Alderman Leon Despres and Mayor Richard J. Daley had parallel careers in Chicago city politics for twenty years. They were first elected to their respective positions in 1955. Despres won five elections and served twenty years; Daley won six elections and served twenty-one years. Yet the contrast between the two men couldn’t be starker.
Despres was liberal and sophisticated; Daley was parochial and coarse. Their politics reflected the neighborhoods they lived in, Despres’ integrated Hyde Park and Daley’s segregated Bridgeport. Daley gloried in the aura of being the most powerful political boss in the nation. Despres never wavered from his reformist principles. Dialog between them in the public forum was impossible, evidenced most blatantly by Daley shutting off Despres’ microphone as he spoke at City Council meetings.
The bookseller, Stuart Brent, had a profound influence on me in the 1950s. I watched his television show “Books and Brent” religiously on Sunday mornings. My parents didn’t have much of a library, so his show opened the doors of literature to me.
The format was simple. Mr. Brent simply talked about books and authors. Simply, though is not a good way to describe his expository skills. His presentations were elaborate, comprehensive and highly textured. He used words that I never heard before. I sat in front of the TV with a notepad writing them down. He used the word “apropos” frequently. I of course incorporated this word into my daily usage, earning strange stares from family members, teachers and classmates.
Sometimes I would accompany my mother downtown when she visited her doctor’s office on North Michigan Avenue. On the ground floor of the doctor’s building was Stuart Brent’s book store. While she was being examined, I perused the shelves and took in the sights and sounds of customers looking at and talking about books. Every now and then, I saw Mr. Brent, a short, animated man scurrying around the store, often with books in his hands.
Later on in life, I learned that Stuart Brent was Chicago’s celebrity bookseller. Anybody who was someone would stop by. Somebody once told me that Marilyn Monroe and Arthur Miller were seen there talking to the owner and buying a few books. But for me, Stuart Brent will most importantly be the person who ignited my lifetime passion of literature. And for that I am forever grateful to him.
I will be teaching a course on Chicago in the 1950s at the Oakton Community College Emeritus program in at the Skokie starting January 26. There is still time to enroll at http://www.oakton.edu/conted or you may call 847-982-9888. The 1950s was arguably the most transformative decade in the history of Chicago. Our class will delve into the significant cultural, political, economic and social changes which impacted the city at that time. Also, we will explore the breakthrough innovations emerging in the city during that decade which ultimately redefined the nation’s social fabric during the second half of the twentieth century. Thomas Dyja’s book, The Third Coast: When Chicago Built the American Dream, will be our major resource during this course. Classes will meet on six consecutive Tuesday mornings from 10 am until 11:30 am, ending on March 1.
I will be teaching two new classes in the upcoming 2014 Spring Session (although it really isn’t Spring) at the Oakton Community College’s noncredit Emeritus Program “for the student who wasn’t born yesterday.” The first class is “Midnight’s Children: A Closer Look” and will explore, in six Tuesday morning sessions (10-11:30 am), Salman Rushdie’s masterpiece that has been selected twice as “best of the Booker Prize winners.” The class begins on January 21 and ends on February 25. The other class offering is “Chicago in the 1950s” which delves into the significant cultural, political and social changes of the Second City in that mid-century decade. This class, also in six early afternoon sessions (12-1:30 pm) also begins on January 21 and ends on February 25. For full class descriptions and to register online (beginning Monday, November 18) go to http://www.oakton.edu/conted.