Michelle Cox Interviews Henrietta Von Harmon from A Girl Like You
March 22, 1935
Today, during a special Chicago Tribune investigative report into the death of one Maria Leone (a.k.a. Mama Leone), previously of the Promenade Dance Hall, we have with us a Miss Henrietta Von Harmon, a former taxi-dancer at the Promenade, to hopefully shed some light on this dreadful business.
CT: Thank you for speaking with me today, Miss Von Harmon. Just a couple of routine questions.
HVH: You’re welcome, but I really can’t stay long.
CT: Let’s get down to business then, shall we? What can you tell us about Mama Leone? Kind? Easy to work for? She was your boss, correct?
HVH: Well, yes, she was my boss. She was the floor matron. So she was in charge of all the girls.
CT: What was she like?
HVH: To tell you the truth, not so nice. We called her the bulldog, actually.
CT: The bulldog! Why is that?
HVH: I’m not sure, exactly, but I think it’s because of the way her bottom teeth seemed to jut out. And as you’ve probably seen from the newspaper pictures, she was quite heavy. She always had a frown, and she was always barking at us in we got out of line.
CT: Out of line? What do you mean by that?
HVH: Well, as I’m sure you know, men pay ten cents for a ticket to dance with us for one song, which we only keep a nickel of, by the way. So Mama Leone wants . . . I mean, wanted . . . us to be out on the floor as much as possible. That and, well . . .
CT: And what? You’re blushing, Miss Von Harmon. Please go on . . .
HVH: Well, I’m not sure I should say. Inspector Howard might not like it, but I suppose it’s common enough knowledge. Just that sometimes the regulars that come in want a little something extra from the girls than just a dance, if you know what I mean.
CT: And this Mama Leone was aware that this was going on?
HVH: Yes! She tells . . . told . . . all the girls when they first start that there’s no “hanky-panky,” but then she would yell if a girl didn’t let one of the regulars have . . . have a bit of a feel, if you know what I mean. Maybe a quick kiss, that sort of thing. And she turned a blind eye to the more serious stuff if she got a cut, you see.
CT: This is extraordinary! Do the police know?
HVH: Well, they do now.
CT: What can you tell us about the murder? Were you here when it happened?
HVH: No! It apparently happened just after we left for the night. It’s all so horrible! I
mean . . . I still can’t believe it!
CT: I apologize for being indelicate, Miss Von Harmon. But can you confirm that it was a knife in the chest?
HVH: Yes, I believe so.
CT: Any idea who would want to kill a dance hall matron?
HVH: No! That’s just it. I mean, she wasn’t well liked, but murdering her?
CT: There’s been some suggestion that it was one of the band members . . . Do you think this could be true?
HVH: Artie? That’s ridiculous! That’s what I told the cops. It couldn’t have been him!
CT: You seem very sure. Any reason? Do you have some inside information?
HVH: No, of course I don’t. Just that . . . well . . . he’s not the type to murder someone.
CT: And we understand there are two other suspects as well; is that correct?
CT: Another dancer, one Polly Smith, and the bartender, Mickey Barzetti. The police are currently searching for them. Do you think they could have done it?
HVH: No! Of course not! Well, not Polly, anyway.
CT: Was she a friend of yours?
HVH: Yes, Polly was the one who convinced me to come and work at the Promenade in the first place.
CT: Where were you working before?
HVH: At a place called Poor Pete’s. It’s a bar on Mozart.
CT: And what did you do there?
HVH: I was a “26” girl for Mr. Hennessey. He’s the owner.
CT: “26” is a dice game, correct? You were a scorekeeper, I presume?
HVH: Yes. That’s right. And a waitress.
CT: Hmmm. You seem young for all of this, Miss Von Harmon. Do you mind me asking just how old you are?
HVH: Why does everyone keep telling me that I seem young? I’m eighteen, if you must know.
CT: You grew up in the city, correct? Whereabouts?
HVH: Logan Square.
HVH: St. Sylvester’s.
CT: High school?
HVH: I didn’t go to high school. Well, I went for a little while, and then I quit when I was fifteen.
CT: Why was that?
HVH: Well, obviously because of the Depression! How many people do you know that finished high school? Well, I suppose being a reporter you’d know more, but not many people in my neighborhood went. I got a job as a floor scrubber at Poor Pete’s and a few other places around.
CT: I apologize if I’ve offended you, Miss Von Harmon. The Depression’s hit everyone hard, I know. Do you have a big family?
HVH: Yes, I live with my mother. My father, well, he . . . died . . . a few years ago now. He lost his job at the Schwinn Bicycle Factory. And I have seven brothers and sisters, so we need all the money we can get.
CT: I see. And where are you working now?
HVH: I’d rather not say.
CT: Why is that?
HVH: Listen, Mister, what does this have to do with Mama Leone’s death? And why are you smiling like that?
CT: You’re right, I suppose, doll, but my editor might be interested in running part of this as a human interest story.
HVH: There’s nothing interesting about my life! And, anyway, I’d rather not have anything about me in the paper.
CT: Why not? Most dames would kill for a spot in the rags.
HVH: Well, I’m not most dames, and I don’t want things getting back to my mother, if you want to know the truth.
CT: Hiding things from her, eh? What’s been her reaction to Mama Leone’s death?
HVH: She doesn’t know anything about it, or where I work, or have worked, for that matter, and I’d like to keep it that way.
CT: I see. Doesn’t she read the papers?
CT: Then what are you worried about? Come on, you must be working somewhere?
HVH: Well, if you must know, I’m working at the Marlowe as an usherette.
CT: Jeepers! That’s quite a rough place from what I understand. Sure you can handle it?
HVH: Quite sure, thanks very much. As a matter of fact, I’m working with the police – but don’t write that down.
CT: No, of course not. Would that be the Inspector Howard you spoke of before? The detective on the case?
CT: Do they suspect a connection between the Marlowe and Mama Leone’s death?
HVH: I’d rather not say. I think I’ve said too much already. And I really should go; I’ll be late for work!
CT: Just a couple more questions! Please, Miss Von Harmon.
HVH: Okay, but make it quick!
CT: What’s Inspector Howard like to work for?
HVH: What kind of a question is that? I don’t know. Direct, I guess you’d say. He’s very . . . stern. A bit aloof, actually. I might even say irritable at times. But he . . . he can be kind, though.
CT: I’d swear you’re blushing again. Do I sense an attraction? I can see it now, “Inspector Falls for Pretty Dance Dame!”
HVH: No! Of course not!
CT: You’re quite an attractive woman, Miss Von Harmon. Have you ever considered that he’s using you? Taking advantage of the situation?
HVH: How dare you! You’re really being very rude!
CT: Got to consider all the angles, Miss. Look, you seem too smart to being working as a burlesque usherette. There has to be some reason you’re doing it.
HVH: I told you! I need the money. My mother is . . . indisposed.
CT: What would you do if you could do anything? You know, any job?
HVH: Any job? I don’t know! Maybe a secretary or something. Something respectable, I suppose. Look, this isn’t forever, you know. I can’t explain exactly why I’m at the Marlowe.
CT: Any marriage prospects?
HVH: No! And it’s none of your business!
CT: Come on, Miss Von Harmon. I told you; this is a great human interest story! Bet you have a string of fellas.
HVH: I don’t, actually.
CT: None? Well, what are you looking for then?
HVH: I don’t know. Someone with a good job. Someone who, well, you know, someone I really love. Someone who . . . someone who’s kind, I suppose.
CT: Someone like Inspector Howard, for example?
HVH: Him? No! Of course not! Listen, I told you before, I really have to go.
CT: Well, thank you for talking with me today, Miss Von Harmon. Anything else you can think of regarding the Mama Leone case?
HVH: Not really. There’s not much to tell. She was a mean, crabby old thing, and now she’s dead.
CT: Well, thanks for talking with me today, Miss Von Harmon.
HVH: Yes, goodbye! And remember, don’t print the stuff about the Marlowe!
CT: Oh, sure thing. Sure thing, Miss Von Harmon.
Michelle Cox holds a B.A. in English literature from Mundelein College, Chicago, and is the author of the award-winning, A Girl Like You, the first in the Henrietta and Inspector Howard series. She is known for her wildly popular blog, “How to Get Your Book Published in 7,000 Easy Steps—A Practical Guide” as well as her charming “Novel Notes of Local Lore,” a blog dedicated to Chicago’s forgotten residents. Michelle lives with her husband and three children in the Chicago suburbs.
A Girl Like You has received two starred reviews from Library Journal and Booklist and placed as a Finalist in Romance in the 2016 Next Gen Awards. It has also been listed as a top spring read by Your Tango, Popsugar, Culturist, and Buzzfeed and is currently enjoying its second print run. Book two of the series, A Ring Of Truth, will be released April 2017.
Buy link: http://amzn.to/2ahYWGP