Legendary Columnist Kupcinet Dies at 91

By Olmstead, Rob | Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL), November 11, 2003 | Go to article overview

Legendary Columnist Kupcinet Dies at 91


Olmstead, Rob, Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL)


Byline: Rob Olmstead Daily Herald Staff Writer

Journalism got a bit smaller Monday.

Irv Kupcinet, the legendary Chicago newspaper columnist who was confidante to presidents and the stars, died at Northwestern Memorial Hospital at the age of 91.

He had been admitted Sunday with respiratory complications from pneumonia, a hospital spokeswoman said.

Kupcinet - who was almost as well known for his generous fund raising for veterans, the disabled and the arts - was a legend not only in the newspaper industry, but the entertainment industry as well.

A native of Chicago's West Side, Kup attended Northwestern University on a football scholarship, later leaving for the University of North Dakota.

After college, he played professionally for the Philadelphia Eagles until a shoulder injury sidelined him in 1935.

"Then, I was ready to pursue my chosen profession," he wrote in "Kup's Chicago," a book about the town he loved.

He signed on with the Chicago Times, which would later become the Chicago Sun-Times, as a sports writer.

When an editor encouraged him to elaborate on the personal bits he inserted at the end of his sports columns, he attracted the attention of his editor, Richard J. Finnegan, and managing editor, Russ Stewart.

"'We're starting a new man-about-town column,' Mr. Finnegan said, 'and Russ thinks you're the man for it. I agree with him,'" Kup wrote.

It was his ticket to the stars, but he paid for that ticket with endless hours in nightclubs and interviews with celebrities.

"Nobody had a greater work ethic. I never stopped admiring him," said colleague and Daily Herald columnist Jack Mabley.

On Jan. 18, 1943, he wrote his first "Kup's Column," which he continued writing to his death, in later years with the help of his assistant Stella Foster.

"He's ... the last hurrah of the 1950s nightclub and celebrity world - the High Hat and the Tradewinds and the Chez Paris," said fellow Sun-Times columnist Neil Steinberg, referring to bygone nightclubs.

"What he really was, was Chicago's Walter Winchell, except that he wasn't a nasty (S.O.B.)," said Steinberg, referring to the late New York columnist's tendency to destroy careers in his column.

Kup, on the other hand, prided himself on having mostly nice things to say about people in his column.

"I stayed away from being nasty as much as I could. Unless somebody really deserved it," he told the New York Times last year.

"Irv Kupcinet was as closely identified with Chicago as the Picasso, the Hancock Building and the Sears Tower - and he was an important part of this city long before they were," Mayor Richard Daley said.

"Irv Kupcinet is probably the most significant media personality in the history of Chicago because his impact was not only through his daily newspaper column, but also on television for 25 years," said Bruce DuMont, founder of the Museum of Broadcast Communications.

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