Fire in the Hole

Re: The Actor’s Letter: A reminiscence from film noir icon Robert Ryan, newly unearthed by his daughter, sheds light on his Chicago childhood—and his family’s connection to a tragic chapter in the city’s history,” by J.R. Jones, October 29

I was delighted and very surprised to see one of my all-time favorite movie actors, Robert Ryan, on the cover of this week’s Reader. In addition to being a great talent, Ryan was a courageous man of admirable integrity, a “fighting liberal” unbowed by HUAC or any threats to his career. He hosted the first Woody Guthrie Memorial Concert at Carnegie Hall in January 1968, where Bob Dylan, the Band and many others performed. After the show, Ryan hosted a party at his Dakota Apartment (later to be the home of John & Yoko) for the musicians, most of whom were of a younger generation than he was, for more songs and storytelling. A night to remember, no doubt, and Robert Ryan, a fine man to remember. Thanks to all who contributed to the article.


My late husband often told the story of his granddad, John Murphy I believe (who eventually became a battalion chief in the fire department) attempting to rescue workers from a tunnel and getting caught inside of it. However, my husband’s story involved a subway tunnel. It’s just hard for me to believe there are two tunnel-rescue stories from 1930s Chicago but maybe so. Can you shed any light on this?

And your story about Robert Ryan is just fascinating—it reads like a novel. Well done.


J.R. Jones replies:

According to various news accounts, a Captain James Murphy of Engine Company 23 was in the second party that descended into the tunnel on Monday, April 13. He was treated for injuries at the makeshift hospital adjoining the disaster site. Per the Chicago Evening Post, Tue 4/14/1931, Murphy was among the 16 men who survived the night in the east air lock and emerged from the tunnel.


Re: The Secret History of Chicago Music: CJ; “This is a very special SOCHM, one I very much hope the artist will live to see,” by Plastic Crimewave, October 29


A lovely comic about a very special and talented woman. CJ died peacefully this past Sunday at her home in Hammond, IN, and did not get a chance to see the comic in print, but she would have been extremely grateful to you for, as she would have put it, “keeping the music alive.”

Liam Warfield

Missing Person

Re: The List, October 29-November 4

Too cool for school, y’all, to recommend the greatest songwriter/performer/rocker/musican of our time? You are lucky enough to get THREE nights of Bob Dylan in your town, and you tout, oh, Wye Oak, Dan Deacon and Arriver. Nothing ‘gainst those folks, but why no Dylan? He transcends all labels, always gone his own way, is as indie as anyone who gets compared to Woody, Buddy, Whitman and Willie the Shaker. C’mon people!

M.C. Kostek

Bob Dylan clearly doesn’t need the press . . . you found out about it, didn’t you? now go away and listen to his shitty xmas album.

prick matthews

Shitty xmas album or no (it’s for charity anyway, prick), he’s made about 40 others that people will be listening to 100 years from now, which is about 98 years longer than most anyone else on the List will get.

M.C. Kostek

Ghostly Production

Re: Ghosts of Christmas Carols Past: Kevin Von Feldt, the producer behind the Dickens classic at the Civic Opera House, has a colorful track record—and a rap sheet,” by Deanna Isaacs

The article is inaccurate in that none of the 1994 sets were used in the Kodak production.

All of the technical snafus mentioned in the piece were from a preview performance and were corrected. Mr. Ryman is not part of the 2009 production and did not design the 2008 set. Jeffrey Hile was the designer. It’s true—there were a few lunatics crazy enough to think that 94-year-old Sir John Gielgud would actually be narrating eight performances a week far from the safe confines of his country home in England. So last year he was not advertised in any fashion.

Kevin Von Feldt

Deanna Isaacs replies:

(1) In an interview last week, Bryan Ryman told me that some sets from 1994 were saved and used in 2008; he clarifies now that he meant backdrops.

(2) Los Angeles Times reviewer F. Kathleen Foley, who saw the Kodak Theatre show on opening night (not the preview), wrote that although many of the glitches from that “reportedly disastrous preview” had “apparently been ironed out,” the production “is still haunted by more than its share of mischievous spirits. Lights failed to go up, although certain actors invariably did. Prematurely interrupted in their rounds, abashed stagehands could be seen dashing off into the wings after the thunderously elaborate scene changes. And an overly prolific fog machine, meant as a spooky effect, completely obscured Marley.” She concluded that what she saw “brings to mind the prize turkey, as big as a boy, that Scrooge buys for the Cratchits. That turkey now hangs in state at the Kodak. Sadly, fancy trimmings aside, it’s gone a bit off.”

(3) Ryman was listed as “design consultant” in promotional material for both the 2008 and 2009 productions.

(4) Gielgud was 90 in 1994. He may not have been advertised last year, but the “special appearance” by Gene Wilder that never happened was.