Arch Madness

A rough guide to St. Louis

The Maryland youth was sent here to be with relatives after he started behaving strangely. After a brief stint holed up at a Saint Louis University rectory, the demonic boy was sent to the since-demolished psychiatric wing of Alexian Brothers hospital. Here, Satan wreaked havoc. On Easter Sunday, priests started talking Catholicism to the boy -- a sure-fire way to send anyone running. Satan left the body and, presumably, St. Louis.

Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom, 3033 Locust Avenue.

Dan Zettwoch
Dan Zettwoch

Just east of the Fox Theatre in the midtown industrial district is the former Premier Studios. The space is now vacant, a sad, sorry shell. In the mid-1960s, though, chimps, hawks and eagles ran wild in the studio, the place where Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom was filmed for five years.

The late Marlon Perkins and Jim Fowler recorded their between-safari banter at Premier. By phone from his home in New Canaan, Connecticut, Fowler recalls Mr. Moke, a famous chimpanzee living at the Saint Louis Zoo. "He was the first chimp that could say his name, and he said 'mama' very clearly."

But Mr. Moke was prone to tantrums. One time Mr. Moke punched Fowler in the nose. "It made me see stars. It was the day that Liston beat Patterson for the title. That's why I remember it."

Another time, the chimp went completely berserk. "He puffed himself up like a pin cushion, grabbed a big light on rollers and rolled it across the studio. His trainer tried to subdue him, and Moke hit him. The trainer took off."

Running wild, Moke chased everyone out of the studio except for Fowler and an assistant trainer. "Moke hit him just like a slugger in the stomach," laughs Fowler. "All of a sudden I was the only one left. I began to try and get him. Moke ran downstairs, ran through the editing room where these editors were meticulously going through film. As I was chasing him, he pulled a chair behind him just like a kid trying to run away from somebody."

Moke trashed the editing room, then raced back upstairs. "All of a sudden this chimp runs toward the front door. He actually had his hand on the doorknob to go out on Locust, but when I got to him -- I knew I could act dominant, I'm a tall guy -- he reverted back. He was very subdued, and took me by the hand.

"Later people said the only reason he didn't run out onto the street was that he didn't have cab money."

Miles Davis debuts with Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie and others.

It was 1944. Singer Billy Eckstine was in town. His band that night consisted of a stunning group of players, among them Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Sarah Vaughn, Gene Ammons and Art Blakey.

Miles Davis was eighteen, obsessed with jazz but not yet famous. He had grown up across the river in East St. Louis, where his father was a dentist just down the street from the Manhattan Club. Word leaked that the big band had arrived at the Riviera Club at 4460 Delmar. Miles and a friend made a beeline.

"I just picked up my trumpet," writes Davis in his 1989 autobiography, Miles, "and went on over to see if I could catch something, maybe sit in with the band..... The first thing I see when I got inside was this man running up to me, asking if I was a trumpet player. I said, 'Yeah, I'm a trumpet player.'" The guy who ran up was Dizzy Gillespie. One of their trumpet players was sick, and they needed a replacement. Davis filled in. It was the first time he played with Parker.

Three years later, Davis would join Parker's band. Together the two would transform jazz; Parker would teach the kid about bebop, and Davis would mold it into post-bop and go on to revolutionize jazz and popular music.

"So I heard all that shit back in 1944 all at once," continues Davis. "Goddamn, them motherfuckers was terrible. Talk about cooking! And you know how they were playing for them black folks at the Riviera. Because black people in St. Louis love their music, but they want their music right."

The Riviera was torched in December of 1970, but it didn't burn down. The arsonist was successful a month later. What remains is an empty, albeit sacred, dirt lot where the Bethlehem M.B. Church now parks its bus.

The Glass Menagerie, on Enright Avenue.

When playwright Tennessee Williams was growing up in the late 1920s and early '30s, he lived with his family at 6254 Enright. He modeled his landmark play The Glass Menagerie on this tenement.

"The apartment faces an alley," he explains in the long-winded introductory instructions for the play, "and is entered by a fire escape, a structure whose name is a touch of accidental poetic truth, for all of these huge buildings are always burning with slow and implacable fires of human desperation."

The Glass Menagerie is rife with St. Louis references: from Tom's job at Continental Shoemakers, modeled after Williams' own job at the International Shoe Factory (now the City Museum); to Tom visiting the movie houses on Grand; to Laura's playing hooky in Forest Park.

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