When Chicago’s gone Hollywood

Today’s column from the Kankakee Daily Journal and The (Ottawa, Ill.) Times

When Chicago’s Gone Hollywood


July 17, 2010

Oprah and Optimus.

In Chicago, only the Queen of Daytime Television and the King of the Transformers seem to swing enough sway to shut down the Magnificent Mile for a days-long stretch.

Last September, it was Winfrey closing off North Michigan Avenue to celebrate the 24th season premiere of her eponymous show. And now, this weekend, Optimus Prime’s Autobots (and the evil Decepticons) have taken over the Mag Mile for the filming of “Transformers 3.”

With Chicago Gone Hollywood as a shooting location for “The Dark Knight,” “The Break Up” and a slew of other films in recent years, I thought I’d share with you today a few outtakes from the city’s rich movie-related past that you might not already know.

The man behind the Man Behind the Curtain

Featuring ornate statues of the Tin Man, Scarecrow, Cowardly Lion and, of course, Dorothy and Toto, Oz Park is tucked in the heart (and, I suppose, the brains and courage) of Chicago’s bustling Lincoln Park neighborhood.

More than a century ago, though, L. Frank Baum – the author of “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” – lived just a few miles west of the area.

In 1891, after the failure of his newspaper in Aberdeen, Dakota Territory (tough business back then, too), Baum moved his wife and four sons to Chicago, where he took a job reporting for the Evening Post.

Nine years later, Baum published his legendary book, which later became a legendary movie starring Judy Garland in 1939, two decades after the author’s death.

Disney’s Original World

Walter Elias Disney might have made his name in California and Florida, but the founder of Mickey’s entertainment empire started in the Windy City.

On Dec. 5, 1901, Walt Disney was born in a home at 2156 N. Tripp Avenue on Chicago’s West Side. In 1906, his family moved to Marceline, Mo., but then headed back to Chicago in 1917. That year, Walt began his freshman year at McKinley High School and enrolled in night courses at the Chicago Art Institute.

Today, the Walt Disney Magnet School sits along the lakefront at 4140 N. Marine Drive in the city’s Uptown neighborhood.

Downlow on the Uptown

Speaking of said neighborhood, Chicago’s Uptown Theatre is something else.
Or, at least, it used to be.

Located on the corner of Lawrence and Broadway avenues, the Uptown opened its doors on Aug. 18, 1925, billed as boasting “An Acre of Seats in a Magic City.” Following a 200-float parade and a grand ball, more than 12,000 people stood in line hoping to be part of the first audience in the mammoth, 4,381-seat filmhouse.

In the decades after, however, the Uptown – listed on the National Historic Registry – fell into disrepair and has been closed to audiences since 1981. It’s estimated that $40 million is needed to bring it back up to code.

Since ’81, though, the Uptown has been used as a location for movies, including “Backdraft” and “Home Alone 2,” which turned the theater’s lavish five-story lobby into a giant New York toy store.

Birth of The Stooges

Everyone knows the Three Stooges. What many don’t know, though, is that the legendary slapstick trio originally got together in Chicago.

In 1925, brothers Moe and Shemp Howard met violinist-comedian Larry Fine at Rainbo Gardens, a popular entertainment destination in Uptown, where Fine was working as a Master of Ceremonies. Impressed, the Howard brothers invited Fine to join their Vaudeville troupe.

In 1932, Curly, the youngest Howard brother, replaced Shemp as a Stooge, and comedic film history – as well as countless eye gouges – was born.

Join the Conversation


  1. This is great info. Who knew that Chicago was tied to so many big Hollywood types. I recently discovered that Hollywood Palm theater in Woodbridge has a mini museum on Wizard of Oz with highlights to local connection

  2. I did not know that, Gino. Very interesting. And, yeah, Chicago really does have an interesting film history. There was some other good stuff that I wasn’t able to include in the column. Look up the history of Essanay Studios some time when you get a chance.

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