Frida Kahlo is a leading feminist art icon. You’ve probably seen her self-portraits which feature her distinctive “unibrow” and facial hair. One can argue that her reputation has now exceeded that of her famous muralist husband, Diego Rivera. And if you’re aware of her, you’ve probably never thought of her in connection with any Chicago alderman. The City Council has a reputation for many things, but I think it’s safe to say, not for feminist iconography or hobnobbing with exotic and historic, international cultural figures such as Frida. And yet.
According to Neil Steinberg’s new book, You Were Never in Chicago, she had a date with someone who later became a Chicago alderman. Okay, not just any alderman.
Hyde Park’s Leon Despres was alderman of the 5th ward from 1955 until 1975. He was famous for being a thorn in the side of Mayor Richard J. Daley, was often the lone vote against him and was considered the city’s liberal conscience. He worked on liberal causes well into his 90s and died when he was 101.
Steinberg writes that in 1937, Despres went to Mexico on a vacation and at the request of a friend, took a letter and a suitcase of clothing to Leon Trotsky, who was staying at Frida and Diego’s when things got sketchy for Trotsky back in Russia. While there, Despres took Frida to the movies (a French film, of course.) He told Steinberg, “She was very attractive, very pretty. We had a good time.”
Imagine being able to say that about someone of Frida’s stature? Imagine that brush with greatness? Makes you wonder –when he was in the throes of his skirmishes with Daley on the floor of the City Council, did Despres ever think back to his date with that exotic and enigmatic woman? Did he ever imagine her image would loom as large in the world of art and culture as his foe’s image would in the world of politics?