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Honored novelist ran Maling’s shoe chain

Writer Arthur Maling 1988.

Writer Arthur Maling in 1988.

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Updated: December 26, 2013 6:22AM



Nobody would confuse the shoes at Maling’s with Manolo Blahniks.

But for many Chicago women of a certain age, Maling’s was the place where their shoe obsessions began.

The chain, with its flagship store at 231 S. State, stretched from Chicago to Wisconsin and Oklahoma.

Cute but cheap, its shoes outfitted generations, from 1920s flappers who would have dubbed them “the cat’s meow” to 1970s women who found them “foxy.” Whether for prom, graduation or a wedding, Maling’s was, as their ad slogan said, “Where the Fashionable Find the Affordable.”

The retailer was started in 1912 by five German immigrant brothers. As each died, the others bought out their shares. Maling’s eventually ended up in the hands of Arthur Maling, the only child of Albert Maling, one of the founders. Arthur Maling headed the company in its later years, until it was sold in the 1970s.

Maling’s had knockoffs before anyone even used the term.

“They went to all the designer shoe [stores], would buy them, and they went to one of their plants, copied it,” said Arthur’s son, Michael Maling. “They made it cheaply so they could sell it cheaply. We had a plant in Italy and one in Boston.”

The windows beckoned, their shoes displayed like toothsome sweets.

“I was always a shoe person, and I think Maling’s was the start of it,” said Marsha Brenner, executive director of Chicago’s Apparel Industry Board. “This wasn’t something you did with your mom — you went with your girlfriends to shop for the sharpest or the coolest because they had it, they really did. Those of us that were babysitting. . . .you could really save your money to buy a pair of shoes that your mom wouldn’t buy for you because they were fancy or weren’t sensible.”

But selling shoes was never what Arthur Maling really wanted to do. He wanted to write.

As a kid at Francis W. Parker School, he won $25 in an essay contest. At Harvard University — where he graduated magna cum laude in three years — he won another writing competition.

In 1967, “bored out of my skull,” he hauled out his typewriter and started writing, he told the Chicago Sun-Times in a 1988 interview.

“He would get up at 4 o’clock in the morning, write till 8, go to Maling’s,” said his son Michael. “He would come home at night and sleep.”

He produced 14 whodunnits. In 1980, his book “The Rheingold Route” won an Edgar for best novel, a coveted award bestowed by the Mystery Writers of America. Named for Edgar Allan Poe, it’s been dubbed the Oscar for suspense authors.

Mr. Maling, 90, died Oct. 24 at his home in the John Hancock Center, surrounded by the lake views he loved.

His smart and single-minded mother helped set the course of his life. A daughter of German immigrants, Alma Gordon Maling was one of the first women to graduate from the University of Texas in 1920, said Maling family attorney Harry B. Rosenberg.

Michael Maling said that when his father was a kindergartner, Alma Maling went to Francis W. Parker and asked: “What courses does he need to take to get into Harvard?”

Mr. Maling found his way into the family business at his mother’s insistence.

After serving as a naval ensign during World War II, he worked as a newspaper reporter in California. Alma Maling — missing him but also concerned about how his absence was affecting the shoe stores — went west to retrieve him, Michael Maling said.

“She went out there and wouldn’t leave until he came back,” he said.

Mr. Maling married Beatrice Goldberg, whose family founded Goldberg’s Fashion Forum, a Chicago chain. They later divorced.

He learned the shoe business from the bottom up, started out by fitting customers with shoes, his son said.

Once his writing took off, Mr. Maling was known for crafting descriptive passages like this one about a Lincoln Park apartment in “Lover and Thief,” a mystery featuring private eye Calvin Bix: “He was neat, health-conscious and vain. The bed was made, shirts and underwear were folded and stacked in their separate drawers, and shoes were in a compartmented bag. There was an alphabet of vitamin pills in the medicine cabinet; all the packaged foods on the kitchens shelves were of the sort that’s supposed to be good for you; the linen closet had few linens in it but lots of stuff to make skin and hair look nice.”

Mr. Maling enjoyed traveling to research settings for his mysteries. “He would go to a place like Amsterdam, stay for several months,” Rosenberg said.

John le Carre was his favorite suspense author. A big fan of maestro Georg Solti, Mr. Maling was a patron of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, the Lyric Opera and the Art Institute.

Services have been held.

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