The Chicago Tribune Tower: when WGN had it's early telethons

The Chicago Tribune Tower: when WGN had it's early telethons

I recently visited the Chicago Tribune Tower to have lunch with the community manager of the Chicagonow blog site. This was my first meeting with him.  After chatting about family, friends and the blog site I mentioned the early telethons hosted by WGN-TV when they were located in the Tribune Tower. He asked me to write about my memories of that telethon hosted in 1951 in the Nathan Hale Court. So here is what my memory as a 19 year old remembers.

The telethon was being held by the City of Hope and my brother Robert Dachman was the Executive Director at that time. (several years later be was hired by the Little City Foundation where he remained for 38 years as the Executive Director).

It was Hollywood and Vine for one night. Rock Hudson and Barbara Rush were there promoting their latest film. I remember Celeste Holm being more beautiful in person than on film. Now imagine this talent in one room in the early days of telethons. Eartha Kitt (later her role has Catwoman made her even more famous) and Denise Darcell of French film fame. The emcees of the evening were Jack Carson and Mickey Rooney and that is a story all by itself.

I was aced to stand in the area outside the theater to direct any celebrities s who couldn’t find their way. Well here walks in two men with wrinkled clothes, fedoras that appeared they slept in and no shave. They were both shy, believe it or not. When they walked up to me to request where they should go I recognized them. Carson was a film favorite in the 1940’s, 1950’s and in the 60’s and Mickey Rooney...well what I can say it was Mickey Rooney.

So off they went to the dressing room to shave, change into their tux's and shiny shoes. When they walked onto their stage; wow, what a transformation! I had never seen either of them out of character but once on stage they became the film stars they were.

Now the telethon was televised in black and white, the telephones were all local numbers with no 800 numbers at that time. And no credit cards for immediate donation. This is what transpired. You called in your pledge same as they to today in 2013 and a pledge form would be mailed to us requesting you mail in your money. Now, believe it or not most people paid in cash directly to the City of Hope offices. They had policemen assigned to their offices to prevent any possible problems. Now I don’t remember how much they raised but it was a substantial sum for that period of time.

This is what my memory recollects of that time. There were more stars coming and going all night but I finally went home around midnight when, as they say, the party was just getting started.

What I do remember is a 19 year old being in awe of all the stars assembled to do what they could to raise funds.

Jimmy G. this one is for you.

This memory lights the corners of my mind and I hope yours too…

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  • The only thing I remember about the Tribune Tower era is about 8 years later where there was a warehouse fire at Hubbard and Rush, and WGN stayed with it all day, apparently because it was across the street. Especially scary was when the FD brought in a crane with a "frost ball" to knock holes into the wall.

    Now, of course, all you get is Dean Richards and the bizarre stop action camera on the people at the phone bank.

  • In reply to jack:

    Thanks for your comment. . your experience adds to our collective memory of the Tower

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