Edgewater Memories

Vol. XIV No. 3 - SUMMER 2003

By: Frank Kavanaugh

Editor’s Note: This is the second half of a letter sent to us by Frank Kavanaugh as a personal recollection of growing up in Edgewater. We welcome all personal recollections of early days in Edgewater and will accept handwritten copies.

For a time beginning in the early 1950’s I worked at the Edgewater Beach Hotel as a bellman. More money in one day than I ever made in my life. The hotel was magnificent and noted for the outside Boardwalk show area that separated the hotel and the beach. It had fresh flowers in the lobby, outside dining, stage shows, and big band dancing; certainly the finest thing of its kind on the north side of Chicago. Finally, as a summer job during college, I was promoted to being the side doorman at the north end of the hotel, and also worked relief as the main doorman on Sheridan Road. The side door was good duty, as the entrance to the inside garage was there and many guests who came by car used that entrance for convenience.

For a short period I was involved in professional theater. The Edgewater Beach Hotel gave me my first paying job and left me with one of those memorable stories about “how I got my first break in show business.”

At Lake Forest College, I found that being a speech major was probably the easiest way to get a degree. All speech majors, however, were required to get a taste of the absurd by participating in children’s theater. I found the need to overact for children very difficult. When they asked me if I would take part in a regular stage production and said it would get me out of children’s theater, I jumped at the chance. I loved the theater and, because it was only a small school, I got leads in all the major productions. This experience raised the question of whether this fun could become a career.

In the mid ’50s, while doing my side doorman job at the Edgewater Beach Hotel, a fellow named Marshall Migatz opened three summer stock theaters in the Chicago area: one in Hinsdale, one as the Fox Valley Playhouse in St. Charles, and the Beachwalk Playhouse at the Edgewater Beach. Each show featured a well known star, surrounded by unknown professionals. I auditioned, got rejected, hung around and became a theater pet but no one really regarded me as having any serious “professional” actor potential.

Then late one evening as I was doing my side door duty, a Cadillac convertible pulled in with a famous actress in the front passenger seat. She was holding a small dog and was covered by a scarf and dark glasses so she would not be recognized. I recognized her, however, and greeted her by name. She asked me how I knew who she was. I told her I was a fan and knew that she was starring in the next show, and that she had called in to say she would be late for rehearsal by a couple of days due to travel problems. She asked me how I came to know this. I explained my theater interest and that I hung out with Marshall and the folks hoping to get a part in some show, but had been unsuccessful thus far. She very confidentially allowed that she had had no travel problems, was hoping to spend a couple of romantic days in seclusion with the fellow driving the Cadillac, and had made up the delay story to hide out for a couple of days. She offered that if I would agree to be discreet and not mention that I had seen her, she would see if she could help my career.

About three afternoons later, before my shift at the side door, I was standing down by the stage visiting with Marshall and the theater crowds when our star appeared at the top of the ramp in the back of the theater. She yelled “Frank” and ran down the aisle and threw her arms around me. All the observers of this excellent performance were dumbfounded by two things: 1) How a guy like me could know this star, and 2) Why had she recognized me even before acknowledging Marshall who was the owner of the theater? When the dust settled Marshall asked her how she knew me and she assured him that she had seen my work and that I was one of the finest young actors around. In the next show, which was “Rain” with June Havoc, I was given the part of the sergeant, and then went on to do “Caine Mutiny Court-Martial” with Sidney Blackmere at Marshall’s Hinsdale Theater. While I eventually realized my limited stage talent and moved from acting into producing, the memories of the Edgewater Beach Hotel and my lucky break lived on.