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From The Vault Of Art Shay: Max Fabian — Fabulous At 104!

By Art Shay in News on Mar 13, 2013 7:00PM

(Legendary Chicago-based photographer Art Shay has taken photos of kings, queens, celebrities and the common man in a 60-year career. This week, Art Introduces readers to the second-oldest man he's ever met.)

Today I introduce you to the second oldest man I ever met: tall, handsome, flirtatious Max Fabian. "I prefer women under 60," he confesses, not that he has a wife any more, or a girlfriend. But he's had those same searching eyes through 15 years on the Chicago Police Department (serving under all Daleys) and overseas as a WW2 soldier of distinction. He was honored on his 104th birthday last Sunday at the North Suburban YMCA in Northbrook with ebullient executive director, Howard R, Schultz, leading the festivities which included cigars rolled in the Midwest and green cake.

Howard has stage-managed the past 10 -12 years of what pass for child -rated orgies of felicitude for sharp, likable old Max. From Howie's fixed smile and artful shepherding you could guess this was the highlight of his month. You get the feeling that he was there for Max three times a week as he used the gym-regularly until he was 103 — "He's still got a mean hook to the bag!" " He swims great!" "If you aren't watching, he'll test himself stretching or jogging. What a man!"

Max , who lives in a condo with a 60-year-old housekeeper, said, "I drove until I was 103." He peers into the distance. "The thing about getting old is you lose your wife and relatives and your friends." He comes out of it and tells a joke or two to a 60-year-old father, Oscar, and Oscar's gracious son, Tom: They've known, loved and helped Max some 34 years.

Schultz expertly guided Max into camera range to throw out the first ball of an important basketball game, and graciously kept us paparazzi and well-wishers out of danger from the agile teenage hoopsters. The other centenarian I did a story about 40 years ago for Life was the last survivor of the Civil War — Albert Woolfson, 108, bugler and drummer who sounded Mess Call for Abe Lincoln to summon him to eat his breakfast possum at Ft. Totten, New Jersey. “It's all connected,” as Studs Terkel used to aver at the drop of a similitude.

Max Fabian was born in his beloved Chicago March 4, 1909, the same year Bleriot flew the Channel .The 7th Day by D.W. Griffith was in the Nickelodeons on State Street. A tattoo parlor squeezed in their midst for sailors who couldn't find company a block east in a Wabash estaminet. A play, Princess Nicotine or The Smoke Fairy impelled director J. Stuart Blackton towards Hollywood that month. The land speed auto record that year — I just saw by some great granddaughter of a daredevil on Antiques Roadshow selling his artifacts — was 127.6 miles an hour! The last World Series that the Cubs won was a year old while Max Fabian was in utero! The Black Sox scandals lay ahead. Marconi's signal crossed the Atlantic when the senior Fabians were beginning their long marriage and contemplating producing baby Max. While gestating in 1908, Max was growing contemporaneously to Fred Merkle's scandalous forgetting to touch second base, resulting in the eventual loss of a World Series when Johnny Evers picked up the discarded ball and tagged Merkle out, as a good Cub would do.

Childless Max Fabian fears the wildness of modern youth and though he's been a Democrat most years, also fears the onset of Socialism. These fears became acute when he turned 97 and his hearing and some of his balance (physical, not bank) disappeared into senescence. He turns to me and the admiring crowd of fans around him.

"The important thing," he says, "is trust. You gotta trust people so they'll trust you. Did you really do a story on this 108-year-old guy? I loved Life Magazine. I think I remember the story. He had a big basket full of fan letters. Women all around him opening them."

And he complained that his 85-year-old kid didn't do the chores anymore ?

If you can't wait until this time every Wednesday to get your Art Shay fix, please check out the photographer's blog, which is updated regularly. Art Shay's book, Chicago's Nelson Algren, is also available at Amazon.