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.

The Read Sisters, Hostesses at Club Alabam

Sunny and Billy Read, Hostesses at Club Alabam.

Courtesy Chicago Tribune.

In 1935, twenty-one-year-old Vera “Billy” Read and her twenty-four-year-old sister, Hazel “Sunny” Read, worked as hostesses at Club Alabam. Natives of Tulsa, Oklahoma, the young women were seasoned in the sometimes dangerous milieu of Chicago after dark when they made headlines in a legal battle with George Eastman Dryden (grandnephew of Kodak camera king, George Eastman).

After several rounds of drinking at Club Alabam, “East” Dryden, heir to a rubber fortune, invited Hazel to a party in his apartment. As they were leaving, Hazel noticed that Vera was draped across the club bar, possibly drunk. Deciding to take Vera with them, they hired a cab to drive the one block to Dryden’s apartment at 814 Rush Street. There, he was responsible for what journalists dubbed a “gay party,” and got himself into some hot water, allegedly dunking Vera Read, fully clothed, in his bathtub.

Eager to learn the whole story? 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.

Irene Duvall At Club Alabam

Irene Duvall

Many charming women appeared at the Club Alabam, including Irene Duvall, who had appeared in movies with Maurice Chevalier and Charlie Chaplin.

At the end of 1933, she worked for Dan Blanco and Gene Harris, she helped them ring in the new year and witness the repeal of Prohibition.

Irene brought with her a troubled past. In early 1933, she accused Edmund J. Casey of robbing her of $10,000 worth of property. Then, following her appearance in Chicago, she and a man named Dr. Burton Eder were injured when hit by a car in Detroit. Both suffered fractured legs. It was the second time that year that Duvall had been struck by a car as a pedestrian. Considering the criminal element connected with nightclubs, somebody may have been threatening Irene Duvall.

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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.

 

 

Murder at the Hotel Lorraine

W. Frank Raab (age 38) and Marie Lamont (age 28).

Working in nightclubs often meant rubbing shoulders with unsavory characters.  Club Alabam was no exception.

In early September of 1938, headlines announced: “Cabaret Hostess Found Strangled in Chicago Hotel.” The murder victim was former Club Alabam hostess Mrs. Marie Lamont. The suspected murderer, Frank Raab, had recently worked for Gene Harris as Club Alabam’s floor man and bouncer.

The attractive, auburn-haired Lamont was found dead in Raab’s room in the Hotel Lorraine at 411 South Wabash Avenue. For years the hotel had been the home to criminals—from petty thieves, to ex-convicts, to rapists, to depressives contemplating suicide.

Half naked, clad in a silken nightgown, red marks on Marie’s neck indicated strangulation and an electric light cord was found on the floor by the bed. Some reports claimed that the cord was still around her neck when the body was discovered.

Hotel Lorraine, 411 South Wabash Avenue, Chicago (1942). 

Courtesy John Chuckman.

In 1943, the story of Marie Lamont’s death inspired a sensational, syndicated article entitled, “The Strange Case Of The Red Carnation,” written by Terry McShane.

Eager to learn the whole story? 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.

 

Gene Harris’ Epicure Room

Menu Club Alabam’s Epicure Room.

In the late 1950s, proprietor Gene Harris focused on fine dining at the Club Alabam, launching his Epicure Room.

Terry Hunter reviewed the dining experience for the Chicago Sun-Times and opened by stating that nightclubs and good food didn’t always go together. In the case of Gene Harris’ restaurant, however, the name Epicure was no misnomer.

Skillful Maître d’ Jules Reiser prepared an outstanding tableside salad. Breast of chicken, served in a delicious Madeira sauce, was paired with Virginia ham “Eugenie.” Portions were generous. A plate full of Canadian walleye was big enough for two diners. The salad was “a work of art” and dessert, a Vesuvius, was ice cream topped with flaming cherry sauce, seated in dry ice, and steamed like a volcano. Dinner prices ranged from $4.50 to $6.50. The Epicure Room sat fifty patrons. Restaurant reviewer Terry Hunter advised reservations.

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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.

Chicago’s Chez Paree

Chicago’s Chez Paree.

Over the decades, Gene Harris’ Club Alabam had plenty of competition, however, many of Chicago’s nightclubs, such as Chez Paree, drew a different kind of clientele. Located at 610 N. Fairbanks Court, in contrast to Rush Street’s gritty atmosphere, it was a glamorous nightclub, featuring a chorus line of Chez Paree Adorables; cigarette girls who also carried cameras to snap pictures of the patrons enjoying a night on the town; and irresistible dice girls.

Mike Fritzel (known as the “Dean of Chicago nightclub proprietors”) opened Chez Paree in December of 1932.  It operated until 1960, booking big names such as Louis Armstrong, the Andrews Sisters, Danny Thomas, Lena Horne, Ella Fitzgerald, Nat King Cole, Sammy Davis, Jr., and Tony Bennett.

The establishment included a Key Club located behind the bandstand which required an actual key if a customer wanted access to the back room.

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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.