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

 

 

The Surprises, Joyful and Sad, of Family Research

When I began writing Examined Lives about how my mother came to have a lobotomy by Walter Freeman and the ramifications for my own life, I did not know what I would find.  I had of course known my mother before she had her lobotomy (I was almost seven at the time) and afterwards.  I did not, however, have any idea of what she was like before my birth.  She rarely mentioned that period of her life.  So, discovering this was one of the surprises of my family research.  I found a mother I had never known.

This discovery was a joyful one.  I read carefully through all the scrapbooks, 5-year diary. photographs and books in which she wrote down poetry she loved including Dorothy Parker and Edna St. Vincent Milay.  These covered the time between her 15th birthday and her marriage at the age of 23.  The picture which emerged was of a vivacious, competent woman who devoured life.  In high school she had a bevy of friends, was totally boy crazy, briefly made money as part of a dancing team, participated in basketball and loved swimming and skating. She could be something of a scamp, making a nun at her parochial school angry. In her diary she comments: “Gee! I had fun but was she mad.” She told her diary that “I crave excitement.”

On coming to Chicago on her 20th birthday, she found her excitement. The first thing she and the friends who accompanied her did was take a speedboat ride on the Chicago River and the next day she got a job waitressing at a party for the prize fighter Jack Dempsey.  It was the beginning of her rise in the hospitality industry.  She took up residence and worked in the area around North Michigan, then as now a bustling, swanky place to be. She started out as a waitress at the lunch counter of the Walgreen’s Drug Store at Rush and Oak, which served breakfast, lunch and dinner and offered for dinner as drinks of choice domestic Port, Sherry or Muscatel Wine as well as fruit juice and chilled tomato juice.  This store served sometimes over a 1000 patrons a day. She soon became its night manager, then moved on to become the head receptionist at the Younkers Café on East Chicago where she managed 12 waitresses, including Ruth “a sad piece of humanity who was a streetwalker on the side.” Finally, she reached what she considered the pinnacle as room captain at the Camelia Room of the Drake Hotel frequented by the likes of Clark Gable and Greta Garbo.

Outside of work she enjoyed Chicago to the full, taking art classes at the American Academy of Art, having a bit part in a production of Richard Sheridan’s “School for Scandal,” and attending concerts and plays starring John Barrymore and Lillian Gish.  With various swains and friends, she took in the night clubs.  In just one night she visited the Dome of the Sherman, Rickett’s, Ye Old Cellar, Old Heidelburg, Adolfo’s, Augustino’s and the Blue Star. One evening she and a date spied an empty baby carriage in an apartment hall. They stole it, she got in and her date pushed her down Rush Street.

It was wonderful to meet this woman, my mother, who I had known as caring and kind, but not very sophisticated or interested in things like poetry.  Given what was to happen to her later in life, I am grateful that she had this period in which to shine.  It makes the lobotomy, however, all that much more dreadful and unwarranted.

Nevertheless, the saddest surprise for me in my research was the poem I found among my father’s possessions, clearly revealing his loss of love for my mother fairly early in their marriage, even before my birth.  It is a much worked over scrawl but with the beginning words clearly “I could adore her/but I abhor her.”  That discovery hit me in the stomach and eventually went on to explain much.