I saw Burt Lancaster in person at the Oriental Theatre. It was supposed to be a minor part but his scenes in ‘The Killers” as the Swede propelled him to stardom. Then everyone wanted to know who he was.
It was discovered he was a circus performer with his partner Nick Cravat. And a natural athlete. He generally was his own stuntman. As one director stated ‘No one can out stunt better than Burt." He was the new teenage sensation to everyone including me.
The Chicago papers advertised Burt was to perform at the Oriental Theatre on Randolph Street. So, I was one of the crazy teens that had to see him. No one really knew what he going to do on stage. (I didn’t cut school for viewing the event. Those who have read my articles will remember I cut one day from High School to see of all movies, ‘Tarzan") so I excitedly paid my 50 cents to see a movie and Lancaster.
I don’t remember the movie but I do remember the hysterical applause when he walked on stage. The stage was set up with hi bars, and assorted gym equipment. All he did when first coming on stage was flash his generous smile. He was dressed in skin tight gym clothing and the girls in the audience went berserk. Then he and Nick Cravat started their gymnastic routine and with every move they made the audience go wild.
It’s a good thing as I reflect back the noise and I mean noise didn’t bother me. Truth be told I cheered right along with "mob". And, every time he began a new routine the noise got even louder. I was developing pierced ear drums. At that time no one realized what a great actor he would be in the world of Motion Pictures and perform with the likes of Kirk Douglas throughout their careers.
And, this one fact I didn’t know. After each performance he would go to a window and shout to the kids and again the kids went nuts. What a day to remember.
Like everything else, when TV took over the entertainment industry personal appearances became rare until they stopped. So in my time I saw Al Jolson, Elizabeth Taylor, Marilyn Monroe and Burt. So for those of us who lived in Chicago Then, it was the golden age of entertainment.
The Oriental Theater fell in despair before it was revived. Curiously at one time it had become a furniture store. The same happened to The Chicago Theater until it was restored by a group of investors. To help you remember the Loop then, there was the State Lake Theater, the Woods, the Garrick, United Artists, Roosevelt Theatre and The McVickers on Quincy near State St. Those are all gone now but that was Chicago Then.
Memories light the corners of my mind. This is one memory us "old timers" will always treasure.
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