News & Politics » Year In Review

Highlights of the Rich and/or Locally Famous

H.o.t.R.a/oL.F.

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We called a few of the people who make us really proud to be Chicagoans and asked what they considered the most memorable events of the year. Liz Nickles, coauthor of Girls in High Places (with charity-ball queen Sugar Rautbord--what would a year-end wrap-up be without that name in boldface type?) told us her high point was the month she'd just spent "on the run with Donna Rice, reconstructing the story and incidents" of her Hart-rending affair. It's the subject of Liz's next book. "I learned what it was like to become a media event," Nickles confided, "and for anyone who thought Rice churned up her own publicity, they're wrong." Nickles says "the story behind the story is much more interesting than people think. The information that's never come out is unbelievable." We asked her what she thought of the news that Mr. Hart is remounting his, uh, campaign. "Really repulsive."

It's been a great year for grocery-store minimagnate Bill Allen and his vegetables. In the last three months alone, Allen managed to open a new Treasure Island store and book Pia Zadora into his Gold Star Sardine Bar. Allen likes to cross-pollinate his stars, getting them involved with cook-offs at Treasure Island after they've performed at the nightclub. Although Pia didn't make it to the scheduled Italian cook-off, she was still the high point of his year, he says. He loved having to kick all the customers out of the club because Pia showed up with a 34-piece orchestra. "She missed the cook-off because she got all mixed up between the two shows and couldn't get out of the bar," he says. It can be awfully confusing.

This year, Billy Siegel reckons, "over a billion people on earth have read about Billy Siegel." Last spring, the owner of That Steak Joynt began advertising a free dinner to anyone who walked in carrying fresh divorce papers. (Fresh that day.) The Associated Press picked up on this dump-your-spouse, get-a-free-steak story and Siegel's name was worldwide. To date, over 500 unmarrieds have taken him up on his offer which includes dinner, champagne--"the full red-carpet service." The recently sprung are even encouraged to bring along new dates. Siegel says he got the idea while going through a divorce himself. "I thought, I'm going to turn this around. This city has been very good to me and I want to put something back into the community. Why I even had a guy fly in from Kansas recently. That makes me feel really good. It makes me feel I've really accomplished something. What I've done is taken a bad experience and turned it into a good one." Yeah! Let's hear it for broken marriages!

What this city really needs is a journalist in outer space. If all goes right and she hits her one chance in 40, our very own Joan Esposito may be the one blasted from terra firma when NASA gets its schedule together sometime in 1988. The Channel Seven anchor/reporter has survived three cuts so far--she was originally one of 1,703 applicants for the journalist in Space Program--and the news that she has a shot at covering Chicago from someplace other than a suburb was this year's cosmic surprise. "I'm one of eight from the midwest region who's still in the running," says an excited Esposito, adding that Walter Cronkite is a finalist as well. For NASA, it'll be a case of having to separate the astronauts from the space cadets.

When it comes to Hair and polo, the first man who bolts to mind is Michael Butler. He is clearly one of the late 20th century's true renaissance men, an entrepreneur and land developer, an eligible Don Juan, the original producer of Hair, and, in polo circles, a team captain among men. Even Prince Charles came all the way from England to horse around with him at the Oak Brook Polo Club last year. So it's no wonder that Butler's greatest trauma of the year occurred when his main polo field flooded in August. "We were the ones hardest hit in that part of the world," he laments. "Our international polo field was eight feet underwater--a major, major catastrophe for us." What's the matter, Mike, you never heard of water polo?

It's said that Channel Five anchor Mary Laney lives and breathes by the words of Irene Hughes. So do a lot of other people--particularly those at City Hall, according to the Michigan Avenue astrologer. For Hughes, 1987 has been a banner year for bummer predictions: she says she was right on the mark predicting the stock market crash and the death of Harold Washington. "I told his campaign manager in April that the mayor wouldn't live a year." According to Hughes, the angel of death will descend on city government sometime again soon--"at the end of February." On the lighter side, Hughes says "Chicago is under siege by the planets and tremendous changes are about to take place in government." Oh yeah, and by the way, Hughes predicts "Chicago will be the second most beautiful city in the world by the end of the 80s." The question is, will that depend on who dies in February?

The Heartland's very own reincarnation of Hedda Hopper, aka Kathy O'Malley, slinger of invective and Our Lady of INC., looks back on 1987 as a year of particular poignance. When asked what event was most meaningful, the Tribune's rapier-tongued baroness of blasphemy gushed: "Most meaningful to me personally was that Sandy Duncan finally took her rightful place in entertainment, replacing Valerie Harper as the mother on Valerie's Family. Even Barry Manilow's moving autobiography and Alan Thicke's nose job paled in comparison." Ouch, damn INC. spot.

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