Evelyn Nesbit, 1924

In 1924, when Dan Blanco’s Northern Lights Café was making headlines in Chicago’s newspapers, Evelyn Nesbit struggled to stay solvent and maintain her career as an entertainer.

At her home base, Hotel Martinique in Atlantic City, Nesbit was consumed with the on-going sanity hearings of her ex-husband, Harry K. Thaw. Simultaneously, she was battling with her current husband, Jack Clifford, seeking a divorce that was long overdue.

In between discussions with lawyers, Evelyn Nesbit performed in, of all things, a Yiddish play entitled “The Dance of Death.”

In Miami, Florida, she was scheduled to perform at a roadhouse when the Ku Klux Klan threatened to make her stay in the city very unpleasant. The management canceled her booking.

Never a dull moment in the life of Evelyn Nesbit.

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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.

Dan Blanco’s Northern Lights Café

In 1924, Dan Blanco became the proprietor of a Chicago roadhouse called Northern Lights Café.  Its mob connections were well-known.

Within months, Northern Lights became a crime scene and Blanco witnessed a shootout that resulted in the death of gangster Johnny Phillips.

Learn more about the sensational story here: Shootout at the Northern Lights

You can read the full story 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.

Club Alabam Presents Mildred Harris Chaplin

In October of 1933, Mildred Harris Chaplin, the former Mrs. Charles Chaplin, followed Evelyn Nesbit on stage at the Club Alabam. The petite entertainer was Chaplin’s first wife and a familiar face to Chicago’s vaudeville audiences.

That autumn, Mildred toured with her own “Hollywood Revue”—a troupe of twenty—and her California Syncopators. Delivering a few songs and impersonations of famous motion picture stars, Mildred Harris Chaplin’s multiweek engagement at Club Alabam ended in November and she was followed by a big-eyed, blonde entertainer, Irene Duvall.

To learn more about Irene Duvall, click here: Irene Duvall At 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.

Fashion Club Pony Farm

By the mid-1950s, Gene Harris, owner of Club Alabam, had become known as the “Pony King,” owning farms in Illinois and his hometown of Lyon, Iowa, where he bred Shetland ponies.

In 1957, the Des Moines Register published a cover story about Harris’ lucrative Fashion Club Pony Farm in its Sunday supplement, “Picture.”  His breeding farms had become a full-time occupation, while business at Club Alabam hummed along the background.

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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.

Moulin Rouge Café

In 1923, Dan Blanco was the Stage Manager at Albert Bouce’s Moulin Rouge Café.  There, his entertainment was enjoyed by Chicago’s elite.

Bouce claimed to have created “dinner theater,” saying, “This is the first time that musical comedy has been presented in an eating place.”

A great show! Wonderful dinners!  Public Dancing!  Moulin Rouge Café was a success and a terrific testing ground for Dan Blanco. His work at the Moulin Rouge would be followed by success at Northern Lights and, then, on to his own venue — 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.

Presenting Evelyn Nesbit – Club Alabam – 1939

Courtesy Mary O’Dowd.

Evelyn Nesbit’s last booking at Club Alabam was in the spring of 1939. Appearing with her was friend and Club Alabam regular, Paulette LaPierre.

Three bands entertained the customers: Chet Robinson, Dave Unell, and Eddie Roth.

Prices remained reasonable. Club Alabam habitués could order a charcoal steak or broiled chicken dinner for $1.50. There was never a cover or minimum charge.

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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.

Eddie South Plays Club Alabam

Eddie South, Café Society (Uptown), New York City, c. December 1946.
(Courtesy William P. Gottlieb Collection, Library of Congress.)

 

Dan Blanco always strove to offer his customers something different.

In 1927, Eddie South and his Club Alabamians came direct from New York City to open Dan Blanco’s Club Alabam in Chicago. South was a classical violin prodigy turned jazz musician who began his career playing with, among others, Jimmy Wade, who was featured at the Moulin Rouge.

Soon, Eddie South and his Club Alabamians were cutting records, further spreading the nightclub’s visibility.

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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.

Club Alabam, 747 Rush Street

Club Alabam Matchbook. “Dine and Dance.”

Club Alabam was a Rush Street favorite from 1927 until Gene Harris’ death in 1964.

Proprietors Dan Blanco and Gene Harris knew how to adjust to changing tastes in food, as well as entertainment.  From cheap Chinese cuisine to fried chicken and waffles to gourmet dining — the variable menu satisfied conventioneers and Chicago regulars alike.

In 1931, John Drury highlighted the club as a late-night hot spot in his Dining in Chicago:

CLUB ALABAM, 747 Rush Street: More dusk to dawn diversion on the near north side. Evelyn Nesbit Thaw was a big drawing card when she was here recently. Dan Blanco is host, Slater Brockman does the mastering, and Willie Newberger’s orchestra furnishes the music—which, by the by, is nothing if not “hot.” Floor shows and vaudeville entertainers and Chinese and Southern dishes—what a combination. Cover charge, $1.00. Delaware 0808.

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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 and Atlantic City

 Evelyn Nesbit in Atlantic City, 1922.

During the 1920s and 1930s, Evelyn Nesbit made Atlantic City her home base.  There, Nesbit lent her name to more than one club or cabaret, performing in many more.

Seen here with one of her Belgian Griffons (identified as a “Japanese Poodle”), she had proudly put on fifteen pounds after a “cure” for her narcotic habit.

Want to learn more about Evelyn Nesbit’s struggle with addiction? It’s detailed in my new 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.

Dan Blanco, 1929

Dan Blanco (far left).  Courtesy Chicago Tribune.

For most of Prohibition, Dan Blanco and Club Alabam successfully skirted the law, particularly the local police.  A crackdown in 1929, however, brought the aging Blanco and other club owners from the Near North Side to the East Chicago Avenue Police Station.  There, the newly installed Capt. Charles Essig let them know he meant business.  The so-called “Woppee Belt,” would be cleaned up!

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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.