Police officer, hair salon owner, Golden Gloves boxer, patent holder, singer-songwriter, poet – Mickey “Three” Alexander was constantly inventing and reinventing himself during an achievement-filled lifetime.
A Renaissance man, to be sure, with many interests and talents, he was a character, when Evanston had too few of them. He could be outlandish, and take himself too seriously it sometimes seemed, but if you grasped what he was trying to achieve you couldn’t help but laugh at its audaciousness.
He entered one aldermanic election in the 1990s way too late, and got only a smattering of votes. But he recorded the best and only Evanston campaign song we know of, around the theme, “Change is coming to the Fifth Ward,” to the tune of the O’Jays “Love Train,” and it’s one of our few takeaways from that election.
That was Mickey.
He had a soft heart for seniors, starting a group called Senior Citizen’s Annual (SCA). The first event, a fashion show, was held on Valentine’s Day in 1976 at the Holiday Inn.
“Brother In-Tune Howard Levy was the pianist,” he later recalled. “I was the presenter at the podium and I sang and did a Tai Chi dance all over the boardwalk.”
Young SCA members were encouraged to take out an elderly person for two consecutive days a year. It could be for dinner, to clean up their homes – anything the SCA member and senior citizen would mutually agree to and which would lift a burden off the senior’s life for two days.
That was Mickey, too.
“Mickey had a big, bold personality,” said Suellyn Alexander, his wife of 50 years. “But underneath his bravado was a sensitive heart. Up close, he was a people person. He loved to encourage people and to help them believe in themselves, and to not be afraid to be creative.”
Larry Rush “Mickey Three” Alexander died peacefully at home on June 30 after a lingering Illness, family members reported. He was 76.
He was the younger brother of the late Roosevelt Alexander, a path-setter in his own right, leading the fight for civil rights as alderman of Evanston’s predominately African American Fifth Ward. The two brothers would march together in the 1960s as part of Dr. Martin Luther King’s Jr.’s bodyguard in protests against housing discrimination.
Mickey “Three” was one of seven children born to Roosevelt and Marguerite Alexander, growing up in a two story red brick house at 2028 Emerson St.
Mickey was their third son, thus the number “Three” in his name. The name ‘Mickey’ may have come from the cartoon character, and the teasing he would receive from his brothers about his ears, Mickey’s sister, Kay Alexander said.
Mickey attended Foster and St. Athanasius schools and Evanston Township High School.
In high school, he was the lead singer in an all-Black group that included Owen
Thomas, who would later go on to become a pro football tackle and Evanston’s Human
“Evanston was in the midst of a pre Motown Doo Wop era,” Mr.
Alexander recalled in his memoir. “There was excitement and music everywhere. We formed Doo Wop groups at Evanston Township High School and sang in doorways and in bathrooms, because that’s where we found our echo. Now, at that time, we were always ‘looking for an echo.’ The ambient echo reverb sound, when captured by our Doo Wop groups, made us feel good and made our harmonies beautiful.”
After a short stint in the Air Force after high school, Mr. Alexander returned to Evanston and began challenging conventional standards. He set up shop at the Hut Deli, located across from the Northwestern University campus.
In his memoir, “The Last King of the Hut – The Life & Lore of Mickey Three” he speaks of those days, the 1960s.
“Black youth were not accustomed to socializing in Evanston’s beautiful downtown shopping area. We were not to be denied. We integrated downtown Evanston. We were Evanston citizens and asserted our rights to work and play in every part of downtown.”
King of the Hut
At the Hut, Mr. Alexander became a main attraction, “rapping,” as it was called then, over the jukebox tunes, and bringing in plenty of traffic for the snug restaurant’s corned beef and coffee. “Northwestern girls couldn’t stop putting their quarters in the jukebox because they got me singing live,” wrote Mickey, never one to hide his light, “and I was more exciting than the records. Live and in Mick-N-Color. They couldn’t believe I could sing as well or better than the records. But once they heard me, they couldn’t get enough.”
It was during that period that Mr. Alexander met Patti Davis, a student at
Northwestern and daughter of future president, Ronald Reagan, and his second wife, Nancy Davis Reagan.
Mr. Alexander had landed a job as a salesman for TanYer Hyde on Custer Street, a leather goods shop that specialized in custom made sheepskin jackets.
He had convinced the owner to enlarge the store’s focus to include sales of what would be called “Hot Pants” — super short shorts made of leather, he wrote in his memoirs.
Ms. Davis, working as a receptionist, stopped him as he was to make a delivery at one of the Northwestern female dorms, asking him what was in the box.
“So I opened the box and showed her the leather Hot Pants,” he recalled in his book. “Her instant response was ‘I don’t like them. They’re ugly.’” When he asked for her name she responded, “Snow White.” That prompted some observations from Mickey about Ms. Davis’s taste, her parents taste, and even Ms. Davis’s suitability to wear the new fashion.
“Little did I know a government security employee, who was planted as a student at Northwestern, overheard the conversation and called campus police on me. Five of them rushed in the door,” he recalled in his memoir.
When Mickey described the response to an Evanston police officer who had been called to the scene, he was told, “Mickey, that’s Ronald Reagan’s daughter.”
News reporters were waiting at the Evanston Police station when Mickey arrived. “I did everything I could to make sure the newspapers got hold of the story,” Mr. Alexander later recalled. “I wanted the news to go as far as it could because I had been arrested for criminal trespass to land, and I was hoping the broad news coverage could help me get out of this trouble that Snow White had gotten me into.”
The strategy worked, and Mickey returned to selling hot pants on the Northwestern campus.
Despite the apparent displeasure of her parents about the incident, Ms. Davis and
Mickey became friends – she recounting the story in an early autobiography of that period, and the two reunited many years later after Ms. Davis appeared on an Oprah Winfrey show. “Patti was a sweet sincere young woman seeking to find her own path in the world separate from her famous parents,” Mickey wrote. “She had her struggles and her strengths. We very much enjoyed each other’s company.”
A Stint as a Police Officer
He joined the Evanston Police Department after plenty of brushes with the department while growing up in Evanston. “Even if they didn’t want me, I wanted to be part of a department that had tormented me for most of my life,” he wrote. “And fair to say, I had tormented them, too.”
Mr. Alexander helped establish a walking beat, which included the whole high school area and Emerson Street where he grew up. “The walk beat had been abandoned by the police department for about twenty years,” recalled Mr. Alexander in his memoir. “I was able to bring a positive effect into the neighborhood by having the cops walk in the community and interact with citizens instead of glaring at them from behind the windshield.”
“The white cops wanted to see me arrest black people,” he recalled. “When my beat was switched occasionally, they hated to hear me tell the dispatcher over the radio that I was taking a white person to Evanston Hospital for psychiatric evaluation. This job made me think that half of the white offenders that I had to apprehend or interview at a domestic call were mentally ill.”
Mr. Alexander was an innovator. “He could always think of a better way to do something,” said his wife.
He held several patents, including the “Alexander Power-Gait Walkathoner”, a walking aid that he developed while recuperating from a total knee replacement in 1993. He came up with the idea while using a standard walker, and falling as he tried to enter a washroom.
“The incident told me something needed to be done about the current situation of walkers or mobility aides for physically challenged people,” he said in an interview at that time.
After policing, he found his true professional career passion in the hair and beauty industry, convincing the owner of the Pivot Point International School of Beauty to admit him as the school’s first Black student.
Three African American students followed in his path.
He later took pride at becoming the first Black hairdresser on North Michigan Avenue on Chicago’s famous Magnificent Mile.
In the hair field, he also encountered prejudices.
“White salon patrons saw me as a phenomenon, because I was a multicultural hairstylist who could do all types of hair exceedingly well. It was rare for a Black hair stylist to know everything about white people’s hair, and I was an expert who knew more about white hair than the Caucasian stylists knew,” he said.
“Hair was like molded magic, woven gold in my hands,” Mickey wrote. “I could do cuts styles, updos, curls waves, relaxers, bobs, layered looks, short hair, long hair – you name it. I was an expert. I remained true to my beliefs in equal access to beauty services across all cultural divides,” he wrote.
His popularity expanding, MickeyThree became the owner-operator off two successful multicultural salons, Mickey Three on Sheridan Road in Chicago and Mickey Three North on Dempster Street in Evanston. He also invented and patented several innovative beauty tools, including his Appli-tech tool, which allowed for stylists to add relaxer to the root without burning the scalp. (The short video advertisement for it is still on youtube, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NDehjueONH0&app=desktop. It’s vintage Mickey.)
“He lived a life,” said sister Kay, summing up, “that most people could only dream about.”
Mr. Alexander is survived by his wife, Suellyn Alexander, his brother David Alexander
(Joan) of Gurnee, Judith Benoit (Eddie) of Belen, New Mexico; Kay Alexander of Brandon, Florida;
Karroll Alexander (Vicki) of Glendale, Arizona. He is preceded in death by his brothers
Newman Alexander and Roosevelt Alexander.
The family is discussing a memorial service to be held at some point in the future.