Friday, January 19, 2007

Flashback: Chicago in World War I as Frances Gets Assistant to the Head Job at J. Walter Production Unit…All this and “The Peacock of the Navy.”

As Frances Catherine Cleary moved from assistant head of the J. Walter Thompson steno pool to the initiatory role of expediter of production for the Maxwell House coffee account at J. Walter Thompson, Ted Jardin finally got his wish and moved from the mailroom to junior copy-writer at the agency where, to his distaste, he had to work as an assistant to Alexander McQueen. But everybody was young and the agency crew socialized together, Frances finally accepting young Ted as an equal. None of the un-married ever left their family nest however. The rule was you live with your family until you get married. Especially for women: no good girl moved out of her family for an apartment—living alone in an apartment was a sign of a not-so-good girl. Two or three girls could live in an apartment together if necessity warranted—but no one moved from their family unless they had had a fight with them. So Frances willingly lived at home on Cornelia avenue on the North Side with her family.

However with increased income she enjoyed the good life. When winter came and the excursion boats shut down, she went with her sisters and friends to acceptable dance pavilions where they met eligible young men as dance partners. She was a big fan of stage-shows and went to all of them usually on Saturday afternoons after work (they worked half-days on Saturday) when the rates were lower…and usually went alone without reservations, because a single could usually get in a theatre at the last minute. Besides, young men her age usually couldn’t afford theatre tickets for two. So she saw the best of Ziegfeld including a droll Oklahoma cowboy who told wry stories while spinning a rope, Will Rogers; Al Jolson and even Irving Berlin who played a piano and sang with a terrible voice (“Why is It When You Finally Get What You Want, You Don’t Want It?”). She took golf lessons and bought an upright piano with a player attachment for her family’s house along with a phonograph called a victrola. Alexander McQueen caught wind that on Saturdays after work she would go to see the stage shows, getting in as a single and he would show up too. “Alex,” she would say, “do what you want but we can’t sit together because usually there are only singles.” Okay with him; he’d pop for an ice cream after the show.

In 1917 old man McQueen called in and pronounced her work a success and said she would now work directly under Leddy who would head up the new department and train other girls to do exactly what she was doing—and so she would be number two in the newly-created Production Department. He was as unlike the stereotypical advertising man as ever was: of course the grey-flannel suit type came much later. A heavy, bulky man, he was a rumpled, managing-editor type, working in shirt-sleeves, alternately either smoking or chewing a cigar.

“The one thing I can’t stand are these creative types,” he said to Frances when he told her she was doing all right in her new job. “Do you believe that some of these guys [copy-writers] sit around here mooning because the muse hadn’t hit them yet to write? I tell `em: you sit around here without producing and I’m going to kick your [scatological word for buttocks] out of here. What the [reference to the Netherworld] do you think you’re doing—writing the Divine Comedy for god’s sake? There’s entirely too much gentleness and softness going on around here with these guys. You and Leddy produce! Young Ted’s going to be a producer or I’ll kick his [scatological word for buttocks]! And another thing”—he was getting wound up.

“There’s a rule here about no romances, no fraternizing between yourselves—and it goes without saying not with clients, although I doubt that would ever happen. I’m not accusing you, Fran, but people here are sneaking around and dating each other after work. My secretary had a crying fit today because she broke up with a guy who’s a copy-writer! I told her that she’s lucky because if they continued I’d fire both of `em! I find out who’s going out with who I’ll fire `em all! I hope you’ll tell me if you’re ever approached on a social basis by a young man around here.”

I told you already—your kid does all the time. He buys me ice cream and tries to sit next to me at the show but I pay my own way and he pays his own way.

“[Explective] damn him! I thought I fixed that! Well, I will! I don’t want this to be known as a nice place to work! I want it to be a [explective] damned foundry! Show me a happy place to work and I’ll show you a place where nothing much gets done! Since I took over this place last year I’ve been determined to change the good times around here from a Good Time Charlie place to a place where all of us work! You, Leddy and a few others understand the mission! So does Ted who I picked right from the start as a guy who’s all business all the time! No [explective] damned lovie-dovie monkey business with Ted! Or you!”

Inwardly she rolled her eyes: Right!

“I know there’s none with Leddy! I tell you there’s one rule around here! You don’t get your meat where you get your bread and butter!”


“Now get out of here and congratulations on doing a great job.”

“That took care of Fran for me,” said the old Ted Jardin, inhaling his filter-tip, letting the smoke curl up into his nose, as we sat in the Wrigley Building bar following his phone reunion with Mother. “She never went out with me again because of McQueen, that old [explective that indicated the subject’s mother was a female dog].”

You’re still bitter.

“You bet I am.”

Uh, you said again.


You said she never went out with you again. You had gone out with Mother in defiance of the McQueen regulations?

“God, you’re nosy. Yeah. First and only time [explective]-damn him. She turned me down on a number of occasions until I finally got two tickets for all three Barrymores—John, Lionel and Ethel—in `Rasputin’ at the Great Northern. I can still remember what those tickets cost me; I ate doughnuts for lunch and dinner for a week. I had been making great progress until then…” and he jabbed his cigarette in the tray.

Not long later, the hate-feelings from the World War (circa 1914-18) hit Chicago: even before the U. S. entry. It involved the Irish and the Germans detesting Britain, which united Mother and Father in common anger at England although they weren’t to meet for several years after the war. The Irish were natural enemies of the Brits--and the Germans…Chicago was then the largest center of German-American sympathies…sided immediately, if quietly, with the Kaiser. Several thousand recruits from Chicago and around the country trained at Fort Sheridan (the Army) and Great Lakes Naval Training Center, both located north of Chicago along Lake Michigan. Woodrow Wilson was subtly trying to encourage a war (having been reelected no the pledge “He Kept Us Out of War”) and used as a pretext that we must be neutral but not antiseptic about our feelings—which meant he was passionately pro-Brit.

To enkindle the war spirit in Chicago, the War Department mobilized a marching band at Great Lakes and would sponsor a brilliant parade in behalf of Liberty bonds down State street at least once a month. The band was as good as anything put together by John Philip Sousa. The Navy gobs were playing stirring martial music—all in white outfits in the summer, dark blue pea-jackets in the fall—all stepping smartly to the big bass drum and blaring horns. Leading the whole group down State street was a young drum major with a huge fur non-regulation hat—and as he strutted, the drum major would be alternately striding and flourishing his leader’s baton festooned with ribbons…then throwing it up in the air, catching it and twirling it to the amazement of the cheering crowds which had never before seen twirling. One newspaper called him a name that stuck: “The Peacock of the Navy!” Mother would be out there with her sisters each Saturday afternoon—even foregoing the theatre to see and hear the spectacle but particularly to see the handsome young dude, the “Peacock,” tossing his baton sometimes two stories high as the crowd oh’d and ah’d to see him catch it smartly to huge applause.

“Fran,” said McQueen one day on his intercom as he coughed up a lunger, requisite for his heavy smoking. “either you or Leddy set up the photographic studio for a few promotion shots of the Great Lakes guy for distribution to the papers—the guy that, you know, throws his cane or whatever the hell it is up in the air; he’ll be coming in a half an hour. The Navy’s a client.”

Leddy, her boss, heard McQueen’s growling voice over the crackling antique intercom and said, smilingly—since she was about 50 years old: “Fran, will you set it up and greet the Peacock when he comes in?”

What was he like? I asked Mother more than fifty years later.

To tell the truth, she said, he was the handsomest—almost prettiest—guy I ever saw.

You’re not telling me he was--?

Nothing like that. Do you remember Robert Taylor the actor who was married to Barbara Stanwyck?


He was a young Robert Taylor. From St. Joseph, Missouri.

He came in and posed for pictures?

Yes. We had a contract to do ads for the Navy recruiting program. The camera guy had something like an early Speed Graphic and he tossed the baton up in the air and he caught it, of course but the camera caught it in the air and the newspapers put it on the front page for the next Saturday.

Did you have a chance to talk with him?

Well—he asked me out.

Wow! But you couldn’t go because he represented a client?

Listen… Do you think somebody 19, 20 years old is not going to take a chance breaking the rules when asked out by the Peacock of the Navy?

Even running the risk of being fired?

I don’t think that would have happened but I’d be in trouble—but I decided it would be worth it. Oh, how did you ever get me started on this? It was so long ago.

No, Mother. I want to hear about the Peacock of the Navy. Where did you guys go?

Well, it was curtailed because he was a free only a few hours after the parade one Saturday so we went to the movies—which I paid for because he was a sailor and I didn’t want him to spend his hard-earned money on me.

Was he fun? Smart? Talkative?

Oh my, yes. And a little stuck-up, I’d say—but he was darling looking, a bright personality and funny--and deserved to be stuck-up. But the best thing about it was when the word got out as we left the movies that the Peacock was in the house and what fun it was when we walked out and the crowds were on the sidewalk applauding him and an old guy gave him his cane and the Peacock tossed it up two stories high, caught it, bowed, returned the cane to the old man and we left.

He took you home?

No. He had to go back to Great Lakes on the train so we walked over to the Northwestern station and I put him on the train. Some of his buddies were there. The best thing was when we said goodbye, he gave me a kiss which a lot of people saw.

A kiss on the cheek?

Cripes, you’re nosy! No.

And those who saw, surmised you were the girl-friend of the Peacock of the Navy!

Enough of this. You should get home to your family and stop talking to an old woman.

What did they say at the office about your date with the Peacock of the Navy?

Nothing because nobody knew—except Leddy who was like my mother. My family knew, of course and I was a celebrity around the neighborhood. Out of here now!

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