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Monday, November 25, 2013

Just Another Page Out Of Exhibition History ...


4/27/55: Rock and Roll Dawns In Chicago

The change didn't come quick, but theatres were catching a rock and roll bug as the 50's reached a mid-point. It wasn't so much in movies. Hollywood took time to recognize this wave that was upon them. And movies weren't baked overnight, unless maybe Sam Katzman was the chef. He was one of few producers who recognized the trend and met it in a hurry, getting out his R&R exploiters seemingly overnight. But this was April 27, 1955, pre-dawn of days that would change the culture and youth's viewing preference. What rock demanded was instant response, the kind kids registered when they dug the new sound on car and lately introduced transistor radios. Theatres could latch on to extent of shoehorning rock and roll acts into vaude and variety programs, this an only means of hopping aboard a parade float not yet equipped by a so-far sleeping pic industry.


Chicago did it on two fronts that 4/27/55 day, at Loop palaces the Woods and Chicago. Each seated a multitude and first-ran strongest attractions. The Woods had The Blackboard Jungle and emphasized "the Rock 'n Roll rhythms of the hit tune, ROCK AROUND THE CLOCK," MGM's nod to a music trend the studio would otherwise ignore that year. The Blackboard Jungle was an enormous hit because it drew not only curious teens, but "concerned" parents appalled by its depiction of public education in collapse. And besides, Bill Haley and his Comets' recital was over and out by the end of title credits, with nary sight of the band, Metro's narrative from there a grim account of delinquency unchecked and music may-be responsible for much of carnage. The Blackboard Jungle was no endorsement, let alone, celebration, of rock and roll.


The 3,500 seat Chicago Theatre had better sense of the pulse beat in stage booking what could be had of the Big Beat. They'd been playing Untamed, as establishment Hollywood as 1955 got, but live in performance with each show was "Sh-Boom" Boys" The Crew Cuts, their very name and appearance suggesting clean-cut, but nevertheless at a vanguard of music fashion to come, with Sh-Boom a Number One chartbuster, followed by Earth Angel in early '55. The DeJohn Sisters were more like old times, straw hat and gingham dress performers whose sole hit, (My Baby Don't Love Me) No More, reached #6 on Billboard charts. Then there was Will Jordan, "The Man Who Made Ed Sullivan Laugh!," and what may have been local talent, Bobby Brandt, as I could find no reference for him.


The Chicago's incoming film that week was closer to edgy equivalent of rock and roll, Kiss Me Deadly being atom-age noir where even credits rolled in backward and cock-eye fashion. Spillane's Mike Hammer was no progressive, but the Robert Aldrich read on him may well have given us a first rock and roll private eye. Certainly anyone in quest of bold and fresh would find plenty in Kiss Me Deadly. It still packs a lollapalooza fifty-eight years later. This time the Chicago frankly called theirs a "Rock 'N Roll Revue," with Ella Fitzgerald (debatable), Eddie Fontaine, late of Alan Freed's historic Easter show at the Brooklyn Paramount theatre, and The Chuckles, aka The Three Chuckles, their hits modest likes of Runaround and Times Two, I Love You. All this and more may not have been rock and roll as we'd come to know it, but the Chicago's was a start, and certainly with this music, plus Kiss Me Deadly for added kick, patronage knew they were on a verge of changed times.

2 Comments:

Blogger Neely OHara said...

IMDB lists 3 credits for a tap dancer named Bobby Brandt; a Milton Berle outing in '49, a TV program called Stage Show in '54, and an episode of Superboy in '89. The '49 and '54 shows would put him in line to have been in the accompanying '55 stage show you mentioned.

12:03 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Great, Neely. Thanks for the info.

12:42 PM  

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