Maxine Koolish (Growing up at 6018 N. Kenmore)


The following is an excerpt of an unpublished memoir of Maxine Koolish covering her recollections of living at 6018 N. Kenmore, as a child and young adult. Her parents , Tillie and Michael Koolish, were the second owners of the house. The tract book of the Cook County Recorder of Deeds shows that they purchased the house May 28, 1920 and sold it June 8, 1943. The memoir was finished in the early 1990s. She makes mention of several of her siblings. In order of birth they were: Bernice (Bee), 1910, Ellman, (Ell), 1912, and Alice (the youngest), 1920. Maxine was born in 1914.
One afternoon mother took me with her to see our new house. Mr. Posner was the real estate man who drove us to the house. It was a block west of Sheridan Road, a main thoroughfare, and between Thorndale and Glenlake St. I sat in the car while mother went inside with Mr. Posner. The former owners had left. The house had been built around the turn of the century of yellow brick with huge windows, built by a German architect which was obvious because it was built like a fort. Solid! Today, the neighborhood is almost all colored people or Puerto Ricans and large apartment buildings line the street on both sides all except for 6018 which remains. The only house on the block. [Editor’s note: actually there were four houses on the block in the 1990s, two next door to each other on both sides of the street.]
I was just sitting there getting tired of being alone when an elderly woman, Mrs. Fate, who lived in the house next door came over to the car and began to talk to me. I refused to answer. She offered me a cookie. I refused the cookie. I think it was spring when we moved into 6018.
The house was four stories high and contained eleven rooms not counting the breakfast room or small room off the kitchen or the large balcony overlooking the stairwell on the second floor which was our library room or the large sleeping porch in the rear of the second floor and not counting our theatre on the top floor which sat 100 people and had two dressing rooms and two bathrooms. Very high ceilings throughout. There was the parlour and the living room which was usual and no den in those days. [Editor’s note: the house is three stories, not counting the basement.]
Several stairs led up to our front porch, all stone or cement type stone where we had a swing summer time and wicker furniture and ice tea to drink set on a wicker table. On the left side of the front door was a small pearl button which was the bell. The front door consisted of three parts of lead paned glass depicting a garden setting in various colors like a mosaic setting. That glass door was broken maybe a dozen times from someone shutting or slamming the door, or leaning against the door or a baseball hitting the door. As one entered the house, one walked into our reception room which was around 9’X12’ and contained beautiful handmade furniture - a long table with iron candelabra on either side, with a framed mirror above the table, a beautiful large arm chair and a settee and all throughout the house were expensive oriental rugs. I had no idea these rugs were valued at thousands of dollars. Mother left an original gaslight fixture over the settee but turned it into an electric light. A large closet ran almost the length of the stairs where all our winter and rainwear clothing and equipment was kept. To the left were heavy wine colored velvet curtains with brocade tops separating the reception room from the parlour. A large mahogany piano, handmade furniture and the usual huge floor lamps with yards of sheer material for covering the lampshades, a Spanish shawl thrown over the piano, beautiful paintings on the walls, some originals of fine artists, and two immense windows that were sealed. One window facing south was like the front door - a leaded paned mosaic window which mother had removed so that we could have light instead of the dark church like window. But it was the living room where we really lived, especially winters. A fireplace with a gas log was on one wall but seldom used. The furniture was well used - a long wine colored couch with a matching velvet chair so wide two people could sit in it and mother’s prize possession, a black wood hand carved library table with a table lamp and a library combination of desk and shelves writing table, a few chairs and again, the oriental rugs. There were three large windows facing south and framed with wine colored velvet drapes. Off this room was a bathroom….
Our house was Open House to just about everyone. Both parents were very generous. Guests would come for dinner and stay a few months. Among our guests was Ted Koolish, a cousin, who came and stayed until Lilly, our maid, finally declared either he goes or she would go. Mother and all of us were tired of Ted. He went. Not one bit of gratitude to mom or dad. In fact, he never called on them in Florida or went to their funerals or even sent a card. Maude Thompson stayed almost a year. She was an elocution teacher supposedly to help mother with our theatre. She did nothing but made herself at home until she was asked to leave. Ellman had a friend who he went to school with named Falk. [Editor’s note: Ellman was Maxine’s brother, referred to as Ell subsequently in the memoir.] In later years Falk wrote "Mandrake the Magician" a comic strip, but at the time he just slept and ate at our house until Lilly said Falk never bathed nor washed his hair and the pillows were dirty from hair grease so either he or she….Falk left. When Ell went to New York to break into comedy at the well known summer resorts, he brought home a tall, lanky young girl he had met at Yale or N.Y. She was his partner and they had a routine. All the girls did was eat and sleep. She used to bring the milk bottle to our dinner table and drink a whole quart along with a complete meal. None of us had ever done anything like that. She and Ell went to the Catskills. On opening nite, Ell said, she got stage fright so bad she couldn’t talk. The stage manager told Ell he could remain and do a solo but the girl had to go. Ell was loyal and quit. Really dumb because Ell had so much talent and a born comedian. At about this time the famous ‘Theatre Group’ was formed in New York. Ell was one of the players along with Elias Kazan, John Garfield, and a few others. All unknowns then but all became stars in both acting and writing field. They begged Ell to stay. Ell had the most talent of any of them, but he felt guilty taking money from home, so he said so he came home. He could have washed dishes like the others in N.Y. He brought home Pauline Crockett, a good looking Scotch-Irish girl he had met at Cleveland Playhouse summer school. Pauline came from a poor family and had never seen wealth such as it was, so generously spread around. Mother bought her a beautiful fur coat that first winter she moved in to our house. Ell and Pauline married but he wasn’t working and Pauline took off. That is another story. I remember I was in my seventh month of pregnancy and had gained some 40 pounds and looked like a mammal wildebeest. No makeup, heavy and felt blah. One day mother asked Pauline if she would like to have a child. I think my appearance did it because Pauline, a dancer, left for Cuba with her male dance partner, who, she told Ell, was a homosexual. Not so AT ALL.
Everything and everyone revolved around the theatre - either acting, music, or the arts in some form. The Barrymores were in their heyday. Lionel, Ethel and John. The Koolish Kids were the upcoming Barrymores as far as Tillie was concerned. All along I forgot to mention, we called mother, Tillie. She liked that. Made her feel young. Tillie and Mike. We didn’t dare call dad Mike. Not to his face.
Bee brought home house guests who stayed awhile. One guest was a boy she knew named Raymond Sill. He needed surgery and lived with his older sister. Bee felt sorry for him so invited him to stay where he slept and ate from hand carried trays in our master bedroom. He was kind of nice looking. Cousin Eleanor Goldberg took a liking to him. They married. Bee married Stanley Frankel and Eleanor and her husband and Alice and Lester Solomon all traveled together in the insurance business. There were others. When my turn came mother refused any and all guests because she was tired of overnite guests who stayed for months. Anyway, we had a houseful of family plus help like my English governess Molly Gibbons from England, our house maid, both live-ins, plus gardener, laundress and so many relatives. But I am getting ahead of my story. Oh yes. John Garfield stayed at our house when he was young and broke. Ellman had gone first to U. of Illinois and transferred to Yale and to Baker’s famous Theatre Arts class and did some theatre work and then to N.Y. City where the Group Theatre was formed. Elias Kazan, John Garfield, Ell and other unknowns made up the group and many later became celebrities. Kazan is a legend in this century. In 1991 I asked Ell to write to Kazan and mention Mitch, his grand nephew, in the hopes Kazan would put in a good word for Mitch. I had found his address in the newspaper. Kazan answered immediately from Europe happy Ell remembered him and sorry he could not help Mitch. I sent the letter to Mitch but wish I had kept it for a treasured souvenir. Garfield was wanted by the government which intimated he was a communist. He was killed but it was covered up. Bee said she was in New York and saw him in the hotel lobby. He saw her but motioned for her to stay away. This was during the time a certain senator was having a field day questioning many innocent people with "were you or have you ever been a communist?" If the interned refused to answer it could be his or her ruin. Dick Arlen was sent for and when he refused he was asked to name names in the film industry which, unlike President Reagan, Dick refused to do.  Dick said movie people would receive tons of mail asking for donations to charities, to use their names on bills, etc. He said often he would sign letters without checking and perhaps he had signed some communist paper. He was not a communist.
Mother had chosen to live at this address because she did so like the house. It was run down and she said they put in $40,000 worth of repairs which in 1919 was a terrific amount. [Editor’s note: This amount seems high since in 1920 the house was only 11 years old, and the original owners, the Eberhardts were not poor.] However, she had not checked out the neighborhood other than locating an elementary school, Swift School, which was close by on Ardmore Ave., off Thorndale St. All four of us attended Swift School. Nice large houses on our street but no Jews! We had moved into a dominantly Catholic neighborhood which was a great asset. Each family had huge families of children. The Garvey family had thirteen kids. We had playmates galore. O’neal family had nine kids, Bishops and Rogers had four. Bee immediately fell in love with Chuck Olsen. Ell had the Friedstadt brothers who lived on Sheridan Road and I had Eleanor Carrol, Bud Carrol and there were older Carrols and also I had Jane Rogers. Later, the O’neal family, with Fran and Bea and then the Toths with Josephine and Ursula. Summer nites we played past dark. Today, you wouldn’t allow a child outdoors at night.
We had Lottie Larson and others working for us and then in 1922, Lilly Mortinson from Peshtigo, Wisconsin, a young girl fresh off the farm, came to work and stayed until she married George Traxel some 12 years later. Lilly had worked a short time for a bakery and baked the most marvelous chocolate cakes in the world. Mother liked Lilly and visa versa. Lilly was so clean and good and used to her own family of brothers and sisters and all the commotion a bunch of children made. And Lilly was religious. She was Lutheran and it was "Pastor this and Pastor that", She met Bill at her church and was engaged and hopeless with the long engagement. Mother made her break off her engagement and Lilly was sad and bitter until the miracle happened and overnite she married George. Actually, Lilly wasn’t much older than we kids but she seemed older. She tried over and over to make me break off with Jerry Salk because my parents did not like him. But…
When I was six years old, Eleanor Carrol, the undertaker’s daughter who lived across the street [6027 Kenmore] with her alcoholic father [Dennis M.] and brothers and mother, had a birthday party to which I was not invited. One day I asked Eleanor why not. She replied I could not go to her party because I was Jewish. I ran home crying because all the kids on the block had been invited. The same kids we played with daily. Then the day before the party Eleanor came to my house to tell me I could come to the party. That day my father brought home one of the huge candy boxes of impure chocolates we were instructed not to eat. The candies were made with some artificial sweetener - not sugar. Today, everything is artificial. This box had a lady’s picture painted on the box, ribbons, etc. Dressed in my best, I went to the party. Her mother received me and aheed and oohed over the huge candy box. I hope she would eat some and die from the impure candies for having omitted me as a guest originally. We were the only Jewish family on the block. THAT WAS until mother discovered our next door neighbors, Dr. De Reimer , a kindly dentist, and his bitchy wife had a funeral in their family of Mrs. De Reimer’s mother. Her mother’s name was Goodman. [Editor’s note: the 1930 census shows the De Reimer family at 6022 N. Kenmore.] When my mother heard that (she had gone to the funeral) she inquired and Mrs. de Reimer admitted she was Jewish. Billy de Reimer was 1/2 Jewish but none of us ever knew that because he was always at church. The older brother was an alcoholic.
There were vacant lots on the street and one had a tennis court, really a tennis net stretched across a sand lot, but we were all welcome to play tennis and we did. The lake was just one block east and we went swimming all summer. We dared each other to dive off the rocks which was foolish because the lake was shallow at certain places. There were accidents. No lifeguards then. Just we kids in large gangs wearing our hand-me-down bathing suits from older brothers and sisters. One day a ‘furriner’ man selling hot dogs and buns appeared on the beach. My father refused to buy a hot dog because he knew the food was impure - worse than his candy. Probably old and spoiled.
After school and all summer long we played games like "Run sheepy run" whatever that is. One had to hide and be found. We played baseball in the street . We had relay races with divided sides in the street. Winters we slid down our front steps on the ice into the street or went ice skating at the school playground. There were no bullies among the kids possibly because there were large families and older children had to look after younger ones. One summer the boys, whose ages averaged about ten years old, decided to build tree houses in the vacant lot on Sheridan Road. Some of the fathers helped and the kindly policeman allowed them to build. Pillows and blankets were brought from homes to furnish the tree houses which had to be entered by ladders. NO GIRLS ADMITTED.
That reminds me of way back when we lived on Ainslie St. Downstairs lived a couple with only one child named Reeve. Reeve Luxmore. An only child my age. We would play together. One day another boy come over and Reeve and this boy turned chairs upside down on their back porch and pulled a blanket over the chairs and said to me, "Don’t peek." I didn’t peek but Mrs. Luxmore did and what she saw must have given her heartburn because she screamed and sent the boy and me home and spanked Reeve. Reeve must have thought I had told on them because he turned on me and scratched my left cheek. I went home with a bloody cheek and my mother had heartburn seeing her young daughter with a deep tear. My cheek healed but left a scar for years to come.
So when the boys announced girls were not welcome we girls decided to build our own house. That is the older girls. They told me I was too young. Now the girls brought food and flowers and the boys were outclassed. I was envious and mother told me to build a hut in our back yard but it just wasn’t the same. Some nights the boys built a fire and roasted hot dogs and even slept outside. Oh for the good ole’ days. When I think that none of the parents participated in the kids’ actions. Parents are told to go camping with their kids, join PTA, join church groups, join YMCA groups, etc. We did not want any parents to interfere with our fun. It was good, clean fun.
Ell was a natural athlete. He had taken boxing lessons because a boy had beat him up once. So one summer Ell was sent to Culver Military Academy when he was around twelve or so. Military rules were that if there was a problem, the boys would have to fight it out boxing in a ring with the whole camp watching. Ell won his fights. He was a terrific swimmer and diver.
The Sovereign Hotel was only one block north of us on Granville St. It was a lovely family hotel with a swimming pool. Johnny Weissmuller was nineteen or so and the lifeguard. A very sweet kid. Ell and I had swimming contracts with the hotel - a gift from dad who believed in sports strengthening one’s body. The two of us went swimming around twice a week after dinner. I was around eight and Ell close to eleven. Johnny would teach Ell how to snorkel, fancy diving and one nite the two put on a show with double back flips, and swan dives and all the rest. [Editor’s note: This would have been in either 1922 or 1923.] In later years, Ell, an amateur, worked shows with Johnny and Buster Crabtree. Ell would stand on their shoulders on high dives and both dive together. [Editor’s note: perhaps she meant Buster Crabbe.]
I attended dancing school at the Sovereign Hotel. Very prim and proper. I guess I was around nine or so. Our teacher was a very proper school teacher. An older woman played the piano and we danced the waltz and curtsied to our partners and the two-step and had parents attend our graduation. The hotel was very impressive to me. Not too ornate, but lots of gild and fancy work, dainty chairs of gilded legs and purple tufted seats, a uniformed doorman, bellboys in white gloves. I loved it. We had a grandparty at dancing school. I had told mother it was a costume party but she forgot. The night before she rigged up a yard or two of cheesecloth with twisted paper in colors sewn to my open neck and she said I was a maypole. I hated my costume but had to wear it while the others had real rented costumes.
When I was around seven or so I was allowed to walk to my cousin’s home three blocks away to visit. Janet Weil, nee Sternberg had married Nathan Weil and they moved to 1039 Hollywood St. [Editor’s note: The building is now the Pomeroy Apartments] They lived on the second floor of this large apartment building where I took an elevator to get there after the desk clerk announced me to my cousin. I felt very grown up. The Weils lived in a corner apartment and one could look out the windows on both sides. Nathan was very sweet and kind. Both wanted children but no luck. I was their child, a pretend child of theirs because we were first cousins. Janet called me "Jiminy Cricketts" and mothered me. That was fortunate because with so many children and people at home, I never received such attention. This went on for some years. When my first child, Larry, was due, Janet took me to Marshall Fields to buy baby clothing and receiving blankets. Mother just didn’t have time altho’ she loved each and all of us. Another miracle. Janet and Nathan had a little girl named Susan when Janet was going thru’ her ‘change of life. Around her fifties. Nathan was in the plumbing business and became a millionaire. Janet died from cancer in her late sixties. Nathan remarried a woman named Sonia but he never loved her."Liebel & Swibel".
One of the night games we kids played on the street was really terrible. Close to the dinner hour when there would be some traffic, one boy would run out in front of a passing car and fall down and pretend he was hit by the car driver. The driver, shaken and white, would get out to see the boy lying dead and just then the boy would get up and casually walk away. Really no angels. Electric cars were still in fashion. One neighbor across the street drove one. He let me examine the car inside. Like a box. A two-seater with a driving stick and windows on all four sides. No gas fumes. It would start up quietly and go with a funny horn. We had Kissels, one after another because no other car manufacturer would take a late Kissel in on exchange for a car so we had to go back to Hartford, Wisc. where Kissels were manufactured and buy a new Kissel. They were good looking autos, very low cars while most cars were high and very little repairs ever needed.
I was six years old and ready for school. Our family doctor, Dr. Torrell, had told mother to skip kindergarten because all the children would bring home was head colds, mumps and measles. I remember standing in our reception room with a new box of pencils but refusing to leave home saying, "I can’t go to school because I can’t read or write." Mother laughed as did Janet and they walked me to school. When school was out that first day they met me to go home which was good because the huge building, the clanging of bells and all the commotion was frightening. Mrs. Decil was my first grade teacher, Evelyn Jacobs and Sylvia Berger were also first grade students. We were the three Jewish girls and almost the only Jewish kids in the school altho’ I overheard one teacher say, "another Koolish." They liked us because at Christmas time my family gave the most expensive gifts to all the teachers. There were three of us going at one time. Dad also had the Eversharp pens and pencil distributorship and so our teachers were terribly impressed with their gifts. Other kids gave handkerchiefs or homemade cookies. I had hoped to give a huge fancy box of chocolates but Dad said that was too overdone. Swift School was a new school and had the only swimming pool of any elementary school in the city. The George B. Swift School. A huge gym with lockers, a large auditorium and very nice teachers. Mrs. Echart was our school principal. She had dyed red hair and was around 60 years old, as were many of the teachers in their black dresses. We also had a home economic dept. where we were taught cooking and the boys were taught woodwork. Teachers were all old. No young ones like in today’s schools.
So now my life revolved around school and our upstairs theatre. It was play time. I made up plays and got neighbor kids to act in the plays. I always had the lead. We would charge admission of pins.
We made up costumes and usually stole nursery rhymes like "Hansel & Gretel" to act out. Boys refused because acting was sissy stuff, so we girls became the boys. We had a section of footlights and curtains to pull. All very professional. One night during the summer a bunch of us sold tickets from door to door. It became dark before we were finished. Mother asked where Alice was. I had forgotten Alice who had tagged along, age 2. We all set out to find her. One of our neighbors had her and brought her home. Another time, Alice climbed up to the window ledge and fell out the window. She was hanging on with her hands when Ell saw her. Had she fallen she would have been badly hurt and fallen to the balcony on the second floor, but Ell climbed out another window and got her. Always our hero. He was full of mischief and a teaser with three sisters to tease.
There was an indoor balcony overlooking the staircase which curved. The balcony was over the reception room. One night my father said he was expecting company and for us to behave. That was a signal for Ell. He tied three heavy telephone books together with rope. He and I crouched on the balcony. When the guest rang the bell and entered, Ell aimed and let the rope go. The books landed inches from the man’s head and we took off.
Stage fright is real. We had a play and during intermission Jane Rogers was to recite a poem. "The Moo Cow Moo has a tail like…" she froze. We pulled down the curtain. But it was an excellent form of expression to stand up and play a character before an audience. The Koolish Kids, like the Katzenjammer Kids excelled. The theatre was second home to all of us.
Because we had a movie camera, Ell became an actor, director, makeup artist, producer, etc. He really loved the camera and learned how to do magic with it. I believe it was a 16 mm. camera and difficult to reduce it to 8mm. I have one short reel of myself and babies. Ell and Bee own the rest. We showed home movies of our family many nights. After all, there was no Television and radio was rather new, so between playing our Edison records over and over, the theatre and later the camera became our recreation. The Edison was like the Victrola. One cranked the spinning wheel and played a record. Usually an opera record. My parents had all the operas and ballets music.
When I went away to the U. of Wisconsin at Madison Mother, who had gone to drama school, [went to] Mr. Day’s school downtown and received a degree in the arts. So she decided to get a group of young actors together and she would coach. I missed all the fun because I was not home. None of the high school graduates paid for lessons in acting make-up or any knowledge they received and mother did not ask for money. But they were an enthusiastic group, put on plays with printed programs and some did become professionals. There was Hugh Hipple who became Hugh Marlowe and went to Hollywood. Hugh married a famous director’s daughter and played in films. Stevenson was the director’s name. There were others. Ell had gone to Yale to George Baker’s Theatre Arts dept. I enrolled in the Speech Dept. at U. of Wisc. Bee by this time was married to Frankel and living in Cleveland, Ohio. Alice was in high school.
One of the games we kids enjoyed was playing on Chuck Olson’s turntable in his parent’s back yard. I don’t know who invented it but it should be revived. Cars were driven to the rear of the house on a driveway and then rested on a huge cement turntable. An electric switch was turned and the car revolved on the table and was then backed into the garage. We had to drive our cars into the alley and then back into our garage. Late at nite, without any lights other than one’s car lights was a scary ordeal especially if one was alone. But now with the turntable, the driver was facing the driveway to exit. A group of us located the switch and turned the turntable around and around like a merry-go-round. It was dangerous if one caught a toe between the table and the yard and the table spinning around. But kids like danger. Perhaps the refrain of "Oley Oley Olson free" came from Chuck Olson’s turntable. One day the Olson chauffeur caught us and threatened us. We quit. There was a darling small house across the street built like a copy of a George Washington house, red brick, white shutters, flowers. The owners moved away one summer and the older kids told the younger kids the house was haunted. We were cautioned not to tell our parents or the ghosts would catch us. Some of the boys found an unlatched window and encouraged others to enter the house and explore altho’ we were warned about the ghosts. I had many sleepless nights.
In the twenties, magazines printed coupons for cosmetics, cleaning products, household goods, etc. All one had to do was send away for the merchandise and enclose one penny. All we younger girls clipped coupons and mailed and received tons of junk. We had lipsticks and liver pills, foodstuffs and whistles. Mother told me it was unfair to our mailman who had to carry and deliver all our collectables. With guilt settling in, I quit.
I guess we were a privileged class. Every afternoon our nurses bathed us and we went outside to walk, the nurses in their starched uniforms. I believe I have a photo of Nora sitting underneath our cherry trees in our back yard in her uniform. When I was ten years old, mother hired an English governess from England for Alice and me. Molly Gibbons taught French to me and helped me with my piano lessons given by a German woman who came to our house. We had a Swedish maid, a Russian janitor, and Charlie, the Italian produce man who came in his truck once a week. Apples were bought by the bushel or 1/2 bushel as were other fruits and vegetables because there were many dinner guests besides our family and live-in help. Charlie took pride in his produce and sold "only the besta stoff, Meesa Koolish."
Let me explain about my governess ….I was ten years old when Molly came to work for us. My exema or excema or exzema was worse having spread to not only the insides of my elbows, but to the outsides of my hands and fingers, back of my ears, etc. I could not wash my hands with soap and water because it irritated my skin to the point of bleeding. I had seen and been to rounds of doctors in Chicago, from the famous Dr. Ormsby on Michigan Ave. to nature doctors to homeopathic and back again. So Molly was hired to wash me. I used rubber gloves for my face but my doctors had warned me not to use soap and water on my face. I was very nervous and thin. Later, Molly and a maid conspired to shop using mother’s charges and when mother found out both Molly and the maid were sacked. Fired! The exema stayed. I was fourteen months old when it began and twenty-five years old when it suddenly left me. Pearl, Jerry’s mother said it disappeared due to an old wive’s tale of childbirth which changed the blood. Maybe. Judy was born when I was 25. [In 1939]
It was Judy (Judy Watson) who contacted the Edgewater Historical Society and provided this text.