War. Paint. Woman!

Everybody’s Talking About . . . Lindy Woodhead







True, everybody is talking about War Paint at the Goodman Theatre and its dazzling stars, Patti LuPone and Christine Ebersole, who are winning raves for their portrayals of cosmetics queens Helena Rubinstein and Elizabeth Arden. But the offstage dynamo behind this show is its English author Lindy Woodhead.

If you still believe “larger than life” and “force of nature” are mere clichés, you have not met this locomotive. And when she burst  and we do mean burst, as in exploded — into town last week, she and her husband, Colin, booked the Palmer House as their base. Their decision to make the elegant and historic hotel their home for five days was immediately detected on the unfailing radar of Ken Price, Palmer House public relations director, resident historian, Bertha Palmer authority — and a bit of an all-round nature-force himself.

Scarcely had the Woodhead plane set down at O’Hare — and, trust us, 10 minutes after leaving Heathrow, it would have been “the Woodhead plane” — than Lindy and Colin were scheduled for a dizzying Ken Price agenda — squeezed in between various other rather significant Goodman events.

All this comes down to the fact that, although Lindy Woodhead is currently celebrated as author of the book on which the hit musical War Paint is based, to Chicago history buffs and PBS miniseries aficionados, she will always be author of Shopping, Seduction & Mr. Selfridge, the book around which the Jeremy Piven television vehicle of several seasons ago was created.

Before founding his eponymous store in London, its subject, Harry Gordon Selfridge, was a partner of Marshall Field in a store up State Street from the Palmer House, and, long before that, Marshall Field was a partner of Potter Palmer. Therefore, like so much of Chicago social and cultural history, everything boils down to Marshall Field and Potter and Bertha Palmer, hence the Palmer House and Ken Price.

Following are a few snapshots of the Chicago tour arranged by Mr. Price for the whirlwind dynamo. It began with an elegant lunch in the private dining room of the Palmer House Lockwood Restaurant, named in honor of Bertha Palmer’s brother, Lockwood Honoré.


For Lindy’s lunch partner, Ken produced Bertha’s great grandson, Potter Palmer IV, with whom she is photographed above. Lunching with them was Potter’s delightful companion, Erica Meyer, and none other than Chicago Cultural Historian Tim Samuelson. It soon developed that, in addition to Helena Rubinstein, Elizabeth Arden, Marshall Field and Harry Gordon Selfridge, the author is an authority on all things concerning Bertha Palmer, informing the lady’s great grandson and the city’s cultural history expert of tidbits possibly unknown even to them.


Immediately after lunch, it was a dash over to the Art Institute for Lindy and her charming husband, Colin, who does a great job of keeping up with the perpetual motion highflier.


But nothing arranged by Palmer House’s Ken Price, with Lindy above, is ordinary, and this Art Institute visit was no exception. Leading the Woodhead’s on a personal tour of paintings in the Potter Palmer Collection was the museum’s glamorous Senior Curator Gloria Groom.


Above, Gloria adds her erudite comments to Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot’s Interrupted Reading, among the priceless works in Mrs. Palmer’s vast bequest.


Back at the Palmer House, Lindy settled down for a moment to inscribe a copy of a book she was donating to the hotel’s museum. As she pointed out with customary gusto, there is a section of Shopping, Seduction & Mr. Selfridge in which she describes an elaborate soiree hosted by Bertha Palmer at Bertha’s home in London’s Carlton House Terrace in 1910. Thus, it belongs in the museum.

That’s when we lost track — yet there were still two more days to go. And we didn’t even ask what Roche Schulfer and the boys at the Goodman had planned to occupy the couple before the scheduled return of the Woodhouse plane to Heathrow last Sunday.