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.

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.