• Welcome...

  • Chicago’s legendary hot spot that helped launch the great talent of our time is now alive online!

  • Let us entertain you with stories from the early days of Barbra Streisand, Richard Pryor, Ella Fitzgerald…

  • …And many more of our brightest stars.

David Marienthal shares his personal journal of memories and updates on the hottest talent to grace Mister Kelly's stage --- plus inspiration for future episodes of the TV show!
By David Marienthal and Tory Foster 15 Sep, 2017


The Mister Kelly’s team is overwhelmed by the incredibly talented and generous people that we have met, while creating our archive of the Marienthal Brother’s legendary nightlife empire. From colorful Rush St. regulars to famous performers, and everyone in-between, it has been a thrill. One of the most exciting encounters has been working with the renowned photographer, Art Shay. At the age of 95, Art is truly a legend in his own time.

            Shay began his career as a writer and journalist, but after showing a great eye for capturing images, soon transitioned into a career as a photographer. Based out of Chicago, he became one the nation premier photographers, working for major publications such as Life, Time, and Sport Illustrated. Art Shay photographed everything, from historic moments (1968 Democratic Convention) and iconic personalities (Muhammad Ali, The Rat Pack, President Kennedy), to street photography that captured the everyday life of average Americans. In the process he became one of the most celebrated artists of his medium and a Chicago legend.

            In light of this, we were honored when Mr. Shay was kind enough to donate one of his brilliant works to our project recently. The print is a wonderful slice of Chicago’s Rush Street from the 1960s. The photo was taken outside of The Happy Medium and features actor Tom Williams dressed as a child, holding a toy boat.

            Why is a grown man dressed as a child? Why a toy boat? Well, this can be explained. Tom Williams was part of was a comic review, produced by the Marienthal Brothers, called Put it In Writing . In the political satire, Williams plays America’s youngest president (an obvious nod to the newly elected JFK), who still has some childlike features. Put it in Writing would become the biggest play to originate at The Happy Medium and, after a long run in Chicago, it eventually made its way to New York for an off-Broadway production.

            We are humbled to receive this generous gift from such a preeminent artist. The photo is a brilliant image of mid-century Chicago history, from one of the men who documented it best. The photo will be cherished and used in our mission to record this unique piece of Chicago and American history. We wish to give a heartfelt thank you to our friend Art Shay, who contributed this beautiful photo to the Mister Kelly’s archive.

By David Marienthal and Tory Foster 19 Aug, 2017

Guest Blogger Sam Fazio is a popular Chicago vocalist. He  writes about Chicago’s own Mel Tormé, who appeared at Mister Kelly’s many times over the years.

A Kid from the South Side

Born Melvin Howard Tormé in 1925 on the south side to Jewish Russian immigrants, he started singing at a very young age of four with the Coon-Sanders Orchestra, performing at Chicago's Blackhawk restaurant. He continued his early career on radio series, playing drums and writing songs—all before high school graduation.


By David Marienthal and Tory Foster 25 May, 2017

Mister Kelly's is excited to welcome our newest young guest-blogger, Historian Adam Carston: Simply put, there is American comedy before Richard Pryor, and American comedy after Richard Pryor. With his combination of fearless honesty, provocative language, streetwise cool, and political savvy, he separated himself from other stand-ups. In the process, he also inspired a generation of comedians and cut a new path for them to travel. But Pryor’s famous, challenging persona was not born overnight.  It took years of hard work and experience, and a good measure of pain and go-to-hell abandon to fully define it. While there are multiple chapters in Richard Pryor’s emergence as a cultural icon, some key moments that would help shape his career, worldview and revolutionary comedic style took place at none other than Chicago’s entertainment hot spot on the forefront of political change: Mister Kelly’s.


More Posts
A closer look at the historic location where America’s biggest stars of jazz, comedy, and singing first grabbed the spotlight. Click on each image to see its full gallery!
Watch clips of great talent from the club's heyday…Keep your eyes on this page for upcoming documentary interviews of the people who made Mister Kelly’s the entertainment ground zero of the 1950’s, 60’s and 70’s. 
In the shark pit of Chicago’s 1960’s Rush Street, two Jewish brothers struggle to build their dream of a glamorous, romantic nightclub that spotlights controversial young talent…but first they’ll have to dance with critics, comedians, Irish cops, the IRS, Robert Kennedy, the color barrier, and the mobsters who run the street. The brothers embrace a ragtag group of waiters, hat-check girls, bartenders, valets, musicians, chanteuses, and playboys, who tell a fascinating story.
Documentary Info
Mister Kelly’s was on Rush Street, the Vegas of Chicago. Getting on stage there meant you’d made it to the big time. Performers such as Bill Cosby, Woody Allen, Bette Midler and Barbra Streisand were catapulted to fame after appearances as relative unknowns, and established artists recorded albums there: Sarah Vaughan, Muddy Waters, The Smothers Brothers, and Freddie Prinze. While it glistens in the memory of performers who are still going strong, it’s an overlooked nexus of America's cultural revolution.

For its founders, the Marienthal Family, Mister Kelly’s was a risky endeavor that never offered security. Growing up, young David Marienthal and his siblings enjoyed a traditional midwestern Jewish family life…but Oscar Peterson and the Smothers Brothers attended family parties. Through David’s eyes, this documentary tells the story of a cultural phenomenon, the family that created it, and the talent it brought forth. How do you change the world with a laugh and a song? Find out in a film that documents the rise and fall of one of American entertainment's great proving grounds.  

Featuring Interviews with:
Dick Gregory
Shecky Green
Ramsey Lewis
The Smothers Brothers
Lainie Kazan
Bob Newhart
Tom Dreesen
…and many more, coming soon!


Mister Kelly’s was not just a club, it was a family, and it still is. We welcome you to it. Your comments on the site, the history, and these marvelous performers are appreciated, so drop us a line!  

Mr. Kelly’s website was created and produced by Happy Medium Ventures. For information about projects, investment, partnership or business-related questions, please go to Happy Medium Ventures or contact:

David Marienthal
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