McVickers Theater

25 W. Madison Street,
Chicago, IL 60602

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DavidZornig
DavidZornig on August 15, 2008 at 10:19 am

I was unfortunately at the McVickers during it’s decline. I was the ride to a heavily advertised, short-run showing of “Make Them Die Slowly” in late 1982 or early `83. A campy horror film billed as “Banned In 31 Countries!”.
The tag line apparently worked, as the by then decaying structure was clearly overwhelmed by the those who showed up.
The restrooms were located in the basement. Needless to say the archaic plumbing was no longer up to the task of large crowds. As the ensuing flood approached the grand stairwell upwards, management saw fit to only rope off the area, instead of closing and/or causing chaos/losing money.
As with most of the downtown theatres already in decline, rodents could be heard and felt under foot during the feature presentation. So much so that at one of the many points the film stopped, rowdier patrons would yell: “Hey rats, the film broke!"
As if the rodents were somehow in charge or running the projector.
It was sad to see the once grand, vintage facade and ornate interior in such disrepair. Running "Make Them Die Slowly” sadly became a fitting end to a glorious theatre history. As previously documented, the McVickers closed shortly thereafter.

rsalters (Ron Salters)
rsalters (Ron Salters) on March 20, 2008 at 10:28 am

According to Gerald Bordman’s “American Musical Theatre” (Oxford,2001), “Excelsior” opened in New York at Niblo’s Garden on August 21 1883 and ran until Dec. 15th. The Kiralfy Brothers imported the show from Paris. It was a ballet-pantomime with no spoken dialog. Haniola, Imre and Arnold Kiralfy were immigrants from Hungary who began their American careers as dancers but later became prolific producers of stage spectaculars such as “Excelsior” at the McVickers.

Englewood
Englewood on March 19, 2008 at 4:16 pm

On Thursday, June 19, 1884:

M’VICKER’S THEATRE

THIRD WEEK OF CONTINUOUS SUCCESS.
The Magnificent, Spectacular, Dramatic, Ballet Pan-
tomine.

KIRALFY BROS.’
Grandest Production.

EXCELSIOR!

Sixth “Excelsior” Matinee Saturday
SPECIAL PERFORMANCE SUNDAY NIGHT

(Obviously, the typefaces and sizes were different; but there it is, the performance was called ‘Excelsior!’.)

lcarver
lcarver on March 18, 2008 at 4:55 pm

My great-grandmother writes in her diary of attending McVickers Theatre while visiting Chicago on June 19, 1884. I wonder if anyone could tell me what play she attended.

SPearce
SPearce on February 1, 2008 at 11:31 pm

Thank you. I remember Claudia Cassidy; the other name is not familiar to me.

Broan
Broan on February 1, 2008 at 3:45 pm

The McVickers was leased by B&K as a 30 year lease from 1937-1966. JLS had a 99-year lease previously, but after they defaulted on it the Board of Education took possession. The 1962 deal did involve some refurbishment such as paint, carpeted rows, and other things. It is unclear to me, then, how JLS was involved in 1962. The McVickers closed to Cinerama on September 11, 1966. Sill under the Nederlanders, first show this time around was “Half a Sixpence” for 7 weeks starting Nov. 1, then “On A Clear Day YOu Can See Forever from Dec. 19 to Jan 28, followed by the open run of Fiddler from Jan 30 to Oct 21. Man of La Mancha came on Nov. 8 and ran for 22 weeks. It then went back to movies with a reserved seat engagement of "Gone With The Wind”. The Nederlanders, as the Diana Theater Co., retained the lease until 1984, when they closed it (though it had long ceased as a legit house and was instead showing X-Rated, rock westerns, and the like in the interim).
Citicorp then assumed the lease , because the Board of Education had sold it to Citicorp’s predecessor, First Federal, in 1979, and Diana was not maintaining it. Citing an unstable facade, but perhaps more likely an excuse to get a tax drain off the books, Citicorp demolished it in 1985. The soft review was by Thomas Willis, while the harsh one was by Claudia Cassidy.

SPearce
SPearce on January 30, 2008 at 7:26 pm

REndres: I don’t know about the McClurg Court Theater, past my Chicago time. I don’t think I was ever in the McVickers again after “Do Re Mi” (or wanted to be for a while, probably). I remember reading in the newspaper/hearing on the news that the ship used in the “Windjammer” was in Chicago – there was alot of publicity about that. I knew of “Windjammer,” but I don’t remember if I saw it, sort of think I did, or maybe could have seen a trailer of it in another theater. But I am becoming verrrry seasick and see this ship roiling on the water. I may have seen it and left the theater early. I vaguely recall someone telling me once that if I had seen “Windjammer,” I would remember it.

BWChicago: I was remiss earlier. Thank you for taking the time to share the detailed quoted material from the Tribune critics of “Do Re Mi” and the McVickers remodel in ‘62. I seem to recall those reviews and that being the flavor of them. Do you have the name of the critic who wrote the first, soft review? Just curious.

CSWalczak
CSWalczak on January 30, 2008 at 5:17 pm

I, too, remember attending “Man of La Mancha” at the McVickers in, I think, 1966 or 1967 – in fact twice, as the first time I was in that balcony mentioned above and the it was rather far from the stage; later I saw it from the third row in the orchestra and it was an entirely different experience. I also remember the draping, and I also seem to recall that much of the ceiling plasterwork was painted over either a rose or a blue color. The orchestra level booths for Cinerama projection were still there then, also draped over. If memory serves, I also saw a production of “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum” there too.

At that particular time period, considering too that Cinerama product was drying up, converting the McVickers to a legitimate theater was probably also due to the fact that Chicago had very few theaters available for Broadway shows. Then, most musicals played the Shubert (now the LaSalle Bank Theater – dreadful name) and comedies and plays usually went to the Blackstone on Balbo (now the Merle Reskin operated by DePaul University). In the late 60s and 70s, many Broadway shows in Chicago were resident or “sit-down” professional companies and played long runs, rather than the touring companies that play most cities today, including Chicago, where the runs typically run from a few weeks or, at best, a few months. (“Wicked” is an exception and is a throwback to the resident company era). After the demise of the McVickers, the problem of available space remained. By the 70s, big shows for awhile started going into the Arie Crown Theater in McCormick Place (a horrendous barn of a place). The problem was partially solved, at least for the mega-musicals, by the 80s, when the famous Auditorium Theater was restored and made available. With the restoration of the Oriental and the Bismarck (Cadillac Palace) as legit houses – in addition to the LaSalle Bank Theatre, the situation is considerably different today. But I still think it’s tragic that so many famous theaters in the Loop, in addition to the McVickers (State-Lake, United Artists, Woods, Roosevelt, Michael Todd, Cinestage, etc.) didn’t make it.

SPearce
SPearce on January 30, 2008 at 4:45 pm

The apple often doesn’t fall far from the tree in the Chicago area. Do those of you who are historians on some of these CT sites have a documentary to screen on Chicago movie palaces, or even a Power Point slide show? I would think that presenting something like that at Chicago area “retirement” sites for a concentrated audience would elicit precious remembrances to add to the record. I say that because I’m looking for remembrances from the ‘30s and '40s to trigger my own memories of a generation later, and wish there were more set out. Maybe you have done that already? Graduate students?

MIACARLSON
MIACARLSON on January 30, 2008 at 2:07 pm

I am thinking about putting the plate which I mentioned above on e-Bay. Again, I have a commemoration plate made of some sort of cast iron from the 50th performance of “Shenandoah” on June 20th, 1898 at the McVickers Theatre in Chicago. The management is listed as Jacob Litt and the plate has a raised image of a man on horseback along with two men on the ground. I have collected antiques for many years since my girls were very young to help pay for their college…oldest graduates in June – near the top of her class. :) Any suggestions as to what it would be worth?

Ret. AKC (NAC) CCC Bob Jensen, Manteno, Illinois
Ret. AKC (NAC) CCC Bob Jensen, Manteno, Illinois on January 30, 2008 at 1:35 pm

REndres-Break my heart and mention the McClurg Court. Not exactly a movie palace, but technically a great place to screen a film. I looked back at the CT McClurg Court site and it lists “Fiddler” as the first movie and I did see it at the McClurg, GREAT SOUND. I do however seem to remember (at a previous movie that I saw at the McClurg) a womem employee all excited talking about “Fiddler” coming soon to the McClurg. Of course this was all over 35 years ago, I could have it mixed up. Pehaps they had a sneak preview or something? Not much to do with the McVickers, well they both start out with Mc!

“Ladies and Gentlemen, This is CINERAMA!” Lowell Thomas September 30, 1952

RobertEndres
RobertEndres on January 30, 2008 at 11:45 am

As mentioned in a post above, the McVickers went legit for “Man of La Mancha”, and I believe the Chicago home of the stage production of “Fiddler On The Roof”. I remember hearing a story which perhaps someone on this thread can verify about the “Fiddler” booking. I think at the time, the McVickers was operated by LublinerTrinz (?)and was alternating between film and live stage shows. There was a need for a live house for the Chicago run of “Fiddler”, and the McVickers was approached as a site. The story I remember hearing was that Lubliner Trinz said they would make the theatre available if when the movie version came out they would have the roadshow rights to it in Chicago. They then built McClurg Court specifically for the roadshow 70mm presentation of “Fiddler”. I know I saw the film version at McClurg Court — it was their opening attraction. Anyone care to comment?

SPearce
SPearce on January 30, 2008 at 10:34 am

Thank you for the memory check. This causes me to recall that, yes, there were curtains draped around the walls, which I took to be an additional patchwork method to treat the acoustical problem. Perhaps absorb some of the hollowness or wandering echos, or stabilize what could be heard from the actors on stage. There was also a young romantic couple in the plot who sang and their whole purpose in the plot suffered because of the sound problems.

I recall also some sort of newspaper chatter of the controversy over Phil Silvers, especially, and Nancy Walker, as traditional stage professionals, not wanting to be miked – indicating they felt they should be heard without mikes and were trying to address that problem with their own skills; but they eventually had to comply with the circumstances and wear the mikes. At one point, I think Phil Silvers insisted he wasn’t going to do it, and Nancy Walker was; then he finally acquiesced.

JRS40
JRS40 on January 30, 2008 at 10:24 am

The Iroquois was the site of the Oriental which is now the Ford Center for Performing Arts

Broan
Broan on January 30, 2008 at 9:37 am

In December 1961, Jones Linick and Shaefer finally sold the McVickers, to a syndicate composed of the Nederlanders, Herman Bernstein from New York, and the Smerlings, of the Chicago-based Confection Cabinet company, which operated theater concessions around Chicago. The idea was that it would replace the Erlanger theater, which closed March 10, 1962 with “Bye Bye Birdie” and was demolished one month later to make way for the Civic Center. The McVickers with “Do Re Mi” opened Jan 30 1962. The Tribune makes no mention of delays, except to say that the house was not really ready, and that the horrendous sound had to be fixed by lots of microphones and blasting speakers. In the review of the play, the Trib’s comment on the suitability of the house says, “the orchestra pit is too small for the band. Patrons in the front seats may get stiff necks from looking up, and it seemed a country mile to the back of the balcony.” However, 5 days later, their other theater critic published a scathing review of the theater itself, opening with, “The unaccustomed silence in this corner about the reopening of the McVickers as a legitimate theatre is not due to awe, just to plain, unadulterated shock.” She described the theater as “kind of a tunnel with a sky-high stage stuck up at one end, a distant balcony at the other, and the main floor has a huge motion picture projection booth… the walls are lugubriously draped with mournful curtains, the seats are push-backs at an odd angle, the orchestra pit is a horror with most of the players shoved under the stage, the others trailing up the side aisles.” The play, she said, was a cut-rate version of Guys and Dolls. She continues, “It is true that the management is losing the Erlanger for reasons beyond its control, and that it had to move fast to open the substitute house. It is just as true that the house is unsatisfactory in every aspect except possibly the boxoffice, and that little dabs of remodeling will not help. Myself, I would not suggest a thing except to tear it down and start over. It only lasted four weeks, followed by "Irma la Douce” for another four, and “La Plume de Ma Tante” for eight. Following this, they threw in the towel and began preparing for conversion to Cinerama.

Eddie Foy was at the Iroquois disaster.

SPearce
SPearce on January 30, 2008 at 12:19 am

Was not the McVickers remodeled into a legitimate theater for a short time in the early ‘60s? I thought it was there I saw Phil Silvers and Nancy Walker perform in a play that debuted the McVickers as a playhouse. The acoustics were the worst I have ever come across; and they had been rushing to open this booked play on time. With that, they still held it back a couple of days. I had tickets for the first week because at that time I would go anywhere to see Phil Silvers or Nancy Walker together or as a single. I could not make out one single word Phil Silvers spoke, and it was almost the same for Nancy Walker. During the show they were figuring it out, and Nancy Walker finally just stopped and spoke the words verrry sloooowly. The play was something about him being an inveterate gambler who was going to go back to gambling one more time on some sure thing. The Press went somewhat easy on the acoustic situation – didn’t really pre-warn the audiences. I think the play then went on to NYC. I think this theater failed as a legitimate playhouse.

Also wasn’t one of the McVickers the site where vaudeville performer Eddie Foy calmed the audience during a fire; and was credited with saving so many lives?

rsalters (Ron Salters)
rsalters (Ron Salters) on April 11, 2007 at 8:17 am

Grand Mogul- please recheck the 1944 date on your Gossip Column clipping—the movie version of “Oklahoma!” came out in the 1950s and was a big hit.

GrandMogul
GrandMogul on April 10, 2007 at 10:30 am

GOSSiP COLUMN ITEM:
Chicago Tribune, Monday, October 3, 1944, s. 3, p. 4, c. 3:
Tower Ticker, by Herb Lyon

“… . The McVickers may not play Mike Todd’s "Oklahoma!” after all. The cost of installation for the big, new Todd-AO process is estimated at a half million."

Broan
Broan on January 8, 2007 at 8:47 pm

They may have assessed a similar plate before. There is a 1978 Chicago Tribune antiques article about a similar plate. The columnist did not know about the item, but referred the writer to a Sharon Darling, curator of decorative arts at the society. This being nearly 30 years ago I’m sure she’s no longer with the society but after this and perhaps others like it there is more information on file.

carold913
carold913 on January 8, 2007 at 8:20 pm

the chicago historial museum will be glad to take they are located on clark and north ave. they would be glad to rent it from you or buy it. not sure of the price because something like that can’t be priced. contact them immediately. because i would hate to hear something happen to such a variable part of our legacy.

MIACARLSON
MIACARLSON on January 8, 2007 at 8:10 pm

I really believe that the plate I mentioned before should go to an historic agency in Chicago, or a theatre group….but don’t know how to get it to them. Anyone have any idea?

carold913
carold913 on January 8, 2007 at 7:56 pm

i think this is the first picture of the McVicker theater in chicago on madison and dearborn before the chicago fire. it seems to be fitting to allow everyone to see what it looks like. follow this link

View link

JimCalvin
JimCalvin on July 3, 2006 at 2:56 pm

I also saw “The Wonderful World Of The Brothers Grimm” at the McVickers Theater. I remember sitting way up in the balcony and still being engulfed by the screen – it seemed so huge at age 9 or 10. I also remember the sound being so good that NOTHING came close to it until digital surround in the 90’s â€" seriously!! The animated dragon in one of the fairy tale dramatizations was so good as a special effect, to my memory, that nothing compared until “Star Wars”. I had thought I was there in October of 1963, but could be it was 62. My birthday was that weekend and my family was in Chicago so my father could help plan a judges convention. We stayed at another long-gone Chicago landmark – The Hotel Sherman House (replaced by the Illinois building in the 70’s or 80’s). That weekend I say Henny Youngman at the College Inn Porterhouse at the Hotel Sherman (where Don McNeil’s breakfast club originate on WLS radio), saw Cinerama for the first and only time at McVickers and also saw a Dean Martin “Matt Helm” movie at the Chicago Theater (why did my parents take me to that horrid movie with near nudity? – oh, yeah, to see the Chicago Theater), and visited the Museum of Science and Industry for the first time. A great birthday weekend. I fell in love with Cinerama and the Museum of Science and Industry. Somewhere my mom still has the soundtrack album for “The Wonderful World Of The Brothers Grimm” with the souvenir book on Cinerama. I can still remember the theme music for the movie â€" it was quite good.

Broan
Broan on June 17, 2006 at 2:47 pm

Here is a profile from the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency’s HAARGIS system. It includes a small picture.