Skip to comments.'Mr. Chicago,' (longtime columnist) Irv Kupcinet, dead at 91
Posted on 11/10/2003 8:14:40 PM PST by mhking
rv Kupcinet is dead. The famed Chicago Sun-Times columnist, who was 91, was born July 31, 1912 and died today at Northwestern Memorial Hospital.
He had been hospitalized Sunday after suffering from shortness of breath, and doctors later determined he had pneumonia, hospital officials said.
His ``Kup's Column'' was an institution at the Sun-Times since the day the newspaper began in 1948, and before then the column appeared in the Chicago Times, where Kup was hired as a sports writer in 1935. At one point it was syndicated to 100 newspapers.
Mr. Kupcinet reigned over Chicago night life and celebrityhood for decades, chatting with stars at the Pump Room's Booth One while they waited for their trains to refuel at Union Station. He and Jack Brickhouse broadcast Chicago Bears football games for almost a quarter-century.
Irv Kupcinet was `Mr. Chicago' because he, better than anyone else, represented the true spirit of this city,'' said Sun-Times columnist Bill Zwecker. ``Even as Chicago evolved into a true world-class city, Kup never forgot our strength and heritage as Carl Sandburg's down-to-earth City of Broad Shoulders. Kup daily held up a mirror which best reflected Chicago back to ourselves.''
Irv Kupcinet knew everybody before they were anybody.
He knew CBSs Mike Wallace when he was still Myron Wallace, an obscure announcer on a Chicago variety show. He reported from Israel when it was still British Palestine. And when he met Marilyn Monroe, she was still a brunette.
He even knew this newspaper before it was the Sun-Times, back when it was just the Times and had yet to have its 1948 union with the Chicago Sun. Mr. Kupcinet Kup, as he was known to one and all wrote his column so well and so long that he seemed connected to every celebrity around. Kup had the phone numbers nobody had; stars who weren't taking calls took a call from Kup.
Kup, was friendly with presidents, barbers and the top A-list of Hollywood. It wasn't a press agentish, fake kind of friendship. He stayed at their homes at Jack Benny's, at Danny Thomass, at Joan Crawfords. When he went on vacation, Bing Crosby might pitch in to write his column, or Mike Todd, or Betty Grable. Bob Hope spoke at the 1968 dinner honoring Kup's 25th anniversary as a columnist.
But he was no relic. Kup survived the changing times, on sheer determination, hard work and good contacts. He never retired. He never slowed down except under a doctor's orders. While his health deteriorated over recent years, Kup insisted on coming in to the office to write his column, always quipping that he wanted to be terminal at the terminal, and he nearly was. Days before he died, he was working in the office meticulously and expensively dressed, as was his style and his last column ran Nov. 6.
He was known for nightclubbing, but he also gave dinners, and John Wayne might show up. Or Frank Sinatra, with Ava Gardner in tow, or Cary Grant, or Clark Gable, or too many others to mention.
Nobody could match Kup. He was a Chicago institution, the link between local celebrity and international fame. He was the man in Booth One at the Pump Room, chatting easily with stars making the layover on the Super Chief and the California Zephyr. (A.J. Liebling, in his classic essay on Chicago, pointed out that the stars frequently stopped in Chicago specifically to talk to Kup; otherwise, theyd take the express).
Kup lunched with Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall at the Pump Room the day after they married in 1945. Harry Truman would phone to remind him to look after his daughter, Margaret, when she was in town.
Kup covered every Academy Awards ceremony from 1945 to 1986. He went to London for the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II and crashed the rehearsal by flashing his Chicago police press card.
Over the years, Kups Column was distributed to more than 100 newspapers around the world and its author showered with innumerable awards. In 1982, he was elected to Chicago's Journalism Hall of Fame. The city renamed the Wabash Avenue bridge over the Chicago River in his honor in 1986.
His other accomplishments were enough to fill several careers. He broadcast Chicago Bears football games, with Jack Brickhouse, for 24 years. He appeared in two movies, produced by friend Otto Preminger, Advise and Consent and Anatomy of a Murder.
He appeared on television as early as 1945 and was a pioneering television talk show host he started on CBS in 1952 with a late night news/interview program. In 1957, he replaced Jack Paar on NBCs America After the Dark, which eventually became The Tonight Show. His own television program ran from 1959 to 1986, syndicated at one point to 70 stations nationwide, and featured newsmakers from Richard Nixon to Alger Hiss to Malcolm X with whom he forged an improbable friendship.
The show was known for its spontaneity. Carl Sandburg once walked off the set in mid-broadcast, declaring he had to wee-wee. Radical Abbie Hoffman lit up a joint on the air and was asked by Kup to leave.
Ann Landers shocked the audience and Kup when, on a show that paired her with porn star Linda Lovelace, the advice columnist described in precise detail the act Lovelace was famous for.
The show won 15 local Emmys and the prestigious Peabody Award.
He was a close friend of Truman, who gave Kup and his family a personal tour of the White House while he was president. Eight years out of office, when Truman finally revealed why he had fired Gen. Douglas MacArthur during the Korean War, he gave the scoop to Kup: the general had been chaffing to attack communist China with atomic bombs.
A sign of Kups lasting influence was that, decades later, when Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan wanted to make a public relations gesture toward the Jewish community, he did so by having dinner with Kup.
Born in North Lawndale
Irving Kupcinet was born July 31, 1912, in the largely Jewish North Lawndale neighborhood around 16th and Kedzie, the youngest of four children of Russian immigrants Olga and Max Kupcinet. His father drove a bakery truck. As a young boy, Kup whose nickname then was Bubbles helped his father make deliveries on a horse and wagon.
He got his first taste of journalism at Harrison High School, where he edited the school paper, starred in the school play and was president of the senior class.
He also played football. He was good enough to earn a football scholarship to Northwestern University, but a fistfight with the coachs brother led to his transferring to the University of North Dakota at Grand Forks.
On graduation, Kup was drafted in 1935 by the Philadelphia Eagles of the National Football League. A serious shoulder injury cut that rookie season short, and he returned to Chicago, landing a $32.50-a-week sportswriter's job at the Chicago Daily Times late in 1935.
Kup had his share of fistfights in that pre-litigious age: He was in the thick of a notorious brawl that took place April 3, 1937, in the lobby of a Tampa hotel, when Kup sallied to the defense of Jack Miley of the New York Daily News, who was taking on nearly the entire St. Louis Cardinals baseball team. Hall of Fame pitcher Dizzy Dean, goaded on by his wife, laid a punch on Kup and then ran away. The story made headlines for over a year, fed by Kup challenging Dean to a fair fight with taunts such as You yellow-bellied, henpecked husband, you wouldn't fight a baby.
As the 1930s ended, Kup was ready to trade fistfights for marital harmony. Four years earlier, he had met a feisty redheaded Northwestern undergrad named Esther Essee Solomon. The two wed on Feb. 12, 1939, and honeymooned at spring training in Florida.
Kup covered the Bears and became close to Bears owner and founder George Halas. Kup worked as an NFL referee a common practice for newspapermen at the time and he presided over the Bears historic 73-0 demolition of the Washington Redskins in the 1940 championships.
The practice ended, the story goes, after a game between the Bears and the Green Bay Packers. Kup was head linesman and called for a measurement to see if the Bears had made a crucial first down. When it was determined they had, Kup headed for the sidelines whooping, We made it!
By the early 1940s, Kup had his own sports column. Each column ended with a short people section. So he was a natural to be tapped by Times editor Russ Stewart for the new column he had in mind to rival Walter Winchells. His competition in Chicago, Nate Gross at the old Chicago American, was known for gathering his information over the phone, from home. So Kup shrewdly decided to go where the action was and get his news, hot, direct and firsthand.
Id be there. Id be visible, Kup recalled in his autobiography. If someone had something worth printing, they'd know where to find me if I wasn't already within earshot.
Kup's column debuted Jan. 18, 1943.
Making the rounds
Kup, often with Essee at his side, did the rounds of Chicago nightclubs during their elegant heyday. The Chez Paree. The HiHat Club. The Trade Winds. The 5100 Club, where he saw Danny Thomas when he was just starting out. He took Bob Hope, of all people, to see Lenny Bruce, who returned the favor by basing a scathing routine on Kup (Saul Bellow, too, parodied Kup, using him as a character in Humboldt's Gift: He looked haughty, creased and sleepy, like certain oil-rich American Indians from Oklahoma, Bellow wrote).
So identified were Kup and Essee with the Ambassador Easts Pump Room that the hotel installed a full-scale replica of Booth One, the restaurant's seat of prestige, in their East Lake View apartment.
The couple had two children, Jerry and Karyn, who was called Cookie. Cookie was an aspiring actress and moved to Hollywood, where she died under mysterious circumstances, probably murdered, in 1963 at the age of 22. The crime was never solved.
Kup grieved the loss of his daughter for the rest of his life. In 1966, when the Tribune syndicate asked Kup to replace the recently deceased Hedda Hopper, dangling a mind-boggling offer that included Hopper's Hollywood home, Kup refused, largely because he and Essee did not want to move to what he later described as the Hollywood that had sucked our daughter into its maelstrom.
While Kup did not dish the dirt that other gossip columnists thrived on, he was no lightweight, either. After he pointed out that Abigail Van Buren had reprinted a 20-year-old Dorothy Dix witticism in her Dear Abby column, a furious Van Buren never spoke to him again.
When the Chicago Bar Association refused membership to a black attorney, claiming that it was a social club and not a professional organization, Kup riposted that its members have some adjusting to do with Uncle Sam's Internal Revenue Department since social club dues were not tax deductible.
Wrong turn at Vatican
Kup could laugh at himself. In his 1988 autobiography, Kup, a Man, an Era, a City, he tells the story of how, after meeting with Pope Pius XII in 1949, he exited through the wrong door in the Vatican.
Suddenly, I was in a giant red velvet room filled to capacity with 1,500 people . . . all of whom began to genuflect at my entrance! I realized something was askew.
Kup was a tireless worker for charities raising funds at the Irv Kupcinet Open celebrity golf tournament and the old Harvest Moon Ball; conducting the annual Purple Heart Cruise outings for wounded veterans for 50 years after 1945, and as the original and perennial Chicago host of the annual Cerebral Palsy telethon. The Variety Club of Chicago and Little City were favorites.
He also raised huge sums for Israeli organizations, especially the Weizmann Institute of Science. He traveled to Palestine in 1947 to report on the plight of Jewish displaced persons trying to flee the aftermath of the war. In Israel's Judean Mountains, the Irv Kupcinet Forest now grows on what was barren land before 1960.
Survivors include his son, Jerry, and two grandchildren.
Services are pending.
Kup and his wife Essee.
He was a Chicago legend...
If you want on the new list, FReepmail me. This IS a high-volume PING list...
That's how he described his television program, and the phrase has always stuck with me.
He was one of the good guys, cut from the same cloth as Len O'Connor, Studs Turkel, Herb Caen, and Mike Royko.
They don't make 'em like that any more, and I wish they still did.
1) Mayor Daley
2) Jack Brickhouse
Indeed. Probably already has a new version of the Pump Room's Table One for him to operate from...
And mine as well (with probably someone like Ray Rayner a distant fourth)...
I was born and raised in Gary; and my brother and his wife are living on the South Side now.
If it's in your blood, it's in your blood.
Welcome to FR.
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