Follies Theater

450 S. State Street,
Chicago, IL 60605

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DavidZornig on April 10, 2017 at 8:57 am

9/16/77 Sun-Times movie section added with the Follies ad in the lower left hand corner. Note they used “D-T' for "Deep Throat”. This also helps date the previously posted photo with “Deep Throat” on the marquee. So the Overview can be changed from 1975 to 1977 as far as the showing of that film at the Follies.

Image courtesy of Tim O'Neill.

DavidZornig on January 23, 2016 at 10:45 pm

1970 photo added courtesy of Jack McCabe.

RickB on March 29, 2015 at 2:03 pm

Link to the Tribune’s story on the Follies fire.

On November 14, 1974, the Follies was one of four Chicago adult theaters targeted by a bomber or bombers.

DavidZornig on March 28, 2015 at 8:34 pm

Circa 1940 photo courtesy of Darla Zailskas.

DavidZornig on March 25, 2015 at 10:02 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 25, 2015 at 9:44 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.

Sherlock1234 on February 23, 2015 at 11:50 am

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

DavidZornig on October 20, 2014 at 6:06 pm

Just added a 1941 image as the Gem.

brendag on July 11, 2013 at 2:41 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.

LindaW on April 13, 2012 at 11:30 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.

bjanu on September 29, 2009 at 12:45 pm

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)

mikebaggi on May 12, 2009 at 7:45 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!


KenC on February 26, 2009 at 9:31 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”.

sgroge on April 16, 2008 at 2:01 pm

I found a reference to a magician playing the Gem in Chicago in 1907 so the age may be greater.

Englewood on August 20, 2007 at 12:24 pm

The Chicago Tribune has the old Follies burning down early Wednesday morning, January 4, 1978. Cause unknown but not believed to be arson. The address shown in the newspaper is 450 So. State St.

kencmcintyre on June 28, 2007 at 7:13 pm

I have a 1909 photo which puts the Gem at 312 State Street. I will post the photo after I get it on a disk. Perhaps it’s a different theater.

GrandMogul on April 10, 2007 at 1:08 pm

Yes, it’s true, Red Skelton did play the Gem!
Chicago Tribune, Tuesday, May 19, 1959, s. 3, p. 10, c. 6:
SKELTON TELLS OF CHANGE, by Stephen Harrison

Richard Skelton, also known as Red and once fired here by popular request, returned Monday to the scene of the crime—rehired by popular request.

Can’t Vie with Legs
Having abandoned Vincennes, he was playing vaudevile in such landmarks as the Haymarket, the State & Congress, and the Gem, where aficionados paid a lot more attention to burlesque girls' legs than they ever did to Skelton.

[At the time of this item Skelton was headlining at the famed Chez Paree.]

Broan on January 14, 2007 at 7:17 pm

The Gem opened around 1910. By 1929 it had gone burlesque, along with many of the theaters in the immediate area, when a patron disgruntled with the inability to locate a seat on the floor shot and killed a doorman and wounded another patron. This also indicates that there was a balcony, so the original seating was probably greater. The marquee burned down in October 1946. The name change to Follies, in reference to Zeigfeld’s famed burlesque, came in the early 50s. In 1972 the Follies closed, saying they refused to show hardcore pornography but that soft-core would not sustain them, and dismissed its last strippers; it reopened soon, however, and in 1974 even a legitimate stage production appeared there, a 1920s show called “Shanghai Gesture”, an exotic production from an eccentric Lincoln Avenue producer named Eleven. The show only lasted one act, victim of a bomb scare. Its demise came in 1978, as it burned.

tomdelay on July 12, 2005 at 5:46 pm

The Gem Theatre installed a 2 manual 4 rank piano console Wurlitzer style 135-C shipped 3/24/1919 from the North Tonawadna, NY factory.
The organ was installed in a factory-built swell-box. It was Wurlitaer opus 213.

The organ was repo’d by Wurlitzer and rebuilt as a style RB-1 church organ with a new console, relay, 8'-4' Principal rank and chests, as well as treble extension chests. The organ is still installed and playing in San Carlos Cathedral in Monterey, CA as a 5 rank unit church organ installed in 1935 by Charles Herschmann from San Francisco.

It is probably not accurate to say the organ was entirely from the Gem Theatre as Wurlitzer used parts from other organs (Bryn Mawr Theatre)as well as the new parts added in 1935. The Vox Humana, Salicional, Concert Flute (with Redwood Bourdon), and Chimes are probably from the Gem Theatre.