Friday, May 27, 2011

The Javelins Versus the Pink Ladies in Chicago

In my recent Chicago Reader story about the real Pink Ladies from Chicago's northwest side Taft High School of the 1950s, I talked about the school's popular, local hangout, Canale's Pizza. Located on Higgins near Harlem, the now-defunct Canale's along with nearby and still-thriving Parse's Red Hots and SuperDawg Drive-in served as models for the musical "Grease" Burger Palace, according to Jim Jacobs, "Grease" co-writer and Taft alumni.

The greater neighborhood also spawned an odd lot of celebrities from different ends of the spectrum, from Hillary Rodham Clinton from nearby Park Ridge, to John Wayne Gacy of Norwood Park Township, two blocks from the Chicago border, as well as Taftites, both famous and infamous, ranging from superspy Robert Hanssen, portrayed in the film “Breach,” to the lovely actress Donna Mills of “Play Misty for Me” and TV’s “Knots Landing” fame.

"The depiction of the Pink Ladies [in 'Grease'] is true to us,” said Rosemarie Doladee Marinelli, a former Pink Lady at Taft who now lives in Florida. “We acted tough, but we weren’t tough. In those days, You had to act tough in a public high school dominated by people who never went to a Catholic elementary school, as we had. You needed friends. It was survival.”

“There were the guys’ clubs [such as the Goombas, Imperials and Ravens], and clubs that had both guys and girls, such as the Javelins and the Knights, but we were the first all-girls club at Taft,” she said.

Marinelli remembers a particular confrontation with the Javelins at Canale’s Pizza. “Our friend Margie was a wild child. She stole a lot of girls’ boyfriends,” she said. “When Margie started flirting right there with one of the Javelin guys, the Javelin girls went berserk. In the confusion, they dragged me into their car and two girls held a knife to my neck in the back seat.” It took a guy in the front seat to convince the knife-wielding pair that they had the wrong girl. “They let me go,” said Marinelli. “Margie? She ditched out the restaurant’s back door.”

So much for needing friends to survive, huh Rosemarie?

Marinelli also thinks she may have inspired the "Grease" Pink Lady character “Frenchy,” though Jim Jacobs said he doesn't know and never met Marinelli, who left Taft the year Jacobs started. She said, “I wore glasses and was the geek of the Pink Ladies. I dropped out of high school my junior year to take care of my dad, who had cancer. But I wasn’t a beauty school drop-out.” ◦

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Secret Presidential Hobbies

Certain gossip remains juicy, even if decades or hundreds of years have passed. Case in point: gossip about U.S. presidents' secret hobbies. While these hobbies may not be quite secret, most are little known. Neither were they topics at Oval Office meetings or State of the Union addresses.

I had originally hoped to write a poem about these Commander in Chief pastimes, but instead decided on a blog post. My exposure to this topic started when I missed the 40th Annual Abraham Lincoln National Railsplitting Festival in Lincoln, Ill. I promise the story gets better. Instead, I wandered the nearby Lincoln Heritage Museum and found a series of museum cases devoted to personal and professional stats on all the presidents, including their hobbies.

The father of our country, George Washington, indulged in man's man pursuits: billiards, cards and fox hunting. Andrew Jackson had a penchant for cockfighting, which might reflect his reputation as a sadistic scoundrel. And did you know we had two exhibitionist presidents? Both Teddy Roosevelt and John Quincy Adams shared a preference for skinny-dipping, the later in the Potomac River, the former on safari.

James Polk claimed politics as his pastime. I sure hope so, prez. Conversely, Ulysses S. Grant's sideline was smoking. As unhealthy as that sounds, it might be what got him and the rest of the north through the Civil War, when he had bigger fish to fry besides mainstream "hobbies," i.e. the Rebels.

For Richard Nixon, his thing was "bowling." Somehow, it's hard for me to picture him eyeballing the head-pin at an alley poised with a big blue baby watermelon under his chin. I know someone suggested Nixon also try tennis, but he claimed, "I'm not the tennis type." He had a streak of self-realization.

Millard Fillmore, the president with the funny name and automatic stand-in after Zachary Taylor suddenly died, had an avocation as a book collector and dealer. I knew there was something to like about this guy!

Presidents get voted in, but even before they're nominated I think they should each be required to take reading, writing and public speaking tests. The public needs to know the results before it's too late, if you get my drift.

But the presidents who fortunately did not need such tests and naturally favored the word arts as passions included William Henry Harrison, who liked reading the bible; Abraham Lincoln who preferred reading, as well as his well-known railsplitting, early on, and also theater in his latter years (which unfortunately brought down the final curtain on his presidency), and our 44th president, Barack Obama, who finds lecturing, writing and playing basketball to hold special emphases in his life.

I wish I had more room to talk about what all the presidents did for fun, such as John Kennedy and Bill Clinton. On second thought, never mind about those two, at least as far as hobbies are concerned! ◦

Monday, May 09, 2011

Catch the fire of Tierra Roja Flamenco

Chicago has a new flamenco dance and music group, Tierra Roja Flamenco! Lead dancer and choreographer La Perla, percussionist and hammer dulcimer musician Julian X. Cumpian and dancer Raye Bemis make up the core of this fabulous flamenco troupe performing in various venues around Chicago, and beyond. Guest dancers and guitarists are also featured.

Make reservations to see their performances every other Sunday at 6:30 p.m. at Tapas Gitana in Northfield, Ill. Upcoming Wednesday performances are scheduled for Summer 2011 at Carnivale restaurant in downtown Chicago.

"La Perla is a true star. She matches, if not exceeds, any flamenco performer I've seen in Spain."
~ patron at La Taberna Tapas on Halsted

Tierra Roja Flamenco can be contacted at 312-450-1332, or visit the Tierra Roja Flamenco Facebook page. ◦