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.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *