Movies & The Chicago Theatre
Teen Wolf, starring Michael J. Fox was the last regular film shown here in 1984 before the theatre closed for a major restoration.
Besides showing movies we have also been in them: Mezzanine box A is where Robert DeNiro sat in the movie “The Untouchables”, portaying Al Capone.
We were also featured in Backdraft, Batman, Midnight Run & Blues Brothers 2000. Ironically the 2002 Oscar winning film “Chicago” was not filmed here, only our marquee was featured (the movie itself was filmed in Toronto).
Scandal at The Chicago Theatre!
In 1923 The Chicago Theatre’s organist, Jesse Crawford (also known as the ‘Poet of the Organ’), married Roosevelt Theatre’s organist, Helen Anderson. The scandal? Mr. Crawford was already married & had left his wife for Miss Anderson!
As a public relations ploy, B&K responded to this in 1924 and installed a second console so the husband and wife team could play together simultaneously. The idea of witnessing a couple involved in public scandal became a sensation among Chicagoans!
See where they played and find out more behind the scenes history by taking our Marquee tour.
Musical Instrument a City Landmark?
Our Wurlitzer Piper Organ has been granted city landmark status unto itself, the first musical instrument having attained such a status.
There are 4 manuals (keyboards), 29 ranks (pipes divided by types of sound) and over 1800 pipes ranging in size from a pencil to 32 feet.
There is also a custom special effects panel which includes a siren, buzzer, train, doorbell, klaxon and a bird, which were used as the organ accompanied silent films.
"America’s Most Efficient Ushers"
In 1921 B&K desired the most prominent staff and ushers had to “come from good families and be of good breeding” as well as “be able to handle large crowds without excitement or fuss”.
All ushers went through strict training and were put through military style daily inspections and wore military style uniforms with white gloves (above).
Today ushers sport a new design after a competition at the Chicago Art Institute. See the winning designs by attending one of our many shows! http://www.thechicagotheatre.com/
A Change In Scene
Inside The Chicago Theatre auditorium you may view hand painted Greek murals. These murals are not original to the theatre, but we painted in 1932-1933 to replace French country scenes in preparation for the coming 1933 Chicago World’s Fair. It was thought that Greek Mythology was more universally themed and appropriate. The center mural, which resides over the stage, is Apollo in his Chariot of the Sun.
The Balaban and Katz business crest can be seen in the stain glass window in the Grande Lobby of The Chicago Theatre. Circled around the ‘B’ and ‘K’ initials are two steeds holding ribbons of 35mm film encircled by pick up reels.
All but one glass pane are originals (from 1921). A single glass pane had to be replaced after it was taken out during a mob shooting. It is rumored that infamous gangster Al Capone was the culprit.
On September 10, 1986 The Chicago Theatre began live performances featuring Frank Sinatra as our first artist. Before leaving the theatre Sinatra left his mark, a signature on one of our backstage walls. This started a long lasting tradition as many performers have since placed their stamp via signature and murals. Check out the signature album on our Facebook page or see them in person by taking our Marquee Tour.
In the early 1900s film was considered low brow entertainment. Other fine arts such as symphony and opera were housed in beautiful venues but silent films were often viewed on white sheets draped over storefronts. In order to raise the movie presentation to a fine art the “Movie Palace Era” of the 1920s came into play and The Chicago Theatre is considered the oldest and best example.
On opening night our silent film was “The Sign on the Door” starring normal Talmadge, plus a comedy short called “The Playhouse” starring Buster Keaton. For .25 cents you could see both shows, an organ concert, a 50 piece orchestra concert and various vaudeville acts.
Think of film today. Do you consider movies a “fine art”?
See where it says “air conditioned” under the famous Chicago Theatre marquee? We were the first mechanically air conditioned movie theatre. Chicago’s Health Commissioner claimed we had the “Purest Air in America” and B&K capitalized on that by allowing pregnant women in their final trimester or anyone with lung disease to be admitted free.
Today we would be known as “Coldest Air in America” because my office is below 60 degrees!