Unearthed: Lady Bledzo (Pt 1)

Lady Bledzo lit up newspapers for two years in the mid-1920s. Like a cabaret version of Billy the Kid, she came from nowhere, made a great scene — and then disappeared. By 1928, there was no trace of her.

bledzo faces banner

She never held a defined occupation. She never got a listing in the census or the phone book. For weeks I’ve been trying to stretch the few available items about her into a full story. I even called in the assistance of Graveyard Snoopette. She, too, was stymied by this mysterious woman.

I have to admit that a full accounting can’t be done. Like Lady Bledzo herself, her story is not tidy nor complete. It will not be contained.

Her name came out of those Chicago Tribune archives. One name, \with many variations to humble the researcher: Lady Bledzo; Rose Bledzo; Lady Rose Bledsoe; Lady Rosa Bledzo; Rose Leonora; Leonore Bleedson; Eleanora Bleedson; and twice, Lenor Grear.

And worse, I’m pretty sure that none of those are her actual birth name.

Fire up the Dusenberg and roll down your stockings. This one is a real lulu.

Mighty Fond of the Yellow Kid: Chicago, 1925

Lady Bledzo first shimmies into public view in late 1925, as a famous man’s arm candy. Journalists would often opt for this simplistic framing, which is a shame. She’s clearly got spirit.

Chicago_Tribune_Wed__Nov_11__1925_-1

Chicago_Tribune_Wed__Nov_11__1925_closeup
Chicago Tribune; 11 Nov 1925

And she had sass.

By the time of this spat in November 1925, Lady Bledzo had spent most of the year as the “companion” to Joseph Weil, known internationally as the “Yellow Kid.” The Chicago Tribune called him, “Chicago’s man of parts, whose deeds get him into trouble and whose words get him out again.” He was notorious for his clever swindles, his talent for smooth-talking, and his love of luxury.

Joseph Weil, the
Joseph Weil, the “Yellow Kid”

In 1925, Weil was about three decades into a legendary career of con artistry and a year off of his latest jail term. He was “reformed” now, just trying to be a legitimate businessman. In June 1925, he even bought part-interest in a hotel, The Shenandoah (4526 Sheridan Road). However, he staffed the front desk with one of his longtime scam partners, and other confederates enjoyed hanging out on the premises to gamble.

“Reformed” is in the eye of the beholder.

4526-n-sheridan-rd
The Shenandoah, now apartments.
uptown 1920s
Uptown, summer 1925.

It’s no surprise that The Shenandoah, where he and Lady Bledzo often stayed, was close to the theatres and ballrooms of Chicago’s Uptown neighborhood. Weil loved expensive cars, beautiful suits in bright colors, and nightclubs (where he spent thousands, much of it in bad checks).

bw map
Red dot indicates the location of The Shenandoah. 1: The Rainbo Gardens, one of Weil’s favorites. 2: The Uptown Theatre. 3: The Green Mill. 4: The Aragon Ballroom. 5: The Lakeside Theatre. 6: The Arcadia Ballroom.

Decades later, an acquaintance offered his memories of the couple.

“I remember the Yellow Kid and his girlfriend, Lady Bledso. They were a stunning pair — nothing too good for them, clothes, appearance, or ‘brass.’ … [H]e tried to swindle us out of several hundreds of dollars worth of merchandise for Lady Bledsoe. They stayed at the Drake Hotel and later moved to a more posh small hotel on the Gold Coast near the old Potter Palmer residence [1350 N. Lake Shore Drive]. The Yellow Kid was truly magnificent as he told us where to send the merchandise and impressing us with the fact that he was going to get a Minerva automobile and other valuable things.”  — H.W. Kennedy

 It sounds like a grand time.

* * * *

Nothing Like a Dame

As his paramour, Lady Bledzo enjoyed the spoils of Weil’s schemes.

Of course, the back of that coin is that all the coins were his, and she compromised to get them. She might have been sleeping on good sheets, but her waking hours were spent with Weil, and the gamblers and crooks who made up his circle. And they were always half a step ahead of cops and bill collectors. His precarious lifestyle became hers. It was probably tedious, smoky, male-dominated, and not much fun at times.

Lady Bledzo herself was no schoolmarm. Even that first Tribune sketch of her as a “blond and clinging” café entertainer is perfumed with disrepute. But it’s also fair — she was openly living an itinerant hotel-to-hotel existence with a married man who was also a convicted con artist.

What exactly Lady Bledzo did for money is…murky. Over time, she would be called a café entertainer, a former cigarette girl, an artist’s model, or simply an entertainer. It’s no stretch to assume that the furs and the hotels were bought by Weil, and probably not in exchange for Lady Bledzo’s sparkling conversation. Were those job titles polite newspaper euphemisms for “prostitute”? Maybe.

His wife Anna seems to have thought so.

Chicago_Tribune_Sun__May_30__1926_ anna weil
Anna Weil

If Lady Bledzo was for fun times, Anna was Weil’s necessary veneer of respectability. The Romanian immigrant had married Weil at just 20, and it had lasted nearly 30 years. Anna had endured multiple court cases, jail sentences, and long absences. She had posted his bail more than once. Sometimes Weil used her name to hide property purchases. It was the kind of marriage that requires a blind eye and a talent for amnesty.

By 1925, Anna was installed in a Rogers Park apartment half a block from the lake — and several miles from The Shenandoah. Her chief task was to take care of their 12-year-old daughter, Josephine, and not say much else.

If Weil had lived a circumspect life, that might have been reasonable. Instead, he was flagrant about his dalliance. Anna, after her decades of devotion, had to watch as Lady Bledzo (who had known him only a few months) rated his lavish attention. It must have rankled. It’s no surprise that both Anna and her brother also stayed at The Shenandoah, probably to keep an eye on things.

There must have been hallway encounters, and they must have been awkward.

There had been other women in Weil’s life, but Anna only sued Lady Bledzo, which makes me wonder about the intensity of their relationship. They were moving from place to place together; she was no one-night girl.

Or maybe it was the car. Anna, who had been quiet for so long, was happy to tell newspapermen that the catalyst was when Weil bought Lady Bledzo the same cream-colored car that she, Anna, had always wanted.

The_Journal_News_Fri__Nov_13__1925_
Hamilton Daily News (Hamilton, OH); 13 Nov 1925

So, in November 1925, when Weil missed his court date, the Chicago Tribune probably thought it was running some fun “wife versus girlfriend” filler story. In retrospect, it’s clear the dispute wasn’t about dresses or Weil’s attention — it was really about an entire life, and which one of them deserved to be living it.

By November 1925, both Anna and Lady Bledzo knew that the good times were just about done. They fought over scraps, because everything they loved was going away.

* * * *

“Rubber Checks Bouncing Like Footballs”

Lady Bledzo would later say that she met Weil in early 1925. She might have been the only good thing that happened to him that year.

Weil’s tastes were refined, and his cons had to be big enough to cover them. Throughout 1925, he was repeatedly in trouble for numerous schemes, frauds, and bounced checks. The most serious of these — very serious — was a federal charge for trafficking goods stolen in bank robberies.

In October 1925, his partner in The Shenandoah got fed up with waiting for Weil to pay his portion of the mortgage. Weil lost his share in the hotel, and the whole family was evicted. (Anna and Josephine quietly snuck back in a week later. They were clearly all still there at the time of the November argument.) Other creditors began lining up, unpaid bills and bounced checks in hand.

Chicago_Tribune_Mon__Oct_12__1925_
Chicago Tribune; Oct 12, 1925

In February 1926, to cover more unpaid debts, Weil endured a public auction of his belongings. Lady Bledzo was still with him, so she would have been witness to all this.

Chicago_Tribune_Mon__Feb_8__1926_auction
Chicago Tribune; Feb 8, 1926

And then there was the trial. Even his smooth-talking was not enough this time. In May 1926, the Yellow Kid was found guilty on charges of trafficking over $5,000 in stolen bonds and postage stamps. Both Anna Weil and Lady Bledzo were in court for the verdict.

The party was over. Weil was going away. Lady Bledzo would have to find a new path. ☗

 

Next time: When smart women make bad choices.


A tip of the martini glass to the helpful staff at the Chicago History Museum’s Research Center.

Other Sources
Banner image: The Birmingham News; 24 Jul 1927
Acquaintance quote: Quad-City Times (Davenport, IA); 28 Mar 1976
Maps: ForgottenChicago.com
4526 Sheridan Photo: Apartments.com
Chicago Jazz: A Cultural History, 1904-1930
Uptown Photo from PreservationChicago.com
History of the Rainbo Gardens, from the Digital Research Library of IL History Journal
Uptown history, from Jazz Age Chicago

© 2020 Tori Brovet/All rights reserved

Author: Ms. Snoop

ABOUT I was lucky to be born into a family of genealogists, and to be gifted a family tree already bristling with names. Along the way, other names have somehow found me. My job is to listen to their stories.

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