Tag Archives: Ottawa

Twenty-five years. A quarter of a century. That’s how long ago Graham Chapman was snatched away from us after his battle with cancer on October 4, 1989.
It doesn’t really seem possible, because Graham seems more alive than ever. He was much-remembered in the Monty Python Live (Mostly) reunion show at the O2 last summer. And, John Cleese does an excellent job of bringing his old writing partner back to live in the pages of his upcoming autobiography So Anyway

But of course, none of that can replace the living, breathing, squawking man that so many of us know and love, and I count myself fortunate to have so many personal memories. I try to blog an occasional Graham story and should do so more often. For instance…
Graham and his son John Tomiczek were in Chicago over a long weekend, when Graham was on one of his lecture tours. I had met up with them, as I usually did, showing them some of the more interesting people and places, catching up, and having a good time in general. Not long after they arrived, they made an unfortunate discovery: the hotel did not provide laundry service over the weekend. None of the other options had a sufficiently short turn-around time, and they wouldn’t have a chance to get their laundry done before leaving town. They had been counting on this and were down to the last of their supplies. When I arrived at their room, Graham was concerned enough to mention it to me. Don’t worry, I assured him, I know what we can do. And so, we piled into my car, laundry in the trunk, and headed to my parents’ house in Ottawa, Illinois.
About two hours later, we arrived late in the afternoon, and my parents were apparently about to leave to go out for dinner. But when Graham walked in, their plans went out the window. We all sat down and visited for a few minutes, and I explained their predicament. Dinner plans went out the window and my mother, bless her heart, immediately began doing their laundry. Shortly after that, I took Graham and John out to show them the sights of Ottawa, which did not take terribly long. But when we arrived back at my parents’ house, the laundry was finished. “She even folded everything!” admired John, as indeed she had, down to the socks and underwear. Graham and John were tremendously grateful, and we packed things up and went back to Chicago. I later told the story to Michael Palin, who dubbed her “Marge Johnson, Laundress to the Stars!”
It’s hard to imagine what Graham would be up to now if he were still with us (though I’m sure he’d be more organized with his laundry). Still, I can’t help thinking how unfair it was that he wasn’t about to join the other five at the O2. But I can tell you this: for the limited number of days he had, Graham lived each one to the fullest.

One Hundred Years Ago…

One of the biggest movie stars of the Silent Era paid a visit to my home town one hundred years ago this week.

According to an article in The Times, Francis X. Bushman paid a surprise visit to the Crescent Theatre in Ottawa, Illinois to visit an old friend from vaudeville.


Bushman was working for the Essanay Studio in Chicago (before moviemakers figured out that they could produce movies year-round in California without dealing with Chicago winters). Even Chaplin worked for Essanay, though he only made one film for them in Chicago before heading west.

Bushman made his first movie in 1911, but made 175 films by the end of the decade. Largely forgotten today, he was the first great movie idol, though most people who know of him for playing the villain in the 1925 version of Ben-Hur because most of his movies have long since deteriorated. His stardom didn’t last beyond the Silent Era (he was allegedly blacklisted by Louis B. Mayer), but he kept working, in radio and TV, until his death in 1966. His final role, shot just weeks before his death, was as a silent movie collector on the old Batman TV series.


But most interesting to me was the reason that the star came to Ottawa. As it turns out, he was going to be spending the next day filming at what is now Starved Rock State Park.

What he was filming is unknown, but the odds are the movie is one of the 90-percent of silents that no longer exist, forgotten and crumbled into dust (or at least combustible nitrate sludge). How many other movies were filmed at Starved Rock? Apart from the recent kids’ Christmas movie Prancer, I can’t think of one. (I once wrote a screenplay based on Steve Stout’s The Starved Rock Murders, which is too obvious to even mention though that’s not why I bring it up.) It’s a great opportunity for a smart production company, and would be a spectacular setting for any number of scenes in any number of scripts. First one there is going to be mighty happy. Illinois Film Office, are you listening?

Century Marx

One hundred years ago today was a great day to be in my home town of Ottawa, Illinois.


It was a century ago on January 1-3 that the Marx Brothers appeared live on stage in “Mr. Green’s Reception,” along with their company of 22 actors, singers and dancers at what was then the Gayety Theatre (which burned down in 1930, and was replaced in September 1931 by the Roxy Theatre, which still stands.

The four Marx Brothers–Groucho, Harpo, Chico and Gummo performed before packed houses–not surprisingly, as if you were alive in Ottawa in January 1914, what could possibly be more important than seeing the Marx Brothers? (Zeppo later replaced Gummo, but in 1914, he was apparently too young to be an official Marx Brother.)

The Marx Brothers also appeared in Ottawa in September of 1912, performing “Fun in Hi Skule.” Neither of these shows were ever filmed, though portions were apparently cannibalized and used in some of their Broadway shows and films. So excuse me for a little civic pride, even though I was born a hundred years too late. I’m going to go watch Horse Feathers.