Fifteen years after the Chicago Tribune pulled the plug on the INC. column, it’s back in the daily celebrity gossip-column business.
Without fanfare, the Tribune just launched Chicago Inc., a new version of an old franchise. Its resurrection follows the recent arrival of Michael Ferro, the celebrity-obsessed chairman of tronc (nee Tribune Publishing), parent company of the newspaper.
Like its INC. namesake, the new version is a collaborative effort among a trio of Tribune reporters — Kim Janssen, Tracy Swartz and Phil Thompson.
Initial offerings online Wednesday included a feature on Dick Van Dyke leading a singalong outside the Northwest Side childhood home of Walt Disney. Another item quoted Chicago’s British consul general hinting that James Bond might be gay.
While the Tribune has been without a daily gossip column for 15 years, the Sun-Times has enjoyed a monopoly in the genre with the likes of Michael Sneed, Bill Zwecker and most recently Shia Kapos. Stella Foster, who succeeded her late boss, Irv Kupcinet, retired in 2012.
Here is an excerpt from a column I wrote for Time Out Chicago in November 2011 on the 10th anniversary of the demise of the original INC. column:
An outgrowth of the late Aaron Gold’s Tower Ticker column, INC. was conceived by Tribune editor Jim Squires, who admired the Washington Star’s gossip/society column known as The Ear, and borrowed the idea of launching a gossip column written by committee (hence the “INC.” name). Squires no doubt also recognized the futility of having just one person compete for scoops with the omniscient Irv Kupcinet, whose Kup’s Column had been a fixture in the Sun-Times since 1943.
So on October 11, 1981, INC. was born as an amalgam of show biz, scandals, politics and personalities served up with snark by an amalgam of writers, starting with Gold, Bill Plunkett and Michael Sneed. Over the next two decades, its authors would include Ed Baumann, Cheryl Lavin, Kathy O’Malley, Hanke Gratteau, Dorothy Collin, Mike Conklin, Judy Hevrdejs, Teresa Wiltz, Ellen Warren and the late Terry Armour.
Since the column was only as good as its writers and their sources at any given time, its quality tended to be inconsistent. But it could always be counted on to report on boldfaced local celebrities behaving badly, getting divorced or suing one another. For a lot of Tribune readers, it was the first thing they turned to each day.
No reason was ever given for the demise of INC. But O’Malley, who was associated with the column in various forms longer than anyone (including a stint as Gold’s assistant), believes the rise of the Internet rendered it obsolete.
“There is no way that you could have a daily gossip column and have it really be very timely because secrets don’t keep anymore,” O’Malley told me in an interview earlier this year. “Everybody’s on Facebook or they’re texting and tweeting now. If there’s a good secret, it won’t keep till the next day. INC. was a dinosaur.”