Follies Theater

450 S. State Street,
Chicago, IL 60605

Unfavorite 1 person favorited this theater

Gem Theatre, Chicago, 1909

Viewing: Photo | Street View

Formerly the London Dime Museum, which was in operation from at least the early-1890’s, managed by ‘Captain’ John White, and featured a vaudeville house on the main floor and an ‘oddities’ museum on the upper floor. The building became the Gem Theater in 1908. It was renamed Gem Theater from 1908 through to 1949. In 1929, the Gem Theatre began to feature burlesque in addition to movies. It stood directly across the street from the landmark Second Leiter Building, later the first Loop home of the flagship Sears, Roebuck, & Co. department store (now located at Madison Street and State Street).

By early-1950, the name of the theater was changed to the Follies Theater, also known as the Follies Burlesque. It lasted until 1972, when the management started showing hard-core pornography in order to keep in operation. It reopened in 1974 for legitimate theatrical use, but after one performance, the theater was closed again. “Deep Throat” was showing here in 1975. The Follies Theater was destroyed in a fire in 1978.

Today, the enormous Harold Washington Library Center, Chicago’s main library building, is located on the site of the theater.

Contributed by Bryan Krefft, BWChicago

Recent comments (view all 17 comments)

KenC on February 26, 2009 at 7:31 pm

In the book “DOWNTOWN CHICAGO IN TRANSITION” by Eric Bronsky and Neal Samors, there’s a nice photo of the Gem theatre-in 1941- on page 107. On the marquee: BURLESQUE ON STAGE ON SCREEN “I’LL SELL MY LIFE”.

mikebaggi on May 12, 2009 at 5:45 pm

By the time I discovred the FOLLIES THEATER it was a burlesque joint that also showed one short movie between the girlie acts. I guess that I was about 13 or 14 when I first saw the show. It was everything that a cheap old burlesque house should be. The bored chorus line of over-aged hard looking ladies, the pitchman sellling candy and “a picture booket of naked ladies that’s only supposed to be sold to doctors. But I can’t tell if you’re a doctor or not”. The movie that week was a documentary on “How To Shrink A Human Head”. And let me say that it was both graphic and accurate. It could never pass any censors of any kind today.
Next door to the theater was a penny arcade where the ladies of the chorus could catch a quick lunch or dinner of hot dog sanwiches. I saw several of them in there on several occasions.
For me in those days it was an adventure!


bjanu on September 29, 2009 at 10:45 am

The Follies was actually known for its burlesque as early as 1916. There was an organization entitled the Political Equity League, headed by Mrs. Guy Blanchard, that studied the immoral nature of moviehouses and made recommendation to the censors. She had publicly made comments about the dancing girls at the theater, complaining that they were “drug fiends.” She claimed that there were small rooms under the stage where the girls would get high. In the Chicago Tribune, Feb 1, 1916, one of the dancers shot back at Mrs. Blanchard, saying that the “girls who dance at the Gem theater work there and do the dances they do because by doing so they can make a living.” (pg. 11)

LindaW on April 13, 2012 at 9:30 pm

Captain John White was the proprietor and manager of the London Dime Museum on State St. He died in 1902. He was with the Adam Forepaugh circus for a number of years.

brendag on July 11, 2013 at 12:41 pm

mikebaggi, I danced at the follies. at 13 or 14 anybody looks old! not to say there were not a couple up in age.i lived the life of a dancer back in the 70s it was real was the old bump and grind.hard looking ladies? that is uncalled for. I will say the movies were a little rough. what did you expect mickey mouse? we worked hard for our money. and most were skilled dancers. you can see more on the beaches now days. unless you have lived it don’t be so critical. what were you doing in a place for adults anyway? guess it was not so bad you went back for more.

DavidZornig on October 20, 2014 at 4:06 pm

Just added a 1941 image as the Gem.

Sherlock1234 on February 23, 2015 at 9:50 am

Does anyone know if a woman named Leona worked in wardrobe around 1970-1972?

DavidZornig on March 25, 2015 at 7:44 pm

Just added a mid 70's photo, with "Deep Throat" on the marquee. So the Overview is incorrect that management refused to play hard-core pornography. Squad car behind the cab puts it around74, but I’m getting confirmation on the year they changed to all white squads.

DavidZornig on March 25, 2015 at 8:02 pm

Just got confirmation the squad car is 1975. The white squads first appeared April of 75. So the Follies was open after74, contrary to the Overview.

DavidZornig on March 28, 2015 at 6:34 pm

Circa 1940 photo courtesy of Darla Zailskas.

You must login before making a comment.

New Comment

Subscribe Want to be emailed when a new comment is posted about this theater?
Just login to your account and subscribe to this theater