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The year in Chicago history via the pages of the Reader


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Happy New Year. And what a year 2011 will be—the year Mayor Richard M. Daley steps down and Chicago joins the mature democracies of the world where power is peacefully relinquished. It seems like yesterday, but it was 40 years ago when Mayor Richard J. Daley decided he would run for reelection —to the position he'd already held since 1955. Since powers that be value nothing so much as continuity, the dailies endorsed him.

I'm not saying there was a direct causation, but Chicago clearly needed more than it was getting from its journalism, and later that same year a group of friends launched the Reader. Their idea was to bring under one roof a young generation of Chicagoans whose political skepticism and cultural audacity had put them dangerously out ahead of the rest of the city, and then beckon to the advertisers who wanted to talk to them. The idea worked.

This is a time of change at the Reader, as it is at City Hall. As we go forward I've been asked to look back, and to celebrate this paper's 40 years by providing a weekly example of where we've been and who we are. I begin this week with 1971.

—Michael Miner, senior editor

[Cover of the first issue of the Chicago Reader: Volume One, Number One]

October 1, 1971

When the Reader was very young, so was off-Loop theater in Chicago. We grew up together. This excerpt, by "J. Leland," is taken from the theater review in the Reader's first issue, published October 1, 1971.

‘Theatrics’ without Theater

As I walked through the entry way of the Kingston Mines Theater to a late night performance of Whores of Babylon, I found in reading the various enlarged reprints of articles and reviews of the production posted on the walls that (oh no!) I was in for an "experience in pure theater," a "poly-scenic orchestration of various leitmotifs" involving the "problematic character of sex" and the rituals surrounding it. I groaned. I had come anticipating, hoping for at least, an evening of good, funny, erotic camp – some laughs, some skin, a virtuoso female impersonation or two, a la the Cockettes, and, if not a lavish production certainly an unpretentious one . . .

But no, I was about to come face to face with "pure theater," [a term that usually means] the mere fact of all those 'Wild,' 'Sensational' goings-on, that they're there in the show at all, becomes so important that the people involved in the production don't much care whether the theatrics really work or not. And when that happens, they usually don't."

Combatting the sick call

"One night last week around 4:30 a.m. I answered the phone and heard: 'Joan, if you don't do what we tell you, we're going to come up and rape you.'"

[Reader issue cover: Volume One, Number Four (fourth issue)]

October 22, 1971

The Reader staked its future on the city's artistic fearlessness and energy. Here's Myron Meisel from October 22 on the Chicago Film Festival, when it was still very young and seemed, in the cultural life of the city, vital:

On the heels of the Gotham main event, Chicago rises to glory

There hasn't been such a spectacular or exhilarating rise to glory since the Mets, and the Gil Hodges behind it all is one Michael Kutza, a most unlikely program director. . . . Kutza comes from a moneyed upper-class background, and the Film Festival is something of a hobby for him. But it is a very serious hobby. . . . He knows how to look at movies, and his instincts are pretty keen and reliable. But most importantly, he doesn't sit on his ass and wait for the big names to finish their latest projects, as New York usually does. Kutza actively searches out art in the unlikeliest places, and for years the Chicago Film Festival has been the only place in the West that has regularly featured the important if obscure works from Eastern Europe and the Far East. . . .

Kutza seems basically untouched by all this success, perhaps because it runs in his family. Both Franco Zeffirelli and Luchino Visconti praised his judgment when he served on the Spoleto Jury last year—and Franco wasn't only referring to the fact that he and Michael share the same Italian hair stylist."

Seeds You Can Eat

"Ever eaten an uncooked Lupini bean? What use could you make of 3 pounds of Foenugreek seeds?"

Blacks in Blue

An interview with Renault Robinson

"I think they're less brutal now. Which means that in the past, they were just as brutal."

Renault Robinson, executive director of the Afro-American Patrolmen's League, to reporter Nancy Banks, who'd asked if black cops were any less brutal and corrupt than white cops.

[Reader issue cover: Volume One, Number Nine]

December 10, 1971

The Truth About Abortion Referral

"'Do you want to carry a child for nine months? Nine months, that's a long time, you know. And it's not fun. Did you ever carry a child before?' No—"

[Reader issue cover: Volume One, Number 10]

December 17, 1971

Our Panel of Experts Present their Awards for 1971

And Jack Hafferkamp sized up the year in rock on December 17:

Most disappointing lp: a tie

Primal Scream by John Lennon

Ram by Paul McCartney.

Best single: 'It Don't Come Easy' by Ringo Starr."

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