Halas’ family hosts Ch. 11 Czech doc benefit Feb. 17

Chicago Bears founder George Halas

George Halas was intensely proud of his triple identity: son of Bohemian immigrants, lifelong Chicagoan and founder of the Chicago Bears.

Now his descendants are using their good name and high profile to assist fundraising efforts for veteran producers Susan Marcinkus and Larry Jacobs’ documentary on Chicago’s Czech community, part of WTTW/11’s series on the city’s ethnic groups.

The family of Virginia McCaskey, Halas’ daughter and now Bears owner, is staging a Sunday, Feb. 17, benefit at Halas Hall in Lake Forest for “Czechs in Chicago: A Home in the Heartland.” 

The gala, “A Tribute to ‘Papa Bear’ George Halas,” is expected to make a decent dent in the $250,000 to $300,000 budget for Marcinkus and Jacobs’ Manifest Films’ 90-minute documentary.

Producer/editor Larry Jacobs, Producer/director Susan MarcinkusA mutual friend got Manifest Films’ press kit in the hands of the McCaskey family. They also were impressed by a 12-minute trailer for Czechs in Chicago. In the end, the Bears brass were not a hard sell.

“We offered to host the fund-raiser, so their excellent short can be expanded,” said Pat McCaskey, the Bears’ senior director of special projects and unofficial historian.

“From the Bears’ side, we want to encourage the documentary people to have him (Halas) be a part of it. His parents were immigrants to this country from what is now the Czech Republic.

Virginia McCaskey to attend fund-raiser

Virginia McCaskey will headline the celebrities expected to attend.  Although the grand lady of the NFL is a reticent interview, Marcinkus will have a first-person chance to sell her on participating in the doc.

If not, Pat McCaskey, second of his family to work for the Bears, is game to go before the cameras.

“I have written extensively about my grandfather and the history of the Bears, so I’d be amenable to that,” he said.

Mike Ditka, personally appointed Bears coach by Halas in 1982, is a likely interview target.

Patrick McCaskeyNFL Films also is providing 17 minutes of vintage footage to show at the fund-raiser.

Although armed with a written endorsement from Daniel J. Soles, SVP/chief television content officer of WTTW, producer/director Marcinkus and producer/editor Jacobs were far from their comfort zone in dialing for production dollars.

“We’re filmmakers, not fund-raisers,” said Marcinkus, whose own ethnic background is a true Eastern European melting pot: Slovak, Czech and Lithuanian. 

Marcinkus expressed her gratitude for the Halas support. “It came a time where we’re constantly being given small donations by members of the Czech community and so forth. With the budget that we have, we knew we had to get support from bigger entities.”

Staropramen Brewers of Prague already is on board as a sponsor. The Bears committed before Christmas.

Halas will be among several all-time Chicagoans of Czech heritage Marcinkus and Jacobs plan to profile. Heading that list are McDonald’s impresario Ray Kroc and Anton Cermak, the 1931-33 Chicago mayor who began to organize the city’s Democratic machine.

For benefit reservations, contact Judie Mason at 312/502-1069 or Judith.Mason@Me.com. Individual tickets, $100; group reservations are $500, $1,000 and $2,500, ensuring listings in the credits of the documentary.

George Castle is a longtime Chicago-based sportswriter, author and radio talk-show host.