There is the Palmer House, and then there are all the other hotels in Chicago, and while I could rhapsodize the gorgeous lobby, the history, the location, the truth is, the most important factor was that the Palmer House had Ken Price representing it, while all the other hotels had ... well, I couldn't tell you anything about them. Ken Price alone approached me about stories at the Palmer House far more than all the other hotels in the city, combined. They don't make them like that anymore. I'll miss him.Ken Price didn’t need a family; he had a hotel.
“His work was his life. His work was his family,” said his niece Julie Stevens. “He loved what he did.”
The 800-person staff at the Palmer House Hilton Hotel, where he was director of public relations for 38 years, reacted to news of his death from cancer Wednesday the way any family member would: with sadness and tears, shed by everyone from bellmen to telephone operators to Dean Lane, the hotel’s general manager.
“We’re emotionally devastated,” Lane said. “Ken treated everybody with so much dignity and respect. From bartenders to room attendants, we’re all crying. He meant so much to many people. It’s been incredibly devastating.”
“Whether someone was a doorman or a housekeeper or a senior vice president, he was interested in everybody and treated everybody the same,” Stevens said.
Mr. Price, 82, was tall — about 6-feet-2 — and elegantly turned out: beautiful suits and neckties, shoes shined, pocket square folded. And large designer eyeglasses that somehow seemed part of his persona.
“No one other than him could get away with wearing them,” Stevens said. “They stopped making this frame long ago. He had them specially made, found someone to do it,”
“He would wear his ascots and he would wear his Hollywood glasses,” said Shelley MacArthur, an entertainer who sang at the Palmer House Empire Room, which staged nightclub shows until 1976 — comedian Phyllis Diller put on the final performance — and then started functioning as a regular, albeit splendid, hotel ballroom.
“Mister Kelly’s, all those great clubs, the Empire Room was one of the last survivors of that,” MacArthur said. “When they changed the room, that was one of Ken’s very sad moments.”
He did have his times of darkness. Mr. Price would deeply grieve, for months, after the death of one of his beloved dogs — Kugel, Fotchie, Sidney. The world was not going in a direction of which he approved.
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