Kogan began the evening by reading excerpts from Royko columns, concluding each segment with "Ladies and Gentlemen, the words of Mike Royko." As he completed his monologue, the balance of the cast took the stage and sat at tables meant to mimic those at the Billy Goat Tavern Mike helped make famous.
TV and print reporter Carol Marin was the first to speak. She reflected upon a childhood of reading four Chicago newspapers each day, and the scramble among her siblings at the dinner table for the Chicago Daily News. Royko's column was a resident on page 2. This spawned a career in journalism, and if her column in the Sun-Times yesterday is any indication, she did Mike proud. Marin ended by reading from Royko's column on the unveiling of the Picasso sculpture at City Plazea (since named after the venerable Mayor Richard J. Daley).
Marin was followed by Sam Royko, Mike's youngest son. Sam reflected upon his father's role of media watchdog and how these trying times demand more journalists in his father's mold. John Kass of the Chicago Tribune spoke next and acknowledged the 200-pound giant he carries on his back each and every day as the occupant of Mike's former place in the Chicago Tribune. He empathized with the difficulty that every columnist has in writing a daily piece, and chose Mike's obituary for a balloon salesman as a way of illustrating Royko's ability to make the exploits of the common man the stuff of legend.
Mike's oldest son David spoke about the strains that his famous career as a journalist placed upon his private life as a family man. Rarely did Mike ever mix the two, but David read from a rare column his father wrote about short-legged dogs and their travails when it snows. The object of this writing was his wife and their family pet.
Neil Giuntoli, the star of Hizzoner, arrived dressed the part of Royko's Boss, Mayor Richard J. Daley. Giuntoli read the December 21, 1976, column that Mike wrote the day Daley died. Although a proverbial thorn in the Mayor's side, Royko recognized his strengths alongside his weaknesses, and acknowledged that Daley embodied Chicago in so many ways.
Judy Royko, Mike's second wife, reflected upon the man he was. Kind, witty, a family man to the core, the best of what was reflected in his columns throughout the years.
Rick Kogan interviewed the world's greatest tavern owner, Sam Sianis of the Billy Goat, who called Mike a brother and claims that he's seen his ghost at the bar. Kogan also spoke to Studs Terkel at the end of the program. Studs recalled Mike's ability to constantly choose the right words, the remarkable quality of the five columns he penned each and every week, and the integrity with which he made his final career change. When Rupert Murdoch purchased the Sun-Times, Mike walked across the street to his lifelong nemesis, the "voice piece of northern Republicanism," none other than the Chicago Tribune. After all, according to Royko, "No self-respecting fish would be wrapped in a Murdoch paper."
The evening ended with a film clip of Mike holding court at the Billy Goat after a 16" softball game, and an invitation from Kogan to the audience to attend a private party at the Goat.
Although I am admittedly an unconventional Royko fan, the evening meant a great deal to me as someone who admired the man from afar. I came to appreciate Mike in college as I subscribed to the Tribune. I caught only the final couple years of his daily musings, but felt a personal connection to the man nonetheless. His death in 1997 was nothing short of devastating.
Upon moving to Chicago in 2001, I came across the compilations of his columns published upon his death, One More Time and For the Love of Mike. I read his tome Boss and later purchased a class set for my high school students to read. I tracked down old volumes of his articles, and tried to read as many of his 8,000 columns as humanly possible. I even read Ciccone's uneven biography. In the process, I received a priceless education on a city I have since adopted as home.
His widow, Judy, donated all of Mike's 8,000 columns to the Newberry Library for preservation and research. For the sake of his loyal readers everywhere, and relative newcomers like myself, let's hope they're all digitized soon and placed online for the public to enjoy and learn. Moreover, echoing the advice of Roger Ebert, the Tribune and/ or the Sun-Times should publish one of Mike's old columns every day. Long live the byline that became a legend, Mike Royko!