Frankenstein embraced his memorable name

Written By BY MAUREEN O’DONNELL Staff Reporter Posted: 05/30/2014, 06:26am

When attorney Robert Frankenstein introduced himself, people did a double take.

“What did you say your name was?’” they’d ask.

“Frankenstein, like the monster,” he’d reply.

If people pronounced it “Franken-STEIN,” he’d sometimes channel Gene Wilder from the movie “Young Frankenstein,” correcting them with a tongue-in-cheek hissy fit.

“It’s not Franken-STEIN, it’s Franken-STEEN,” he’d say.

But “then he would say, ‘whatever,’ ’’ said his daughter, Jamie Steckler.

Mr. Frankenstein, who really did pronounce it Franken-STEEN, went from being a kid who grew up in a West Rogers Park apartment to a lawyer who traveled the world, skiing and scuba diving. He tooled around Glencoe in his Corvette, his Labrador retriever Max riding shotgun, long ears fluttering behind him.

He died last month at his Palm Springs home at age 70. He was diagnosed in December with Stage IV lung cancer, said Susan, his wife of 43 years.

Mary Shelley’s novel made his surname a shorthand for horror. When he was in school, teachers taking attendance came to his name and thought they had a smart-aleck on their hands. And in the days before caller ID, it wasn’t unusual for him to get crank calls about it.

But he viewed his monstrous moniker as a gift.

“If he met you socially or in the law business, you remembered his name,” his wife said.

“He actually liked that it was unique,” said his other daughter, Cari Gold. “He always knew that it was a way that people remembered him.”

Mr. Frankenstein was born in Chicago. His father was an attorney and his mother was a homemaker. He grew up near Damen and Farwell in West Rogers Park, where he loved going to the beach. He joined the swim team at Sullivan High School.

He attended the University of Wisconsin-Madison and law school at Northwestern University before settling in Chicago.

He met his future wife in the Aldine Avenue apartment building where they lived. She’d just received a speeding ticket on Lake Shore Drive, and he offered to help her with it, even though “he had been a lawyer for about three hours,” she said.

They started dating. “He’d never met a Jewish girl who could play tennis and ski and horseback ride,” said his wife, who grew up in Highland Park. He matched her, sport for sport.

They married the following year and moved to Glencoe in 1975.

Mr. Frankenstein practiced corporate and real estate law, “He was a zealous advocate, but always civil to his opponents,” said former partner Michael Goldberg. And, “Nobody ever forgot the name.”

In his off hours, he loved adventure, both geographical and gastronomical. He and his wife went on a photo safari to Kenya and Tanzania. They toured ancient ruins in Egypt, Israel and Turkey. He ate sea urchin in Sicily that was so fresh, it was still moving. The Frankensteins travelled to Cambodia, China, Russia and Thailand. They preferred river cruises over ocean cruises so they could get away from touristy ports of call and get a feel for the heart of a country, dropping in at local markets and bazaars.

The tchotchkes from his travels were impressive for their size — and as testament to his family’s tolerance and love. From China, he shipped home a life-size replica terracotta warrior. His wife dresses it up to mark seasons and holidays. Sometimes it sports sun visors, tennis rackets and golf clubs. It gets bunny ears for Easter, and a yarmulke and prayer shawl for Passover. From Vietnam, Mr. Frankenstein sent home a dragon carved from pink marble that stands nearly five feet tall and a yard wide. It guards their yard.

After years of visiting the Chicago Auto Show and pining for a Corvette, his wife urged him to treat himself. He bought a little pewter colored number. “He took a course on driving race cars. He scuba dived. We always kidded him that before he died, he was going to be licensed and certified in everything,” she said.

Mr. Frankenstein had a well-stocked woodshop that enabled him to build a well-stocked wine cellar. He loved pairing his homemade risotto and paella with just the right vintage.

For his paella, he might hit three or four stores to get the perfect ingredients — a seafood market for fresh shellfish, another for the tastiest sausage, an ethnic shop for spices.

He owned four smokers — two in Glencoe and two at their home in Palm Springs.

“He was always there for our games, and for coaching,” said his daughter Cari Gold. “And when our friends slept over when we were little kids he was always up early and he would make us really good breakfasts of scrambled eggs.”

His office was famously messy, with piles on the chairs, the sofas, and even the floors, but he knew where everything was.

Mr. Frankenstein is also survived by his sister, Marilyn Leader, and five grandchildren. Services have been held.


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