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Melissa Isaacson

Fame and fortune and Jon and Kate

Pedaling away in spin class this morning, and when I wasn’t thinking about possibly hurling, I was considering how fame can ruin people.
 

I’m not sure how exactly I made this jump from queasiness to Kris Allen and “Jon & Kate, Plus 8.” But oddly, I have been feeling sorry for the whole bunch of them.
 

Maybe it is because I have seen fame relatively close up. And I have observed how, in this country, the more famous someone becomes, the harder, seemingly, they must eventually be brought down. In a broad sense, the profession in which I have made my living has been largely responsible for this.
 

Patti B. Won’t Last a Minute in the Jungle

Took an early-morning power walk today with my friend Shari in which we walk really fast unless, a) Shari is waving to a passing car driven by someone she doesn’t know; or b) we forget to walk really fast because c) we’re talking about something important like how long Shari would last living in a jungle.
 

This was not idle chit-chat. This was a current events topic initiated by the news story broken exclusively on the Today Show this morning that Patti Blagojevich, wife of disgraced Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich, was taking her husband’s place on the NBC reality show, “I’m a Celebrity . . . Get Me Out of Here,” set in a Costa Rican jungle.
 

The Future of Journalism – Part II

So it appears I filed the last blog a little too soon.
 

I just discovered a Bloomberg.com report that the 136-year-old Harvard Crimson, which has turned out 12 Pulitzer Prize winners among its crop of future journalists, are “fleeing the ravaged profession.”
 

According to the report, just 3 of 16 of the paper’s graduating seniors who were on the paper’s executive board, plan to pursue a career in journalism. Of the last 10 managing editors, only two are working at newspapers.
 

The Future of Journalism

We were between innings at my son’s baseball game, yesterday. When he was younger, and the kid playing catcher needed half the team to help put back on the equipment, you could basically run home, have a snack, come back and not miss a moment of action.
 
Now that Alec is 11, it has been cut down considerably. But there was still enough time for a glance at my Blackberry and the e-mail that had come in from an unfamiliar address.
 

Why I Love Double Stuf and Dave Barry

Sometimes I feel like I am getting this unemployment thing all wrong.
 
For three weeks now (or is it two? Or maybe four?), I have been all charged up (aside from just a few intermittent bouts of crying and that was early on) and excited about the adventure of exploring all the new and wonderful possibilities for the future.
 
In fact, I have filled up almost an entire spiral notebook with all of these new and wonderful possibilities. And I have spoken with scores of people to gets ideas on even more new and wonderful possibilities.
 
Up until now, I have not, as I thought I might, retreated to the Double Stuf Oreos (one “f,” I checked, as this was important to me both as a reporter and consumer) or any number of TLC marathons (“Little People, Small World” and  “Half Man, Half Tree,” being particular favorites).
 
But then yesterday, it hit me. Somewhere between being rejected as a ghostwriter; told I needed to “inform, impart ideals and move minds” if I wanted to be a successful speaker; and finding out that an eight-year-old would soon be covering hockey for the major daily for whom I used to work, I became, well, a little down.
 

Clooney and Me

I’m not sure when I stopped being nervous and excited meeting famous athletes.

I know I used to think it was pretty cool interviewing Iowa football coach Hayden Fry and basketball coach Lute Olsen while still a student reporter for the Daily Iowan.

I remember being in awe of Sandy Koufax when I met him at the Dodgers’ spring training compound in Vero Beach, Fla., in my early years with Florida Today newspaper.

And I remember feeling extremely nervous the first time I ventured into the Bears visiting lockerroom at Tampa Stadium as the Tampa Bay Bucs beat reporter, also very early in my professional career.

Rocky and Bill

Rocky Wirtz wasn’t in the room when his mother died and he didn’t need to be there when it was his father’s time. That just wasn’t him and it wasn’t Bill Wirtz either.
 
But it was Rocky, the eldest of Bill and Joan’s five children, who, after Bill passed away at 12:15 in the morning, got the family together and made sure all the funeral arrangements were in place. And by 2:15 a.m., they were.
 
It was Sept. 26, 2007. And little more than a week later, at 55 years old, W. Rockwell Wirtz was the new chairman of the Chicago Blackhawks.
 
It came as something of a surprise to those outside the family and the organization. Despite being an officer of the Blackhawks, Rocky’s name was never even in the media guide. And it was his younger brother Peter, the team’s vice president, who worked more closely with their father on the hockey side of the family business, who seemed most closely aligned to him.
 
“For whatever reason, dad and Peter chose not to [involve me more], but it didn’t bother me,” Rocky said when I interviewed him shortly after he assumed his new position. “It was what it was. I had plenty to do. I was busy enough. I’d get involved with all the businesses. I was an officer of every company we had. We all worked together and that was Peter and dad’s deal and I didn’t bother treading on it.”
 
Rocky didn’t need to be threatened. For starters, as head of the family’s wholesale liquor empire, his side generated the majority of its billion dollar-plus annual revenue while the Hawks continued to lose money.
 
“What I was trying to do was to earn as much money on the other side of the organization as I could,” Rocky said. “If I could [earn] on a pre-tax basis  what the Hawks lost, that was my goal. Now I didn’t express that in great detail to dad, but that was my thinking. I was just hoping the Hawks wouldn’t get to the point where we couldn’t turn them around.”
 
It was weird to Rocky because in their other businesses, the wholesale side and their real estate holdings, Bill believed you had to spend money to make money, and then re-invest the money they made right back into the business, which in hockey meant players’ salaries.
 
“He just didn’t execute it and I don’t know why he didn’t follow through,” Rocky said.
 
There were other things father and son disagreed on, and Rocky was not shy in letting his father know about it.
 
“Dad and I would have our difference of opinion and it was always civil,” he said. “I always said, ‘Just because I’m on the same team doesn’t mean I have to always agree with you. You don’t pay me to agree with you. You can do that all by yourself.’ ”
 
The old man trusted him.
 
Rocky was the one who, as a child, went with his dad to the Hawks’ games and then out to the Pump Room after, where he would fall asleep in the booth while Bill had a few pops, then drive back home to Winnetka with him at 3 a.m.
 
“The school would call,” Rocky recalled with a laugh, “and they’d say, ‘We think there’s a problem with Rocky. He’s falling asleep in class. Do you think we need to have him tested?’ ”
 
He was nicknamed Rocky after his middle name Rockwell, the last name of his maternal grandmother. But Bill, who was involved in international boxing, told heavyweight champion Rocky Marciano that he named his first son after him. 
 
“My mom told the story of when I was born, getting flowers from Rocky Marciano, will little boxing gloves,” Wirtz laughed. “Depending on the audience, my dad changed the story.”
 
Rocky was in sixth grade when his grandfather Arthur began talking about the family succession plan, which would begin with Bill, followed by his younger brother Michael and eventually to Bill’s oldest son Rocky.
 
“Right or wrong, my grandfather didn’t have women in the business but everyone shared equally as far as what their percentage of ownership was,” Rocky said. “But as for running the operations, the corporations, it was going to be the male descendants.
 
“I always just assumed I’d eventually work for Michael and not directly for dad.”
 
After college, his grandfather officially asked him: “Do you want to sign onto this? And then, do you want to take responsibility for the family at the passing of either Michael or dad?” Rocky recalled. “So that was a question I had to ask myself. I’ve been groomed to take over for many, many years.”
 
His father taught him to trust his instincts and to never be intimidated by anyone or anything. And as Rocky grew older, Bill relied on him that much more.
 
The two spoke at least an hour a day every business day. Rocky could finish his sentences for him. In fact, in business meetings, the two spoke in a kind of code that would leave the others in the room completely confused.
 

The Evolution of the $#@%& Laptop

I am trying to embrace change. 
 

For example, the words above were the very first ones typed on my new non-Tribune laptop. For about an hour before that, I navigated the Internet for the first time on this foreign being, tried to locate all the cool new functions and yelled at my husband.
 

It then took me five minutes to craft this sentence because every time I typed a word, I inadvertently breathed on something that kept defining everything and then making it disappear. So I yelled at my husband some more.
 

Now I am exhausted.
 

Conquering My TV Phobias

Television can be a scary thing for the uninitiated. The red light goes on, I play with my hair just a second too long. The camera hones in, I look at the wrong one.
 

I trace it back to the first time I ever appeared on TV. It was on WGN. The year was 1965. And OK, I was not the featured guest on Bozo’s Circus that day, but I had air time. And it was not pretty.
 

Facebook Rants and the Woman with No Pants

When you say things like, “I don’t understand Facebook,” you risk sounding ancient, un-hip, dumb — none of which looks good on a resume.

That said, I don’t understand Facebook.
 

I signed up – well, ok, my daughter signed me up – for the same reason I do a lot of things, because someone told me I should.
 

I should point out that this rule of thumb has not always worked well for me in the past. Once I shopped at a boutique because someone told me I should, ended up spending $1,300 and getting sued for defamation. I would explain, but not sure I want to go down that road again.
 

Patrick Hat Trick

Turns out, Patrick Kane didn’t have to grow a full beard – or even a scrawny mustache. He didn’t have to bulk up. He didn’t have to stop ordering ice cream with chocolate sauce after every meal or taking long naps or playing video games.

Eating Brownies, Listening to Fogelberg

Most days it is my computer that beckons to me like an only friend. And then other days, like today, it is a pan of brownies. Make that two pans of brownies. Two pyrexes of my mother’s brownie recipe that I brought to a friend for Mother’s Day, but are now back in my house because she did not want her family to gorge themselves on the leftovers.
 

No, much better that my family/I gorge.
 

Motherhood II

Storytelling, I have decided, is sort of the verbal hieroglyphics of a family, the color added to the commentary; the explanation for the picture of your brother dressed as a princess at age four long after everyone has forgotten it ever happened.
 

After a couple dozen re-tellings, stories take the place of actual memories. They fill in all the gaps.
 

My mother was a fabulous storyteller. So good that at some point, she simply took over my father’s own childhood stories, which were clearly lacking, and told them herself.
 

Motherhood I

Wild thoughts go through your head when you’re pregnant, scary thoughts like, ‘Why should I cave in to societal pressures and not sprinkle pretzels on top of my pie a la mode?’
 

Once you have the child, other fears take over, many irrational. When my daughter Amanda was born nearly 14 years ago, I was seized by one in particular. Awakened in a sweat in the middle of the night, it plagued me.
 

What would I do if her hair grew to a length where it became necessary for some sort of accessory or other apparatus?
 

Gate 3 ½

Most people, most normal people, would describe this past weekend in Chicago as one of the most exciting and successful in this city’s recent sports history.
 

Two overachieving teams in the Blackhawks and the Bulls extended their respective playoff series in dramatic fashion with two victories at the United Center within about 17 hours of each other.  
 

My family and I were fortunate to attend both.
 

I wanted to throw up.
 

Adventures of Career Day

Showed up at junior high Career Day this morning without a career.
 

I didn’t plan it that way, of course. I had a career when they asked me to come back again this year. Actually, I had a career yesterday. Or was it two days ago? It’s all sort of a blur at this point.
 

My 13-year-old daughter’s instructions were pretty clear on how to address her fellow eighth graders, this being the first time she and I had ever collided on the Career Day circuit.
 

“Please,” she said with real feeling. “Please, don’t be boring.”
 

Tribune Hangover

It is 4:30 in the morning and I have spent the last two hours reciting my memoirs in my head, the last half hour going through my buddy list and asking everyone without an away message: “Are you up?”

Apparently, I am not the only one to remain logged on without an away message as the 10 people I have asked are either not up or a little scared of me.

I always thought that whole first-day-of-the-rest-of-your-life thing was one of the lamer clichés. But this is it. And I don’t think sleepless and swollen-eyed is exactly the way it was intended to be interpreted.

Fade to Black

Originally written by Melissa Isaacson for the Chicago Tribune.

Winner of the Peter Lisagor Award — Best Feature Story 2008

Click the link below to read the whole piece in PDF format.

Fade to Black (PDF)

 

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