Uptown Chicago Resources

“Remembering the Edgewater Beach Hotel” by Adam Langer

Remembering the Edgewater Beach Hotel

Part 3

West Lounge at the Edgewater Beach Hotel.

West Lounge of the Edgewater Beach Hotel. Image courtesy CRCC collection.

Ruth Homeuth, line captain, Dorothy Hild Dancers:

It was like a reformatory. We used to wear uniforms and we were supposed to go to our rooms right after the show. We did get by with things, though. We had a little door on the side of the hotel that went through the garage where we would sneak out. Once in a while we used to catch Dorothy coming in the same time we did.

She had her good days and her bad days. Probably more bad than good. We all were able to sneak out when we weren’t supposed to. We managed somehow. It was a challenge. For not being able to go out with any of the employees, there were more marriages that came out of that place than you’d believe.

Betty Gray, organist:

I remember one Christmas show that Dorothy Hild put on. They’d have all different Christmas tunes with members of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra at dinner for the house guests. Dorothy Hild had the dancers put bells on their ankles and they would kick their feet and make a tune out of it like “Winter Wonderland” or “Jingle Bells.” Feet would be going up in the air to the tune of “Winter Wonderland.”

Ruth Homeuth, line captain, Dorothy Hild Dancers:

It wasn’t as glamorous as it looked. Some of our costumes were pretty out of sight. We always used to say that Dorothy had a nightmare and that’s what she would dream up for a costume. Huge head-pieces and stuff you could hardly walk in, very cumbersome. You’d get hot, but being on the lake there was a very nice breeze.

We had to cope with bugs. They were horrible. Plus we always had animals when we worked out there, elephants and all of those good kinds of things, and you had to cope with what they did on the floor. You’d have to step over it gracefully. But we got along very well. For a bunch of women, we did real fine.

The Sound of Music

Before he moved to Hollywood to work on such films as The Sound of Music, West Side Story, and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Chicago-born composer and conductor Irwin Kostal wrote orchestrations for the floor shows at the Edgewater Beach Hotel.

Irwin Kostal worked at the Edgewater Beach Hotel for a few years, writing orchestrations for the floor shows. At the time, he was also orchestrating the floor shows at the Latin Quarter, the Palmer House and the Chicago Theatre, and was doing arrangements for NBC. Eventually, he says, he was told by the musicians’ union to stop doing so many jobs, so he headed to New York, where he worked for Your Show of Shows and the Garry Moore Show and orchestrated Fiorello.

Then Kostal shifted to Hollywood, where he won an Academy Award for his arrangements for West Side Story and The Sound of Music. Currently, he teaches at the University of Southern California.

Irwin Kostal, arranger:

I had adapted a lot of pieces for Dmitri Tiomkin and Dorothy Hild always had great ideas for production numbers. We would do all kinds of music—Chinese music, Duke Ellington music. Sometimes the lights would go out and all you would see would be the radium-treated costumes; the girls would make like a Chinese pagoda design or a chariot of some kind and it would roll across the stage.

One time we were playing some music based on something by Dmitri Tiomkin for some sort of African picture he had done. We had a live tiger, a live elephant, and a few other things on the stage. And on Monday nights, when I conducted the orchestra to play the floor show, Dorothy Hild was always the choreographer.

What happened this time was I was conducting the music and everything was going along fine until, all of a sudden, there was pandemonium on-stage and I didn’t know what happened. The audience was hysterical. The whole stage had sort of fallen apart. Dorothy Hild was waving at me from the sidelines to keep playing, so I called out a bar number to the orchestra and we went back and played a little bit to the end again.

And finally the stage cleared and we went back and I asked her, “What happened?” She said, “We forgot to tell you. If the elephant shits, go back to the top.”

Beach Walk at the Edgewater Beach Hotel.

The Beach Walk at the Edgewater Beach Hotel. Image courtesy CRCC collection.

From the age of four to the time she was 13, Marilou Hedlund lived in the Edgewater Beach Hotel. The adopted child of elderly parents, Hedlund was one of only two children in the building. Later, she would become a Tribune reporter, a Chicago alderman, and the vice president of a Chicago public relations firm. Back then, she was one of the Edgewater regulars and she got to know Kay Thompson when the future author of Eloise was staying at the hotel and singing on the Beach Walk.

Marilou Hedlund, resident:

The entertainers were my friends and I used to love to go down and watch them rehearse. A lot of them were animal acts. There were some standard lines that I used to become friends with entertainers. I said, “My mother’s four foot eleven; she wears a size three-and-a-half shoe,” and that’s quoted in Eloise. So, Eloise is a composite of many hotel children that Kay Thompson knew in various places.

Eloise by Kay Thompson.

Author Kay Thompson found inspiration for her famous Eloise series from the hotel children she met while singing at the Edgewater Beach Hotel.

In the wintertime every year they had Sharkey the seal. Sharkey lived in a tank in a room just off the garage, and Sharkey was my good friend. I would feed him twice a day with the trainer present. There were a lot of magicians with rabbits and I used to get the rabbits when the rabbits got to be too big for the magicians’ hats.

Girls would ride in on camels and then they’d bring in horses and that sort of thing. So I got to ride elephants and camels and all that sort of thing when I was growing up. The circus troupe that came for three or four years had a girl who was a year older than I and she was tremendously skilled in trapeze stuff and she taught me some of that. It was wonderful and bizarre growing up.

I remember my mother was thrilled when I met Barbara Stanwyck and her husband. But I think the biggest thrill for me were the dressage horses.

Betty Gray, organist:

You want a list of the people who played there? Tommy Dorsey, Jimmy Dorsey, Russ Morgan, Vaughn Monroe, Freddy Martin, Wayne King, Rob Flanagan, Xavier Cugat, Liberace with his brother George, Henry Brandon, Johnny Long, Tex Beneke, Woody Herman, Guy Lombardo, Frankie Carle, Bill Snyder, Evelyn and her magic violin, Patti Page, Tony Bennett, Jack Cavan, Griff Williams, and Claude Thorndale.

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