Eavesdropping on three artistic icons: Art Shay, Tony Fitzpatrick and Rick Kogan


Art Shay is laughing as Tony Fitzpatrick and Rick Kogan query him about Simone de Beauvoir

Listening to Art Shay, Tony Fitzpatrick and Rick Kogan on stage in conversation was like eavesdropping on a private conversation of old friends talking about other friends and acquaintances like Nelson Algren, Simone de Beauvoir and, of course, Florence Shay. It was in the Cindy Pritzker Auditorium of the Harold Washington Library last Thursday night, but the stories transported you to other places, other times. 


My Florence: A 70-Year Love Story, Shay's latest book, was the reason for the event. The book is small, 7" by 7", the word count is low, but the images fill your heart. 

The cover photo is the first Art took of Florence, who he met when they were camp counselors in the Catskill Mountains in the summer of 1942. He was the bugler and she the editor of the newspaper. In the following 96 pages, Shay reveals the journey that he and Florence Gerson traveled until and after her death from cancer, at the age of 90, in 2012. 

The mother of five, she became renowned in the field of rare books. She began Title, Inc. in 1972. In her Highland Park shop, within four weeks of her death, she did an on-camera interview for the International League Antiquarian Booksellers with Daniel Weinberg of the Abraham Lincoln Book Shop, Inc. The determination, courage and joie de vivre that Shay captured through his lens over their lifetime is seen in the interview. 

On stage, Shay said that two members of his family feel that he should not have used two images taken as she was coping with the tumor in her brain and close to death. But as Kogan put it, "Death was part of the story."  The book is dedicated, on page 95, to Harmon Shay, one of Florence and Art's children. He was murdered in 1972 just before his 21st birthday. The second is Dan Blue, their friend and benefactor who died at home in 2013 across from the Hideout

While the book was the focal point of Thursday's conversations, the evening was filled with many more thoughts and shared stories. 

“The evening was a joy on many levels", said Kogan. "There are few people as engaging as Art and Tony and both are great storytellers as well. Naturally, I had heard some of the stories before, having known Art since childhood and Tony for decades, but they never disappoint. These artists are important threads in the cultural fabric of this city. Their continued vitality is a wonder and and a joy.”

Three icons
Who are these three icons whose combined talents, experiences and plans into the future are exhausting to imagine accomplishing? 

Kogan said, "Art has always been a lot more than a photographer. He is a stylish brilliant writer and Tony is a stylish brilliant writer too but he is a lot more than a writer. I happen to be just a writer." Thousands will attest to the fact that Kogan is a lot more than "just a writer" and a broadcaster. All three men are icons and all three men have known each other for decades. 


Shay explains that looking through pictures of Florence is still difficult

Art Shay
"I grew up in the Bronx when the population was dominated by Italians and Jews," says Shay, who started shooting at the age of 15, with a camera from a cereal box. 

His career began when he served in World War II and he recorded two B-24s colliding above his airbase in East Anglia. Those shots ran in Look magazine. He went on to captured people and events, showcasing and immortalizing people such as Elizabeth Taylor, Hugh Hefner, John F. Kennedy, Muhammad Ali, Eleanor Roosevelt. Nelson Algren, Studs Terkel as well as innumerable other famous and infamous people in the 20th century.

Fitzpatrick pointed out that Shay knows just when to pull the trigger to reveal the subject. One shot revealed the mob's Antonino Joseph "Tony" Accardo, "Big Tuna." Shay explained that he looked appropriately dwarfed under one of the Chicago Art Institute's large lions. 

Life, Time, the Saturday Evening Post, Fortune and Sports Illustrated magazines are among the many publications for whom he photographed. And as he said the other night, "When I'm dead, I'll still be able to load my camera with one hand. 

He has written over 75 books and a play and has over 2 million images that his archivist Erica DeGlopper is working with. A documentary film is in the works too. 

For more details, checkout this great story by Aimee Levitt in the Chicago Reader


Tony Fitzpatrick reflects on a Kogan question

Tony Fitzpatrick
Artist, essayist, author, playwright and actor Fitzpatrick was born in Chicago in 1958 and grew up in Lombard. One might consider that he was veritably "born again" recently at Saint Mary and Elizabeth Medical Center (SMEMC), 2233 W. Division St. Thinking he was having a heart attack, his wife Michelle gave him baby aspirin in their Ukrainian Village home and called the paramedics who took him to SMEMC. 

It was determined that he needed a valve replacement followed by quadruple by-pass surgery. Just released about two weeks ago, he boasted, Thursday night, that he has lost 60 pounds. 

He is still a big man with a big voice and will say publicly what he believes and feels like “[Rahm Emanuel] is the worst person we ever elected." At the end of the Thursday evening, he said that they needed to get back together on stage again and that he hoped Mayor Garcia would be present. 

As one of Chicago’s best-known artists, his pieces sell for as much as $15,000. He has nearly 200 prints at the Art Institute and several others at the Museum of Modern Art and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. 

After 17 years with his studio at 2124 N. Damen Ave., he moved out and re-opened it in November 2010 as the Firecat Projects Gallery with Stan Klein. Now there is also the Adventureland Gallery, 1513 N. Western Ave. 


Rick Kogan is asking Shay about what it was like to pull the book together about his beloved wife

Rick Kogan
Kogan, born in 1951, started his career in journalism with a byline in the Chicago Sun-Times at the age 16. People who were "celebrities" to most people, he knew as just ordinary people. "To walk into this living room [his parents' Old Town apartment] filled with smoke and clinking glasses and music and Studs [Terkel] and Nelson [Algren], Marcel Marceau, Mort Sahl, [Roger] Ebert—you don't wind up in life being star struck after that kind of childhood, and it served me well." 

His father was Herman Kogan, newspaperman, author and broadcaster. His mother, Marilew Cavanagh Kogan, was a writier and publicist. They named him Rick as a tribute to Riccardo's, 437 N. Rush, a well known Chicago restaurant and watering hole for executives, writers and newspaper and advertising people. It is now the home of Phil Stefani's Signature Restaurant. 

Rick Kogan has "done good for himself," as some would say. He crafted his talents at the Chicago Daily NewsChicago Sun-Times and the Chicago Tribune. He was named Chicago’s Best Reporter, is a member of the Chicago Journalism Hall of Fame and an Emmy Award-winning contributor for WFLD-TV

He has been an on-air reporter, critic and show host on WBBM TV and radio, WGN radio and most currently WBEZ. In addition he has written 14 books and spoken at many celebrations of births, deaths and everything else in between. 

Their conversations
The banter and discussions of the three were many but here are a few. 

Kogan asked Fitzpatrick how he got to know Shay. "I insulted him in a book review and I always felt bad about it." Shay's book in about 1992 was a biography about Nelson Algren. In it, Shay talked a lot about "Art and Nelson.' I thought 'this guy sure seems to think a lot of himself,' but in fact that apparently was the way it was [Art and Nelson spend a lot of time together]," explained Fitzgerald as the audience chuckled. 

Ten years later, Shay walked up to Fitzpatrick at a book signing for Fitzpatrick's Nelson Algren book, Ballet for Opening Day, and said he didn't appreciate the 10-year-old comment.

"I said to him, 'You know I have always regretted it and I'm sorry I did it and I apologize.' From that moment on he never ever carried a grudge or anything else." Shay quickly inserted, to the delight of the crowd, "Animus is the word." 

"I learned a lot from Art and Florence when I was working on The Train. They were my witnesses for the period during which the play takes place." He went on to say that he has watched Shay shoot. "As an artist he doesn't pull the trigger until the subject reveals himself." 

One of Shay's revered, some might say "longed for," images is of Simone de Beauvoir. She stands in the bathroom unclothed with her back to the door, looking in a wall mirror brushing her hair. 


Simone de Beauvoir shown during the conversation (modified)

"How did that photo happen," queried Kogan with genuine curiosity. 

"Nelson called and said he had a problem. That was not unusual, Nelson often had problems," explained Shay. The problem was that Algren's long-time amour, French writer Simone de Beauvoir, had been thrown out of the Division St. YMCA and she needed a place to shower. 

"I picked her up at Nelson's 1523 W. Wabansia place and took her to a friend's apartment where she could shower. Going up to the apartment, she asked, 'Do you love your wife, is she good in bed…things like that." 

He explained the she was sexy and seductive. She was 39 and he was 27. "Then unfortunately or fortunately, she left the bathroom door open. So I took two or three steps toward the room. Then I took several shots. She said, 'You naughty man.' I agreed," Shay explained as the audience laughed with appreciation. "I never told Nelson, but I suspect she did." 

Another subject on which the three touched was love and dedication to their respective work. Shay and Fitzpatrick agreed that their lives were made what they were because of their wives. 

They also felt that Algren would have had a better life, if he had married.

"Being an artist is isolating," said Fitzpatrick. "Marriage is for better or worse, and in my life there has been plenty of both. I am very lucky. Having Michelle is everything to me. I would be far too wrapped-up in myself without her." 

Shay agreed. If there is any doubt about that, read his book My Florence: A 70-Year Love Story.


Art Shay and more

A compelling story. Joe Lake

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