Listen to Hoosier History Live! at 11:30 a.m. each Saturday on WICR 88.7 FM. You also can listen online at the WICR website during the broadcast or you can join our listening group at Bookmama's in Irvington to listen to, and discuss, the Saturday show. We invite you to visit our website!
July 31 show
Theater history in Indy with Howard Caldwell
In 1934, an 8-year-old boy who lived in Irvington - and who would grow up to become one of the best-known TV news anchors in Indianapolis history - patronized a theater for the first time. It was Loew's Palace at 35 N. Pennsylvania St., where young Howard Caldwell was captivated by a movie, which was followed by a stage show.
Although Loew's Palace is long gone, its essence is recaptured in a new book by Howard, who became a familiar face - and often was described as "Indiana’s Walter Cronkite" - during his long career at WRTV-Channel 6. His book, The Golden Age of Indianapolis Theaters (IU Press), not only explores the city's majestic theaters, many of them bygone or renovated for other uses, it also analyzes the Hoosier capital's theater-going heritage.
Howard will join Nelson in studio to delve into the colorful history that kicked off in September 1858 when the Metropolitan, the city's first theater, opened at 148 W. Washington St. with a seating capacity of more than 1,700. The Metropolitan later became known as the Park, then as the Capitol when it was a burlesque house as it declined before closing in the 1930s.
Almost from the start, there was controversy. Some shows at "the Met" featured dancing, which, as Howard points out, "was not tolerated by Methodists, Presbyterians or Baptists" during the 1850s. And many church groups here frowned on theater-going in general.
In the 1860s, famous actors who performed at "the Met" included none other than John Wilkes Booth. As Howard notes, his final performance in Indy was in 1863, a mere two years before he assassinated President Lincoln.
The city's second theater, the Grand Opera House, opened in 1875 and eventually became known for vaudeville. In the 1880s, the lavish English Theater and Opera House on Monument Circle vaulted theater-going to a new level. In 1902, a production at the English of Lew Wallace's Ben-Hur featured "eight horses pulling two chariots on treadmills, powered by electricity," creating a sensation. As Howard notes in his book, performers who came to the Hoosier capital included W.C. Fields and escape artist Harry Houdini (both appeared at the Grand) and Ethel and John Barrymore at the English.
Alas, only four of the grand historic theaters downtown survive:
- Circle Theater (now called Hilbert Circle Theatre), which opened in 1916.
- The Murat, which opened in 1910 with a revolving stage considered a national innovation.
- Walker Theatre, which was planned by entrepreneur Madam Walker and opened in the 1920s after her death. She had dreamed of a theater for African-Americans, who were denied admittance at some theaters or required at others to sit in balconies at the back.
- The Indiana Theater, a former movie palace that today is the home of the Indiana Repertory Theatre.
Howard and Nelson will explore those, as well as the theaters that did not survive, such as Loew's Palace and the Lyric on North Illinois Street, which presented three vaudeville shows a day when it opened in 1912. Some fun facts:
- The first presentation of a film in Indy occurred in 1896 at the Park (the Met had been renamed by this point), according to Howard's book. The film was a farce called "A Railroad Ticket."
- In the 1800s, auditoriums and lobbies for most theaters here were on upper floors of the buildings. The ground level typically was used for retail or offices.
- Although Howard will be forever associated with broadcasting - he was the anchor on WRTV's Evening News for its debut in 1959 and has been inducted into the Indiana Broadcasters Hall of Fame - his accomplishments as an author go beyond his new book about theaters. He also is the author of Tony Hinkle: Coach for All Seasons (IU Press, 1991).
History Mystery question
In 1938, a new movie theater opened in Indianapolis, but not downtown. The first film shown in it was College Swing, starring Bob Hope.
The new movie theater became one of the city's first to be air conditioned. For decades, it was considered among the city's finest movie theaters, but by the early 1970s it had declined and even was showing adult movies, some rated X.
Then a major restoration in the late 1970s gave the theater a new life as a nightclub and concert venue that continues to this day. Long lines under the theater's marquee are a common sight as patrons wait to enter or buy concert tickets.
Question: Name the Indianapolis theater that fits this description.
The call-in number for the correct answer is (317) 788-3314, and the prize is four tickets to downtown Indy's newest attraction, the Rhythm Discovery Center at Illinois and Washington Streets, courtesy of the ICVA.
Chris Gahl of the ICVA suggests that we stroll down memory lane to check out the Heartland Film Festival's premiere of the major motion picture Flipped (see a preview) on Monday, Aug. 2, at Hilbert Circle Theatre in downtown Indianapolis.
Hollywood director, writer and producer Rob Reiner will attend the premiere, along with the movie's stars Anthony Edwards, John Mahoney and Penelope Ann Miller.
The movie Flipped is the latest addition to Reiner's directorial credits, joining such memorable films as Stand by Me, When Harry Met Sally, A Few Good Men and The Bucket List. Doors open at 6 p.m., with the screening beginning at 7 p.m. Tickets for reserved seating will be available in advance for $25 each.
Your friends in Hoosierdom,
Nelson Price, host and creative director
Molly Head, producer, (317) 927-9101
Chris Gahl, Roadtripper
Richard Sullivan, tech and web director
Garry Chilluffo, consultant
Please tell our sponsors that you appreciate their support:
Barrington Jewels, Broad Ripple Brewpub, Henry's Coffee Bistro on East, The Fadely Trust, Indiana Historical Society, Lucas Oil and Story Inn.
Acknowledgments to Print Resources, Indianapolis Marion County Public Library, Monomedia, Indiana Humanities Council, Indianapolis Convention & Visitors Association, WICR-FM, Fraizer Designs, Chelsea Niccum and many other individuals and organizations. We are an independently produced program and are self-supporting through organizational sponsorships, grants and through individual tax-deductible contributions through the Indiana Humanities Council. Visit our website to learn how you can support us financially.
Aug. 7 show
2008 presidential election shift in Indiana
Whether you applaud the outcomes or bemoan them, there's no question the 2008 election cycle made Hoosier history. Our atypical recent turn as a "swing state" included a fierce battle among Democrats during their first truly significant presidential primary in Indiana in 40 years.
Next came a historic break from a tradition that stretched back even farther, with a majority of Hoosiers voting for a Democratic presidential candidate for the first time since 1964.
At the epicenter of all this was political commando Kip Tew, who headed Barack Obama's campaigns in Indiana. A partner with the Indianapolis law firm of Krieg DeVault LLP, Kip will join Nelson in studio to share behind-the-scenes details from the razor-close primary against Hillary Clinton - which involved a split among Democrats in the state that Kip describes as "difficult and joyless" in his new book Journey to Blue (Hawthorne Publishing) - to a presidential campaign that involved TV journalist Jane Pauley, rallies in traditionally Republican strongholds such as Plainfield, and a whirlwind that changed lives, Kip's among them.
A Fort Wayne native who graduated from North Central High School in Indianapolis and IU, Kip is a former state chairman as well as Marion County chairman for the Democratic Party. He will be the latest in a parade of well-known Hoosier politicos of both parties who have joined Nelson to explore the dynamics - including shifts, curves, upsets and historic firsts - of Indiana's political landscape.
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