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Chicago Icon: The Marge Summit Story, Part Two of a two-part feature
by Owen Keehnen
2017-12-27

This article shared 2408 times since Wed Dec 27, 2017
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We return to our interview with Chicago LGBT Hall of Famer Marge Summit.

WCT: So how did you go from MS to His 'n' Hers?

MS: When I had MS, on the day after New Year's, I had a good crowd, but I was running out of vodka. So I looked all over the neighborhood down there, because vodka was my top seller. I'm walking around and it's cold as hell out. All of a sudden, I heard three quick footsteps and then someone said, 'Don't scream.' This guy jumped me and started beating the shit out of me. He tried to rape me. All I could think was, 'Marge lose your temper.' Because when I get mad, I fight like hell. He dragged me to a vacant lot on the other side of the bar and was punching me. When he was hitting me, he got mad so he took off his glove, so he could hit me with his fist. Anyway, he dropped his glove and when he went to pick up his glove, I kneed him. I took off running for Clark Street, half bloody and with my clothes mostly ripped off. I went into the bar and I pushed a couple of people out of my way and said, 'Some son of a bitch just tried to rape me.' I grabbed my gun and four other dykes came with me. We got in my car and drove around looking for that guy. I wasn't going to kill him, but I was going to put four bullets in his dick. He was never going to use that on a woman again. We didn't find him, so I got back to the bar and called the police and they said, 'He just got a woman over on Walton Street and put her in the hospital.' That was traumatic. It took 6-8 months before you could even touch me. That's why I raised my daughter to be street smart.

WCT: Wow, so you wanted to get out of the neighborhood?

MS: Well, the guy who owned MS, my backer, gave CK the bar on Diversey which took a lot of my good people and left me with the scar faces and the gun crowd. People who'd leave their kids in the car during cold winter nights so they could come into the bar and party. I told them I'd walk the streets around the bar and if I found out they left a kid in a car, they were banned for good. That's just not right. I understand the need to go out, but get a damn sitter.

Being down there and owning MS wasn't fun anymore. Not down there. I couldn't do it. There was this bar that Paul Quinn, that was PQ, was running on Lincoln Avenue by Orchard. PQ was running it poorly. The deal was, I could take it over, but I had to pay the bills off. It was a small bar with a restaurant in the front. When I took that over there were bottles and bottles of peach brandy. Can you imagine? Bottles and bottles of it. I was running drink specials, making whatever I could just to get rid of that shit. This had been a sort of jock bar and I took it over and made it into more of a bar that catered to dancers, theater people, actors. Nice mix of men and women. I called it His 'n' Hers because they wouldn't let me call it Clits 'n' Dicks. I took it over and started to turn things around, had a little bit of entertainment here and there. Judy Tenuta started out there.

One time I was heading into work at the bar and I saw this woman in a hospital gown with a very small baby get into a cab. That struck me as weird, so I noticed the number of the cab, couldn't remember what kind it was, Yellow or Checker or whatever. I got into work and got the money ready and turned on the lights and the TV and right there on the news was a story about a woman who had stolen a baby from Children's Memorial. So I called 9-1-1 and told them I saw her and gave them the number of the cab and they found her. That's always been my way though. I tend to notice things that are off.

WCT: Whatever happened to His 'n' Hers on Lincoln?

MS: Once I started to make a success out of it, the owner, my backer, sold the building to the hospital. When they realized they were renting to a gay bar, they weren't too happy. They took us to court to get us out of there. My liquor license was good for another three-and-a-half months, so the judge let me stay until then. Then I found this Puerto Rican bar on Addison beneath the L tracks. I got a $1,500 loan and opened the His 'n' Hers that most people remember [at 944 W. Addison]. I had the inspectors come through so we could get our license and once they finished we locked the front door and got to work. We cleaned the place up, painted it, put in decent plumbing.

WCT: Were things good there from the start?

MS: That place was just what I wanted. Even the leather guys came there. Everybody knew me from different places and I went to everyone's bar. A couple times leather guys came in and they'd been beaten up. So, I went to the gang bangers and said, 'Those leather guys walking down the street are not a gang. They are nothing for you to be worried about. They are gay men and they are only wearing leather because crinoline wrinkles too easily. So don't pick on them, because if you do, I have to call the police. Then you'll go to jail and none of us are happy. And by the way, if you have any good dope to smoke, let me know and I'll meet you in the back.' That's how I dealt with them. Don't mess with me and I won't call on you.

Another time, I used to have a phone right at the front door and there was a sign outside that said I had a public phone. So I called the phone company and asked them to move it because thugs would stand there in the entryway, not doing anything, just stand by the phone and staring at us in the bar. The phone company said they couldn't do anything and I thought, the hell with that. The next morning I got there early, took the phone apart, dragged that big metal stand to the back of the bar by the bathrooms, ran the wires through the bar, and reconnected it. The next time the guy came from the phone company I said, 'Someone from the company had come and moved it.'

I loved Addison, loved that bar. I fought hard for it. That's the only time I got hurt. When the CTA wanted that building no one in the community came to help me. The CTA just kept taking me to court until I didn't have any more money. I was so pissed off. I lost everything I had and ended up with a hellhole further north on Broadway [in Edgewater]. I hated that His 'n' Hers up there. That whole thing was the one time I was hurt by my community.

WCT: So when you said you wanted community support, what precisely do you mean?

MS: I was fighting downtown against City Hall. As a community, we picketed Anita Bryant, I was there. I stopped making drinks with Florida orange juice because of her. There were fundraisers all the time for different causes. I held them at my bar. I supported the community. Why couldn't we get together as a community and show our power so the city couldn't just come in and take Marge Summit's bar away? The city was screwing me over. If you don't take what they offer you, they take it by eminent domain. All they offered me was to pay off the mortgage. They said that after 20 years, I wasn't established. What the hell is that? We did the gay money campaign and that pissed them off. When you piss off the city and the government, what do you think happens to you? That was so sad because I really enjoyed what I was doing. Loved that bar.

WCT: I want to talk about the talent at His 'n' Hers.

MS: Even the Old Town School of Folk Music loved our open mic night and said I had the best open mic night in the city. We did it on Sundays. If you wanted to play in my bar, you had to do open mic so I could see what kind of talent you had. Good talent was Friday or Saturday, if you were OK I'd give you a Tuesday or a Thursday. Pudgy was there, Erwin Helfer, Vanessa Davis. All sorts of people. Wacker Drive, Ginny Clemmens, Kristen Lems, Charlie Murphy, Diana-Straight-as-an- Arrow, Aaron Freeman, Trisha Alexander, Jo Mapes and more I can't recall. They all appeared at the bar.

WCT: And I remember you did an album of the talent that played there?

MS: Rich Warren from WFMT recorded and mixed it, all for free. The album was called Gay and Straight Together and was recorded on Open Door Records. We tried to get a cross section of both gay and straight. We even had a song on there written about the bar itself called Song for His 'n' Hers by Jeff … sorry, I can't give you his last name. He's found God now, and you know how that goes.

WCT: Another thing people always talk about, and that I remember fondly about His 'n' Hers on Addison, was the food, specifically the burgers.

MS: Oh yes. I found a great meat guy and none of the employees even knew who he was. I ordered, nobody else did. We were very well known for our half pounders. We cooked them frozen so that we never had waste. I started doing the potatoes like John Barleycorn did. I would have them go through the slicing machine and then into the wash, but some people were allergic to the wash, so we started hand slicing them. I found an Italian guy on Randolph Street for my Italian sausages. I'd go to vegetable fairs and get 100-pound bags of potatoes for $7. I'd buy cauliflower and zucchini and make a special batter and lay them in trays in my freezer and take them out and weigh them and bring them to the bar. I made my own chili. Every Sunday was a free brunch which cost me 25 cents per person. That was a scrambled egg with parsley and garlic, one side of an English muffin, and some of our potato french fries and all you had to do for the free brunch was buy a drink, and that could be coffee.

WCT: You were also known for fundraisers, especially at His 'n' Hers.

MS: At my bar it always seemed like there was entertainment or some sort of benefit for somebody. We had pudding wrestling for charity. We did body painting. I did a carnival for AIDS. I switched from bottles to cans because I could smash the cans and donate the money to AIDS charities. I lost so many friends to that damn disease. Just terrible. We'd have auctions, things people didn't want, I'd say bring them in and then we had a blast auctioning them off for charity. Silly things. We had fun and raised money. We had a leather fashion show and when one of my models didn't show up, I had to wear chaps and a leather bikini. I told the audience if they made one crack about me in that outfit, I'd ban them. They never saw me like that. I'd do anything to help raise money for the community and that was true before AIDS, too.

When I was on Addison in the 1980s, I also noticed that on Thanksgiving the seniors never had a place to go. Or maybe they had a dinner for them, but it was on the Wednesday before or the Friday after. What about Thanksgiving Day? I decided I wanted to do something and asked the community for help. They came through with flying colors. We had posted invites to the dinner in all the senior buildings in the area. I asked Chuck Renslow for his help with setting up the dinner and he said, 'Sure, whatever I needed.' Chuck donated wines for the dinner, a florist friend of mine made brandy-snifter bouquets. I rented long tables and tablecloths. Others brought hams and turkey and all the fixings. I had steam tables set up. Gay guys who were waiters and not working that day came to help escort them to the table and read them the menu of the day and then served them. I wanted them to know they where special to us. And we had entertainment. The seniors loved it. They would have stayed all night if they could have. I could not have done it without the help of my community. Later the seniors sent me thank-you notes that were so heartfelt that they made me cry. We made them feel like they had family.

WCT: When did you first hear about AIDS or when it was first named GRID?

MS: I heard about AIDS early on. Some of my best guy friends came down with it. But as I thought back, and I mentioned this to a friend at a memorial, that in the late 1950s I thought a gay guy Frankie, who came up with from the South, died of AIDS. So I think it had been around for a while before it became public. The reason I say this is cause when Frankie died, he looked like he was 90 years old, and he was probably a teenager. That was what AIDS looked like to me.

WCT: Tell me about the Gay $ campaign.

MS: Frank Kellas and I liked to hang out at either his bar, the Gold Coast, or mine, smoke a doobie and get drunk together. One time we were doing that and I said to him, 'Frank we have to do something. Evergreen Grocery Store [formerly at Broadway and Belmont] wrote this bad article telling their customers that if gay men sneeze on them or cough on them or touch them, that they'll get AIDS.' That was in their flier.

So we met at the store the next morning, which was a Saturday. I called [Mayor Harold Washington's gay and lesbian liaison] Kit Duffy and told her what we were doing and she said, 'I'll be right there.' Frank and I each took a cart and put all non-perishable items in four heaping carts. We piled on more and more and blocked aisles to talk about recipes, all sorts of shit. Then when we were finished filling the carts we just left them and walked outside. As we left the store, Kit Duffy went in and said to the manager, 'They will be here every Saturday until you print a retraction in your paper and make a sizable donation to an AIDS organization.' He said how much. We decided $500 was good.

At breakfast afterwards, we had an idea. I went to my stamp guy and asked him to make me a stamp that said Gay $ and a pad of red ink. I asked how much it would cost and he said $2. The stamps were $2 a piece and I had him make 100 of them. I got letters from all over the area of people who wanted that stamp to show the power of Gay $. All I asked for was the price of the stamp, so $2. I showed them what to do. They needed to stamp the currency on the front, on the left hand side, in red.

Then, the Secret Service caught wind of this and visited Frank at the Gold Coast. When they left his place, Frank called me and said they were coming my way. I swear to God when they came into the bar they were in trench coats. They said, 'Marge Summit' and flashed their badges. I made fun of them, I admired their badges and asked where I could get one like that. You can't let them know they got you. I was scared, but they weren't going to know that. They said, 'You're not talking this seriously' and I said, 'You're right, I'm not.' Then they left. We got reporters interested in the campaign and when we went downtown to meet with them, they said, 'What are you going to do if they arrest you.' I pulled out a Monopoly Get Out of Jail Free card and said, 'Oh, I've got that covered.'

WCT: That's great.

MS: Then we found out this bank on Diversey was scratching out the Gay $ stamp and just being pissy about the whole thing. So we bought a big purple carnival pig and went there and asked for the president of the branch and I handed him that and said, 'Congratulations, you have been awarded the Pig Bank of The Year.' Terry Savage from Channel 5 ( I believe ) came along with us in presenting the purple pig. Rick Karlin and a few others even took their money out of there after that.

WCT: You also co-produced the documentary film on gay and lesbian violence called Crimes of Hate. Tell me about that project.

MS: First off, Gary Chichester came to me and said gay men are being murdered on Halsted Street and no one is saying anything about it … . We sat down and decided to take a course in video filming with Chicago Cable Access. From there we got RJ Chaffin, Bill Varadoe and Kevin A. Johnson to come along with us. I named the group QED. We got it filmed and Cindy Schuch did the editing.

WCT: The movie was to bring awareness to the issue of anti-LGBT violence in Chicago?

MS: The movie was, yes. It did what we wanted it to do. The movie made people aware of it.

WCT: On a much happier note, how did you and your wife, Janan, meet?

MS: We met on Facebook in 2012. I had just finished my first bout of cancer and was kibitzing with a friend and Janan chimed in. I looked her up and she was in my age group. I asked her if she wanted to meet for coffee and she said she only had one cup a day. So, I asked her if she wanted to go walking in the park. She messaged me on Facebook later and gave me her phone number. I called her and said, 'Look, I'm bald and I just finished with cancer. I'm clean, but I'm bald.' She said that's no problem. Half her friends were bald, too.

I drove to her building on inner Lake Shore Drive and she came out and I went, 'Oh fuck, she's gorgeous.' And I wasn't looking for a relationship at all. I'd had it with romance. We talked for two hours and then she asked me up to her place on the 38th floor. Her place was gorgeous, white carpet and black furniture. I figured she might be out of my league. When I went downstairs, I had a parking ticket.

She called me later and said she was going to be over near me. So she came over, and we talked for a little bit, and ended up in bed. She never left. We have our ups and downs, but I wouldn't trade her for anything in the world. I'd been with some wonderful ladies and we were together for a reason, but never my reason.

WCT: What do you mean?

MS: They needed me, or needed something. One needed some support. One had to get away from her mother. Another wanted to be a cop and that would not work for a cop and gay bar owner to be together in the 1970s. No, no, no. Wonderful women, and I've remained friends with them all.

WCT: Why do you think they are so few women's bars in Chicago?

MS: Women aren't like men. Men are wham bam people and women aren't, they're looking for comfort. You guys can have four relationships in one night and we might have one. We're not prey animals. I don't quite buy the money argument, because women are thrifty. We might make less than men, but we're smart about it. Because of that, they don't support bars as much. They may come out Friday and Saturday, maybe Sunday afternoon, but a bar can't make it on those three days. You need business seven days a week.

WCT: As someone who has seen and experienced so much, I'm curious, have you ever seen a ghost?

MS: A women who bought the condo above me died there of a heart attack. She was very special in Uptown and has a plaque on the corner of our street, her name was Gladys. I made friends with her and when they sold the condo, her ghost appeared in my apartment and things kept getting moved around. They where remodeling her old condo and I think she was upset, so I told her she was more than welcome to stay with me. She still lets me know that she is around. Sometimes the cats look and as if she is there. Janan also has had things moved.

WCT: What do you think makes you a typical Virgo?

MS: I think that the work I do around the condo, like doing all the rehab and repairs in my condo to perfection makes me a typical Virgo

WCT: Looking back at the LGBT community over the years, what do you think was the biggest turning point in our history in Chicago?

MS: As for the biggest turning point of our history, I think it was the Gay $ campaign that Frank and I did. Getting 17 million dollars stamped woke our aldermen to how many gay people live in Chicago and that we are in every ward.

WCT: What about bars do you think has changed in the past few decades?

MS: Besides everybody looking at their phone instead of talking? I think a lot more straight people come to gay bars now because they've realized we are a lot of fun to be around.

WCT: What is your advice to the younger LGBTQ people of today?

MS: It's not safe to think you're OK in this world because you can have it all taken away immediately. People sometimes think we're home free, but we're not. Look at that idiot in the White House now. Never take any of your rights for granted.

WCT: So, worst-case scenario, what if our rights are taken away?

MS: That worries me. What are we going to do now? We're not as close as a community as we used to be. We've lost that community spirit. I think we need to be focused on getting that back and getting straights on our side as well.

WCT: So, as someone who knows the tavern world backwards and forwards, what is the secret to being a good bar owner?

MS: For me, I knew how I wanted to be treated. It was that simple. That was how I used to run my places.

Part one at www.windycitymediagroup.com/lgbt/Chicago-Icon-The-Marge-Summit-Story-Part-One-of-a-two-part-feature/61433.html .


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