owning farms in Illinois and in his home town of Leon, Iowa.

The ever innovative Gene Harris sold his ponies via mail-order catalogs, including Sears, Montgomery Ward, and Spiegel. An early advertisement read: “You may choose my name. I am a male pony (gelding) 40 inches tall. I am black in color and 5 years old. I’m very gentle and affectionate—very much of a pet. I am suitable for a child 4 to 12 years of age. I am in good health. $250 is my price—$50 to be sent with the order and $200 C.O.D. when I arrive.”

One journalist quipped that ponies had become Harris’ main business. The Club Alabam was a sideline.

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If you enjoy local history, especially the world of entertainment, follow me at joannelyeck.com or on the Facebook page: The Blackest Sheep.

The Blackest Sheep: Dan Blanco, Evelyn Nesbit, Gene Harris and Chicago’s Club Alabam is available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and many other online bookstores.

 

Jack “West Side” Barry

Jack “West Side” Barry. 

When Dan Blanco opened Chicago’s Club Alabam in 1927, he may have had financial backers and business partners whose secrecy was guarded. Even if a club could not openly sell liquor during Prohibition, it was always available and gangsters were your suppliers.

In 1930, Blanco’s connection to Bugs Moran’s North Side gang was made public when Moran’s accountant, Jack Zuta, was shot and killed.  Zuta’s ledger included accounts with “Albam,” presumed to be Blanco’s Club Alabam.

In December of that year, two gangsters Anthony “Red” Kissane and Jack “West Side” Barry menaced Dan Blanco and indulged in some gun play at the club.

Eager to find out if justice was served?  The details are in my newest book, The Blackest Sheep.

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If you enjoy local history, especially the world of entertainment, follow me at joannelyeck.com or on the Facebook page: The Blackest Sheep.

The Blackest Sheep: Dan Blanco, Evelyn Nesbit, Gene Harris and Chicago’s Club Alabam is available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and many other online bookstores.

Evelyn Nesbit’s Griffons

Evelyn Nesbit (1924).

In 1925, Evelyn Nesbit made a spectacular comeback at Chicago’s Moulin Rouge Café. She traveled with her four Belgian Griffons.  Never without a lapdog or two or three, Evelyn’s beloved Griffons even accompanied her to Panama.

“They are so much more companionable than men,” she told the press. “Dogs are honest and faithful and never deceitful. That’s more than you can say for some men.”

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If you enjoy local history, especially the world of entertainment, follow me at joannelyeck.com or on the Facebook page: The Blackest Sheep.

The Blackest Sheep: Dan Blanco, Evelyn Nesbit, Gene Harris and Chicago’s Club Alabam is available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and many other online bookstores.

Gene Harris’ Fashion Club Stables

 

In addition to owning and operating Chicago’s Club Alabam, Gene Harris loved horses and riding thoroughbreds.  In 1937, Harris’ deep Virginia roots were showing when he purchased the Fashion Club Stables, located on North Cleveland Avenue, one block west of Clark Street.

Harris’ lighthearted personality infused every business he launched and his advertisements for the stables echoed his amusing ads for Club Alabam.

Tragically, the stables burned in 1945, killing a total of eighty horses.

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If you enjoy local history, especially the world of entertainment, follow me at joannelyeck.com or on the Facebook page: The Blackest Sheep.

The Blackest Sheep: Dan Blanco, Evelyn Nesbit, Gene Harris and Chicago’s Club Alabam is available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and many other online bookstores.

Shootout at the Northern Lights

Dorothy Kester, showgirl at the Northern Lights.

During Prohibition, Chicago was filled with mob-driven violence.  No one was exempt from getting in the line of fire, including Club Alabam founder Dan Blanco.

In 1924, Blanco was the proprietor of a Chicago roadhouse called Northern Lights, a “gangster friendly” café. One muggy summer night it became a crime scene.

Johnny Phillips, a classic puck, roughed up one of the showgirls, Dorothy Kester. The police were summoned.  Shooting ensued.  Phillips was killed and a policeman injured.

None of this was good for business and the officials put a padlock on Northern Lights. Remarkably, Dan Blanco escaped with his reputation intact.

Eager to read the full story?  It’s detailed in my newest book, The Blackest Sheep.

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If you enjoy local history, especially the world of entertainment, follow me at joannelyeck.com or on the Facebook page: The Blackest Sheep.

The Blackest Sheep: Dan Blanco, Evelyn Nesbit, Gene Harris and Chicago’s Club Alabam is available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and many other online bookstores.

Evelyn Nesbit Wows Chicago

Moulin Rouge Café.  416 South Wabash Ave. Courtesy Chicago Tribune.

 In 1925, Stage Manager Dan Blanco took a chance on hiring the volatile Evelyn Nesbit as the star attraction at Bill Rothstein’s Moulin Rouge Café.

Newspaper advertisements warned that this engagement was “Positively Miss Nesbit’s Last Public Appearance,” which was far from the truth but may have attracted crowds. It was quickly apparent that Bill Rothstein had a sensational hit on his hands.

In her cabaret act, Evelyn wore striking black and white gowns. She no longer danced professionally (as she had in vaudeville). Instead, songs filled her act. The cabaret pace was perfect for a middle-aged mother.

During her appearance at the Moulin Rouge, Dan Blanco and Evelyn Nesbit would cement a long-lasting relationship and, within a few years, she would grace the stage at his new establishment, Rush Street’s Club Alabam.

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If you enjoy local history, especially the world of entertainment, follow me at joannelyeck.com or on the Facebook page: The Blackest Sheep.

The Blackest Sheep: Dan Blanco, Evelyn Nesbit, Gene Harris and Chicago’s Club Alabam is available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and many other online bookstores.

Evelyn Nesbit’s Chicago Comeback

Winston-Salem Journal (31 May 1925)

Before the founding of Club Alabam, Evelyn Nesbit worked with Dan Blanco at Bill Rothstein’s Moulin Rouge Café, located at 416 South Wabash Ave. in Chicago’s Loop.

In 1925, after trying review-style shows at his café, Rothstein hired Blanco to create a cabaret-type show, with star bookings. In May, the announcement of Evelyn Nesbit’s forthcoming appearance at the Moulin Rouge became national news.

At forty, Evelyn maintained her youthful beauty.  Her famous Gibson Girl curls had long been bobbed, adding to her pert appearance.  Chicago stood ready to welcome her with open arms.

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If you enjoy local history, especially the world of entertainment, follow me at joannelyeck.com or on the Facebook page: The Blackest Sheep.

The Blackest Sheep: Dan Blanco, Evelyn Nesbit, Gene Harris and Chicago’s Club Alabam is available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and many other online bookstores.

Gene Harris’ Club Alabam

By the mid-1930s, Gene Harris was the sole proprietor of Chicago’s Club Alabam and his effervescent personality defined the popular nightspot.  His wit and charm drew a relaxed, fun-loving crowd. His snappy advertisements in local papers attracted the outgoing patrons he enjoyed.

In 1939, ad headlines like “Maybe We’re Crazy . . .” sold a lot of Flaming Crater Dinners at the reasonable price of $1.50.  Four shows nightly kept customers flowing into Harris’ club until the wee hours of the morning. Solid talent like Lil Bernard and Flo Henrie worked Club Alabam for years.

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If you enjoy local history, especially the world of entertainment, follow me at joannelyeck.com or on the Facebook page: The Blackest Sheep.

The Blackest Sheep: Dan Blanco, Evelyn Nesbit, Gene Harris and Chicago’s Club Alabam is available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and many other online bookstores.