The Real Del | Letters | Chicago Reader

The Real Del 

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[Re: "Del Close," March 12]

It's come to this--speaking from notes because of the sneaky approach of alehousers' disease:

I can foresee some Goodman thespian holding up that famous skull and spouting "Alas poor Delbert; I knew him, Bernie Sahlins...a fellow of infinite jest," and the jawbones clapping together with "Cut the bull and get to ridiculing the establishment!"

We've read recently about the government experimenting on unknowing people with drugs, but did you know that our Del voluntarily sacrificed for the G? Here's what he said in Jeffrey Sweet's Something Wonderful Right Away:

"About this time--I guess it was '58 or '59--I was taking acid for the Air Force. They were investigating REM--rapid eye movement--and I started as an experimental subject. The point is they would take me to the dream lab in Brooklyn, hook me up to this machine, I would dream, and when REM indicated dreaming, they'd wake me up and say, 'Are you dreaming?' 'Yes, I am, you motherfucker.' 'What were you dreaming about?' 'I don't know. Bunny rabbits.' I didn't like it. I grew tired of it real fast."

Anyway, he got some free acid.

Del returned in 1962, and I started coming here a year later, not missing an opening in the past 36 years. In the last 65 years I've seen the very greatest theater--Robeson in Othello, Ruth Gordon in A Doll's House, Lunt and Fontanne in four plays--and notables from John Barrymore through Gypsy Rose Lee in the Follies to Zero Mostel. But for sustained entertainment nothing in my experience compared with the top satirical stage in the world--the Second City.

The first revue I saw starred Omar Shapli, David Steinberg, Sally Hart, and Judy Graubert. I think Shapli and Steinberg were unequaled, but John the Garbage Man argued Robert Klein and Fred Mitchell surpassed them.

I once made Del very happy. A revue was about to open and no one could come up with a good title. I wandered in from the Old Town Ale House, sailing a bit, and he came up and demanded help. Where the inspiration came from I don't know, unless it was imported German beer, but I came up with "Freud Slipped Here." He gave me a huge kiss and ran backstage with the good news.

There have been considerable changes in recent years, and I'm trying to adjust to them (as I suppose I'll have to sometime advance beyond my Smith-Corona), but to me the glory days were the political, antiwar days under the direction of Paul Sills, Del, and Sheldon Patinkin. Memorable was the field hospital they set up in the beer garden for victims of cop brutality during the 1968 convention. Local politics were not omitted--J.J. Barry as Pa Daley and Michael Gellman as Governor Thompson were great.

I like to think what Del would do today with smooth Bill Murray as Clinton, Eugenie Ross-Leming as Hillary, Judy Graubert as Monica, Betty Thomas as Linda Tripp (hard to make Betty that homely), Don DePollo as commentraitor Stephanopoulos, and John Candy as Rash Lamebrow.

As long as there are memories of the Second City, the fantastically antic Del Close will come to mind.

Hank Oettinger


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