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Mystery Host

May 2024
2min read

From 1929 to 1933 I danced with a traveling stage company for Fanchon and Marco, well-known producers of the day. On June 9, 1931, we opened at the Capitol Theater in Chicago. That afternoon Felix, one of the chorus, burst into the dressing room to tell us we were invited to dinner and a big party at the Lexington Hotel. She said, “There’ll be talent scouts there. Girls from all the big shows are invited!”

When I arrived at the Lexington with my dancing partner, Eve, we discovered an entire floor had been taken over for this party. The men wore tuxedos and most of the women were dressed in formais. Our “best” dresses were not ankle length.

Yet with all this formality something felt strange from the moment we stepped into a room where a band was playing. For one thing, no one seemed to know who our host was. The men appeared to know one another well and kept up a shouting dialogue that we didn’t understand.

“Hey, Al, who’s your bootlegger?”

This remark, called out to a short dark-haired man who was dancing, brought a roar of laughter. The room, blue with cigarette smoke, smelled of bootleg gin, and it didn’t take long for us to decide it was not our kind of party. We managed to escape as the caterers came up in the elevator, wheeling tables of everything from caviar to caramel custards.

That was when we made the mistake. We decided to spend our “taxi fare” for dinner at Lindy’s and then walk back to the hotel. We’d started across a wide, deserted bridge to the North Side when we heard a lot of noise beneath. Exchanging fear in a glance, we went to the edge and looked over. A bonfire burned at the river bank, and the smell of frying bacon drifted up. Light from the fire revealed ragged men lying on bedrolls.

A man shouted, “Dames!”

We started to run.

“Say you—wait!” someone shouted.

Words were lost in the wind, but the sound of running feet was all too clear. It was difficult to run in spike heels, and I began to panic as the footsteps behind us grew louder.

Then came another shout, so close I heard the words “Stop in the name of the law!” A policeman lunged and caught each of us by an arm. I looked up into a bewildered Irish face and burst into tears of relief.

He studied our faces a moment. “Hey, where are you kids from? I thought I was rounding up a couple of prostitutes.” He insisted on walking us to our hotel to the tune of a severe lecture. Hadn’t we read about gang wars in Chicago? No one walked these streets at night.

I told La Guardia that if his speech didn’t run the full fifteen minutes, the organist would fill the time. The mayor smiled enigmatically.

The last remarks we exchanged that night were: “Wasn’t it a weird party?” and “I wonder who the host was?”

The questions were answered a few days later when Felix showed us an item in the Chicago Tribune : “Al Capone entertained in the Lexington Hotel on Saturday night, taking over the entire 6th floor. Among his guests, including Chicago showmen with their wives, were local show girls …”

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