Some stories about people relating to the "Chez Paree"

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Columnist Irv Kupcinet died on November 11, 2003.


Irv 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.

'Mr. Chicago'

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 Thomas, 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, they’’d 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, Kup’’s 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 NBC’’s ""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 Kup’’s 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 coach’’s 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 Winchell’’s. 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.

""I’’d be there. I’’d 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 East’’s 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 Wednesday morning at 11 at Temple Sholom, 3480 N. Lake Shore. Interment follows at Memorial Park in Skokie.

Henry Busse Orch ]
b: May 19, 1894 Magdeburg, Gemany ; d: April 23, 1955 Memphis, TN (Coronary)
In Theme: "Hot Lips" (Columbia 2937-D, Decca 198)
Out Theme: "When Day Is Done" (Decca 774)

Busse's band had a long stay in Chicago's Chez Paree. In 1938, the band moved into the Hotel New Yorker sporting it's 'six-eight-time' shuffle rhythm beat. Henry remained active in the band business right up to the time of his death in 1955

Shecky Greene

The turning point of Shecky's career came in 1953 after he was signed to play the famed Chez Paree in Chicago as opening act for Ann Sothern. Those were the days when headliners like Joe E. Lewis, Sophie Tucker and Ted Lewis were mining gold in the fast-expanding Nevada gambling casinos. When the Golden Hotel in Reno offered over $1,000 a week, Shecky made a beeline for the Wild West. The owners tore up his four-week contract on opening night and made him a deal which insured him $20,000 a year.

Ruth Terry

It was during the early months of 1937 that talent scouts from 20th Century-Fox took an interest in Ruth, while she was performing in Miami. However, for some unknown reason, they chose not to approach the 16-year-old about a possible movie contract until she had left Florida and was already singing at her next engagement, the Chez Paree in Chicago, with Ted Lewis.

"We're not quite sure when Fox came forward with their initial offer," states John Ledbetter, Ruth's husband. "You see, Ruth's father was her agent. And we don't know if Fox had talked to him before Chicago or not. But Ruthie does know that when the talent scouts got to the Chez Paree and approached her dad about going to Hollywood for a screen test, he refused."  He said, "We're not going all the way to Hollywood to do a screen test. You've seen Ruth perform. If you want her, sign her. If you don't, she's happy doing what she's doing. " And she was. If you ask Ruth today what she liked best about her career, she'd say singing in front of a live audience."


[ Lou Breese Orch ], Trumpeter
b. Feb. 10, 1900, d. January 1969
Theme Song: "Breezing Along With the Breeze".
Breeses' was perhaps the king of Theater orchestras. Gaining a great background in theater bands in the late 20's, he developed trumpet skills and a knack for leading a band. He concentrated most of his career in the Chicago area, playing with Bert Lown and Paul Specht before he formed his own group in 1936. Lou's 1936 orchestra was way ahead of the times in that he featured a 'wood-wind' section. After his band, Lou went on to become the Chez Paree's (Chicago) stage show producer.

With the larger audiences at the Chez Paree Night Club, Breese took over Bob Baker's band in the summer of 1939. The Baker band was formerly Henry Busse's Chicago Band and even after Breese fronted the band, the sidemen and style was much the same.

Throughout most of the 1940's the Breese band once again covered the theater circuit around Chicago. Among his Decca recordings were: "Swamp Fire", "Humpty Dumpty Heart", "Chiquita and Sweetheart", "Wait For Me".

"The international icon of the big band era," Paul Levi Specht once played clarinet for the Breese band. The band also saw the likes of trumpeter and later Chicago area bandleader, Leon Ruby and tenor saxophonist Vince Micko.
Above notes supplied by Mr. Dan DelFiorentino

Keely Smith

Keely on Swingin' Pretty: "You know what we did in Swinging Pretty? We recorded in Chicago actually, because we were working the Chez Paree, so Nelson came to Chicago. And Louis included our small group into Nelson's big band."

Joey Bishop

After becoming successful as a nightclub performer, Joey Bishop was given a nickname that he hated while working for Chez Paree, the biggest nightclub in Chicago in the 1940s. The comedian's nickname was "The Frown Prince of Comedy," for his world-weary demeanor.

Ralph Stuart Emanuel Donner was born on February 10th 1943 in the Norwood Park area of Chicago, Illinois

While performing at Club Hollywood on January 20 the group was spotted by a television producer who signed them up for "Time For Teens" a proposed live TV show to be broadcast from Chicago's famous Chez Paree on weekends. The show was hosted by America's oldest teenager - Stan Howard. Ral's first appearance was on Sunday afternoon February 9, 1958 (the eve of his 15th birthday) and afterwards the group played every Sunday afternoon for eight weeks until March 30 to a full house, all-teenage audience performing current hits such as "Wear My Ring Around Your Neck". Ral gained quite a following and after the March 16th performance he needed a police guard of three on his dressing room door to keep out overly exuberant fans. A "trial" recording for TV was made on this date and the tape sent to New York. Ral's performances were enhanced by the beautiful backup vocal work of a black quartet called "The Medallionaires". They sounded like a very "soulful" version of The Jordanaires on ballads and added a fine blues touch on the up-tempo numbers. Together they brought the house down. Up to this point the show had not been televised as it was still in the proposal stage. The first "live" televised performance by Ral was on Sunday afternoon April 26 and another "live" televised performance featuring Ral was on June 21. Ral was becoming well known in the Chicago area and The Chicago Sun-Times helped by featuring him in their "Kup's Column". On March 12 "Kup's" had reported that Ral had been discovered by Sammy Davis Jr., on April 2nd another article was published and on April 24 it was reported that Ral would appear on the "Big Beat Rock'n'Roll Show" at the Chicago Opera House.

The Chez Paree night club drew the elite entertainers of the day such as Tony Bennett, Johnny Mathis and Sammy Davis Jr. Sometimes the headline performers would stop by "Time For Teens" to do a song or two. On the afternoon of March 2nd Sammy Davis dropped by. After Ral finished his last song Sammy went up on stage and paid him a great compliment, he said to the audience "That man is too much!". Later backstage he told Ral that he was great and that he hoped that Elvis would get to see him and that Elvis would really enjoy it. He also said that he would call Steve Allen and get him on the Allen TV show as well as inviting Ral and the band to appear with him on the evening floor show the following week. On March 9th Ral had played "Time For Teens" and was mobbed by over enthusiastic teens after the show and had to be rescued by police. Later the same day he played the evening show becoming possibly the youngest entertainer ever to appear on the Chez Paree stage. During the month of March Ral signed a contract with Chez Paree Artists Inc. by whom Ral would now be managed. Sammy Davis had also invited the band to appear with him, Redd Foxx, Fran Warren and Steve Allen at the Apollo Theater in Harlem, New York on April 11, 1958. Ral became one of the first white entertainers and possibly the youngest at age fifteen ever to play at the Apollo. Later Sammy told Ral, "Kid, that was quite a feat". A little more than two weeks later on April 26, 1958 Ral and the band were booked to appear on Alan Freed's "Big Beat Rock'n'Roll Show" when it played at the Chicago Civic Opera House. The show included The Diamonds, Chuck Berry, Buddy Holly and The Crickets and Jerry Lee Lewis. On August 4, 1958 Ral was presented with the grand prize given by the Al Dvorin Agency for winning the Harlem-Irving Plaza Chamber of Commerce talent contest. The Rockin' Five disbanded around the summer of 1958.

Ral's second group "Ral Donner and the Gents" was formed in the fall of 1959. The Gents were Jack Burke (guitar), Jimmy Rice (drums), Tom Miller and Earl Wenzel. Other musicians played with Ral over the years namely Earl Hensley (bass), Joe Madrid (keyboards) and Dan Pawlak (drums). Ral met all three during 1958/59 and they, together with Jack Burke, played for him throughout the years until the early 1980's - on the road as well as on some of the Chicago-based studio recordings. Ral and Jack were good friends - the two pals had attended Onahan Grammar School together prior to Taft High. Another student at Taft High from 1956 to 1960 was Jim Jacobs. When Jim wrote the musical "Grease" he based it on his alma mater Taft High. The name of the school was changed to Rydell High as were the names of the real life people upon which Jim based his characters. In the movie the teen rock 'n' roll idol Johnny Casino (played by a member of the group Sha Na Na) is actually a portrayal of Ral Donner! Ral was influenced by several artists. There was always music playing at the Donner household. The most influential artists were Al Jolson, Bing Crosby, Russ Columbo, Frank Sinatra, Perry Como and Dean Martin. Ral's brother Ron collected Bing Crosby records and young Ral collected Frank Sinatra. In later years Ral would include the Bee Gees as one of his favorite acts while still appreciating Frank Sinatra. Ral was also influenced by early black groups such as "The Ink Spots", "The Platters", "Lee Andrews and the Hearts", "The Five Satins", "Harvey and the Moonglows", "The Flamingos" and "Shep and the Limelites". Ral wore out the vinyl on Dion's "Where Or When" and "That's My Desire" as well as "Church Bells May Ring" by the Diamonds. Another strong influence was the deep velvet sounds of Jerry Butler, a fellow Chicagoan. The greatest influence of all was one Elvis Presley. Ral idolized Elvis and had all his records. When Elvis made his initial appearance in Chicago at the International Amphitheater in 1957 fourteen year old Ral was in attendance. Ral would forever remember the incredible excitement that Elvis generated that night.

In the summer of 1958 Ral ran into problems with local management at the Chez Paree. Ral's sister Joyce was married and living in Florida so on August 8th Ral headed south to stay with her. On August 15 just seven days after his arrival in Florida Ral was invited to appear on the Andy Wilson TV Show. Although the format of the show was Country and Western, Ral sang Rock'n'Roll and was well received. The next day Ral auditioned for the "Five Owls TV Show" (another Country and Western style program) and he was asked to perform on their afternoon radio show that day (Saturday) and to come back on Wednesday night to appear on the television show. Ral was offered a steady job on the TV show where he made a total of four appearances (the first on August 20 1958, two in March 1959 and the last on April 23 1959). August 1958 also saw Ral make his 2nd appearance on Andy Wilson TV Show on the 29th and an appearance on "Channel Nine Bandstand" TV Show in Orlando on the 30th. September saw Ral making numerous appearances in the Orlando area.

Las Vegas Review Journal, Tuesday January 16th 1973

Halper, David, 68, of 358 Desert Inn Road, died Sunday at a local hospital. Resident 11 years. Gaming executive. Survivors: Wife, Louise; daughter, Deborah; both of Las Vegas; brother, Max and sister, Jean Wolf, both of Chicago. Services 3pm Tuesday at Palm Chapel with Cantor Joseph Kohn officiating. Burial in Woodlawn Cemetery. Palm Mortuary.

Las Vegas Review Journal, November 6th 1976

Halper, Louise, 65, died Thursday at a local hospital. Resident 15 years. Homemaker. Survivors daughter, Deborah of Las Vegas. Services 1pm Sunday at Palm Chapel.

Then on the same day that David's obituary was listed, there was this article:

Services Conducted Here For Hotelman Halper

Funeral services were at 3pm Tuesday at Palm Mortuary for Dave Halper, casino executive at the Rivera Hotel for the past 12 years who died Sunday night.
Federal Judge Abe Marovitz of Chicago delivered the eulogy. Cantor Joseph Kohn of Temple Beth Shalom officiated. Burial was in Woodlawn Cemetery.

Halper, 68, was former owner of Chez Paree nightclub in Chicago and an intimate of show business and sports figures ranging from Bob Hope and Jimmy Durante to Joe E Lewis and the Chicago Bears.

When Halper suffered a heart attack a month ago, the first people to call with get-well wishes were Bob and Dolores Hope, friends of 40 years standing, a Riviera spokesman said.

The Hopes, who adopted their four children in Chicago, made it a point to spend their first night with an adopted child in the Halper home, he added.


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