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.

~

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.

~

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.

~

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.

~

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.

~

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.

~

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.

My Harris Family of Central Virginia

Minnie Garland Harris and Eugene Alexander Harris, 1900.

 

For several generations, my Harris family lived in central Virginia. My grandmother, Minnie Garland Harris, was born in Buckingham County in 1891. Her mother died that autumn and within two years, Minnie and her father, Clay Harris, migrated to a small town in southern Iowa called Leon. There, they joined an already established group of Harrises and kinfolk who were thriving in business.

Eventually Clay Harris married again and, in 1899, had a son Eugene Alexander Harris, making my grandmother’s brother the first of my very long line of Harrises to be born outside of Virginia.

“Gene” Harris proved to be a boy filled with wanderlust. Dissatisfied with the limitations of a small Iowan town, as an adolescent he headed for San Francisco where he worked as a waiter, beginning a life-long career in restaurants and nightclubs. Eventually, he traveled to Chicago and, by 1923, was settled in his new home. There he would meet songwriter, performer, and entrepreneur Dan Blanco, who introduced European-style cabaret to the city.

Blanco and Harris proved to be a dynamite team, launching Club Alabam in 1927. Together, they skirted the law and dodged gangsters during the violence-filled days of Prohibition. Even after liquor was legal again, there was never a dull moment at the nightclub. Illegal gambling drew customers and paid police protection didn’t always keep the cops from the door.

My new book, The Blackest Sheep, chronicles Gene Harris’ life story in which he befriends show people, deals with Chicago’s criminal element, and creates a loyal following of customers at Club Alabam.

~

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

Gene Harris’s obituary, December 27, 1964.

Following my mother’s death, I discovered a surprising obituary in her filing cabinet. Dated December 27, 1964, it revealed that my grandmother had a brother, Gene Harris. He was a complete mystery to me. Why had I never heard of him?

Quickly, it became clear that my grandmother Minnie (Harris) Sanger and Gene Harris were half-siblings, sharing the same father, my great-grandfather, Clay Harris.

Gene’s obituary ran on page three of the Chicago Tribune, indicating he was a prominent Chicago resident. Written by Will Leonard, author of the newspaper’s weekly entertainment column, “On The Town,” the article stated that, at the time of his death, Gene Harris owned the oldest single-proprietor nightclub in the city—Club Alabam.  A local hero in Chicago, was Uncle Gene a “black sheep” in the Harris family?

Since 1995, I have explored the lives of my vast Harris family. Ultimately, the intriguing and sometimes shocking details of Gene Harris’ life resulted in The Blackest Sheep: Dan Blanco, Evelyn Nesbit, Gene Harris and Chicago’s Club Alabam.

In upcoming posts, I will expand on the research behind The Blackest Sheep and share tidbits about Chicago history, especially the growth of cabarets and nightclubs before, during, and after Prohibition.

Please join me on a fun and danger-filled trip through Chicago after dark. You’ll meet gangsters, G-men, showgirls, and a wide variety of musicians and performers—including the scandalous beauty Evelyn Nesbit!

~

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