Can’t cope with life? Too much Coronavirus? Super Tuesday hangover? Well then here’s a special column that is mainly about the movies. Because I make my living by being fully parochial, these are movies filmed, at least in part, in Oak Park, or almost in Oak Park, or which include something Oak Park-centric — this newspaper, for example — in their storytelling. And for the most part, these movie gems relate to current events in the village.
We reported last week that the Shaker family is putting its four commercial buildings in downtown Oak Park up for sale. Where’s the movie in that? Well, one of the Shaker buildings, now actually called The Shaker Building, is on the NW corner of Lake and Marion. Once upon a time, when I was just a boy, this was the Oak Park branch of Montgomery Wards. You could Google that and find it was once one of America’s great department store chains. Also where in 1968, in my first shrewd business move, I pooled my earnings from delivering Chicago’s American with an Ascension school friend, Brian McCleish, and we bought a power lawnmower at Monkey Wards and made a fair killing mowing lawns over the next two summers.
Well, Wards closed in Oak Park as did Marshall Field’s, Lytton’s, The Bond Store, Baskins and Bramson’s and across Harlem in River Forest, Wieboldt’s. Not a good moment for downtown Oak Park.
Some bright developer decided to turn Wards into what was then called an “interior mall.” Think Water Tower Place but without the stores or the customers. Went along with what Oak Park had conjured up on the outside, called a pedestrian mall. Both duds. But for the longest time — as in years — there were these wooden barricades all around the Wards building, nicely painted with handsome images of an “interior mall” and the slogan, “The Excitement is Building Behind These Walls.” Same slogan. Many years.
There was no excitement. Though there was enough building that eventually a few stores opened and then closed. But before the Shaker family rescued the white elephant and created multiple floors of exciting dentists and podiatrists and CPAs, a Hollywood studio in 1988 rented out the whole inside to really make it look like a successful interior mall and to shoot the not very good movie Vice Versa. Starred Judge Reinhold (you could Google him), Fred Savage (Google “The Wonder Years”) and Swoozie Kurtz (You just need to type in Swoozie).
Meanwhile, down on Roosevelt Road, FitzGerald’s is throwing itself a party tonight (Wednesday). Could be to mark the 40th anniversary of the family closing on the old Deer Lodge and starting its restoration into the fabulous music club. Or it might be marking something else.
But according to Bill FitzGerald, his kids have put together a slide show with a thousand images from the club — the whole family pitching in on the initial renovations, to tons of pictures of the bands on that special stage, to endless events held there. Also, though, there is a video compilation of what Bill calls the five major movies that filmed scenes at FitzGerald’s over the decades. All of this will be displayed in the tent outside the club.
Was embarrassed to tell Bill I could only think of two of the movies. A League of Their Own, of course. Fabulous dance number with Madonna filmed at the club. And The Color of Money which starred Paul Newman and Tom Cruise (and Oak Park’s own Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, nominated for an Oscar). Google coughed up Adventures in Babysitting,which starred Elisabeth Shue. And The Express, which starred Dennis Quaid, who went on to fame in those Esurance commercials. What is the fifth film? Someone will tell us.
Finally, not shot in Oak Park but repeatedly featuring fake front pages of Wednesday Journal was that 2004 holiday classic Christmas with the Kranks. Starred Tim Allen and Jamie Lee Curtis. Really terrible movie but I couldn’t get enough of their local newspaper.