The Michael Todd Theatre
Date: February 05, 2010 10:08PM
The Michael Todd Theater, and its twin, Todd's Cinestage, were located on Dearborn street between Randolph and Lake. The Michael Todd was capable of presenting either movies or live theater.
The Michael Todd Theater began its life as the Harris Theater, one half of the Harris and Selwyn Theaters at the corner of Dearborn and Lake. Opened in 1922 by New York theatrical producer Sam H. Harris and brothers Archie and Edgar Selwyn, the Harris and Selwyn Theatres were the Chicago home to some of the most famous plays and performers of the Broadway stage. Helen Hayes, Noel Coward, Tallulah Bankhead, Paul Muni, Eartha Kitt, Audrey Hepburn, Mae West, Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne.
Designed by architects C. Howard Crane and H. Kenneth Franzheim, the Harris and Selwyn Theaters were designated as official Chicago landmarks on March 31, 1983. Distinguishing features of the Harris and Selwyn are their finely detailed facades, executed in terra cotta that is finished to look like carved stone.
Michael Todd was a native Chicagoan who loved his city and spent his life living up to the title of "showman". He purchased the Harris and Selwyn Theaters as the premier venue of his epic masterpiece, "Around The World in Eighty Days". The Harris became the Michael Todd Theater, and the Selwyn became the Todd's Cinestage. the newly renamed Selwyn Theatre opened with Todd's pioneering wide-screen film, Around the World in Eighty Days, released in 1956. After Todd's death, his widow, Elizabeth Taylor, and his son, Michael Todd, Jr., took over the management of his company, producing a less successful experimental film called Scent of Mystery. This was the experimental Smell-O-Vision movie in which odors were introduced into the theater in coordination with the film's sequences. The entire theater was rigged with a venting system that would spray chemically formulated odors syncronized to images on the screen. The theater complex later hosted Stanley Kubick's "2001"(1968). All of these were on a reserved seat basis. Todd had also been instrumental in the development of "Todd-AO", the first of the widescreen processes to use seventy millimeter film. The Todd-AO camera shot the image on 65mm stock which was then transferred to 70mm film, which included the the multiple sound tracks for theatrical release. ("Oklahoma" was the first commercial film to use the Todd-AO process.)
Hard times fell on the two theaters as the downtown theater district darkened in general. The Old Harris was shuttered for a long time, and even worse, the Selwyn became an adult movie house. There was a later attempt to revive them as twin movie theaters, but this was unsuccessful. The theaters seemed doomed until Goodman Theater saw the potential of the site for their new Goodman complex. We're thankful that this theater company, itself an important part of Chicago's history, was able to bring the legacy of these theaters together with its own excellence in local production.