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Lloyd Wendt was a long-time Chicago journalist and the author of Chicago Tribune: The Rise of a Great American Newspaper (Rand McNally, 1979), and (with Herman Kogan) Give the Lady What She Wants: The Story of Marshall Field & Company (And Books, 1979).
Herman Kogan (1914-1989) spent fifty years covering Chicago, many with the Chicago Sun-Times. He is the author of Yesterday's Chicago (E.A. Seemann, 1976) and (with Lloyd Wendt) Give the Lady What She Wants: The Story of Marshall Field & Company (And Books, 1979).
This is the most popular and widely read of the biographies of Chicago last Republican mayor. William Hale Thompson, Jr., was truly sui generis.
Despite being born to a wealth family, Thompson charted an unusual career path by dropping out of high school and working as a grocery clerk, a railway brakeman, and a cook on a cattle drive before fulfilling his ambition of being a cowboy and rancher. Apart from attending a business college classes, his education was effectively over at the age of fourteen. This patrician was more than happy to desert his upper class origins to shoot pool and buy votes with complimentary rounds of top shelf whiskey.
Nevertheless, Thompson became famous throughout Chicago as a star amateur athlete and a superb yachtsman. He achieved fame as a star football player for the Chicago Athletic Association and won the Chicago to Mackinac race across Lake Michigan three times. During his downtime, he managed to serve a term as a Chicago alderman and a term as a County Commissioner. In 1915, he surprised everyone, but his political handlers by being elected mayor. He was elected to a total of three terms. When he lost the mayoralty election in 1931, he had equalled the record of Carter Harrison II for longevity in the mayor's office (this mark was subsequently surpassed by three subsequent Democratic mayors).
This book attempts to provide an adequate biographical account of one of the most condemned, controversial, mercurial and inexplicably popular public figures in Illinois history. Love him or hate him, you cannot ignore Big Bill Thompson. The biographers succeed in their task for the most part, but the book is not free of omissions. It works as a simple composite and that may be good enough for the casual reader.
One wishes that Preston Sturges had filmed "Big Bill of Chicago." We will have to settle for "The Great McGinty." Too bad that movie is not set in the Roaring Twenties!
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