WBEZ | Entertainment http://www.wbez.org/tags/entertainment Latest from WBEZ Chicago Public Radio en Jackpot! Chicago's hold on pinball industry and artistry http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/jackpot-chicagos-hold-pinball-industry-and-artistry-110175 <p><p>Ever since Kevin Schramer started playing pinball in the 1970&#39;s, he noticed that many machines listed their manufacturing addresses in the Chicago region. The addresses have kept him wondering for decades, so when he learned about Curious City, he just had to ask:</p><p style="text-align: center;"><em>Why was the Chicago area home to all the major pinball manufacturers during the heyday of pinball?</em></p><p>After digging into relevant history books, interviewing industry experts, and emptying plenty of change into the area&rsquo;s <a href="#map">remaining pinball machines</a>, we can firmly say that Kevin&rsquo;s on to something: From the modern pinball industry&rsquo;s Depression-era beginnings, to its modest market presence today, Chicago has been pinball&rsquo;s center of gravity. (The <a href="http://www.ipdb.org/search.pl">Internet Pinball Database</a> lists 554 top-rated pinball machines and at least 98 percent of them were made in the region.) But the answer as to <em>why </em>involves an interplay of history, geography and art.</p><p><strong>Insert coin: Gottlieb and Williams</strong></p><p>To say Chicago was the hub of the pinball industry isn&rsquo;t to say that the game was invented in the Windy City. Historians trace early pinball machines to a centuries-old French billiard game called <em>bagatelle</em>, while the modern coin-operated pinball industry got its start in the early 1930s. During the Great Depression, many people were &ldquo;out of work, looking for inexpensive entertainment for a penny,&rdquo; explains pinball historian Roger Sharpe. Enterprising tinkerers and businessmen began to fill that need with simple countertop games.</p><p>In these early days, many of the industry&rsquo;s key players were travelling businessmen such as David Gottlieb, whose machine <em>Baffle Ball</em> was one of pinball&rsquo;s first big hits. <em>Baffle Ball</em> was a simple game. There were no flippers, lights, or bells; you just pulled the plunger back and hoped that the ball bounced into the right hole. Gottlieb moved throughout the Midwest to sell his machines, but his operation was based in Chicago.</p><p>Many of pinball&#39;s now-familiar qualities, such as replays and tilt mechanisms, were considered whiz-bang when they were first developed by engineer Harry Williams in the 1930&rsquo;s. Williams got his start in California, pranking his business partners by adding electricity to his machines and connecting the games to telephones; in some cases, the right shot would make the phone ring. Once the ringing machines proved to draw more money than their silent counterparts, machines with sound-making elements became the norm. While Williams tried working from California for a while, he eventually decided that he would need Chicago&#39;s competitive edge if he wanted to make a name for himself in the pinball industry.</p><p>&quot;It took too long for his games to get to the East Coast and by the time it got to the East Coast other people had already knocked it off,&quot; says Sharpe.</p><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/baffle ball resized and tweaked.jpeg" style="height: 225px; width: 300px; float: right;" title="Baffle Ball and Ballywho were two of pinball’s earliest successes. The machines were flipper-less, but brought in a stream of pennies anyway. (Flickr/Rob Dicaterino)" />Chicago had a lot to offer the budding industry. Raw materials were widely available, including lumber and wiring, as well as steel from nearby Gary, Ind. The city&#39;s large immigrant population became the basis of the factories&#39; work force. Once the machines were finished, the city&#39;s railroads made them easy to distribute across the country, and Lake Michigan&#39;s ports allowed the machines to be sent around the world as pinball found a market overseas. David Gottlieb and Harry Williams founded some of the industry&rsquo;s most successful companies in Chicago, and named the firms after themselves.</p><p><strong>Multiball! Artistry in the industry&rsquo;s heyday</strong></p><p>Through the decades, the pinball industry had its highs and lows. From the 1940s through most of the 1970s pinball was officially banned as illegal gambling in many of the nation&rsquo;s big cities, including New York City and Chicago. (Roger Sharpe, our historical guide, played <a href="http://gizmodo.com/how-one-perfect-shot-saved-pinball-from-being-illegal-1154267979">an instrumental role in overturning the bans</a> with a skill shot that became the stuff of pinball legend.) Although the bans were lightly enforced, they kept the industry from achieving its full potential. Then, in the mid-1970s, the bans were lifted, and The Who&rsquo;s pinball rock opera <em>Tommy </em>was made into a major motion picture. At this point, pinball found a place in the mainstream culture, and the industry entered into a full-blown heyday.</p><p>As the industry thrived, the graphic artists who designed the backglasses and the playfields developed a detail-rich pinball aesthetic. While Chicago has many important cultural contributions, it has a unique monopoly on pinball art. The art blended the bawdy imagery of <em>Playboy </em>magazine (based in Chicago at the time) with the garish colors of <a href="http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/laugh-your-troubles-away-105619">Riverview amusement park</a>; before it was closed in 1967, Riverview had shared the same neighborhood as many pinball manufacturers.</p><p>Even Chicago&rsquo;s weather made it on to some machines. Greg Freres, celebrated pinball artist, worked on the <em>Harlem Globetrotters</em> machine during the notorious winter of 1979 &mdash; <a href="http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/just-how-bad-chicago-winter-109637#misery">one of the city&rsquo;s worst</a>. Freres included a splotch of white paint next to Lake Michigan in honor of Chicago&rsquo;s snow on the Globetrotters&rsquo; globe.<a name="presentation"></a></p><p style="text-align: center;"><iframe allowfullscreen="true" frameborder="0" height="367" mozallowfullscreen="true" scrolling="no" src="https://docs.google.com/presentation/d/15JGIGwSQW2F_J4759VDr3g6QyXrNWBNbVrTyoW21rxI/embed?start=false&amp;loop=false&amp;delayms=3000" webkitallowfullscreen="true" width="620"></iframe></p><p>While the industry lost some ground to video game machines through the 80s, it continued to be successful. The most popular pinball machine of all time, for example, was <em>The Addam&rsquo;s Family</em>; it wasn&rsquo;t released until 1992.</p><p>By the close of the decade, however, pinball was in a verifiable slump. WMS, the corporate successor to the company founded by desinger Harry Williams, lost $4 million on its pinball division in 1998 alone. The company gave its pinball team one last shot to reinvigorate pinball. The team developed <em>Pinball 2000</em>, a hybrid of video games and pinball featuring holographic aliens. Despite the machine&rsquo;s relative success and a promo video complete with kooky narration from Chicago radio legend Ken Nordine, the corporate bosses at WMS shut down their pinball division to focus on growing profits in the slot machine industry. By the dawn of the 21st century, only one manufacturer of pinball machines remained in Chicago, and the world.</p><p style="text-align: center;"><iframe allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="360" src="//www.youtube.com/embed/UUSzSHNEv2g?rel=0" width="480"></iframe></p><p><strong>Extra game? Pinball Perseveres</strong></p><p>But pinball didn&rsquo;t end there. That last company, Stern Pinball, continues to develop and manufacture pinball machines in west suburban Melrose Park. (A New Jersey-based company just released a <em>Wizard of Oz</em> pinball machine, but Stern is the only company that regularly releases new machines and distributes them widely.) Company CEO Gary Stern has been in the pinball industry since he was a small child accompanying his father, a business partner of Harry Williams, on factory visits. While the access to materials, labor, and distribution that made Chicago an ideal location for pinball&rsquo;s beginnings remain, Stern says another element is keeping the surviving industry here.</p><p>&ldquo;We&rsquo;re here, because we&rsquo;re here,&rdquo; Stern puts it plainly. That is, a community of pinball designers, engineers, and specialists live in the Chicago area, and many of them remain dedicated to the pinball craft.</p><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/Gary Stern resized.jpeg" style="height: 188px; width: 250px; float: left;" title="Stern Pinball CEO Gary Stern poses with question-asker Kevin Schramer and some of his company’s machines. Stern has worked in the pinball industry for more than 50 years. (WBEZ/Mickey Capper)" />Jim Shird is one of those specialists working at Stern. He has designed the wiring in pinball machines since the 1990s and has been playing pinball since he was a kid, when he would win free pizzas every week from a local pizza place&rsquo;s pinball competition.</p><p>Pinball&rsquo;s popularity has diminished to the point where it&rsquo;s most visible in the shadowy corners of dive bars. But still, Shird remains optimistic. These days, when he finishes work at Stern, he heads straight to <a href="https://www.google.com/maps/place/Logan+Hardware+Arcade+Bar/@41.92504,-87.688184,17z/data=!4m2!3m1!1s0x0:0x70e42de27f7ec47f">Logan Arcade</a>, one of Chicago&rsquo;s many new arcade bars, to maintain (and play) the bar&rsquo;s pinball collection.</p><p>He is, after all, a pinball person and he gets to spend his life with pinball machines.</p><p>&ldquo;Everyday is different, everyday is interesting, everyday is an adventure, and everyday is fun,&rdquo; Shird says with a smile. &ldquo;I get to play pinball everyday.&rdquo;<a name="map"></a></p><p><iframe height="480" src="https://mapsengine.google.com/map/u/1/embed?mid=zo79HXq-4bn0.kCzXX8JiSVjA" width="640"></iframe></p><p><em>(Want to play pinball? This map includes all Chicago area venues with 3 or more pinball machines. More information is available at <a href="http://pinballmap.com/chicago">PinballMap.com</a>.)</em></p><p><strong>Our question comes from: Kevin Schramer</strong><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/Kevin resize.jpeg" style="width: 225px; height: 300px; float: right;" title="Kevin Schramer plays his pinball machines with his family. Kevin’s question began this investigation. (WBEZ/Mickey Capper)" /></p><p>This story about Chicago pinball begins with our &ldquo;Player 1,&rdquo; Kevin Schramer. Kevin says he&rsquo;s loved the colors and sounds of pinball since he was a kid in the 1970s. He first saw pinball at Funway, a family entertainment center &nbsp;in west suburban Batavia.</p><p>&ldquo;If you had a pocket full of quarters you were all set,&rdquo; Kevin remembers.</p><p>Today, Kevin no longer needs quarters; he has a row of four vintage pinball machines in the dining room of his home in Winfield, Ill. His family plays the machines too, and he is currently in the midst of an extended battle with his sons over his machines&#39; high scores.</p><p><em>Mickey Capper is a freelance audio producer. Follow him <a href="https://twitter.com/FMcapper">@FMcapper</a></em></p></p> Tue, 13 May 2014 16:53:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/jackpot-chicagos-hold-pinball-industry-and-artistry-110175 Orson Welles at Woodstock http://www.wbez.org/blogs/john-r-schmidt/2013-06/orson-welles-woodstock-107601 <p><p>For 120 years, the Opera House in Woodstock has stood at the southern end of the town square. In 1934 entertainment history was made there. That&rsquo;s when a 19-year-old prodigy named Orson Welles scored his first triumph.</p><p>Welles started acting as a student at the nearby Todd School for Boys.&nbsp;After that he&nbsp;bounced around the theatrical world for a few years.&nbsp;Meanwhile, back at Todd, headmaster Roger Hill was making tentative plans for a summer drama course.</p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/06-11--Welles%20%28Van%20Vechten%20L%20of%20C%29.jpg" style="width: 270px; height: 346px; float: right;" title="Young Orson Welles (Van Vechten photo, Library of Congress)" /></div><p>Now Welles returned to Woodstock, took the idea, and proceeded to &ldquo;jazz it up.&rdquo;&nbsp;He proposed a full-scale summer drama festival at the Opera House.</p><p>Welles knew all about the old summer-stock barn shows.&nbsp;His vision was for something greater.&nbsp;Each year music lovers made pilgrimages to Bayreuth and Salzburg in Europe.&nbsp;He would create the same excitement here!&nbsp;Woodstock would become the summer capital of American theater!</p><p>Headmaster Hill signed on.&nbsp;Then Welles went to work.</p><p>He secured the &ldquo;delighted co-operation&rdquo; of the Woodstock Chamber of Commerce.&nbsp;He imported two star actors he&rsquo;d met in Ireland.&nbsp;He&nbsp;recruited prominent Chicagoans for a Friends of the Festival&nbsp;Committee.&nbsp;He threw parties.&nbsp;He charmed reporters.&nbsp;He turned out mountains of breathless publicity.</p><p>The festival opened on July 12.&nbsp;Patrons motored in from all over the city and the North Shore, the press came on a chartered bus.&nbsp;</p><p>&ldquo;It is a&nbsp;gala occasion, perhaps the most exciting the little town of Woodstock has ever had,&rdquo; the <em>Tribune</em> reported.&nbsp;&ldquo;The whole&nbsp;town was out to watch the guests assemble in front of the theatre.&rdquo;</p><p>The first play was <em>Trilby</em>, a once-popular relic of the 1890s. Welles directed, and also played the villain hypnotist, Svengali.&nbsp;The reviews were mainly positive.&nbsp;And everyone loved&nbsp;the venue.</p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/06-11--Woodstock%20Opera%20House.jpg" style="width: 270px; height: 345px; float: left;" title="Woodstock Opera House" /></div><p><em>Trilby</em> ran for two weeks.&nbsp;Next on the bill was <em>Hamlet</em>.&nbsp;Rather than play the title character, Welles cast himself as another villain, King Claudius.&nbsp;His performance was over the top&ndash;some critics&nbsp;liked it, others&nbsp;loathed it.&nbsp;But Chicago was talking about the magic going on up at Woodstock.</p><p>The&nbsp;season closed with&nbsp;<em>Tsar Paul</em>.&nbsp;This Russian tragedy had never been staged in America.&nbsp;Again Welles played a supporting role, a 60-year-old general.&nbsp;His performance was powerful yet restrained, making the audience forget he wasn&rsquo;t even old enough to vote.</p><p>The&nbsp;final curtain was lowered on&nbsp;August 19.&nbsp;The&nbsp;venture&nbsp;had been a grand success, though the financial results were mixed.&nbsp;Welles moved on with his career, and never staged a second festival in Woodstock.</p><p>Today the&nbsp;Opera House continues to provide a variety of live entertainment.&nbsp;The big summer event is the annual Mozart festival.&nbsp;The town was also the major location for Bill Murray&rsquo;s movie <em>Groundhog Day</em>.</p><p>Orson Welles has become a legend.&nbsp;And the legend&nbsp;was born&nbsp;at Woodstock in 1934.&nbsp;Drama critic Claudia Cassidy saw it coming, when she wrote: &ldquo;Perhaps the Festival&rsquo;s chief achievement will be to permit a lot of people to say of Orson Welles, &lsquo;I saw him when . . .&rsquo;&rdquo;</p></p> Thu, 20 Jun 2013 05:00:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/blogs/john-r-schmidt/2013-06/orson-welles-woodstock-107601 Tentative plans for the Zulkey inauguration http://www.wbez.org/blogs/claire-zulkey/2013-01/tentative-plans-zulkey-inauguration-105069 <p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/3213236682_f307081baa.jpg" style="float: right; height: 333px; width: 250px;" title="Flickr/davitydave" />There will be constant Air Force jet flyovers with colored smoke, because those are awesome. Nobody will be able to hear anything but they will be too thrilled to care.</div><p>I will be preceded by marching band with a thousand male baton twirlers, because that would be interesting and unexpected.<br /><br />I will ride up in a magnificent carriage pulled by twelve gorgeous horses, because why don&rsquo;t we do things with horses anymore in America? Why do only British weddings get this?<br /><br />I will request that my friend <a href="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XdHojh9i6R4">Abraham Levitan</a> make up a humorous, inspiring song about me and my special day and that everyone in attendance memorize the lyrics and sing along.<br /><br />I will be wearing a gigantic hat as will everyone else in attendance since they will be mandatory. Hats will be provided if audience members don&rsquo;t bring their own.<br /><br />Hugh Jackman, Joel McHale and Conan O&rsquo;Brien will all simultaneously hold the Bible I swear in on. &nbsp;<br /><br />Paul McCartney will then sing &ldquo;Hey Jude&rdquo; but change the lyrics to &ldquo;Hey Claire.&rdquo;<br /><br />Solange Knowles will also perform just because Beyonce has had plenty of opportunities so far. Let the other one get a turn.<br /><br />My purse will be one of those small shopping bags women carry their lunches in because those are the best kind of bags.<br /><br />At the inaugural ball, mac and cheese, champagne and good chocolate chip cookies will all be served, alongside snack mix that does not contain either those little weird rice space-filling snackies nor sesame crackers because I hate those.</p></p> Tue, 22 Jan 2013 09:46:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/blogs/claire-zulkey/2013-01/tentative-plans-zulkey-inauguration-105069 Fanny dumps her man http://www.wbez.org/blogs/john-r-schmidt/2012-09/fanny-dumps-her-man-102260 <p><p>It was over. Fanny Brice was in Chicago, and she was divorcing Nicky Arnstein. The date was September 13, 1927 &mdash; 85 years ago today.</p><p>Brice was the beloved musical comedy star of Broadway&rsquo;s Ziegfeld Follies. Arnstein was a charming, 6&rsquo;6&Prime; gambler and con man. The unlikely couple had married in 1918.</p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/09-13--Fanny%20Brice.jpg" style="float: left; " title="Fanny Brice in Chicago, 1927 (Library of Congress/Chicago Daily News)" /></div><p>Then Nicky had gone to prison for a stock swindle. During the years her husband was a guest of the government, Fanny closed her shows singing a ballad about a woman who knows she loves a louse, but still won&rsquo;t get rid of him. The song was titled &ldquo;My Man.&rdquo;</p><p>Things had gone bad after Nicky was released. Fanny became suspicious and had him followed when he made a trip to Chicago. The detective confirmed it &mdash; Nicky was having an affair.</p><p>So now Fanny was in the courtroom of Judge Otto Kerner, Sr. She said her marriage had started to fall apart when she got plastic surgery to straighten her nose. Nicky didn&rsquo;t like the change.</p><p>Freudian pop-psychology was being used to explain everything in 1927. Fanny&rsquo;s lawyer told the judge that Nicky had first become attracted to Fanny because she resembled his mother. After Fanny had her nose job, Nicky&rsquo;s lost interest in her. Nicky had something called an Oedipus Complex.</p><p>Fanny was asked why she wanted a divorce now, after she had stood by her man all the years he was in prison. &ldquo;I don&rsquo;t like to talk about it much,&rdquo; she said. &ldquo;But I&rsquo;m doing this for both of us. I&rsquo;m really giving him a chance to come back.&rdquo;</p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/09-13--nicky%20arnstein.jpg" style="float: right; " title="Nicky Arnstein (author's collection)" /></div><p>As for alimony, Fanny said she was earning enough money to support their two small children. The judge asked if she might have trouble getting future work. &ldquo;Who can tell?&rdquo; she laughed. &ldquo;The fickle public!&rdquo;</p><p>Nicky did not appear in court. After being served papers in a North Side restaurant, he issued a statement saying he would not contest the divorce. He still loved Fanny and would not stand in her way. Nicky then left town, for parts unknown.</p><p>Judge Kerner granted the divorce and the marriage was officially over.</p><p>Fanny Brice resumed her Broadway career and later became a successful radio comedian. She died in 1951. Nicky Arnstein outlived her by 14 years, and managed to stay out of further trouble.</p><p><em>Funny Girl</em>, a 1964 musical based on the story of Fanny and Nicky, made 21-year-old Barbra Streisand an overnight star. It was later made into a movie.</p></p> Thu, 13 Sep 2012 05:00:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/blogs/john-r-schmidt/2012-09/fanny-dumps-her-man-102260 Marxism on the Grand Boulevard http://www.wbez.org/blogs/john-r-schmidt/2012-07/marxism-grand-boulevard-100911 <p><p>Our subject today is the graystone three-flat at 4512 South King Drive.</p><p>The street where the three-flat stands&nbsp;used to be called&nbsp;South Park Way.&nbsp;Before that, in the early 20th Century, it was known as Grand Boulevard.</p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/Marx%20Brothers.jpg" style="float: left; " title="Chicago History Happened Here: 4512 S. King Dr." /></div><p>The neighborhood was German-Jewish then.&nbsp;From 1912 through 1920,&nbsp;the building was home to Sam and Minnie Marx and their sons Leonard, Adolph, Julius, Milton and Herbert.</p><p>The sons&nbsp;are better known by their stage names &ndash; Chico, Harpo, Groucho, Gummo and Zeppo.</p><p>The Marxes were&nbsp;New Yorkers.&nbsp;Sam was an easy-going tailor.&nbsp;Minnie had the brains and brass of the family.&nbsp;A performer herself, she raised her sons for careers in show business.</p><p>During the&nbsp;first years of the new century, when the older boys were teens, they started singing in vaudeville.&nbsp;In 1910 Minnie decided that Chicago would be a more central location for travel on the circuit.&nbsp;So the family moved.</p><p>For&nbsp;two years they all lived in an apartment at 4649 South Calumet Avenue.&nbsp;Late in 1912 Minnie scraped together a $1,000 down-payment for the graystone on the boulevard.&nbsp;The purchase price was $20,000 &ndash; about $450,000 in today&rsquo;s money.</p><p>The mortgage was held by a man named Greenbaum.&nbsp;He became the family bogeyman. Whenever the brothers complained about their hectic life on the road, all Minnie would have to do is say the magic word &ldquo;Greenbaum.&rdquo;&nbsp;Then they&rsquo;d shut up and get back to business.</p><div class="image-insert-image ">By now the oldest brothers were young men.&nbsp;Their act gradually evolved into less singing and more comedy.&nbsp;During these years, when they collected their mail in Chicago, the Marx Brothers developed their familiar stage persona.</div><div class="image-insert-image "><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/Marx%20Brothers%2002_0.jpg" title="Chicago Marxism, 1915--Groucho, Gummo, Minnie, Zeppo, Sam, Chico, Harpo (Wikipedia Commons)" /></div></div><div class="image-insert-image ">&nbsp;</div><div class="image-insert-image ">Just when the act was becoming successful, America entered World War One.&nbsp;The brothers weren&rsquo;t enthusiastic about getting drafted.&nbsp;But Minnie had read that farmers were exempt from military service.&nbsp;She bought a farm in La Grange, and for a while the very urban Marxes raised chickens, rabbits, and guinea pigs.</div><div class="image-insert-image ">&nbsp;</div><div class="image-insert-image ">Gummo was drafted, anyway.&nbsp;He hadn&rsquo;t been much of a performer, and didn&rsquo;t like being on stage, so it was no great loss to the act.&nbsp;In later years he became an agent.</div><div class="image-insert-image ">&nbsp;</div><div class="image-insert-image ">Minnie sold the Grand Boulevard home in 1920.&nbsp;The Four Marx Brothers wanted to develop their act for the Broadway stage, and a move back to New York was in order.&nbsp;When their Broadway shows were successful, movies followed.</div><div class="image-insert-image ">&nbsp;</div><div class="image-insert-image ">A few years ago the Goodman Theatre presented a revival of Marx Brothers&rsquo; 1928 stage hit, <em>Animal Crackers</em>. The family&rsquo;s onetime Chicago home, an official city landmark, is a private residence.</div><div class="image-insert-image ">&nbsp;</div><div class="image-insert-image ">It is not known whether the current owner is named Greenbaum.</div></p> Tue, 31 Jul 2012 05:00:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/blogs/john-r-schmidt/2012-07/marxism-grand-boulevard-100911 Opera comes to Chicago http://www.wbez.org/blogs/john-r-schmidt/2012-07/opera-comes-chicago-101189 <p><p>Chicago had 30,000 people in 1850. It was becoming a big city. Folks here were getting sophisticated. Women were even buying spittoons so their husbands didn&rsquo;t spit the tobacco juice on the floor any more.</p><p>And on July 29th, the world knew that Chicago wasn&rsquo;t just some backwater little village. An opera company had come to town!</p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/07-30--1850s%2C%20Andreas.jpg" title="Chicago, circa 1850 (Andreas, 'History of Chicago')" /></div><p>Well, it wasn&rsquo;t exactly an opera company. It was actually four professional singers who&rsquo;d been performing in Milwaukee, a <em>real</em> backwater little village. Still, this was an actual opera. Opera was big news in 1850.</p><p>In New York, P.T. Barnum was paying Jenny Lind &ndash; &quot;The Swedish Nightingale&quot; &ndash; $1,000 a night to perform. Chicago&rsquo;s first opera didn&rsquo;t have Jenny Lind. But the local promoters were crafty enough to choose one of her biggest hits for their first show, at Rice&rsquo;s Theatre. The opera was Bellini&rsquo;s <em>La Sonnambula</em>.</p><p>Four singers are not enough for an opera. As a result, the Chicago cast was filled out with local amateurs. A few of them had good voices, most of them didn&rsquo;t. Rehearsals were &ndash; I think &ldquo;confused&rdquo; is a good word to describe them.</p><p>(<em>Does this sound like the plot of some bad old Hollywood movie yet?</em>)</p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/07-30--Jenny_Lind_in_La_Sonnambula.jpg" title="Jenny Lind in 'La Sonnambula'--she stayed in New York (Wikipedia)" /></div><p>In any event, the grand premiere went off on schedule. Rice&rsquo;s Theatre was jammed. And just like in 2012, the opening night crowd really dressed up. The men were wearing swallow-tail coats, the women had on long gowns and were carrying lorgnettes.</p><p>Just like in one of those bad old Hollywood movies, the show had problems. The audience kept applauding at the wrong time &ndash; whenever one of the hometown amateurs showed up on stage, friends in the audience would stand up and cheer. Meanwhile, one of the extras named James McVicker sang so loudly he drowned out the rest of the singers.</p><p>The cast slogged through to the finish. And everybody loved it! The whole town was talking about Chicago&rsquo;s first opera.</p><p>The next day&rsquo;s performance didn&rsquo;t fare as well. A fire in a livery stable across the alley halted the opera. &ldquo;Sit down!&rdquo; theater owner John Rice thundered at the nervous audience. &ldquo;Do you think I would permit a fire to occur in my theater?&rdquo;</p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/07-30--John%20Rice.jpg" title="John Rice--some days nothing goes right (Wikipedia)" /></div><p>Then it became apparent that the blaze was spreading to the wooden theater. Despite some panic, everyone got out safely. Rice&rsquo;s Theatre burned to the ground.</p><p>So ended Chicago&rsquo;s first, abbreviated opera season. James McVicker, that booming-voice spear carrier, later built the city&rsquo;s finest theater. And though John Rice couldn&rsquo;t stop a fire, he found more success in politics. In 1865 he was elected Mayor of Chicago.</p></p> Mon, 30 Jul 2012 05:00:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/blogs/john-r-schmidt/2012-07/opera-comes-chicago-101189 The Chicago Drive-in Theater http://www.wbez.org/blogs/john-r-schmidt/2012-07/chicago-drive-theater-100381 <p><p>It&rsquo;s a Friday night in 1946.&nbsp;That usually means going to a movie.&nbsp;But this time, you want to do something new, something different, something <em>modern</em>.&nbsp;You decide to go to the drive-in theater.</p><p>Outdoor movies!&nbsp;When it gets dark, you can sit in your own car and watch a movie on a giant screen.&nbsp;There&rsquo;s a speaker phone on a post next to your parking spot.&nbsp;And you only pay a buck to get in, no matter how many people you load into the car.</p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/6-7--drive-in%20ad.jpg" style="float: left; height: 329px; " title="'Chicago Tribune'--June 7, 1946" /></div><p>Where do you go?&nbsp;There&rsquo;s only one drive-in around town, over by Morton Grove there, on Waukegan Road.&nbsp;But there are plans for more of them.&nbsp;Yeah, let&rsquo;s go!&nbsp;Abbott and Costello are great!</p><p>The first drive-in theater opened in New Jersey in 1933.&nbsp;Yet they didn&rsquo;t become popular until after World War II, when people started buying cars.&nbsp;In 1946 there were perhaps 50 drive-ins in the entire country.&nbsp;Ten years later, there were more than 4,000.</p><p>It was the Baby Boom, and everybody was starting a family.&nbsp;Parents could take the kids with them to the show, and not worry about how much noise the little darlings made.&nbsp;Later, when the kids got to be teens and&nbsp;began driving, they could go to the drive-in on dates, and have some privacy if the movie were boring.</p><p>At one time there were more than a dozen drive-ins&nbsp;around Chicago.&nbsp;Most were in the suburbs, but they did have one in the city itself,&nbsp;on&nbsp;Columbus Avenue on&nbsp;the Southwest Side.</p><p>The biggest was the Bel-Air, at 31st and Cicero.&nbsp;They had back-to-back screens and space for 2,500 cars.&nbsp;The Harlem-Irving backed up onto a residential street, and you could easily see the screen from there.&nbsp;That caused big traffic jams when they started showing X-rated films.</p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/07-06--Cascade%20Drive-In.jpg" title="The last survivor" /></div><p>Times change.&nbsp;In the early &lsquo;80s the drive-ins began closing.&nbsp;The biggest reasons were the VCR and cable TV, which both were becoming popular. Now you could sit at home, watch the movie, and do whatever you used to do at the drive-in.</p><p>The Waukegan Road drive-in is gone, and the Bel-Air, and the Harlem-Irving, and most of the rest.&nbsp;But in West Chicago, the Cascade is still in business.</p></p> Fri, 06 Jul 2012 05:00:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/blogs/john-r-schmidt/2012-07/chicago-drive-theater-100381 'Recovering groupie' Cynthia Plaster Caster molds a rock-star weekend http://www.wbez.org/episode-segments/2011-12-16/recovering-groupie-cynthia-plaster-caster-molds-rock-star-weekend-94964 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/segment/photo/2011-December/2011-12-16/Cynthia Plaster Caster.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>A warning--some listeners may want to put their ear muffs on. <em>Eight Forty-Eight's</em> <em>Weekly Guide</em> s best known for making plaster castings of the “naughty bits” of male and female rock 'n rollers. Cynthia Plaster Caster has gotten up close and personal with the likes of Jimi Hendrix, Jello Biafra of the Dead Kennedys and Karen O of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs.</p><p>But her experiences in the music world roamed much further. Cynthia was in the process of putting together a memoir about her time as an infamous groupie. She shared more family-friendly weekend picks but first Cynthia Albritton, aka Cynthia Plaster Caster, told <em>Eight Forty-Eight</em> about her work in progress, a memoir of her groupie days.</p><p><strong>Cynthia's Picks:</strong></p><p><strong>FRIDAY</strong><br> <a href="http://www.heathermcadams.com/Country_Calendar.html" target="_blank">Chris and Heather's Country Calendar Show</a> at <a href="http://www.fitzgeraldsnightclub.com" target="_blank">Fitzgerald’s</a><br> <br> Musician <a href="http://www.dimensiononerecords.com/index.php/roster/robertkramer" target="_blank">Robert Kramer</a> is playing at <a href="http://www.sabatinoschicago.com/" target="_blank">Sabatinos</a></p><p>The Fifth Annual Hideout Christmas Egyptian/Cosmic Panto at the <a href="http://www.hideoutchicago.com/" target="_blank">Hideout</a> (RUNS FRI / SAT / SUN)</p><p><strong>SATURDAY</strong><br> Cynthia Plaster Caster is going to go to The Bleeping Ravenswood Manor Film Society. It’s a private event&nbsp; put on by a friend&nbsp; of hers, John Connor. Connor is in the band Brick-a-Brack. A friend of Cynthia's works in Hollywood archiving old TV shows and has access to some really obscure stuff from '50s, '60s and '70s.</p><p><strong>SUNDAY</strong><br> DJ Matt Fields will spinning X-mas music at The <a href="http://www.theburlingtonbar.com/" target="_blank">Burlington Bar</a> in Logan Square.</p><p>Supreme Soul DJ Bridget will be playing <a href="http://www.delilahschicago.com/" target="_blank">Deliah's</a> in Lincoln Park<br> At 6:00 p.m., <em><a href="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TtXnLtOHiTk" target="_blank">Santa Claus Conquers the Martians</a></em> featuring Pia Zadora, will be shown.<br> &nbsp;</p></p> Fri, 16 Dec 2011 14:12:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/episode-segments/2011-12-16/recovering-groupie-cynthia-plaster-caster-molds-rock-star-weekend-94964 110 years ago today: Where the Disney story began http://www.wbez.org/blog/john-r-schmidt/2011-12-05/110-years-ago-today-where-disney-story-began-94399 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/photo/2011-December/2011-12-05/Disney Birthplace.JPG" alt="" /><p><p>The house at 2156 N. Tripp Avenue looks unremarkable, yet it is part of history. Walt Disney was born here on December 5, 1901--110 years ago today.</p><p>Elias and Flora Disney, Walt's parents, arrived in Chicago from Florida in 1890. The World's Fair was coming, and Elias hoped to find work as a carpenter. The family first lived near the fair site on the South Side.</p><p style="text-align: center;"><img alt="" class="caption" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/insert-image/2011-November/2011-11-28/12-05--Disney Birthplace.JPG" style="width: 590px; height: 393px;" title="Walt Disney's childhood home at 2156 N. Tripp Ave."></p><p>In 1893 the Disneys purchased a plot of land in the Hermosa district on the city's Northwest Side. The area was sparsely settled, with dirt streets and few houses. Elias built a two-story frame cottage with his own hands on the southwest corner of Tripp and Palmer. The original address number was 1249 Tripp.</p><p>Elias did well in Hermosa. He got other carpentry jobs, then used his earnings to buy two more lots, build two more cottages, and sell them. He also became a trustee in the local Congregational church.</p><p><img alt="" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/insert-image/2011-November/2011-11-28/12-05--Walt Disney.jpg" style="width: 235px; height: 350px; float: left; margin: 5px;" title="">Walter Elias Disney was the family's fourth son. The story that he was named after the church pastor is probably not true. The story that he was adopted, and actually born in Spain, is definitely not true. Like many people born in 1901, Walt Disney didn't have an official birth certificate, and that led to the later confusion.</p><p>The Disneys stayed on Tripp Avenue until 1906. That winter two boys from church families tried to pull off a robbery and wound up killing a policeman. Elias decided he didn't want to raise his sons in the city. He sold his house and bought a farm in Missouri.</p><p>Walt had just turned four. He'd later have no memories of the Tripp Avenue house. But in 1917, after living in various places and trying different occupations, Elias Disney moved the family back to Chicago. He'd invested in a jelly-making factory.</p><p>The new Disney home was on the Near West Side, at 1523 W. Ogden Avenue. Walt enrolled as a freshman at McKinley High School. He drew cartoons for the school paper and took art classes at night, but left after one year to become an ambulance driver in World War I. He never again lived in Chicago.</p><p>Both Elias and Flora Disney lived long enough to see their youngest son become a Hollywood studio magnate. Walt Disney himself died in 1966. And no--his body is not frozen in some cryogenic warehouse.</p><p>The Walt Disney birthplace has been expanded and renovated over the years. Because of the restrictions involved, the owner has opposed landmark status.</p><p>&nbsp;</p></p> Mon, 05 Dec 2011 12:15:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/blog/john-r-schmidt/2011-12-05/110-years-ago-today-where-disney-story-began-94399 November 11, 1921: The day Chicago radio was born http://www.wbez.org/blog/john-r-schmidt/2011-11-11/november-11-1921-day-chicago-radio-was-born-93771 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/photo/2011-November/2011-11-11/old radio_Flickr_Terry Cheah.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>In a sense, today is the birthday of WBEZ.</p><p>Ninety years ago on this date, Chicago was introduced to the latest method of instantaneous communication. They called it radio-telephony--or just plain radio.</p><p>The city was a late starter in this particular technology. In the summer of 1920 the first American broadcast went out over the air from Detroit. A few months later Pittsburgh launched a regular radio station.</p><p style="text-align: center;"><img alt="" class="caption" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/insert-image/2011-November/2011-11-05/11-11--Mary Garden portrait.jpg" title="Mary Garden" width="249" height="350"></p><p>Westinghouse Electric, owner of the Pittsburgh station, was eager to have an outpost in Chicago. The Department of Commerce granted the company a license for a Chicago station on November 9, 1921. Two days later, station KYW was ready to make a test broadcast.</p><p>The site of the test was the Auditorium Theater, with the Chicago Grand Opera Company performing. A single microphone was hung over the stage. From there, telephone wires would carry the sound to the KYW transmitter on the roof of the Commonwealth Edison Building, three blocks away.</p><p>Opera director Mary Garden made the opening address. Newspaper reports said she began with the introduction, "This is station KYW, Chicago." But the very first words that went out over the air were her slightly-earlier adlib--"My God, it's dark here!"</p><p>Garden's speech was followed by an orchestra piece, and then an aria from "Madame Butterfly." That was all. In a little over ten minutes, Chicago's first radio broadcast was over.</p><p>An estimated 50,000 people had listened in on their primitive crystal receivers. Transmission was received over a wide area, from upstate New York to Kansas, and from southern Kentucky to northern Minnesota. The signal was reported to be "loud and clear."</p><p style="text-align: center;"><img alt="" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/insert-image/2011-November/2011-11-05/11-11--opera program.jpg" title="" width="233" height="350"></p><p>The <em>Tribune</em> applauded radio as an agent for democracy. High culture was now available to everyone, everywhere. "No longer will it be necessary to dress up in evening togs to hear grand opera," the paper said. "No longer will grand opera consist solely of [recordings] in towns 500 or 1000 miles from Chicago. All that is necessary is to acquire a radio telephone outfit."</p><p>Today metro Chicago hosts over 100 radio stations--but no KYW. Since 1934 those call letters have been assigned to a Philadelphia station.</p></p> Fri, 11 Nov 2011 12:15:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/blog/john-r-schmidt/2011-11-11/november-11-1921-day-chicago-radio-was-born-93771