Historical Happy Hour: A Toast to Clara Lipman

Cheers, Chicago! Our town loves its history as much as its hooch, so we’re back for another round of cocktails that celebrate Chicago’s finest – or most infamous. This summer, we’re toasting 13 women of Chicago’s past with original cocktail recipes.

Join us every week for a historical happy hour!

Clara Lipman, 1864-1952

A sparkling stage presence, natural comedienne and prolific dramaturg, Clara Lipman made inroads in the male-dominated theater world that were unheard of for a turn-of-the-century woman.

Lipman was born in Chicago to prominent businessman Abraham Lipman and his wife Josephine. Her privileged upbringing afforded her a fine education in the classics, music and languages – in fact, she spoke nine languages, which came in handy when her interests turned to the stage.

Young Lipman made her bones in ingénue roles in Chicago before moving to New York City to perform in an adaptation of “The Pied Piper” in 1885 – and from there on out, she was never off the stage for long, with roles in both New York and Chicago productions, including one in German. By the early 1890s, Lipman had become a bona fide star.

In the 1892 George Lederer play “Incog,” Lipman starred alongside actor Louis Mann, who quickly became infatuated with the charming Lipman. According to a Theatre Magazine account, “Miss Lipman scored in a laughing bit. Mr. Mann … heard the laughter and smiled. He was not addicted to smiling in those days, being weighed down with Teutonic gravity and immense ambition, but the laughter won him as it won the audiences, and before the season was over he was making a proposal of marriage in tragic earnest to the laughing girl. Her answer had no laughter in it. ‘She told me she’d marry me if I’d make good,’ said Mr. Mann, ‘and I set about it.’”

Now a Mann on a mission, he begged a theater manager to cast him and Lipman together in a new play, but the manager demurred, saying he thought it would flop. But Mann cajoled the man into producing the play so he could win Lipman’s heart. So much for that Teutonic gravity. The manager relented, the show was a hit, and Mann and Lipman were married. They starred in a succession of plays together and audiences flocked to see the popular pair.

In 1902, a broken arm and managerial disputes caused Lipman to take an extended break from the stage, but four years later she was ready for a comeback. In a 1906 interview, Lipman was asked whether women have more ambition than men. She replied, “In business [women] will accomplish more in a day than the average man in a week. I believe in woman, and if she is given half a chance, she will succeed.” And she walked the walk. She talked theater power brokers the Shuberts into giving her a stage for the frothy French-tinged comedy she wrote, “Julie Bonbon,” with her husband as co-star. It was a smash. Theater Magazine gushed, “Clara Lipman … rattled off French like a native, showered her smiles like so many pearls, and laughed and chatted with vivacity and charm … in her more serious moods, Miss Lipman acted with force and sincerity.”

Her life and ambition extended beyond the stage, too. She became involved in the suffragist movement and, in 1919, was a featured hostess at a table for a dinner supporting the Woman Suffrage Party; she was one of only two actors who attended (just two actors at a political dinner? This was clearly a very long time ago).

By the time she retired from the theater, Lipman had written 11 plays herself, collaborated on 15 more, and starred in many of them; she also wrote a screenplay, 1930s “The Sins of the Children,” which featured her husband in a supporting role. Now wasn’t that nice of her, to give a man a leg up in the business?

To applaud the laughing Miss Lipman, we bring you the Funny Girl.

We blended frozen sweet summer berries with a little giggle water and bright limoncello to make a cool, slushy summer tipple. If you don’t mind seeds in your drink, you can go straight from the freezer to the blender, but if you simply can’t bear the idea of appearing on stage with a berry seed in your teeth, blend the fruit first and strain it before adding the booze. Cheers!

Photos: WTTW staffers take a break for bubbles and sample the Funny Girl.

Funny Girl

1 cup frozen mixed berries
2 oz. chilled limoncello
4 oz. chilled Prosecco
Fresh berries for garnish

Blend all ingredients in a blender and garnish with a fresh berry.


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