Years ago former Chicago Bears legend, Ed O’Bradovich, approached me with a request I paint a portrait of football player Dan Hampton. Ed wanted to present the painting to Dan upon the occasion of Dan’s induction into the football hall of fame.
I had met O’Bradovich years earlier when he hired me to paint a mural in his Palatine, IL home. Ed had seen my work at Burning Ambitions, a cigar bar owned by his good friend. (I just took a moment to google Burning Ambitions and found the following quote, lifted from a 1997 newspaper. This is the first time I learned my name had made the papers twenty years ago!)
“Burning Ambitions features plenty of deep mahogany-stained oak wood as its dominant theme, encasing the bookshelves in the library, the wine racks and the wainscoting on the bar, Meanwhile, the chairs are richly appointed in a jewel-toned upholstery and original cigar-related murals, painted by Barrington artist Alice Tate, add a whimsical touch above the doors and windows.”* see footnote
In the late 90’s I came home from a day spent coloring on someone’s walls. My husband announced, with excitement, “Ed O’Bradovich called you!” Me, “…huh? Who is that?” If Susan Lucci had called, I’d have known the name. But a Bears football player? Not so much.
Ed asked me to come to his home, meet his wife Nancy and discuss some artwork for a hallway. She thought she’d like two faux topiary trees, planted in concrete urns, with twisted knobby trunks. Easy enough! Then Ed got involved with the plans.
“Please include a horse, a monkey, and a mouse in the paintings. Those are my kids’ nicknames.” Huh? Would the monkey be swinging from the tree limbs, the horse galloping under the branches? I put on my thinking cap. Ultimately I incorporated the horse head and monkey faces as “rosettes” carved into the urns. The mouse was a small fellow on the floor, peeking around the base of one pot.
Years later, when Ed requested the portrait I was reluctant. I’m not a portrait painter. Under different circumstances, I’d have turned him down. But this happened the summer after I’d chosen to leave my marriage. A settlement agreement had not yet been reached and I needed the money. With trepidation, I accepted the commission.
Ed wanted a big canvas. I sorted out my composition and set to work. My art studio was in a back storage room of friend Louise’s gift shop. Louise can’t paint, but she has a great eye. She frequently stood over my shoulder, making valuable suggestions.
Ed was pleased with the final version. (I have photos of it someplace, but I can’t find them. If I do I’ll drop them in later.) Ed invited me to come along to the swanky party the night of Dan’s celebration.
With barely any money, I turned to TJ Maxx, found a low cut little black dress and a pair of high FMP’s. I wasn’t going to waste extra scheckles on a push-up bra, so I squeezed my girls together and jacked them up with duct tape. Yay! Cleavage. Duct tape is wonderful stuff. It saved Apollo 13. I had a friend who, prior to a facelift, would pull her jowls to the back of her neck and hold them there with duct tape.
The night of the event Ed and his friend, Paul, picked me up in a long, glossy stretch limo. We headed to Ditka’s Restaurant in Chicago. As we walked through the front door, I turned to Ed and said, “Don’t feel you have to babysit me, by all means, work the room.” Paul smiled and stated, “Ed doesn’t go to the room, the room comes to him.” And it did.
I was the only woman in a banquet hall teeming with football players. I had not a clue who most were. I did recognize Mike Ditka. And Dan Hampton, of course.
I’m here to tell you, it was painful to witness those professional ball players trying to stand up from a chair. Years of being pummeled take its toll. In fact, when I painted in Ed and Nancy’s home, Ed had a massage every other day. I’d hear him crying out in pain as the masseuse broke up his knotted muscles.
I’m glad my job doesn’t involve being trampled regularly. The pay isn’t great, but sitting on my broad backside suits me perfectly!
*I just remembered, I did do a portrait at Burning Ambitions. Bill Clinton smoking a cigar. The cigar band read “Lewinsky.”
Lots of other fun memories of Ed are rolling through my brain. His sweet wife, Nancy, had maiden name Francie. She always called me by my entire name–“Alice Jay Tate.” I always called her “Nancy Francie.” Both Ed and Nancy were so kind to me. I just looked up his snail mail address. Will send him a note this morning thanking him for the astonishing portrait opportunity.
In the above photo, you’ll notice Ed is wearing the ring he received when the Bears won the NFL championship. While working in his home I slid that ring on my finger. It would have made a better bracelet than a ring. So big!