Jeremy Pollock portrait by James Iska

Jeremy Pollack portrait made by James Iska two months ago.

Jeremy Pollack lived in a black and white world which fit him just fine.

His love of noir’, a 1950s love song and the smell of fresh newsprint shaped a colorful life. Pollack died on Nov. 17 after a short bout with pancreatic cancer. He was 55 years old.

His death came just two months after he released “The Hard-Boiled Detective 1,” an acclaimed collection of pulp short stories set in Chicago that he wrote under the pen name Ben Solomon. The writing is tight and rhythmic which amplifies the  drama.

Pollack’s characters zigged and zagged around the Panther Room at the Chez Paree, the Club De Lisa on the south side and some looked for clues at the Hart Schaffner Marx factory.

There is no answer for Pollack’s death.

I guess every death could be called untimely, but Pollack’s passing knocked me out.

He was on a roll. “The Hard-Boiled Detective 1 ” was getting good reviews. The self-published book is available on Amazon.com. On Oct. 19 he appeared on “After Hours” with Rick Kogan on WGN-AM. Unlike the majority of his characters, Pollack had a bright future. On Nov. 17 my friend Scott Momenthy told me the news from his home in Florida.

Pollack had finally left his job as department manager at Printing Arts, 2001 W. 21st St.  in Broadview to devote most of his time to writing. Prior to Printing Arts, Pollack and Momenthy designed publications like “The Land Improvement Contractors of America” and “EcoLogic,” a conservative environmental magazine. While working his day shift Pollack was hard-writing at night from his Logan Square home that he shared with his partner Carolyn Smith. In Feb. 2013 he launched “The Hard-Boiled Detective” as a series of stories available through subscription.

“He wrote three stories a month and never missed a deadline,” Momenthy said Tuesday from Florida. “I was a subscriber. He was writing on the fly. He was that good. He wasn’t slaving over edits. He decided he would not name the detective. That was a big one for him. By the detective not havng a name his style grew around certain rules he set for himself about how he was going to write. He didn’t have to ponder it. He just had to adhere to principles and then naturally something unique would grow out of it. It’s a really interesting idea, a lot how you might live your life. You set up a principle, but you do go there according to what it is. It all came together in ‘The Hard-Boiled Detective,’ this guy who lived by a code. He had made up his mind before he walked into a mystery. He didn’t struggle with right and wrong. He knew.”

Jeremy Pollack

Pollack was born in Oak Park. His only sibling Jonathan is a classical pianist who lives in Rogers Park. His late father Sheldon was an advertising executive. During the mid-1970s his mother Lorel Abarbanel was a tireless advocate for Soviet Jews who applied to leave the USSR. She worked from her home and  the Spertus College of Judica in Chicago. She was worried about the KGB, which clearly planted a few ideas in Jeremy’s mind.

Momenthy met Pollack in 1975 in an experimental alternative education program at Oak Park-River Forest High School where classmates included actor Amy Morton and Paul Mertens who went on to join Poi Dog Pondering. “I was writing songs and he was one of the few people who were listening to me,” said Momenthy, who for 20 years ran “The Rhythm and Rhyme Revue” at FitzGerald’s in Berwyn.  “I first got to know him as a great listener. He was taking improv classes at Second City. That was his primary interest at that time.”

Jonathan Pitts, Executive Director at Chicago Improv Productions and Improv Instructor at The Second City Training Center was in that experimental class at Oak Park-River Forest. On his Facebook remembrance Pitts wrote, “After I put together my first improv team at Triton College, Jeremy would meet me at Denny’s restaurant to drink coffee while I ate French Fries and we’d talk improv. He’d written some of his ideas into a notebook and he shared them with me. It was like learning the alphabet into a language that I’d been around but didn’t fully understand. I still use some of what I learned from him today when I improvise and when I teach.”

James Iska of the Department of Photography at the Art Institute of Chicago was a member of the experimental program at Oak Park-River Forest. In a Wednesday e-mail he wrote, “I’ve never known a more naturally gifted person. By the time I met Jeremy at age 15, he was already an accomplished dancer (having performed with the Joffrey Ballet), painter and cartoonist. He made films and performed music, acted and even formed his own theater-improv company. But I think his greatest passion was movies. At the drop of a hat he could recite entire scenes from his favorite movies. He especially loved film noir which explains this last great pursuit, writing hard boiled detective stories.”

As a teenager Pollack was attracted to the joyful performance style of Bob Gibson and Hamilton Camp. Gibson was the house act at the colorful Gate of Horn nightclub on the near north side. When they were teenagers Momenthy and Pollack hitchiked to the west coast to play folk music.  Pollack played ukele, Momenthy played guitar. They sang in double harmony style on the streets of California. They were voices waiting to be heard.

Scott Momenthy (L) and Jeremy Pollack contemplating the future of the newspaper industry in 1986 (Courtesy of Scott Momenthy)

Scott Momenthy (L) and Jeremy Pollack contemplating the future of the newspaper industry in 1986 (Courtesy of Scott Momenthy)

“He began to get involved in noir’ back then, too,” Momenthy said. “He was dressing like that, writing like that, even the songs he was writing was a throwback style from the 1940s and 50s. That was consistent with him right from the start. He was always Chicago. ‘Chicago this, Chicago that.’ He took great pride in Chicago. For him to start getting recognized by Chicago people and to be thought of as a voice in Chicago was huge to him.

“He’s looking to what’s the next step. He doesn’t feel good. And ten days later he’s dead.”

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In mid-August Pollack–as Ben Solomon–approached me for a blurb for his book. I saved his notes because I knew there would be more from this gifted author. “Very old-school stuff,” he wrote to me about his work. “Call it retro-detective. After 18 months with 54 stories in the bag approaching 400,000 words, I figured it was time to release a book. And volia….Merely your intention means a great deal.”

I had to deliver. I loved how Pollack put a face on sense of place.

His characters were able to breathe and move between his jazzy cadence. Pollack wrote with the detail and punch of a grizzled crime reporter.

Here is his scene from “G-Man” of walking down Lower Wacker Drive:

Lower Wacker’s a cavernous throughway, a subterranean crazy house. For mirrors, chutes and rails, it’s filled with limestone, green lamps, echoes. You’re never certain about the reverberations you hear in Lower Wacker. Maybe they belong to you, maybe to something unseen up ahead, maybe something after you from behind. Or maybe something on another level. Or maybe it’s your pulse beating in your ears like an oil derrick from lugging a satchel filled with pig iron.”

“Jeremy was into newspapers very much,” Momenthy said. “In 1984 he published No. 1 of the Chicago Sheet literary magazine. It was called ‘Chicago’s Finest Print.’ He edited it. Ben Solomon first showed up there. It was a broad sheet. It was beautiful. He was a cartoonist and his first cartoon characters showed up there. (Songwriter) Dan Bern wrote a piece. Jonathan Pitts did a piece.”

Jeremy Pollack would pick up stacks of The Chicago Sheet at the printer and strap them to the back of his scooter for delivery.

Jeremy Pollack would pick up stacks of The Chicago Sheet at the printer and strap them to the back of his scooter for delivery.

At the same time Momenthy and Pollack were working at the Wednesday Journal, which was Oak Park’s alternative newspaper. Pollack did production work at the journal. “I was working the boards,” he recalled. “We did the Chicago Sheet on the side. We were practicing guitars in the offices of the Wednesday Journal at night. He was doing so much. He was always laughing off talent. He said, ‘It’s not talent, it’s work.’ Jeremy painted, he wrote, he designed, he edited. And he produced.”

Momenthy paused. The phone line crackled like the last sparks from a candle. “I’m really torn now,” he said. “He was very humble. I feel I should have just told the guy when he was 25, ‘Do you know who you are? Do you know how much ability you have?’

” I don’t know if he ever knew.”

A semi-private memorial service for Jeremy Pollack will be held Nov. 22 at his Chicago home.

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11 Responses to Jeremy Pollack: Life is a Mystery

  1. Dave, we’ve never met officially, but I’ve read your work before. Thank-you for writing this remembrance about Jeremy. He was one of a kind. Heck, with all his natural talents, he was more like three or four of a kind. Anyway, this was a great piece, thank-you.

  2. Lyndi Horn says:

    This has been a tough one on my brother, I only knew Jeremy as a little girl as my brother’s best friend and confidant, (and I thought he was cute). He had a huge impact on Scott and many others, a talented and very special guy.

  3. Andrew Collins says:

    I studied dance with Jeremy when we were both young, and the two us were pretty much regarded as Tweedledee and Tweedledum (and, in one production, quite literally). After some lost time, I’m glad to say we reconnected in the last couple of years. I was so thrilled for him when his book came out. I am devastated upon learning the news today. Thank you so much for the article.

  4. Georgiann Burke says:

    I had the pleasure to work with Jeremy at Printing Arts. He and I would have wonderful conversations about anything and everything. He was a person with so many facets he shown like a diamond. I listened when he gave advise, laughed when joked, and cried when his voice was silenced. He made a tremendous impact on my soul, and he will always remain there.

  5. Bridget says:

    Thank you for this lovely article remembering Jeremy. I worked with him, and truly respected and admired him. What a sad day.

  6. I NEVER knew my first supervisor at Printing Arts was that in depth. I had no clue! We butted heads CONSTANTLY! I was hired to be the Lead Operator of Printing Arts Digital Department, in 2009. Although we had our differences, we still respeced each other at the end of the day. I’m still trying to figure out why the hell Scott put up with so much shit while he worked there. Thanx for the information…Clueless, and a little awakening.

  7. Wayne Burghardt says:

    Dave, thanks for writing this excellent tribute to Jeremy. The other night, I was reading through a stack of Chicago Sheets while listening to an old tape recording of Jeremy & Scott. It was great to step back into that youthful world for a while, and to appreciate, once again, just how much Jeremy had accomplished as a young man, and with such intensity. It was great to be along for part of that ride.

  8. Jeremy says:

    I only knew Jeremy as Ben, having met him at multiple readings. Humble and unassuming, but with a bright light to his eyes and real conviction to what he said. Just a warm spirit and a really wonderful human being. And as has been said, he would listen. The way he’s described as doing diligent research, is the same way you could tell he was absorbing your words when he conversed with you. A little odd for me that half of his real name and half of his pseudonym combine to be my name. To that end I can only hope that myself and others continue to carry the candle that people like Ben/Jeremy lit.

  9. Dawn says:

    A sidecar toast
    To Jeremy, guy noir
    Your spirit lives on
    Carried by a wayward wind
    To be read in black and white
    And remembered in the hearts
    Of all who shared your life

  10. Jim Scholle says:

    I am stunned. I was friends with Jeremy back in the mid 70’s. We did theater work together on Halsted St, and hung out having deep youthful conversations for hours, inspiring each other creatively. He was younger, but braver than I. We lost track of each other a few years after I moved to New York. something I always regretted. Our last exchange was on his new idea for Chicago Sheet. Since being back in Chicago I have tried several times to locate him without any luck. This morning I had an exchange with another fellow named “Pollack” — and once again googled Jeremy’s name. At last I found him, alas, too late! He was one I never forgot. A unique voice and spirit. My heart hurts right now.

  11. Adriana says:

    Thanks for writing this tribute. I just found out about Jeremy’s loss.

    He wrote for Scene 360 a few years ago. http://illusion.scene360.com/author/ben/ I tried to encourage him to write more, but apparently he was going through some issues in 2014 (didn’t get into details about what it was) and I never imagined it would be related with illness. So I’m shocked with the news.

    He was a brilliant writer; attentive to detail. Very glad I met him.

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