Welcome to the Camellia House!

In my last blog I talked about The Drake Hotel where my mother worked as a hostess at the Camellia House, for her “a dream come true.”  She seated the likes of Clark Gable, Greta Carbo, Harold Lloyd and Joan Blondell.

Now welcome to the Camellia House, where I will be holding the book launch for Examined Lives on October 10th, World Mental Health Day, between 7 and 8:30. Fittingly enough there will be champagne and various savories and desserts.  Dress as you like, but this is your chance to dress to the 9’s if you so choose.

Please feel free to share this with family, significant others and friends.  For more information and to be placed on my contact list, they can use the contact form below or go to my blog at www.examininglives.com.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Drake Hotel

 

The Drake Hotel, named after John B. Drake and Tracey Corey Drake, the two brothers who built it on property purchased from Potter Palmer, opened its door on New Year’s Eve, 1920 to a party of some 2,000 of Chicago’s most distinguished citizens.  Standing at Lake Shore Drive and the north end of the Magnificent Mile, it formed a transition from the exclusive Gold Coast neighborhood and the nascent commercial district that eventually grew up around it and for which it set the tone.  It was one of the hotel bookends owned by the Drake brothers, the other being the Blackstone Hotel at the south end of the Magnificent Mile.

From the beginning it was the haunt of the powerful and famous.  A list of visitors would be a who’s who of the 20thcentury, including movie stars and heads of state.  Famously, the newlyweds Marilyn Monroe and Joe DiMaggio carved their initials, still preserved, on the bar of the Cape Cod Room.

It was and still is known for its Afternoon Teas in the elegant Palm Court (see pix above) and has its own special blend of tea for the occasion.

The Camellia House, where my mother served as hostess, seating the likes of Clark Gable and Greta Garbo, opened around 1940.  It is a relatively small room with an even smaller private dining room to one side, and a small stage where the likes of Frank Sinatra sang.  It has floor to ceiling mirrored pillars and large, crystal chandeliers.  It was designed by the famous Dorothy Draper, who managed to develop a thriving business after her husband ran off with another women the week of the Wall Street Crash.  Her specialty, which other interior designers had shied away from, was turning the public spaces of resort hotels from bland areas to walk through to luxurious surroundings to linger in.  Her dictum, reflecting her confidence was, “If it looks right, it is right.”

The entrance to the Camellia House up two short staircases directly opposite the front door.  There is a balcony area, now closed off, behind a clock where the paparazzi would congregate to take pictures of the celebrities making their way to dinner.

There is now Camellia Room where tea is served at Christmas, but that is not the real Camellia House.  That room, however, still exists, now called The Drake Room but alas they no longer serve dinner there!

 

Here We Go!

Although Examined Lives is not yet on the digital market or on bookshelves, I am starting my efforts to get the word out.  My first event will be a reading and discussion at Woman Made Gallery, described in the release below.  Just click on the link.  I hope that those of you in Chicago can attend.

I welcome any suggestions about further opportunities to make my voice heard.  The book offers so many possible angles:  the glamour of my mother’s life in 1930’s Chicago, a no-holds-barred look at mental illness, the hopeful message that it can be faced and overcome, a cautionary tale about embracing medical practices based on hype and  little data as well as about the responsibility one has for making medical decisions for someone else.

WMG Talk

 

 

Walter Freeman and Me

As the time comes ever nearer for the publication of Examined Lives, I am still trying to understand the man who performed a lobotomy on my mother. I never met Walter Freeman, the man who was the very public face of lobotomies as cures for mental illness in the mid-20thcentury and at whose own reckoning performed some 3,500 such operations.  The photo below of his performing a lobotomy, without mask or gloves, in front of curious bystanders was one of his publicity stunts.  The procedure he used extensively, as depicted, involved hammering an ice pick-like device through the eye socket and wiggling it back and forth to severe connections between the frontal lobes and the rest of the brain.

MOHAI, Seattle Post-Intelligencer Collection, 1986.5.25616

Freeman performed that operation on my mother in 1950.  He saw her for the first time on a Friday, pronounced her a paranoid schizophrenic, and did the procedure the following Monday.  The man wasted no time.

The operation drastically changed my mother’s life and so my own.  Her diary and scrapbooks reveal her to have been a vivacious, competent woman.  She came to Chicago on her 20th birthday and began her rise in the hospitality industry, starting with serving at the lunch counter at a busy Walgreen’s Drugstore at Rush and Oak Streets, where she ended up supervising 12 other waitresses, to serving as room captain at the Camellia Room of the Drake Hotel, frequented by the likes of Greta Garbo and Clark Gable.  In her off hours she devoured the nightlife, visiting numerous clubs on any one night with a string of young swain, several of whom wanted to marry her. One was Jerry with whom she visited a night club and “afterward on the way home Jerry and I spied a baby buggy in an apartment house hall and we stole it and I rode down Rush Street in a baby buggy.  Fun. They took the buggy back though.”

After the lobotomy, her drive and “sparkle,” as my aunt put it, was taken from her and in fact she ended up being “adjudged insane” and institutionalized for a period of time.

What led to her having the lobotomy?  That is the story I tell in my book Examined Lives, based on thousands of pages of family letters, diaries, scrapbooks, medical records, an unpublished novel, poetry, and photographs.  And, yes of course, on the writings of Walter Freeman.