City’s feature business kicked off in 1979


While it might appear that Hollywood films are a relatively recent part of my 30 years of Chicago coverage, features actually have been thriving for decades ? and without the need for incentives.

I started Screen as a newsletter on Jan. 29, 1979. During that year, 13 films shot in Chicago, including the iconic, big studio hits, “Ordinary People,” “The Blues Brothers,” and “The Hunter.”

Since then, more than 750 Hollywood, indie and home-grown features have found Chicago to be a perfect location. And this number does not include parts of features, such as “Flags of Our Fathers” or “Spiderman 2,” that shot here for a few days on their itinerary.

What jump-started Chicago’s three decades of features was the nearly simultaneous opening of the state and city film offices by Gov. Dan Walker and Mayor Jane Byrne, who had been elected during the big blizzard of ’79, respectively.

Although the state had operated a one-man film office since 1974, it wasn’t until Walker named Lucy Salenger, a former CBS correspondent from Los Angeles, to head a real film office that that the action began.

Both offices had three or four staffers. Salenger’s staff was pretty savvy, while Byrne put police officers in charge. The rationale at the time was – production equated crowds, and who better than cops to control them.