Hot Air: The Lively Art of Conversation

Sometimes I wish Big Talk was an hour-long program or even an hour and a a half. Such was the case for yesterday’s episode featuring Dr. Rob Stone, our town’s most passionate voice advocating for universal, single-payer health care.

Stone on the Stump. 

Stone had been a fixture in the Bloomington Hospital emergency room for some 28 years and now specializes in palliative and hospice care. But he’s been active — nay, hyper-active — in orgs. like Medicare for All: Indiana (he was a founder and now is director) as well as the Indiana state coordinator for Physicians for a National Health Program. One of his great heroes was Dr. Quentin Young, a Chicago-based advocate for universal health care and, for a time, Martin Luther King, Jr.’s personal physician.

In case you missed yesterday’s broadcast, here’s the show, in toto:

Big Talk airs every Thursday at 5:30 pm on WFHB, 91.3 FM. The entire Big Talk archive resides here.


BTW: The headline? That was the tagline for a WTTW-Ch. 11 Chicago late Saturday night gabfest called Kup’s Show. Hosted by Chicago legend Irv Kupcinet, Kup’s Show was the final iteration of a talk show he’d originated in 1952. Kup, as he was affectionately known, actually was among the very first pioneers of the talk show format in the then-nascent television medium.

Kup (R) with Liza Minelli & Sammy Davis, Jr.

In fact, by 1957, Kup had earned such a reputation that he was called in to serve as one of a revolving set of hosts to replace Steve Allen on NBC’s The Tonight Show. Producers eventually tabbed Jack Paar to replace Allen.

Kup’s Show — originally called At Random — for many years ran as an open-ended program. Kup sat around a coffee table with three or four guests gabbing about world events, philosophy, sports, Hollywood gossip, and much more until the group was talked out. Often the show, which originally aired live at midnight, might run, according to one source, until 5:30am. Kup would introduce each and every episode with his slogan, “Welcome to the lively art of conversation.”

Kup (L) with Marlon Brando.

Kup retired from hosting the weekly program in 1986.

He’d been born and raised in the old Lawndale neighborhood on the West Side, then populated by Eastern European Jewish immigrants and their kids. Kup earned a football scholarship to Northwestern University but was forced to leave after he brawled with a fellow student. He transferred to the University of North Dakota and, after graduation, was drafted by the Philadelphia Eagles of the NFL. A shoulder injury put an end to his pro career after a single season and he came back to Chi. to work as a sports reporter for the old Chicago Daily Sun. That paper eventually merged with the Chicago Times to become the still-existent Chicago Sun-Times.

While still at the Sun, Kup took up writing a short gossip column. Capitalizing on Chicago’s position as the nation’s central rail hub, he’d hang out at any of the city’s trans-continental railway stations and snag Hollywood actors, directors, and producers for interviews while they waited for their connecting trains to either coast. Owing to geography and his own doggedness, he became one of the nation’s premier gossip columnists, along with the likes of Drew Pearson, Hedda Hopper, Luella Parsons, Ed Sullivan, Herb Caen, and Walter Winchell. By and by, Kup became so powerful that the stars started coming to him. He held court at the Ambassador East Hotel’s Pump Room restaurant, much as his cinematic counterpart J.J. Hunsecker did in “Sweet Smell of Success.” The Pump Room’s maître d’ would send limousines to the rail stations to pick up the likes of Elizabeth Taylor, Clark Gable, Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, and Otto Preminger to have them deposited at Kup’s legendary Booth One table.

Karyn Kupcinet

In November 1963, scarcely a week after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, Kup and his wife Essie’s daughter Karyn, an aspiring actress, was found dead in her West Hollywood apartment. The LA coroner ruled she’d been strangled — her hyoid bone was broken — and called her death a homicide. The killing was never solved. One published rumor held that Karyn had been a paramour of JFK and that she’d called a local telephone operator minutes before Kennedy was shot, warning that the event was imminent. That theory goes on to assert that Kup himself was somehow privy to a Chicago Outfit plot to kill Kennedy and that his daughter was rubbed out as a warning to keep his mouth shut. That theory remains specious to this day.

Kup expressed a grieving father’s certainty in his memoir, Kup: A Man, an Era, a City, that Karyn’s lover and fellow aspiring actor Andrew Prine, who’d go on to have a long career as a TV drama character actor, and who at the time of Karyn’s death was breaking up with her, was somehow involved in the killing.

Kup (R) and Jimmy Hoffa.

Kup’s Show (and At Random) featured guests as diverse as Martin Luther King, Jr.; LA Dodgers manager Tommy LaSorda; Gen. Douglas MacArthur, Malcolm X, presidents Richard Nixon and Harry Truman; and Liberace.

Kup’s wife Essie, a notorious chain-smoker, died in 2001. Heartbroken, he made sure she was buried with two fresh packs of Pall Malls. Irving Kupcinet died in 2003 at the age of 91.

One thought on “Hot Air: The Lively Art of Conversation

  1. Chris says:

    I haven’t thought about Kup in decades. Your article is a quite a trip down memory lane. Thanks for posting this.

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