Thursday, February 17, 2011

Kup's Statue

Back again on Tuesday. I should take "Presidents Day" seriously, after all. Maybe even call it Washington • Adams • Jefferson • Madison • Monroe • Adams • Jackson • Van Buren • Harrison • Tyler • Polk • Taylor • Fillmore • Pierce • Buchanan • Lincoln • Johnson • Grant • Hayes • Garfield • Arthur • Cleveland • Harrison • Cleveland • McKinley • Roosevelt • Taft • Wilson • Harding • Coolidge • Hoover • Roosevelt • Truman • Eisenhower • Kennedy • Johnson • Nixon • Ford • Carter • Reagan • Bush • Clinton • Bush • Obama Day, but that seems like a mouthful.

The winding double-decker Lower Wacker Drive in downtown Chicago is unlike any other road I know. Astonishingly, Lower Wacker even has its own Yelp page. I didn't know that roads had Yelp reviews, but come to think of it, there's no reason they couldn't. Lake Shore Drive has even more reviews. The category is "local flavor."

I ought to write at greater length about Lower Wacker someday, but I didn't go to there on Tuesday. Instead I spent a while on Upper Wacker, where I took a close look at this statue, which is near the intersection of Wabash and Wacker. The lighting wasn't ideal in mid-morning, but I managed a passable image.

It's Irv Kupcinet, of all people. The world's a large place, but I suspect he's one of the few 20th-century newspaper gossip columnists to become a life-sized bronze on a major metropolitan thoroughfare. Just a hunch. The statue's not that new, having been dedicated in 2006, but Wacker hasn't been a haunt of mine since before that, so this was my first good look at it.

"Kup," as he was known professionally, died at 91 years of age in 2003. Evidently some well-connected Chicagoans wanted, or at least approved of, a statue in his honor. Mayor Daley probably had to sign off on it more than anyone, and he has a quote praising Kup on a plaque on the plinth. Donors are listed below Daley, including some instantly recognizable wealthy Chicago families and a handful of corporations. It's good to see that the Sun-Times chipped in, since in his heyday Kup helped them sell a lot of papers. Preston Jackson, a professor of sculpture at the School of the Art Institute, did the sculpture, though the plaque omits that information.

An article called "The Lost World of Kup," published by Chicago Magazine not long after his death, noted that "at his peak, Kup was a celebrity news machine -- producing six columns a week, moderating a late-night TV talk show, delivering color commentary on radio for the Chicago Bears."

That would have been 50 or 60 years ago. But Kup's Column in the Sun-Times was around long after that, as recently as at the time of his death, when his assistant was actually writing the thing. I don't know anyone my age or younger who paid any attention to it.

By the end, according to Chicago Magazine, " 'Kup's Column' had long since lost its spark... the column survived for the last decade and a half as an echo of another time and another city. That city came alive in the dark. It sparkled with glamour and intrigue and featured Hollywood stars, powerful politicians, mobsters who 'owned the night,' as one woman put it, and grateful press agents who sent crates of loot to accommodating reporters. Kup's Chicago existed largely in a handful of smoky venues with evocative names like the Chez Paree, the London House, the Black Orchid, and Club Alabam..." The entire article is here.

Now the statue carries on a struggle against obscurity on behalf of Kup, as new generations mature who have never heard of him. He stands across the river from where the Sun-Times Building used to be (Trump is there now), holding a bronzed version of a newspaper, a dying medium, under his bronze arm.

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