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
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.