Uptown Chicago Resources

“Remembering the Edgewater Beach Hotel” by Adam Langer

Remembering the Edgewater Beach Hotel

Part 4

Louise Lindahl now is a booking agent but, from 1947 to 1951, she was Louise Summers and she sang in the Marine Dining Room and out on the Beach Walk. She played the off-nights, Mondays and Tuesdays, with Jack Cavan’s band.

Panoramic View of the Edgewater Beach Hotel Marine Dining Room.

Panoramic View of the Edgewater Beach Hotel Marine Dining Room. Image courtesy CRCC collection.

Louise Lindahl, singer:

The Marine Dining Room was one of the elegant spots in town and it was a performer’s dream. They had a stage and a dance floor and where the people sat was all tiered. I had two different things that I did. When you sing with a band you sing the current tunes and some of the old standards.

The band would swing into the chorus and I would swing into my key and I would get up and sing the song. Besides being a singer, I was a soprano, and I had an act with Italian street songs and the kinds of things Jeanette McDonald and Nelson Eddy would sing.

When I sang dance music, I always wore beautiful gowns and the men always wore beautiful tuxes. It was just very, very elegant. I sang Cole Porter—“So in Love.” I sang, “I Love You So Much It Hurts Me,” “Night and Day,” “Stardust” and “Temptation.” The same stuff that everyone else sang.

Betty Gray, organist:

Russ Morgan was a very fine musician with a strange background because he came from the coal mines of Pennsylvania and he was very rugged looking. He was rough and rugged and had a heart of gold. He was generous with his money. One Christmas, he gave war bonds to everyone he was acquainted with in the hotel.

He was very temperamental; he’d be in the floor show and he said, “I’m tired of having the orchestra give [the singers] background. Come down, Betty, and finish the show.” You just better know that number or else you’re in big trouble. We segued from orchestra to organ and back again all evening. One time he had a 19-piece orchestra and he made them change the key of the piece just to upset me so that I would come in on the wrong key.

He was doing something and I said “Something sounds a little strange.” I pressed one pedal on the organ and he looked over to me and said, “What are you doing? Checking me out?” His ear was that good that he could pick out one little pedal out of 19 musicians.

Cocktail glass and stirrer from the Edgewater Beach Hotel.

Cocktail glass and stirrer from the Edgewater Beach Hotel. CRCC collection.

Les Waverly, bandleader:

Jack Cavan was a trumpet player and quite a character. Eventually he became almost a bum. And he was driving a cab out in Vegas and I guess he drank himself to death—and you hated to see that happen to a guy like Jack who was so nice and talented. He’d do crazy things. Yet, as fast as he’d goof on one thing, he’d do three more things right.

He was sort of a portly gentleman and he’d put on a nice white coat and, after five minutes, it looked like he’d slept in it. He had problems with some of the music, but until he left it didn’t affect his ability to get more work.

Betty Gray, organist:

During the war period, we were packed there every night. Mr. Dewey used to have people from the war every Saturday night. So one Saturday night it would be soldiers and the next sailors and they would be entertained in the Marine Dining Room for the whole evening.

It was just so unbelievably popular, filled to capacity almost every night. It got so smoke-filled. The only thing during the war was you had to be careful what you played. You couldn’t play numbers like “Japanese Sandman.” You had to be careful not to provoke any criticism.

Romeo Meltz, bandleader:

At that time, they had quite a few ballrooms in Chicago that they called “over 30” for people over 30. Those were places that wouldn’t hang you by your thumbs if you were over 30. Most of the people who came there were in their 60s and 70s. And the guys would tell their wives they were out playing cards or bowling with the guys and they were dancing with gals who told their husbands that they were out with their girl friends and knitting clubs. But they loved to dance. And you had the Aragon and the Trianon and all that in those years.

View from the Edgewater Beach Hotel.

Remember when Sheridan Road was a quiet tree-lined street graced with lovely mansions? The view from the top of the Edgewater Beach hotel was green and peaceful. Image courtesy CRCC collection.

Betty Gray, organist:

One evening there was a group at the ringside table and there was one gentleman who was just recovering from a massive heart attack and he mentioned to one of the guests that he would like her to dance with him around the floor. Just around the floor for a little bit over to the organist, because he wanted to ask me for a request or something.

She said, “You are just getting over a heart attack; you should not be dancing.” He said, “I’m gonna do it.” They danced from there across the floor and he dropped dead right in front of the organ.

Marilou Hedlund, resident:

Usually, when there was a big show, we would have a table for one night. Just once a show. But that wasn’t nearly as interesting as being behind the band shell or up in the wings. I don’t remember getting all dressed up and watching the floor show. It was a lot more fun to be watching in play clothes from the wings.

And the ballrooms were wonderful. Part of the joy of that hotel was the vast amount of interesting space to explore. It would be fun to go there when they were setting up the ballrooms and hide out and watch them. There were lots of secret passages and you’d go down after the events and pick through the debris to find treasures. Kids have different treasures than grown-ups. What grown-ups throw away can be a treasure for a kid.

Betty Gray, organist:

One night at the hotel, three bellhops decided they were going to find out what Liberace did after his shows to entertain himself. They followed him all night. They followed him to a place where he had a bite to eat. Then they landed down in the Loop and what do you suppose they saw him doing? What do you suppose the wild evening he had was? He went to a midnight show on Clark Street. Nothing too fascinating.

Xavier Cugat.

Ever the ladies’ man, Catalan-Cuban bandleader Xavier Cugat was a frequent performer at the Edgewater Beach Hotel. CRCC collection.

They had an exciting time there. Xavier Cugat was exciting because whenever he was there he had trouble with the ladies. They crashed down the door and Abbe Lane appeared nude there. The little, elderly, wealthy ladies who lived in the hotel—and there were a lot of them—they very rarely came into the dining room to eat. They were very conservative. But the next night they were all there to see what excitement had happened the night before that made the Chicago Tribune. Cugat told me one time. “I don’t care what kind of publicity I get as long as it’s publicity. All publicity in my way of thinking is good."

He once asked me to go on a tour of Europe with him. My husband said, “No, thank you. Not for you.” I didn’t go, but Cugat’s band was always an unusual group of men. He had an albino because he had an interesting look, a black drummer who was dynamic and used to throw his sticks in the air every once in a while when he got aggravated and the sticks would break. It was an unusual group and I just loved it.

Louise Lindahl, singer:

We had a big laugh about it. I went to work one Monday and all of the waiters and waitresses couldn’t wait to tell me how Abbe Lane was found in Xavier Cugat’s room. Today, they’d probably put that on television. But in those days it was a no-no. My, that was something. It was such a scandal to find a girl singer in bed with the band-leader.

Betty Gray, organist:

One time Xavier Cugat wanted audience participation at the end of the show. He would have a couple of the claves players come down and they’d be at the front of the stage. And Abbe Lane and he would ask for someone to come up to participate in Latin dancing, like the mambo or the rhumba or whatever. And he’d ask these people to come up.

The funny thing was that Abbe Lane, who was much younger [33 years, in fact], had all these sharp-looking, sometimes Latin, very sexy men come up to dance with her. Cugat, being older, always got these matronly, heavy women. And it just floored him. He did it for a few weeks and then he quit because he was horrified at the type of women he drew. He thought he’d get girls like Abbe Lane and he didn’t. It didn’t flatter him at all.

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