Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Flashback 2012: Hedy and Mort, a match meant to be

     Longtime Chicago media maven Mort Kaplan—he was known for guiding the campaigns of Paul Douglas, Dan Walker, Alan Dixon, among many others—died Friday and was buried Monday. Getting in line before the funeral to express my condolences to his signifiant other, Hedy Ratner, I checked out the crowd, and noticed Christie Hefner, who smiled and gestured toward the front of the room. There was the column below, blown up and displayed on an easel. A person forgets, doing this three times a week, how important it can be to others, and I felt honored to be included among the framed family photos and the flowers. Mort drew a good house, I should note, standing room only, with a solid smattering of the well-known—not only Christie, but Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, sitting front and center with personal finance columnist Terry Savage. I took a seat next to Elaine Soloway, the former Jane Byrne press aid whose ex-husband was the model for the transgendered main character in Amazon's "Transparent." My former boss Joyce Winnecke was a few rows back, as well as a variety of PR sorts—Rick Jasculca, who spoke, and his partner Jim Terman, and no doubt others I didn't see or didn't recognize. 

     Once upon a time, a couple fell in love and decided to get married, even though 44 years passed between the falling in love part and the getting married part. In a magical kingdom called Chicago . . .
     Aw hell, it’s Hedy Ratner and Mort Kaplan, and if you know them — and everybody seems to (“Everyone knows Hedy,” agreed Mayor Rahm Emanuel) — then you know the standard conventions of romance go out the window. Both have such strong personalities, they not only do things that most people never do, but they do things that most people never even think of doing.
     Such as?
     Such as going out to dinner at two different restaurants, so Mort can dine at one (steak) and Hedy can dine at another (salad).
     Such as dating for four decades, off and on, and then celebrating her 70th birthday last year by gathering 120 friends at a hotel “to attend a surprise ceremony,” the invitation read. The couple greeted their guests in regular clothes, then slipped away and re-entered the room, she in a white bridal gown and veil, he in a white tux, standing before clergy, exchanging vows but not getting married, to the shock of everyone gathered there.
     “I am obliged to pronounce you status and quo,” deadpanned Rabbi Aaron Freeman.
     Or, in some ways the capper, this Sunday evening at Orchestra Hall when, in defiance of all expectation, Hedy and Mort will really, truly tie the knot. Or so they claim . . .
     “This is a story about bashert,” said Hedy, slipping into Yiddish. “Bashert is fate, it’s destiny. It was truly destined. Four decades ago, Mort and I met. It was love at first sight and it’s been this wild ride ever since, a stormy fabulous relationship. We’d split up, then come back together and then split up. We probably did that a dozen times. Finally, 20 years ago, we decided we should be together.”
     That’s her side. What about Mort’s side?
     “I don’t know if I have a side,” he laughed, a nod at Hedy’s big personality. “We’ve been on a magic carpet ride for four decades.”
     Or is he being modest? He did, after all, once put up a billboard at the corner of Chicago and State declaring his love: “To Hedy: A parfait in a world of pound cake, Mort.”
     Hedy was born in Chicago, went to nine colleges, earned five degrees, got married twice, plunged into the women’s movement in the 1970s, is founder and co-president of the Women’s Business Development Center.
     Mort, a graduate of DePaul, served in the U.S. Army Counter-Intelligence Corps during the Korean War. He ran a big PR business, Morton H. Kaplan & Associates — it was his idea to have Dan Walker walk across Illinois while running for governor — was first chairman of the Illinois Arts Alliance, became professor emeritus at Columbia College. He got married, had three daughters.
     Mort, I don’t know well. Hedy, I’ve spent countless hours sitting across from in editorial board rooms. Petite, curly blonde hair, when she stopped by my office last week, she rode her bike — she rides a lot — in a gray silk dress, wearing a large purplish flowing shawl, a mother of pearl necklace and a teardrop diamond pendant. She showed off her engagement ring the way Betty Boop would — arm straight out, hand at eye level, bent down at the wrist, fingers splayed. When I marveled over how she could bike in that outfit, she lifted up her dress with both hands to reveal hot pink bike shorts.
     Last year’s faux wedding began as a party.
     “I wanted to do something really spectacular,” she said. “We always do parties, everyone expects that from us. So last year we sent out invitations celebrating my birthday. We never explained. We did a fake wedding.”
     That was a joke. Now it’s serious. So what changed in a year?
     “A couple of things,” said Mort. “I had a stroke in January, and something happened in that period that I did not like. She wanted to get a prescription filled, and one doctor said, ‘Who are you? You’re the girlfriend.’ And I said, ‘She’s not the girlfriend!’ She was the quarterback of my recovery. She pushed me and pushed me.”
     “I told him . . .” Hedy said, “ ‘I want my Mort back.” ’ So much so that she — and if you know her, this is the most incredible part — proposed to him, down on her knees.
     “I said, ‘I want to think about it,’ ” laughed Mort, who eventually said yes. “It just seemed like it was time. A lawyer friend told me there are a lot of benefits, later in life.”
     The purple print on the outside of the invitation reads, “This time it’s for real.” Not to quibble, but I would have said “this time it’s official.” It seems as if it’s always been for real.
     “It’s like we’re young lovers,” Hedy said. “He’s going to be 81, I’m going to be 71, and we still, we never stop talking, we never stop laughing. Our lives are filled with Yiddishkeit [Jewish culture], politics, culture, art, music, theater. But mostly laughter.”
“I don’t know if you’ve heard the term bashert,” said Mort. “This is bashert.
                    —Originally published in the Sun-Times, June 29, 2012


  1. Beautiful and aspirational. And I love your quibble.

  2. A lovely couple. I would pay anything to have been a fly on the wall listening to their conversations.


  3. Pretty much sums up the notion of lives well lived.

  4. Oy, do I know from bashert?

    Long story short: Met my wife at 18, in college. Got dumped. We both married other people. We both divorced those other people. Twenty-seven years ago, we reconnected. Finally got married...after 21 years apart.

    Now THAT'S bashert, boychik!


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