Frank Buck’s Chicago Years

At one time, Frank Buck (1884-1950) was known throughout the world.  Buck was a hunter who didn’t kill animals–rather, he’d “bring ’em back alive” for zoos and circuses.  He was also a showman who publicized his adventures in numerous books and movies.


But before Frank Buck became famous, he lived in Chicago.  That in itself is an interesting story.

In 1901 Buck left his native Texas to seek his fortune in the Windy City.  He found work as a flunky at the Virginia Hotel on the Near North Side.  Bright and ambitious, he soon was made the hotel’s bell captain.

Frank Buck and Amy Leslie, around the time of their marriage

Frank Buck and Amy Leslie, around the time of their marriage

Now we turn to the front page of the Tribune on July 17, 1901.  The story is headlined “Amy Leslie Weds a ‘Bell.'”  Amy Leslie was the well-known drama critic for the Daily News.  Her new husband, described as “big, handsome, and tactful,” was Frank Buck.  The couple had been married in St. Joseph, Michigan.  Amy told the license clerk she was 45, and Frank said he was 23.  Their actual ages were 41 and 17.

Frank and Amy set up housekeeping in an apartment.  Within a few years, they’d bought a house in Norwood Park, on the outskirts of the city.  Frank worked in the music publishing business, then moved into the management end of a vaudeville circuit.  Amy continued writing for the Daily News.

The Norwood Park house was on a huge lot.  Country-boy Frank was always an outdoorsman, and he constructed an aviary on the property.  He started spending time at Lincoln Park Zoo, studying the animals, asking the staff questions.

In his autobiography, Frank writes that Amy was “the most brilliant and cultured woman I have ever known,” and credits her with smoothing out his rough edges.  Though he says the marriage was happy for many years, he also writes “I think that from the very beginning Amy had never really believed that our marriage could last.”

The turning point came in 1913, when Frank won $3500 in a poker game.  He used the money to travel to South America and begin collecting exotic birds.  Amy and Frank divorced that year, by all accounts amicably.  Amy died in 1939.

Frank Buck's onetime Chicago home

Frank Buck’s onetime Chicago home

Frank Buck never again lived in Chicago.  City directories list his Norwood Park residence as 265 Crescent Avenue, which became 6814 West Crescent Avenue when Chicago address numbers were changed in 1909.  Today the street is called Ardmore Avenue.  The house still stands, a private residence.



4 Responses to “Frank Buck’s Chicago Years”

  1. 1 Garry November 5, 2013 at 4:24 pm

    I remember reading that Buck captured an orangutan for the Lincoln Park or Brookfield Zoo by putting out a water bowl & every day decreasing the water & substituting booze, until it was all booze & then they simply put the really drunk orangutan in a travel cage & sent him here.

  2. 2 J.R. Schmidt January 11, 2014 at 12:26 pm

    From what I remember in Buck’s autobiography, the local people came up with the idea of getting the orang drunk, then sold it to Frank. No matter who hatched the plan, it’s a great story.

  3. 3 A. B. Clem July 3, 2015 at 12:02 pm

    I shook Frank Buck’s hand at the Chicago World’s Fair in 1934. He autographed a cardboard “sun helmet” which I wore until it was in shreds. He was tanned, had a black mustachio, wore jodhpurs and black boots and a white short-sleeved shirt. He carried an ominous whip. I was 7 years old and completely in awe of this man.

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