Dick Babcock, Lisa Predko, Shane Tritsch, Christopher Benson, Christine Newman, Cassie Walker, Nora O’Donnell
Sex, Hollywood, the Mob, and a sweet little Illinois farm town" motivate Richard Babcock's story, American Gigolo, about Johnny Stompanato, the Woodstock native who seduced and scammed his way through Hollywood until, 50 years ago this month, he was stabbed to death by Lana Turner's daughter. Babcock was an 11-year-old Woodstock boy at the time of Stompanato's death. "I remember well when he was killed," Babcock says. "It was quite an event for the town." Over the intervening years he picked up pieces of the legend of the man who was known as a mobbed-up gigolo. "He's a vivid and almost iconic character—the nefarious ladies' man—and yet there's mystery about his life and motives," says Babcock, the editor of Chicago. After months of interviewing Stompanato's old acquaintances, searching records, and reading published accounts, Babcock, the author of the novels Martha Calhoun and Bow's Boy, found a complicated figure of novelistic depth. "I think he still comes out as a villain, but I hope he's a richer character," Babcock says.
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Discovering slices of people's lives was a highlight of taking the photos in Who Makes What for photographer Lisa Predko. Among the subjects were a Daily Herald reporter, a Prospect Heights police detective, and a fetish model/performer, who, as Predko discovered, has to lubricate her body to get into her outfit—and the lubricant can get on other things. "My assistant said, 'I have to go clean the doorknob to the bathroom,'" Predko recalls. Her favorite projects are vintage pinups and retro-themed images, such as a re-creation of the poster for Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! she has just completed for her husband's clothing line, 426Brand. "I'm so happy to be paid money to take pictures," Predko says.
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Chicago's managing editor Shane Tritsch conducted 40-some interviews to write Many Happy Returns, his article on 50 of the best financial advisers in Chicago. The conversations became an education on the range of services they offer and also an awakening to the breadth of their financial acumen. "I came into this thinking, I can manage my own finances. I came out thinking it would be valuable to have someone be the quarterback of my financial affairs," he says. The trait that distinguished these advisers, though, was the desire to help people. "They don't necessarily get turned on by hitting a home run in the stock market," Tritsch says. "They get jazzed by seeing their clients do well."
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The story of Emmett Till, the 14-year-old Chicago boy whose murder in Mississippi in 1955 helped spark the civil rights movement, has followed writer Christopher Benson, who reports this month in Arena ("The Haunted") on Ifa Bayeza and her new production at the Goodman Theatre, The Ballad of Emmett Till. "I have been haunted by it. I think the people who have gotten close to the story can't help but become drawn into it," he says. Benson co-wrote a book, Death of Innocence, with Till's mother, Mamie Till-Mobley, and as a professor of African American studies and journalism at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, he lectures regularly on Till. Over time, Benson says, the story has grown into something more complex than either history or legend. "It becomes our telling of it."
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Senior editor Christine Newman visited The Blackstone or its off-site office eight or ten times in researching this month's Reporter column, "Rooms with Memories," about the history and future of the Michigan Avenue hotel. On her first visit to see the renovation in progress, she says, "they whisked me up in an outside cagelike elevator and I thought I would collapse from vertigo." Also unsettling was the vast collection of celebrity stories about the hotel over the years. "There was so much material it was making me insane," Newman says. Also for this month's issue, she has written what a back-of-the- envelope calculation reveals to be her 57th At Home article for the magazine—this one on a 6,500-square-foot house in Bucktown.
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After more than 100 nominations poured in through Chicagomag.com and accumulated from their own research, senior editor Cassie Walker (left) and associate editor Nora O'Donnell (right) whittled the list down to five recipients of this year's Green Awards (The Shining), the second annual celebration of eco-pioneering Chicagoans. "This year we focused on true innovators," Walker says. "They're all problem solvers," O'Donnell adds. She also sees a drive and underlying inspiration in them: "They don't dabble." Another common thread among the winners is a connection to architecture and design. "It makes sense that building and design will be where Chicago makes its impact, given that's where our national contribution is," Walker says. She adds that the city has made it easy for green innovators, even though it "should be spanked on the whole recycling issue."
Photography: (Babcock) Katrina Wittkamp, (Predko) Predko/Chad McGavock, (Benson) Karen Blackwell, (Walker and O'Donnell) Kim Thornton