Something weird seems to happen whenever my friend Dino comes to town. Last week it was the Harvards and Marshall Field.
Dino is a lawyer in McCook, Nebraska, and he periodically gets here on business, although I've never understood why.
"Dino," I asked him last Friday, after he had completed his business and we were having a couple of beers, "what the hell business is there in McCook, Nebraska, that could possibly bring you to Chicago all the time?"
"Big business," said Dino without elaboration.
"Big business, my ass," I said. "I've been to McCook, Nebraska. It's right next to Guatemala. There's nothing there but a V.F.W. post and Mert's service station."
"How about the restaurant downtown that has the neon sign that says EATS?"
"What about it?"
"Well, EATS is one of the biggest restaurant chains in the country, and I represent them."
Then Dino changed the subject. He wanted to go immediately to the Ambassador Hotel. Dino is a bit impetuous and that is what usually leads to something weird happening, at least when I am with him in Chicago.
We quickly jumped into a cab, which is something I do when Dino is in town on big business because he charges it off, apparently to the EATS restaurant in McCook, Nebraska.
I had assumed that Dino wanted to go to the Pump Room in the Ambassador East Hotel, which has a nice bar where girls often sit without companions, but Dino wanted to go to the Ambassador West Hotel, where there was a reception going on for the president of Harvard University, the place where Dino went to law school.
"Don't tell me you've become an active alumnus," I said. That would have surprised me, because Dino never even talked about Harvard. He claimed the only reason he went there was because he had some time left on his G.I. bill and wanted to watch Carl Yastrzemski play baseball. Carl Yastrzemski is a great hitter with the Boston Red Sox and Dino is a great baseball fan.
"Nah, I don't give a shirt about that," said Dino. "But maybe we can pick up a couple of Radcliffe broads at this reception. I like them. You know, with their snobbish accents and dishwater blond hair and outdoor bodies and no makeup. I never get a chance to see any of them in McCook."
It sounded fine to me, except when we got to the Octagon Room of the Ambassador West it was immediately apparent that all the Radcliffe women in the room were with companions. Besides, not many of them were under 50 and they were all wearing formal gowns.
"Dino, I'm not interested in trying to steal some 60-year-old broad away from her rich husband. Where are all those blonds with the hard bodies?"
"I guess they ain't here," said Dino. "But we might as well say hello to the prez."
He then strode over to Derek Bok, the president of Harvard, and shook hands. Bok and several Harvard faculty members were in town for an all-day series of speeches and panel discussions called "Harvard Is Coming for a Dialogue With Chicago." It's kind of a fund-raising show they take from city to city. This reception was sponsored by the Harvard Club of Chicago, which was also holding its annual dinner afterwards.
While Dino was shaking hands with Derek Bok, I looked around the room. The reception was breaking up and most of the people were beginning to drift into the Guidehall for dinner. Mayor Michael Bilandic was near Bok and Dino shook hands with him, too. A. Robert Abboud of the First National Bank, stocky and solid looking, was walking past as Dino came back from shooting the breeze with the Mayor. Over Dino's shoulder I could see James Hoge, the cold-eyed editor-in-chief of the Field papers, and, nearby, Marshall Field himself.
"Hey, Dino, see that guy over there? You know who he is?"
"The guy with only one eyebrow?" Dino asked. Marshall Field has deep-set eyes and black brows that are not separated at the nose like most people's. "No. Who is he."
"That's Marshall Field."
"Oh, that's right," said Dino. "I recognize him now. He's the guy they're giving the award to tonight."
"What award?" I asked. Dino knew all the things the Harvards were doing on that Friday because he was staying at the Ambassador East and had seen the whole program posted that morning.
"The Man of the Year Award from the Harvard Club of Chicago."
"No shit?" I began to laugh. I wasn't laughing so much because the Harvard Club of Chicago was giving their Man of the Year Award to Marshall Field. Somebody's always giving him an award. It's a good way for people who give awards to get their names in the Sun-Times and Daily News. I was laughing because Marshall Field was accepting it. Here he was all dressed up in his tailored tuxedo, ready to accept the Man of the Year Award eight days before the Daily News was going out of business. The whole thing seemed to lack, if not grace, at least a certain sensitivity; it seemed to express a kind of haughty attitude that went out of style in the 19th century.
"If Marshall Field gets the Man of the Year Award," I asked Dino, "who gets the Fuck-up of the Year Award? Mike Royko?"
"Sometimes the world seems upside down," said Dino. "After General Westmoreland had completely failed in Vietnam, Lyndon Johnson made him chief of staff of the entire U.S. Army. Let's go over to the Pump Room and get a drink."At the bar Dino recognized a girl named Alicia whom he had known when both of them were undergraduates at Northwestern. Alicia was thin, tall, dark-haired, and very pretty. She grew up in Lake Forest, although she's married now and doesn't live there anymore.
"Do you know Marshall Field?" Dino asked her. "My friend here is a great admirer of his."
"As a matter of fact," she said, "I went out with him a couple of times while we were in high school."
"Did he go to Lake Forest Academy?"
"No, he went to one of the prep schools out east. This was during the summer and someone fixed us up on a blind date."
"What was he like?"
"Just kind of a nerd. All I really remember is that he only had one eyebrow. You kept wanting to reach over with a razor and shave the bridge of his nose."
"What did you do?"
"I really don't remember. There was nothing memorable about it. Once, I think, we went to a drive-in in North Chicago, a pretty seedy place. I think he sent me flowers after one date."
Alicia was with her husband, a former feature writer at the Sun-Times, and he said that Field's dynamism didn't seem to have increased much through the years.
"Once I got on an elevator to go down to the second floor to the cafeteria and Field was on the elevator," he said. "It was one of two times I saw him in the nine years I worked there. He was going to the cafeteria, too, and we stood next to each other in line. The food in the cafeteria was really lousy so I said to Field, 'It would be nice if they did something about getting some decent food in here, wouldn't it?'
"He looked and me and smiled and said, 'Yes, it sure would.' He said it like he had no control over it, as if all that stuff was beyond him. For Christ's sake, he owned the building. I guess I was thinking he might be like one of those tough generals who keeps in touch with his men in the field and asks them how the chow is and does something about it if they complain. But he's not like that. He's a Pentagon type if there ever was one."
There was the military metaphor again. Dino had compared Field to Westmoreland, but he should probably be compared to Lyndon Johnson. The man who should be compared to Westmoreland is Hoge, whom Field made boss of the Daily News about a year ago. He was given a lot of money to improve the paper and its circulation, did just the opposite, and has been rewarded by being given more power than ever, this time at the expanded Sun-Times.
Somehow keeping Hoge as the big boss makes it look as if everything that could possibly have been done to save the Daily News had been done. If Marshall Field fired Hoge it would indicate that Field selected, over the vast talent available at the Daily News, an incompetent editor to run things. That, in turn, would make Field look like an incompetent publisher.
So Hoge stays, while more capable subordinates are laid off, and Field stays, too. Unlike Lyndon Johnson, who finally quit when he knew the war had done him in, Marshall Field doesn't have to face reelection by his employees. If he did, he would probably lose.
Back at the Guildhall more than 300 people sat at 38 round tables in front of a long speakers' table. Vern Miller, class of 1942 and president of the Harvard Club of Chicago, said the club's goal has always been "to send the cream of Chicago students, the intellectual elite, back to Harvard." No doubt that is true, but somehow it does not completely explain how Marshall Field V, class of '63, got there.
In giving the Man of the Year Award to Marshall Field, great emphasis was placed on the fact that the Field Foundation gives a lot of money away and that Marshall Field, by being on the board of directors of such things as the Field Museum, is unselfish with his time and a real asset to the community.
Christopher Janus, class of '36, was the man who gave Field his award. Janus said, "I know of no family or person who deserves it more than you."
In his thank-you speech, Field, a short, slight man with a high voice, noted that his father had died young.
"I had responsibility thrust on me at an early age," he said. "I can't remember at just what age that was—24 or 25 or 26."
The fact that Marshall Field can't remember how old he was when his father died—it was only 13 years ago—may provide some insight as to why the affairs of the Daily News seem to have slipped away from him.
After Field's speech, Vern Miller, class of '42, read some telegrams of congratulations, including one from President Carter, who applauded Field on his "enormously successful publishing career."
"Well, presidents always have been gracious about sending telegrams to losers," said Dino, LLB '66.
The next speaker was Michael Bilandic, and instinctively I lurched for the door. All the diners stayed in their seats, however, which says something for the discipline of a Harvard education.
Dino and I ducked out and went to the Billy Goat Tavern, where a couple of Daily News guys were sitting at the bar. One of them, a copy reader and a former merchant seaman, was saying, "You know, when a ship runs aground there is an inquiry and almost invariably the captain is relieved of his command. But when they run a newspaper into the ground, they keep the commanding officer and throw the crew overboard."
We told them that we had just come from the Harvard Club dinner, where Marshall Field had just been given the Man of the Year Award.
"That's some club," said the other Daily News guy, a news editor. "In 1973 they gave that award to Harold Grumhaus, the publisher of the Tribune and the old Chicago Today. The next year Today folded. It looks like all you have to do to get an award from the Harvard Club is fold a newspaper."