Even if you weren’t addicted to the black and white movies about newspaper gals such as Katherine Hepburn in “Woman of the Year” and Glenda Farrell in the Torchy Blane series like I was, Renee Rosen’s latest book, “” about a Chicago reporter in the 1950s, is still a great read.
Rosen, who plums Chicago’s history to write such books as “Dollface,” about flappers and gangers like Al Capone, and “What the Lady Wants” about the affair between department store magnate Marshall Field and his socialite neighbor, tells about a time not that long ago when women reporters were almost always relegated to covering soft news and society items.
In her latest, Jordan Walsh wants to break out of her role as a society reporter and sees her chance when she finds a deeply connected source in the mayor’s office. But despite her source and ambition as well as family connections to such great Chicago writers as Mike Royko, Nelson Algren and Ernest Hemingway, Jordan must still contend with the attitude of it’s a man’s business.
To research her book, Rosen spent a lot of time talking to reporters to find out what it was like back in the day.
“I think what I found most surprising was how the female reporters back then were called ‘Sob Sisters’ because they were assigned the sentimental stories or stories intended to tug at the readers’ heartstrings,” Rosen says about what she found when she began her extensive research. ”Sexism in the newsroom was blatant back then. Also in terms of sexual harassment, back in the day that phrase wasn’t in anyone’s vocabulary. Of course career women didn’t like it, but there was no one to turn to, no one to complain to.”
Rosen, who lives in Chicago, says she often will find herself walking down a street and thinking this is where Dion O’Banion worked (one of the gangsters featured in “Dollface”) or this is where Delia Caton and Bertha Palmer shopped (“What the Lady Wants”).
“Or in the case of ‘White Collar Girl,’ I’ve been to some of the watering holes where a young Mike Royko or a Nelson Algren would have frequented,” says Rosen, noting that she’s watched “All the President’s Men” about “a million times.”
“I can go to City Hall and walk the very hallways that Mayor Daley walked. Call me a history nerd, but for me that’s a thrill. Sometimes I do get so obsessed with a subject matter that I do find I have to pull myself back to the present time.”