Hon­ored nov­el­ist ran Mal­ing’s shoe chain

Chicago Sun-Times - - OBITUARIES - BY MAU­REEN O’DONNELL Staff Reporter Email: mod­on­[email protected]­times.com Twit­ter:@sun­time­so­bits

No­body would con­fuse the shoes at Mal­ing’s with Manolo Blah­niks.

But for many Chicago women of a cer­tain age, Mal­ing’s was the place where their shoe ob­ses­sions be­gan.

The chain, with its flag­ship store at 231 S. State, stretched from Chicago to Wis­con­sin and Ok­la­homa.

Cute but cheap, its shoes out­fit­ted gen­er­a­tions, from 1920s flap­pers who would have dubbed them “the cat’s meow” to 1970s women who found them “foxy.” Whether for prom, grad­u­a­tion or a wed­ding, Mal­ing’s was, as their ad slo­gan said, “Where the Fash­ion­able Find the Af­ford­able.”

The re­tailer was started in 1912 by five Ger­man im­mi­grant brothers. As each died, the oth­ers bought out their shares. Mal­ing’s even­tu­ally ended up in the hands of Arthur Mal­ing, the only child of Al­bert Mal­ing, one of the founders. Arthur Mal­ing headed the com­pany in its later years, un­til it was sold in the 1970s.

Mal­ing’s had knock­offs be­fore any­one even used the term.

“They went to all the de­signer shoe [stores], would buy them, and they went to one of their plants, copied it,” said Arthur’s son, Michael Mal­ing. “They made it cheaply so they could sell it cheaply. We had a plant in Italy and one in Bos­ton.”

The win­dows beck­oned, their shoes dis­played like tooth­some sweets.

“I was al­ways a shoe per­son, and I think Mal­ing’s was the start of it,” said Mar­sha Bren­ner, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of Chicago’s Ap­parel In­dus­try Board. “This wasn’t some­thing you did with your mom — you went with your girl­friends to shop for the sharpest or the coolest be­cause they had it, they re­ally did. Those of us that were baby-sit­ting . . . you could re­ally save your money to buy a pair of shoes that your mom wouldn’t buy for you be­cause they were fancy or weren’t sen­si­ble.”

But sell­ing shoes was never what Arthur Mal­ing re­ally wanted to do. He wanted to write.

As a kid at Fran­cis W. Parker School, he won $25 in an es­say con­test. At Har­vard Univer­sity — where he grad­u­ated magna cum laude in three years — he won another writ­ing com­pe­ti­tion.

In 1967, “bored out of my skull,” he hauled out his type­writer and started writ­ing, he told the Chicago Sun­Times in a 1988 in­ter­view.

“He would get up at 4 o’clock in the morn­ing, write till 8, go to Mal­ing’s,” said his son Michael. “He would come home at night and sleep.”

He pro­duced 14 who­dun­nits. In 1980, his book “The Rhein­gold Route” won an Edgar for best novel, a cov­eted award be­stowed by the Mys­tery Writ­ers of Amer­ica. Named for Edgar Al­lan Poe, it’s been dubbed the Os­car for sus­pense au­thors.

Mr. Mal­ing, 90, died Oct. 24 at his home in the John Han­cock Center, sur­rounded by the lake views he loved.

His smart and sin­gle­minded mother helped set the course of his life. A daugh­ter of Ger­man im­mi­grants, Alma Gor­don Mal­ing was one of the first women to grad­u­ate from the Univer­sity of Texas in 1920, said Mal­ing fam­ily at­tor­ney Harry B. Rosen­berg.

Michael Mal­ing said that when his fa­ther was a kinder­gart­ner, Alma Mal­ing went to Fran­cis W. Parker and asked: “What cour­ses does he need to take to get into Har­vard?”

Mr. Mal­ing found his way into the fam­ily busi­ness at his mother’s in­sis­tence.

Af­ter serv­ing as a naval en­sign dur­ing World War II, he worked as a news­pa­per reporter in Cal­i­for­nia. Alma Mal­ing — miss­ing him but also con­cerned about how his ab­sence was af­fect­ing the shoe stores — went west to re­trieve him, Michael Mal­ing said.

“She went out there and wouldn’t leave un­til he came back,” he said.

Mr. Mal­ing mar­ried Beatrice Gold­berg, whose fam­ily founded Gold­berg’s Fash­ion Fo­rum, a Chicago chain. They later di­vorced.

He learned the shoe busi­ness from the bot­tom up, start­ing out by fit­ting cus­tomers with shoes, his son said.

Once his writ­ing took off, Mr. Mal­ing was known for craft­ing de­scrip­tive pas­sages like this one about a Lin­coln Park apart­ment in “Lover and Thief,” a mys­tery fea­tur­ing pri­vate eye Calvin Bix: “He was neat, health-con­scious and vain. The bed was made, shirts and un­der­wear were folded and stacked in their sep­a­rate draw­ers, and shoes were in a com­part­mented bag. There was an al­pha­bet of vitamin pills in the medicine cab­i­net; all the pack­aged foods on the kitchens shelves were of the sort that’s sup­posed to be good for you; the linen closet had few linens in it but lots of stuff to make skin and hair look nice.”

Mr. Mal­ing en­joyed trav­el­ing to re­search set­tings for his mys­ter­ies. “He would go to a place like Am­s­ter­dam, stay for sev­eral months,” Rosen­berg said.

John le Carre was his fa­vorite sus­pense au­thor. A big fan of mae­stro Ge­org Solti, Mr. Mal­ing was a pa­tron of the Chicago Sym­phony Orches­tra, the Lyric Opera and the Art In­sti­tute.

Ser­vices have been held.

| SUN-TIMES LI­BRARY

Arthur Mal­ing, who grad­u­ated from Har­vard magna cum laude in three years, won an Edgar for best novel.

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