Friday, February 27, 2009

Fred Bender - Mr. Clean and Acted with Cary Grant

Cousin Fred died. He was my late father-in-law Patrick J. Cleary's only living relative. Fred belonged to the Liston Branch of my Late Wife Mary's
family and Fred was a great guy.

When Mary died cousin Fred rode along with me and the kids in Sheehy's limosine. He made a tough day lighter with his stories about Hollywood and chic Chicago.

God Bless You, Fred! My brother in law Mike Cleary, Publisher of Will County's Farmer's Weekly Review wrote this wonderful tribute to a delightful man.

Fred Bender age 78, of Chicago passed away February 25, 2009 at Vitas Hospice in San Antonio Texas. Mr. Bender was born in Davenport Iowa and was a graduate of St. Ambrose College.

Fred was a founder of the Wrightwood Neighborhood Association and a proponent of the preservation of neighborhood parks and homes. His own home, built in the 1880’s was featured in a December 1, 1972 article in Chicago Today newspaper as part of the holiday house tour.

He was a fixture of his Lincoln Park neighborhood, where he greeted any and all who passed by his beloved house on Drummond Place. Loved by all who knew him, Fred was always at home and always receiving a seemingly continuous and endless stream of guests.

Mr. Bender was an accomplished musician and sang as a Heldentenor. He trained under the great Lauritz Melchior and was also awarded a scholarship from the Chicago Conservatory of Music. During his career, he sang with the Paulist Choir and in many operatic choruses for the Lyric Opera the Detroit Symphony, Holy Name Cathedral and others. He toured the country with the Viceroys and the Royal Aires. Fred loved opera and was a great fan of the Lyric, which he attended as often as possible and the Met, never missing a Sunday broadcast. In fact, Mr. Bender’s radio was tuned in to WFMT 24 hours a day, 365 day a year. While he was still able, Mr. Bender would often play at his grand piano and sing, entertaining any and all willing to listen.

Fred also enjoyed an early career as a model and in his day was one of the highest paid male models in the country. In the 1950’s, Mr. Bender represented the Proctor and Gamble Company as one of several actors portraying Mr. Clean, often flying to appearances in a white Cessna aircraft with the words “Mr. Clean” emblazoned on the side. Fred was selected over some 300 other candidates for the job, and presented himself at auditions at the Drake Hotel wearing a bald skullcap. One of the requirements was to not speak, something that, paradoxically, he was able to do better than any of the other candidates. As Mr. Clean, one of his biggest fans was busty 1950’s comic actress Dagmar, about whom Mr. Bender loved to tell many unforgettable and often inappropriate stories.

Fred was an avid storyteller and seemed to be able to tell 3 or 4 stories at a time. Anyone who visited with Fred knew in advance that a “quick visit” was simply not an option. Fred’s operatic training often came in handy, allowing him to talk endlessly.

Among his favorite stories were those about the time that Tennessee Williams rented an apartment from him and the time he sold Audrey Hepburn a fan which she used in the stage production of Gigi. He once owned the house that had been the Chicago residence of 1920’s ballroom dancing stars Irene and Vernon Castle. He had hundreds of other stories about such acquaintances and friends as Lena Horne, Mehelia Jackson, Gene Cooper and Betty Grable, the latter of whom Mr. Bender had once joined to throw the switch illuminating Chicago’s Magnificent Mile Holiday Lights.

Mr. Bender was preceded in death by his best friend and partner, Carter Reed, his brother, Robert, sister Roberta and his parents Elsie and Robert Bender. Mr. Bender was an animal lover

Mike left out the bit about Fred's role as an extra in Alfred Hitchcock's North By Northwest Fred was in the Ambassador East scenes with Cary Grant.


cosmo said...

Fred, Mr. Bender, as I respectfully addressed He was a grand presence in our neighborhood as well in life and will be greatly missed in our neighborhood. I am blessed to have known him ... he will be missed.

Anonymous said...

I was fortunate enough to know Fred Bender during the days I lived in Chicago. He was one of the most charming and interesting people I have ever known. I will always remember the champagne parties at his beautiful Chicago home!