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Tuesday, June 02, 2009

When Hollywood brought Lincoln to town

Young Mr. Lincoln, that is. On May 30, 1939, Springfield, Illinois, played host to the world premier of the John Ford film, Young Mr. Lincoln, starring Henry Fonda. Although, I don't think Mr. Fonda came to Springfield for the show. However, lots of other Hollywood types did:

The festivities began when a special train carrying “100 movie stars, newspapermen, Hollywood studio officials and their guests” arrived in Springfield just before noon at the Alton (now Amtrak) station. A parade through downtown streets took the celebrities to the Abraham Lincoln Hotel where they stayed.
Actors from the film who traveled to Springfield for the opening were Alice Brady, who played Abigail Clay and Eddie Collins who was Efe, a “frontier character.” The studio brought other celebrities including actors Binnie Barnes and Cesar Romero, internationally famous contralto Marian Anderson, and Lowell Thomas, a popular radio news commentator.
The evening event had all the atmosphere of a true Hollywood premiere. The theater was lit with Hollywood arc spotlights. Chauffeurs delivered the visiting celebrities to the entrance where residents crowded behind ropes hoping for a glimpse. Flashbulbs went off as news photographers recorded the scene. The opening program was carried live by the Mutual broadcasting network with Lowell Thomas serving as the announcer and master of ceremonies. Marian Anderson opened the program with “America” followed by “Ave Maria,” Heav’n Heav’n,” and a spiritual, the newspaper reported. Loud speakers outside the theater carried the program to the crowd.

Can you imagine!?! Read all about it, including a few juicy tidbits, not the least of which was the unveiling of the 1939 Dodge Hollywood sedan in Springfield, in the SJ-R's Behind The Curtain blog, together with some absolutely gorgeous photographs.

Semi-related. My mom would have been 13 years old at the time, so I don't know if she went downtown for the event, but I doubt it. I wish I could ask her if she remembers it happening. She did tell me about one time when she bumped into Don Ameche at a little grocery store on 6th Street just off Stanford, when she was a teenager. She was so starstruck, she nearly fainted into his arms. He was in town for a nightclub act at the Lake Club. Or maybe it was a Vaudeville act somewhere else. Not sure.

Posted by Marie at June 2, 2009 8:13 PM



I once almost ran into Bo Diddley in the parking lot of a Jazz Club in Phoenix. He was pulling out of their driveway as I was pulling in. That's about the most famous run-in I've had, except for the 90210 kid (I can't remember which one, but it wasn't Shannon Doherty) change clothes in my lab when they were shooting a movie here. In fact it was one of the guys. I'll bet that the (girl) student I had working that day could tell you, cause she "accidently" walked in on him.

Posted by: Chris101 at June 3, 2009 10:51 PM

Great story, and I loved the photos.

Posted by: Dave E. at June 4, 2009 9:40 PM

One of my boyhood favorites, by way of WGN's Friday night "Family Classics."

At the time, I didn't understand the significance of casting Mae West as Ann Rutledge.

Posted by: Dan at June 6, 2009 2:37 AM

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