My Afternoon With Red


It is with great sadness that I must add Red's name to the roster of great Chicago television pioneers that have passed on to a higher existence.  Sterling "Red" Quinlan passed away on March 11, 2007.  He had been in declining health for the last several months.  I had the honor of offering a eulogy at his wake and meeting many friends and family members.  Knowing Red by reputation was awe-inspiring in itself.  Knowing him personally was a treasured honor I will not soon forget. 







Red at 19 hopping a freight on the spur line beneath The Merchandise Mart

















If a casting director needed a kindly grandfather type, he wouldn't have to look far if the first door he knocked on was Red Quinlan's.  Red, 85 years young, still sports an infectious smile that beams outwards from beneath a snow-white head of hair.  Many of us, reaching this point in our lives, have retired and hopefully are enjoying the twilight time of life.  But not Red.  Oh he enjoys life all right, but not rocking away in a chair or some other mundane thing.  Red still gets up everyday and drives to his job as a consultant at Travel Technology Group, a corporate travel and video production company with offices just outside the Loop. 

Sterling Carroll Quinlan was born in 1916 in Maquoketa Iowa, a small town of thirteen hundred.  By the time Red was in first grade, his father decided to move the family to the Pullman neighborhood of south side Chicago.  Pullman, with its gritty landscape of steel mills billowing thick black smoke made for one heck of a rough neighborhood.  With a name like "Sterling," Red quickly clashed with the local toughs.  At first he just ran home.  He had never faced a problem like this back in Iowa.  After about a week of being mocked and beat up, little Sterling got wise and decided to fight back.  After a few weeks he began to gain the respect of his peers and began to refer to himself as "Red."  He realized his first name would be problematic, so he chose the name "Red" for his reddish blond hair.  And he's kept it all these years.  He still uses Sterling now and then, for official purposes, but he no longer worries about being beat up.

Red was raised in a modest household.  His father was a real estate agent and although not rich, was able to provide a comfortable living for his family.  After graduating St. Catherine of Genoa Catholic elementary school, Red moved on to Fenger High School, also on Chicago's south side.  That same year, 1930, Red's father would die from injuries he sustained in an automobile accident the previous year.  The sudden loss of his father devastated the young man.   Red was angry.  Angry with his father, his mother, his family.  Angry with the world.  His grief would cost him a high school graduation.  But Red was an ambitious youth and while still in school, took a job writing social items for a  column in The Southend Reporter, the Pullman area newspaper.  He would go door-to-door asking folks what they've done lately and assemble the interesting ones for the paper. The publisher lived in Gary Indiana and was friends with Ralph Atlass, owner of radio station WJKS (as well as Chicago's WBBM).  They figured that Red's success at the paper would translate into even more advertising sales if he also did it on radio.  

But these were the years of The Great Depression and with the loss of husband and father; the Quinlan family witnessed hard times.  Red, emotions still reeling over his father's death left home in 1935 and hopped the first freight out of town.  For the next three years, off and on, Red lived the life of an American hobo, riding boxcars across the continental USA.  It would be during this time that he would contract tuberculosis.  Years later Red would recall his days on the rails where the boxcars were not just the rolling homes of transients but whole families, sometimes packed ninety to a car.  They were heading west or southwest, like the covered wagons of a hundred years past, with dreams of a better life.