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Hollywood in Chicago (10-23-1940)

Maybe they got the idea from Atlanta, which had just staged a grand premiere for Gone With the Wind.  Today the State Street Council hosted Chicago’s first nationwide movie premiere.  And it featured Cecil B. DeMille.

It was decades before anybody would—or could—call the Midwest “flyover country.”  But to many people on the East or West coasts, Chicago was only the place where you had to change trains.  So civic leaders were always looking for ways to promote the city.

“Chicago Times” ad

DeMille was Hollywood’s greatest showman.  He was known for his historical blockbusters.  His latest movie was an epic of the Canadian Mounties called North West Mounted Police, starring Gary Cooper and other notables.  The State Street Council approached DeMille about holding the premiere in Chicago.  DeMille readily agreed.

On the afternoon of the October 23, DeMille, Cooper, and the rest of the movie people arrived at North Western Station.  The publicity drums had been beating for weeks, and a crowd of over 10,000 was on hand to see them.  Led by horsemen dressed in Mountie uniforms, the Hollywood party paraded to City Hall so they could be officially greeted by Mayor Kelly.

Later that evening, DeMille and company were the honored guests at a Palmer House banquet.  Entertainment was provided by three sets of singers, comedy vets Laurel & Hardy, and comedy rookie Red Skelton.  DeMille gave a speech about how his movie would help bring together “the two great English-speaking nations of North America.”  The festivities closed with Cooper and the other stars acting out scenes from the movie.

Banquet at the Palmer House

At 7:30 the next evening, the Hollywood group gathered at the WGN radio studios in the Tribune Tower.  They broadcast a special program to a nationwide audience, with short-wave transmissions beamed into the more remote regions of Canada.  Then it was time for another parade, from the Tribune Tower to State Street, for the actual movie.  As a special bonus, the film was being shown simultaneously at both the Chicago and the State-Lake theaters.

DeMille and his troupe left the next day.  North West Mounted Police made a pile of money at the box office, but critics consider it one of DeMille’s lesser films.  Still, the two days had been a lot of fun.  And for many years afterward, Chicagoans fondly remembered the excitement of the city’s first Hollywood premiere.





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