McVickers Theater
The first film that I saw at the McVickers Theater on Madison was Rodger and Hammerstein's "Oklahoma" (1955). It was terrific. In fact, it was with that film that I first fell in love with Broadway Musicals. I was already in love with movies, having been a film buff since my parents started bringing me to the movies as a young child. It may have been the film version, but the connection was obvious. By the time that I saw my first real Broadway style musical, I had already accumulated a collection of soundtracks and original performances. (Thank you, Columbia Records) Even today, I have a DVD collection of the great musicals that have so far been released. It all started for me right here in the McVickers Theater.

Oklahoma was the first film to be photographed in the new Todd-AO system. was conceived by showman Michael Todd for the filming of his production of "Around The World In Eighty Days". Todd and his son, Michael Todd Jr, had both directed portions of the original "This is Cinerama", which utilized three seperate reels of film to project a single image on a huge, curved wide screen. At Todd's persuasion, American Optical had commissioned Dr. Brian O'Brien, the dean of Rochester School of Optics, to develop system of cinematography that would use a flexible camera, could tell a story, use a single projector, and be shown on a screen that was wide and deeply curved. In other words, he wanted "Cinerama" in a lighter, flexible and more versatile format. The American Optical Company created the new lenses that were needed, and the rest is history. As I recall, the McVickers and Todd's Cinestage were the only two theaters in Chicago equipped with Todd-AO systems. Copies for further distribution were made in anamorphic 35mm formats.

Later that same year, I had been given a three frame cut from the release print of Oklahoma that was still playing at the McVickers. It was the scene where Curly and Laurey were sitting on a bench, with Curly bragging in song about how he was planning to pick her up in his "Surrey with the Fringe on Top." I treasured it for years, but it must have gotten lost in one of our many moves. I keep hoping that it will eventually show up.

The McVickers theater that I attended was at least the fourth theater of that name on the same location, the first dating in the 1800's. In its later days it was owned by the Chicago Board of Education. Visible from State Street, it was located at 25 W. Madison. One block to the west was the Shubert Theater on Monroe. If you walked east on Dearborn you would come to the Randolph Street theaters. The "OCK!" on the neon sign next door is the "Round The Clock" Restaurant. Yes, the McVickers is where I saw "South Pacific" (shown on the marquee above), as well as several other fine films of the period.

I don't have much information on the history of the McVickers Theater, but I did find this note in the Jazz Age article on the Regal theater in Chicago, noting that" In addition to a steady fare of motion pictures, the theater's managers entertained patrons with both a regular house orchestra and a top-flight stage orchestra (an approach often referred to as the "Paul Ash policy" after the bandleader who first perfected the idea at Chicago's McVickers Theater). The theater was built in 1922, and had a capacity of 1865.



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