Jack Eigen

Though some found Jack Eigen abbrasive, enough WMAQ radio listeners (and advertisers) found him compelling enough to assure him a late-night radio career that extended from 1951 to 1971 (with a few hiatuses along the way). Eigen was primarily an interviewer of show-business types. His broadcast began as a remote from the lounge of the Chez Paree nightclub at 610 N. Fairbanks and continued in NBC-Chicago's studio G (with a small audience) after the bistro shuttered in 1960. Thanks to WMAQ's 50-thousand-watt clear channel signal (which was heard in thirty-eight states after dark), Eigen's audience extended far beyond the Windy City. Perhaps that helps explains the on-air longevity of a Brooklyn-born (and Brooklyn-sounding) personality in a market that has generally preferred those with Midwest sensibilities.

Eigen billed himself as "controversial" (as I recall, his show was introduced by a jingle that began, "Jack, Jack, Jack, controversial as can be, be, be...").

The "controversial" aspect of Jack Eigen probably dates from February 15th, 1954 when he engaged in an extended on-air kiss with film actress Cleo Moore during the course of a late-night WBKB (ABC channel 7) television broadcast (Eigen had several other short-lived television shows on channels 5, 9 and 44).

Ms. Moore, a D-cup, B-movie starlet, was in town promoting "Bait", a film that had just opened at the United Artists Theater.

The precise length of the kiss was never documented since the the broadcast was not recorded. But some later claimed it lasted more than four minutes. In any case, irate phone calls flooded the station switchboard.

The following day WBKB station manager Sterling "Red" Quinlan sent Eigen a telegram: "Regret to inform you that due to extreme poor taste exhibited in telecast of Monday night in putting on a kissing exhibition that under no circumstances can be considered acceptable television fare in the homes of our viewers, we must terminate your services."

Eigen's "Kiss of Fire" (as Irv Kupcinet called it in his Sun Times column of February 8th) generated considerable media coverage, both in Chicago and Manhattan where Ms. Moore's film was scheduled to open next. Newsweek published a photo of the couple engaged in a post-osculatory cleanup.

That a still photographer just happened to be on the scene suggests that the kiss was a publicity stunt.

The Eigen-Moore incident was perhaps the inspiration for a Mike Nichols-Elaine May bit wherein a radio interviewer named "Jack Ego" asks a starlet whether she admires Albert Schweitzer. The starlet replies that she does, "although I've never dated him."

The furor of 1954 seems silly in retrospect. But it was still a time when television stations proudly displayed the National Association of Broadcasters "Seal of Good Practice" (and CBS banned use of the word "sex" altogether).

Jack Eigen's "Chez Show" was a Chicago version of a similar broadcast he did from New York City's Copacabana nightclub beginning in 1947, first on WHN, later on WINS. Fred Allen regularly mentioned Eigen on his broadcasts, adding to his reputation beyond Manhattan.

Jack's broadcasting career began a decade earlier at WMCA where he delivered a radio version of a Broadway gossip column he wrote for a New York theatrical publication. Variety claims a plug in an Ed Sullivan column landed him this gig.

Eigen moved to South Florida in 1971 where he continued to broadcast on local stations until a week before his death in Fort Lauderdale on January 23rd, 1983. He was survived by his wife Dorothy and daughter Jacqueline.

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