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RIVER FOR­EST

Chicago Sun-Times - - News - BY BILL CUN­NIFF

In the 1930s, ac­tor Don Ameche resided in a house in west sub­ur­ban River For­est. It’s one of the vin­tage Prairie-style res­i­dences open for tour­ing on Satur­day dur­ing a housewalk in the River For­est His­toric District. Ameche be­gan his ra­dio ca­reer on “Em­pire Builders,” broad­cast from the Mer­chan­dise Mart in Chicago, says the Ra­dio Hall of Fame’s Web site. By 1932, he had be­come the lead­ing man on two other Chicago-based pro­grams: the drama “The First Nighter” and “Betty and Bob,” con­sid­ered to be the fore­run­ner for soap op­eras.

In 1936, Ameche moved to Cal­i­for­nia. Per­haps his best-re­mem­bered ra­dio role was the gruff John Bick­er­son with a de­mand­ing wife, Blanche (played by Frances Lang­ford), on “The Bick­er­sons.” Ameche and Lang­ford recorded a se­ries of Bick­er­sons al­bums for Columbia Records.

Ameche’s ca­reer in movies spanned more than half a cen­tury. He played the ti­tle char­ac­ter in “The Story of Alexan­der Gra­ham Bell,” about the in­ven­tor of the tele­phone. The role in­spired a slang ex­pres­sion, “You’re wanted on the Ameche,” as a way of telling some­one they had a phone call.

Ameche played a son of Mrs. O’Leary (whose cow started the Great Chicago Fire) in “In Old Chicago” (1937). The ac­tor’s fa­vorite film was “Heaven Can Wait,” which was an Academy Award Best Pic­ture nom­i­nee in 1943.

The ac­tor won the best sup­port­ing ac­tor Os­car for his role as a mem­ber of a se­niors com­mu­nity that dis­cov­ers a foun­tain of youth in “Co­coon” (1985). In in­ter­views, he said he had spent two months learn­ing to break-dance, ex­press­ing pride at hav­ing per­formed “97 per­cent of the gy­ra­tions.” (An 18-yearold pro­fes­sional dancer filled in on the other 3 per­cent.)

On Os­car night, as Ameche stood at the podium to ac­cept his Academy Award, the ap­plause lasted a good 30 sec­onds. Later, he told re­porters that if the Os­car was a sen­ti­men­tal trib­ute be­cause “I’ve been around as long as I have, that’s lovely, too.” Ameche died in 1993. The Prairie Style house Ameche lived in was de­signed by William Drum­mond in 1912, di­rectly across the street from the ar­chi­tect’s own house built two years ear­lier (which is also on the tour Satur­day). A Ro­man brick fire­place opens to both the liv­ing room and din­ing room. A desk, book­cases and cab­i­nets are all orig­i­nal.

The cur­rent own­ers of the home col­lect an­tiques, in­clud­ing 18th cen­tury desks, cab­i­nets, Amer­i­can folk art and African art from re­cent trips to that con­ti­nent.

Wal­ter Gerts house

In 1905, ar­chi­tect Charles E. White left the em­ploy­ment of Frank Lloyd Wright for his first com­mis­sion on his own: a “frame-and-stucco coun­try house” built for Wal­ter Gerts for $5,500.

In 1910, the house was heav­ily dam­aged in a fire. Gerts, his wife and their 12-year-old daugh­ter nar­rowly es­caped

Don Ameche

In 1910, the Gerts fam­ily was saved from a fire in their home when an alert neigh­bor threw a flat­iron through a win­dow, awak­en­ing the res­i­dents while there was still time to flee to safety. Frank Lloyd Wright de­signed the restora­tion af­ter the blaze.

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