The new TV show The Playboy Club takes place in early 1960s Chicago. And if you’re going to do a series about Chicago, you have to include a political angle, right? As the saying goes, Chicago is to politics as Paris is to romance. The Playboy Club, of course, wants to be about both.
So one of the main characters is a young lawyer named Nick Dalton, who wants to leave his past as an Outfit mouthpiece behind and become Cook County State’s Attorney. The Outfit, though, doesn’t want to leave Dalton behind. Dalton constantly hounded by the son of crime boss Bruno Bianchi, who reminds him that the mob can help him get ahead in politics.
In 1964 Chicago, only one man could help you get elected state’s attorney: Mayor Richard J. Daley, chairman of the Cook County Democratic Party Central Committee.
Among local offices, state’s attorney was second only in importance to the mayor. It was important to have a Regular in there, who wouldn’t prosecute the Machine. In 1960, Daley handpicked Daniel Ward, who looked clean because he was the dean of the DePaul University Law School, to run against Republican incumbent Benjamin Adamowski. Adamowski had to go because he was investigating city workers for taking bribes to allow a trucking company to short-weight construction supplies. Legend has it that Daley stole the 1960 election for John F. Kennedy. But he stole just as many votes for Ward, who won by 25,000.
Given Daley’s concern with looking proper, it’s impossible to imagine him slating an ex-Mob lawyer. Daley wasn’t mentioned on The Playboy Club, but he’s an interesting part of the story, and not just because of his power to elect a state’s attorney. Hugh Hefner waged his sexual revolution on the Near North Side of Chicago, in the front of yard of America’s squarest mayor. Playboy was so successful because Hefner stood for rebellion against the Middle American prudishness Daley represented.
“Back in those days Chicago was a very Catholic town … and the relationship with the church and the relationship with the mayor was always a little testy,” Hefner told the Tribune recently.
Playboy would not have had the same mass appeal if it had been published in New York or San Francisco. Hefner’s testy relationship with Daley was no different than the testy relationship millions of other modern young men had with the politicians, bosses and clergymen in their own hometowns. Daley would have hated to hear it, but he was an important figure in the Playboy generation.
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