Mike Royko Mingles at Mr. Kelly’s



By Judy Carmack Bross




Having written 7,500 daily columns for Chicago newspapers, Pulitzer Prize winner Mike Royko must have published some on the denizens of Mister Kelly’s, the legendary Rush street nightclub, or its owners, the Marienthal brothers. “Chicago Style: Mike Royko and Windy City Journalism” opens June 20, overlapping for a month with the highly popular “A Night at Mister Kelly’s,” at the Newberry Library: one wishes for a column on Royko’s reaction.

Mike Royko

He also might have written about July 20’s NewberryFest, when the Library throws open its doors for a full day of guided tours, talks and collection reveals. “Would Royko have suggested we add a muttiest, mixed-up dog contest in Washington Square Park?” mused the Newberry’s vigorous new President and Librarian Astrida Tantillo. “No dog contest as yet, but we will present that day the core of what we do, with a menu of fun things from public programs, building and exhibition tours, collection presentations, new items at our popular bookstore, creative activities for children, and even a sample adult education class. We are working to really enhance the visitor’s experience this summer, and in the fall will turn to serious planning fort new ways to use our library’s space.”

Even if there is not a muttiest dog contest, you can read all about it in the Royko exhibition opening June 20 which also features his fat rolodex listing impossible-to-get numbers at the time including John Belushi, Jane Byrne, Studs Terkel–who once said Royko was “possessed by a demon” when asked to explain his productivity. Royko’s rumpled tweed jacket, a selection of his columns, notes and a manuscript version of Boss, his biography of Mayor Richard J. Daley, and much more from the collection of his wife Judy, weave the story of Chicago journalism in the 20th century.

Kristin Emery, Co-Curator along with Newberry Director of Exhibitions, Sarah Boyd Alvarez, and Northwestern Professor Bill Savage, told us: “This is an exhibition about a journalist in relationship to the world around him during the golden age of newspapers. Born and raised in Chicago, Royko wrote, in a strong literary voice, of both high-end politics and drinking at the corner pub. He knew how to speak truth to the powerful of City Hall, as well as entertain readers with articles on Rib Fest, penny pitching and his beloved game of16-inch softball.”

While the Royko exhibit profiles Chicago journalism in the second half of the 20 th Century, “A Night at Mister Kelly’s” re-lives a Gold Coast night out on the town mid-century. Included in the latter exhibition are photos of other long-lost nightclubs located in the Newberry neighborhood such as Club Alabam, the Happy Medium, and Gate of Horn.

Such joy in the diversity at the Newberry this year, including the recent “Indigenous Portraits Unbound,” featuring hand-colored lithographs of tribal leaders, taken from one of the most influential and expensive books published in the United States before the Civil War, with accompanying labels that were written or approved by representatives of the portrait subjects’ tribal nations. The exhibit speaks to Tantillo’s goals of representing a larger community and bringing in broader audiences.

Event Chair Martha T. Roth, Newberry Trustee Gail Kern Paster, Drew Gilpin Faust, Newberry Life Trustee Hanna Gray, and Astrida Orle Tantillo

The Newberry recently honored Drew Gilpin Faust for her contributions to the humanities. She is the Arthur Kingsley Porter University Research Professor at Harvard University, where she also served as president from 2007 to 2018. Faust previously served as founding dean of the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study and is the author of seven books, including most recently, Necessary Trouble: Growing Up at Midcentury, published in 2023.

Karen Zupko and Celia Hilliard at the recent Newberry Awards ceremony

At the Awards, Stephen Mitchell, Teri Edelstein, Newberry Life Trustee Cindy Mitchell, and Newberry Life Trustee Neil Harris

Christine and Newberry Trustee Mike Pope

Photo of Mister Kelly’s by Vivian Maier

A young Richard Pryor who performed at Mr. Kelly’s

We accompanied curator Alison Hinderliter recently on a return visit to the Mister Kelly’s interactive exhibition that captures the redolent venue where headliners and rising stars performed jazz, comedy, magic and more. Names like Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan, Ramsey Lewis, Bette Midler, the Amazing Kreskin, Steve Martin, Lily Tomlin, and Richard Pryor regularly graced the marquee of Mister Kelly’s, and a very young Barbra Streisand wrapped up a performance with an early morning photo shoot on Oak Street Beach. By 1957, they were getting big name entertainers like Mel Torme, Ella Fitzgerald and Mort Sahl.

Lenny Bruce’s bar bill at Mister Kelly’s

“Club founders and brothers George and Oscar Marienthal thought of everything to ensure a quality experience for their patrons. This exhibition draws on the Mister Kelly’s collection at the Newberry to re-create the excitement of a night at Mister Kelly’s.” Alison said. “The Mister Kelly’s collection, housed at the Newberry, includes almost 100 oral interviews with performers, staff and audience members who relived their memories.”


Bette Midler performing at Mister Kelly’s


The exhibit asks visitors to leave post-it notes recalling memories of the Gold Coast club scene. We asked Hinderliter if she could have been there for just one night at Mister Kelly’s who would she have watched perform. “Ella Fitzgerald, she’s my gal. She made her debut there in 1958.”

In addition to “Chicago Style: Mike Royko and Windy City Journalism”, which will be up June 20-September 28, and “Live at Mister Kelly’s “which closes July 20, the Newberry will be presenting “Indigenous Chicago” running September 12 through January 4, 2025, and “Making an Impression: Immigrant Printing in Chicago” opening December 12, and in the future, exhibits on “Native Pop” as well as on birds in the library’s collection.

For more information about the Newberry, visit newberry.org