“Chicago Times” Reaches for the Cutting Edge

The March/April issue of Chicago Times–the one with Jordan, Payton, and Dawson on the cover–was pretty amazing. Once we got past the reminiscences of sporting life in other eras, and the posthumous literary career of Ernest Hemingway (who, we were reminded, briefly lived on North Clark Street), and a Playboy editor’s trip to South Africa, and the growing up locally of Jack Ruby, that was it–the magazine was over.

And–you decide–it either had less to do with Chicago in this day and age than the average issue of Arizona Highways or it was a tour de force of context. We thought the latter; we thought the dimension of memory perfectly set off the three living legends the Times brought together to photograph and revere.

The issue’s we’re-serving-notice audacity prompted us to call up Timothy Jacobson, the editor, and congratulate him. Jacobson was editing Chicago History a few years ago when he got the idea to put out a general interest city magazine equally at home in the past, present, and future. “This is not meant to be a historical magazine as such, but one that looks at the connections through time,” Jacobson said when we called. He spoke of Chicago Times as “a forum for sorting out what Chicago is, which can most intelligently be done by sorting out where it came from.”

The May/June issue just hit the stands. Temps perdu has been ratcheted back a notch or two–despite a look at Martin Luther King’s 1966 crusade in Chicago, and although Neil Tesser’s splendid cover story on Irv Kupcinet moves inquisitively through the decades–and Tim Jacobson is no longer the editor.

He retains the title, but in fact publisher Todd Fandell has interposed between himself and Jacobson editorial director John Twohey, a former editor of the Chicago Tribune Magazine. Twohey, who’d been an adviser to the magazine since last summer, took over the reins in January but kept his name off the March/April number because he felt he’d had so little to do with it.

Fandell told us that Twohey “brings a greater range of professional editing experience than we had before. He knows the market. He knows the writers. He knows the mechanics of putting out a magazine.”

“I’d probably better not comment on our internal arrangements,” says Jacobson, who declares Chicago Times has “an enormously good future” that he intends to contribute to. “I think this magazine needs a steadfast vision,” he says.

Fandell and Twohey aren’t disputing Jacobson’s. “The vision he had originally is still viable,” Twohey told us. “How it’s implemented is what we’re talking about here.”

He said, “History has some baggage with it. We all sat in stuffy classrooms and had men in tweedy sportscoats ruin our afternoons.”

Fandell said there is no other magazine around that satisfies “a sense of being rooted that a lot of people here have.” But that’s not enough. “We’re looking for more bite, more cutting-edge kinds of stories, maybe one or two an issue that people have to read. . . . Top editors have to do a better job of translating what they want.”

“Cutting edge” is a suspect phrase useful to publishers who don’t know what they want but are pretty sure they haven’t seen it yet. Fandell said a new survey showed that the Times’s readers spend an average of two and a half hours with the magazine, which tells us that if readers miss a cutting edge they’re gamely looking for it. We asked Twohey what the phrase means to him. “Point of view,” he said. “The magazine in terms of values should stand for something. It should approach the city from certain beliefs, values.”

We gather that Chicago Times is beset–or blessed–by a certain creative tension. We asked Jacobson what he was most pleased with in the May/June issue. In their own very different ways, he said, the Kup piece and Gerald George’s portrait of the Art Institute are “exemplary pieces of work.” And he said an item by Jamie Kalven on the renovation of Rockefeller Chapel had “enormous charm.”

We asked Twohey the same question. “The article on the west side [by Patrick Barry] is one I’m proud of,” said Twohey. “It’s the first piece of journalism that’s detected signs of renewal on the west side. Almost all of it’s been terribly pessimistic.”

Our own opinion is that Barry arbitrarily struck a note of hope despite his own abundant evidence to the contrary. History tells us that two stories can be written on just about anything. One of them is that things could get better; the other is that they could get worse. A cutting edge worthy of its strop should make mincemeat out of both these angles. That said, we hope that all the editors of Chicago Times can work in concert moving along a very promising magazine.

Nicole Drieske Goes Public

The problem some people have with the new theater section in Facets Features is that it’s a Nicole Dreiske ego trip. Dreiske and her “Dreiske discipline,” “Dreiske Institute,” and “Dreiske Performance Company” have been a mystery playing at the edges of Chicago theater for years now. Now Dreiske’s pushing her operation to center stage, and she’s taking some heat.

“News From the International Performance Research Center” is her 16-page addition to the house organ of Facets Multimedia Center, otherwise dedicated to the monthly run of art films playing there. It is salted with more photographs of Nicole Dreiske and articles on or by her than need be; and there’s an off-and-running quality to “The Origins of the Dreiske Discipline: A Theoretical Manifesto–Part I” in the April issue that has us worried.

On the other hand, Dreiske has obviously come a distance from the Sun-Times copygirl we met in 1970 (when her grandfather, John Dreiske, was the paper’s political editor). We’re glad to finally get her explanation of the trip. So what if she’s made “News . . .” her personal vehicle! “Who else is doing anything on anybody else?” she asked us. “Everyone in the city publishes everything about themselves.”

What Dreiske means is that house organs are commonplace in Chicago theater and none of the others look beyond their own lobbies for stories. When the Facets board (Dreiske and her husband Milos Stehlik are Facets’ directors) gave her the go-ahead last year to expand Facets Features to embrace the stage, they expected her to toot her own horn.

“Well, it burgeoned, it grew,” Dreiske said, “and now we’re out there in a much more publicly journalistic way than I originally intended.”

In fact, Dreiske’s 16-page package does not limit itself to its editor and her art, and it’s the whole package’s breadth and specific gravity that impress us. One month the Organic’s Tom Riccio is decrying local experimental theater; another month Gary Houston, founder of the Pary Production Company in the early 70s, explains why Chicago theater is not something a few new companies and directors just cooked up–despite what they may think. Indeed, Dreiske has published an admirable series of articles plumbing the deeper roots of Chicago theater.

“A large part of the impetus for the paper came from the company’s transition from a hermetic research organization with a large touring program to more of a Chicago orientation,” Dreiske told us. Over the years, Dreiske and her disciples were forever hunkered down in some far-flung waste creating new works or else performing them on a distant stage. Locally, they were a rumor. And we worried that if the truth were told, Dreiske drama would turn out to be a self-indulgent hoot.

But now the show’s coming to town for all to see. Next month her company moves into the Ivanhoe Theatre for four weeks. And by 1989 Dreiske intends to own her own theater building in Chicago. Her idea is to mount an eight-month season there, and make the space available the balance of the year to the kind of offbeat groups she’s now trying to encourage in Facets Features.

“Our [editorial] slant is definitely toward more experimental and innovative, culturally diverse, risk-taking types of theater,” Dreiske said. “There are good shows that really don’t need attention from us.”

Dreiske wants her paper’s criticism to make a difference. “I’ll send out nine reviewers to 15 shows and end up publishing four or five,” she said. “The other shows don’t have anything different from what’s been going on in Chicago for the last 20 years.

“We really try,” she said. “Even when a reviewer hates a show we try to either get a second opinion or find those elements that offer a certain amount of challenge.

“And I rewrite under that person’s name and put the good things in. It’s a very interesting journalistic situation, definitely not straight journalism.”

Dreiske said she’s looking for critics who either “write in a style I like” or are willing “to be edited to a fare-thee-well.” Critics from academia aren’t, which is why they haven’t worked out at all, she said.

Harry Golden

We never had a sense of Harry Golden’s age. He was too canny to be young, too full of enthusiasm to be old. He died at 60, too young by any measure but one: the scale on which the hearts of reporters diminish as they pass their careless youth. But Harry Golden did not sigh and move on; we left him where we found him, his feet dancing through City Hall and his great voice cackling with every scoop. He was forever the real goods. He was one of the reasons a young man could take a job for a Chicago newspaper and believe he had gone to heaven.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Jon Randolph.