More revelations from The Box of Letters will be forthcoming.
But today, here is a nice visual break from the blog's recent emphasis on letters and reading and writing - a tribute to the downtown Chicago movie theaters of my youth.
The McVickers is where I saw The Jerry Gross Organization's presentation of "I Spit On Your Grave" during its downbeat grindhouse days. It was like a rock concert with the audience of mostly drunk or homeless people shouting out to the screen as if they were interacting live with the characters in the movie.
The Clark was famous as the pioneer of revivial or repertory programming when it was managed by Bruce Trinz. It was a real mecca for movie lovers back in the days before the canonization of old American films was really in vogue. I remember seeing Gordon Hessler's 1971 "Murders In The Rue Morgue" there, or was it Roy del Ruth's 1954 "Phantoms of the Rue Morgue"? Something with murders and Paris and a vicious ape.
The Oriental had the stickiest floor known to man. It was like stepping on fly paper to make it down the aisle to your seat. Rumor had it that they kept a family of bad-ass cats there and let them out at night to take care of their rat problem!
Speaking of rats, The Woods was where I saw "Willard". Man, was that one of the scariest movies ever for a young kid. Nightmares for months. I read later that they covered the actors in peanut butter to film the scenes with the rats seemingly biting them.
Kiddie-corner from the Woods was the United Artists. And if memory serves, just to the south of the United Artists was this cafeteria that had a donut-making machine in the window. You could see the round blobs of dough coming out on a conveyor belt, being dumped into the boiling oil where they fried, then continuing on for their frosting or dusting with sugar or cinnamon. It was mesmerizing - like watching a donut movie.
I remember the Garrick but I don't remember seeing a movie there.
This is a view of the actual facade of the building behind the marquee of the Garrick, when it started life as a legit theater.
The Roosevelt will always be remembered as the home of the Planet of the Apes Marathon. All five Ape movies back to back in one sitting. What a mind-bending experience.
The Chicago is one of the last downtown cinema palaces still standing, although re-purposed for the post-palace 21st century. I remember there was a screening room on the seventh floor and when we were running the Sandburg Theater we were sometimes invited to advance screenings for press and critics up there.
That is where I first saw "Apocalypse Now". And most memorably, where I first saw David Cronenberg's "Scanners". When that guy's head blew up the whole room jumped out of their seats and screamed their own bloody head's off! Including Roger Ebert!
Stanley Kubrick took this photograph of the Chicago and State Lake Theaters in all of their prime-time glory, back in 1955. "He Walked By Night" was credited to one Alfred Werker, but it was actually directed by uncredited Anthony Mann and is a great documentary-style period LA noir.
One of my all-time favorite memories was going to the opening weekend screening of "Cooley High". I think it was at the State Lake. There were at least a couple thousand people in the main floor and balcony of that sold out theater, and every single one of them sang along to The Temptation's "My Girl" when it came on the soundtrack of this set-in-Chicago film by Michael Schultz.
The Loop was right next door to the Chicago, and kind of dwarfed by that theaters massive marquee and iconic presence. But The Loop had its own brand of programming more disreputable cinema and exploitation pics. I remember going to see Equinox there when it came out. What a trippy movie that was - it still holds up today with its early stop-motion visual effects work from now-multiple-Academy-Award-winner and then 19 year old Dennis Muren. He made it for $6,500 while still in college!
The Shangri-La was an X-rated theater that unfortunately closed before I was old enough to sneak in there and check it out! :(
The Fine Arts was where I first saw the original King Kong on the big screen when it had one its first theatrical rereleases. It was mind blowing to see it in a big theater at a young age. Later it became an important art house, programmed by our old Sandburg Theater friend Tom Brueggemann. I saw Spike Lee's first movie "She's Got To Have It" there, and I think the Jonathon Demme Talking Heads movie "Stop Making Sense" set some kind of record for longevity when it played there.
What a cornucopia of cinema options a kid had when he stepped off the CTA bus or climbed up the stairs from the subway onto State Street back in the early '70's. North, South, East or West, an aging, often cavernous, big-screen experience awaited. Even then many of these houses felt like they were on their last legs, and most are now long gone.
If you enjoyed this post there is a wonderful website you can explore called "Cinema Treasures" that chronicles America's lost theaters.
Want to go to the picture show?
Miss Mosey has to close it.
Tonight's the last night.
Yeah, might as well go.
Hate to miss the last night.
Take the Mercury.
Be my last chance
to drive it for a while.
Take them to Missouri, Matt.
That was a good movie.
Seen it here before once.
Let's run over to Wichita
and drink some beer.
Okay. I got lots of time
Sorry you're closing the show.
Nobody wants to come to shows no more.
Kid baseball in the summer,
television all the time.
Sam had lived, I believe
we could've kept it going.
But I just didn't have the know-how.
Won't be much to do in town
with the picture show closed.
- Larry McMurtry, "The Last Picture Show"
If you have your own photos or memories of visiting any of these downtown Chicago Theaters when they were still open, please send them in and I will post them here.