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Famous (and not-so-famous) Chicago-British Connections

April 26, 2011 7:00 AM

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Chicago’s last real brush with British royalty was in the summer of 1996, when Princess Diana stopped by for three days, staying at the Drake hotel, visiting Northwestern and partying at the Field Museum. It marked a rare occasion for the city to host a major royal visit, and was one of several notable associations with England throughout the city’s history. Several other Brits have made their mark on Chicago in distinct ways, and vice versa. Here’s a rundown of some other famous (and not-so-famous) Chicago-British connections.

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(credit: AFP/AFP/Getty Images)

Charlie Chaplin

Before Hollywood, there was…Chicago. During the silent film era, before Hollywood established itself as the motion picture capital, Chicago was a hotbed of film making. In 1915, Londoner Charlie Chaplin lived in Chicago and made 14 short comedies for Essanay Studios at both the Chicago (Uptown) and Niles locations, including the classic “The Tramp.”

Ronald Coase

British-born Ronald Coase may not be a household name, but in the world of Economics, he is a giant. MBA students will be familiar with the name, and likely familiar with Coase’s 1937 article “The Nature of the Firm.” Coase began teaching at the University of Chicago in 1964, and won the Nobel Prize in 1991. He recently turned 100, is currently Professor Emeritus at U of C, and is reportedly working on a book on the economies of China and Vietnam.

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(credit: Ron Hoskins/NBAE via Getty Images)

Loul Deng

A more familiar name to latter-day Chicagoans, Luol Deng is both a Chicago Bull and a member of the Great Britain national basketball team. Born in Sudan, Deng emigrated with his family to Brixton, South London, where he began his career at Brixton Basketball Club. Deng announced last month that he will compete in the 2012 London Olympics as part of the British national team. Former Bull Ben Gordon, also a British citizen, may be joining Deng on the team.

Samuel Insull

The name Samuel Insull may not be familiar to most Chicagoans, though nearly everyone in the Chicago area has their energy delivered by companies that evolved from companies he owned. Insull was born in London and moved to Chicago in 1892 and incorporated companies that became ComEd and Peoples Gas, among others. He is also known for creating the throne-shaped Civic Opera House on Wacker Dr. The film Citizen Kane was partly based on his life.

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(credit: TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP/Getty Images)

Monty Python

The quintessentially British comedy troupe includes a Chicago component in the form of Kim “Howard” Johnson. Johnson, a founder of ImprovOlympic, was in the Monty Python classic “Life of Brian,” and is a leading Python scholar, who has authored several books about the group. Johnson isn’t the only Chicago-Python connection–Eric Idle’s wife is from Willow Springs.

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(credit: Michael Loccisano/Getty Images)

Jerry Springer

While it may not be evident from his rust belt accent, Jerry Springer was born in England, at the Highgate tube station in London. He emigrated to the U.S. with his parents in 1949, served as mayor of Cincinatti from 1977-1978, and debuted “The Jerry Springer Show” in 1991. Springer’s infamous lowbrow talk show was taped at Chicago’s NBC Tower from 1992-2009 before moving to Stamford, Connecticut. NBC Tower is still home to the offshoot Steve Wilkos Show, of which Springer is executive producer.

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(credit: Tom Sandler/Getty Images)

The Rolling Stones

Apart from owing most of their sound to gritty Chicago blues, the Stones have maintained a fairly consistent history of homage to the city throughout their career. In 1964 the group recorded “Time is on My Side” and their first UK #1 hit, “It’s All Over Now,” at Chess Studios at 2120 S. Michigan Ave. The group returned on two more occasions to record at Chess. In 1981 they paid a visit to the late, lamented Checkerboard Lounge on the South Side to jam with Muddy Waters (the gig is currently available on DVD). In 1997 the Stones played an impromptu small club concert at the Double Door in Wicker Park for a very lucky crowd of 400 who paid $7 each to see the show, which was quietly announced by the band’s name appearing on the marquee at 9:00 a.m. that day.

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(credit: Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images)

Elizabeth Taylor

British-born Liz Taylor never officially lived in Chicago, but was a Chicagoan-in-law. In 1957, Taylor married Chicagoan Michael Todd, a theater and film producer (“Around the World in Eighty Days”) who owned the Michael Todd Theatre on Dearborn St. where the Goodman Theatre now resides. Todd died in a plane crash in 1958, and Taylor had him buried in Forest Park at Beth Aaron Cemetery. Taylor and Todd’s son took over management of his company, and produced the experimental Smell-O-Vision movie “Scent of Mystery” that debuted unsuccessfully at the theater in 1960.

James Watson

Anyone who’s had a biology class should be familiar with the team of Watson & Crick. James Watson was born in Chicago in 1928, and studied at the University of Chicago before moving on to the University of Cambridge in England, where he began working with Francis Crick. At Cambridge, the team discovered the double helix structure of DNA, arguably the most important scientific discovery of the 20th century. Watson was later awarded the Nobel Prize, has written several books, and still travels giving lectures.

Greg Wahl is a Chicagoan, a freelancer, a grad student, and a seeker of all things awesome & interesting throughout the city and beyond.

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