Irv Kupcinet was a reporter and celebrity columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times for an incredible 68 years from 1935 to 2003. He was born on July 31, 1912 near 16th and Kedzie in what was then the mostly Jewish North Lawndale neighborhood on the West Side of Chicago. He was the youngest of four children of Russian immigrants, Ogla and Max Kupcinet. Max was a bakery truck driver and as a boy Irv helped his father make deliveries with a horse and wagon.
Kup attended the old Carter Harrison High School at 24th and Marshall Blvd. where he was editor of the school newspaper and president of the senior class. The school is now elementary grades only and was re-named in 1981 for Maria Saucedo, a teacher who was killed in a fire.
Kup won a football scholarship to Northwestern University in 1930 but later transferred to where football opportunities for him would be better at the University of North Dakota at Grand Forks. He graduated in 1934.
Kup played just part of one season with the new NFL franchise Philadelphia Eagles in 1935 before being benched with an injury that ended his brief NFL career. Many years later Kup announced Chicago Bears games with Jack Brickhouse on radio.
Near the end of 1935, Kup went to work as a sports reporter for The Chicago Times as the evening newspaper was then named. In late 1946, the newspaper merged with the morning paper called The Chicago Sun to become the Chicago Sun-Times. By the late 1940s, the editors at The Chicago Sun-Times wanted a local celebrity columnist who could rival the New York-based columnist and radio broadcaster Walter Winchell. Kup became friends with the A-list celebrities of New York and Hollywood who often stopped off in Chicago on trains and planes crossing the nation in one direction or another or appearing at the night clubs and stage venues of Chicago in the 1950s.
Kup's unofficial office in those years was Booth Number One at the Pump Room of the Ambassador East Hotel at 1301 N. State Parkway. The combination of the hotel and Kup's special table was the perfect magnet for celebrities stopping in "Our Town" as Kup always referred to Chicago.
In 1938 Kup met a Northwestern co-ed names Esther (Essee) Solomon and they married in February 1939. Theirs was a decades-long love story. Essee died two years before Kup in 1991 after 62 years of marriage. For fifty years, Kup and Essee hosted the Purple Heart Cruise on the Chicago River to honor America's veterans.
They had a daughter Karyn and a son Jerry. It must be pointed out here that the tragic and unexplained murder of Kup's 22-year-old daughter Karyn after Thanksgiving of 1963 was often cited in Kennedy Assassination conspiracy books as somehow an unexplained death related to that dark event in American history. There was no connection whatsoever other than the fact that Karyn's death was a week later and was unexplained. The continuing use of Karyn's name in connection with lists that were reprinted in several JFK conspiracy books was a source of pain to Kup that he most recently wrote about when the NBC Today Show recklessly used the list in 1992.
At one time, Kup was considered by NBC as a possible replacement for Jack Paar whose show later became The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson in 1962. But Kup adopted a different format for a show based in Chicago. His TV show was at first called At Random and WBBM-TV and that show was later taken over by John Madigan. Kup's Show with that new name was later in syndication to about 70 stations around the country and his free style format he said was "dedicated to the lively art of conversation." Kup was on TV locally and nationally for 27 years from 1959 to 1986 and his program won 15 Emmy Awards and The Peabody Award. He was named to the Chicago Journalism Hall of Fame in 1982.
Even after Essee died in 2001, Kup kept up with his column but on a less frequent basis. He was age 91 at the time of his death in 2003. Kup at one movie role to his credit. He played himself in the film Advise and Consent. For a while in his later life, colleagues at his own newspaper and other papers as well as civic leaders often referred to Irv Kupcient as "Mr. Chicago." After 68 years at the heart of Chicago's civic and political life and hosting the greats of business, sports, and entertainment, its hard to think of someone more deserving of that title.
The Wabash Avenue Bridge over the Chicago River near the now demolished Sun-Times Building was re-named by the city as Kupcinent Bridge in 1986. Kup also gave money to his favorite charity, The Karyn Kupcinet School at The Weizmann Institute at 79 W. Monroe Street.