Monthly Archives: May 2016

Evenings “Downtown” – The Biograph Theater

Roaming the bars and clubs of Aurora and the Fox Valley, as well as our favorite Chicago haunts, my best friend Vern and I were inseparable. Until he met Carol, that is. After this momentous event Vern would more than occasionally spend time in her old neighborhood, on Austin Avenue in Oak Park, or in St Charles when she was at school. This of course left me alone, and to explore, and to range a bit further. In doing so I discovered a couple of new hangouts, some new friends in the neighborhood on N. Lincoln Ave. which seemed to me at the time to coalesce around the Biograph Theater.

I was told that a couple had recently acquired the Biograph, and because of its fame, or notoriety, earned in the 1930s, decided to restore it to past glory and only play old movies. This was great fun, and I can say that my first large-screen viewing of a Marx Brothers movie – “Animal Crackers” – was at the Biograph.

Authors Note: I went to that particular showing because my brother and his friends were at the time obsessed with the Marx Brothers; reading books about them and quoting lines from their movies. After that night I was borrowing the books, and memorizing lines and passages myself. I quickly became, and still am a huge fan of Groucho, Harpo, and Chico and love each of them as individuals. But truth be told, Arthur (ne Adolph) Marx – Harpo – will always be my favorite. In fact, Harpo’s picture stares down at me from my office wall as I write this. So, thanks to my brother David for steering me to a lifelong obsession.

The Biograph theater was of course notorious as the site of the death of public enemy number one John Dillinger in 1936. The time in which I frequented that neighborhood coincided with the release of what I still feel to be the best John Dillinger movie ever made, the aptly named “Dillinger” starring Warren Oates.

I recall how angry the people who lived in the area were after seeing that movie. In actual events, the infamous lady in red had tipped off G-man Melvin Purvis as to when she and John Dillinger would be leaving the theater. As they exited they turned left (or south on Lincoln Ave) toward the alley a couple of doors away where Purvis was waiting. He confronted the gangster in front of the alley and in a scuffle fatally shot him.

This dramatic exciting climactic scene was well produced and well played, with one notable exception. In the movie upon leaving the theater Dillinger walked north on Lincoln Avenue to meet his fate. Locals who had awaited the movie with great anticipation were incensed.

Not growing up in the Biograph neighborhood, I didn’t mind the error in direction so much, and thought the movie was great. I have a copy and I still think so.

Evenings “Downtown” – The Playboy Club

Unlike a lot of our friends in Aurora, my best friend Vern and I, both singularly and more often together, spent a lot of time “downtown”, which is how we referred to the city of Chicago – mostly the area from the Gold Coast to Rush Street, through Old Town and, of course, Wrigleyville.

By the summer of ‘69 we were both members of the Playboy Club. This was the original club; a five-story building just west of Michigan Avenue at 116 E. Walton which Hefner had leased from Blackhawks owner Arthur Wirtz.

Entering the club, where you are greeted by a Door Bunny, to whom you showed your “key card”. This provided access and also served as an in-house credit card, After entering, a turn to the right and down a couple of steps led to a fairly typical, if rather high-end, cocktail lounge. To the left of the lobby was a reception office and an elevator.

The theme of the club was that it represented what was supposedly the adult male’s dream, the ideal “bachelor pad”. Each of the four floors offered the experience of a different room; Playroom, Penthouse, Library, and Living Room. These floors – accessed via the elevator – allowed one to move easily from cocktail lounge to cabaret to fine dining to dancing without ever leaving the building.

In 1972 Playboy acquired, and moved into the former “Palmolive Building” on the northeast corner of Michigan Avenue and Walton. The building, and the famous rotating “Lindburg” beacon at the top were renamed for the new owner. The site of the original club soon became a parking structure, and the charm and cachet of the old club was lost forever.

The bachelor pad concept notwithstanding, The Playboy Club was an excellent place to bring a date. It was especially exotic, I think, to the girls we knew in the suburbs, many of whom didn’t venture “downtown” all that often.

One in particular was an altogether charming and delightful girl from Plano –then working as a waitress at the N. Lake Street Big Boy – whom I dated for a while. On our very first outing we drove into the city to see that season’s smash hit movie “The Godfather” at the Chicago Theater. So as to impress her with my sophistication and worldly knowledge we started the evening with drinks at the bar above the 95th floor restaurant in the Hancock Building.

Stepping off the elevator we were presented with just the scene for which I had brought her. The half-floor lounge was a balcony over the restaurant, and the one and two-story high, floor to ceiling windows offered a twinkling array of billion city lights far below. My date turned to the Maître d’ and asked breathlessly, “Can we sit by a window?” He turned, scanned the nearly empty lounge, then smiled and said he didn’t think that would be a problem.

We had dinner at the “new” Playboy Club, and then hustled to the theater where we waited in line, barely making it in for the showing. I liked the movie – very much – as it seemed did everyone else. My date, however, admitted later that while she enjoyed the movie, all she could think of was going back to the Playboy Club and dancing. Which is just what we did, and the evening was a success.