Blues Brothers and Jane Byrne

“The Blues Brothers (Widescreen 25th Anniversary Edition)” (John Landis)


Jane Byrne was the first mayor after Richard J Daley died1, and she was willing to do things differently than Daley. Thankfully, Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi waited, or else an iconic Chicago film wouldn’t have gotten a green light.

John Belushi walked into Jane Byrne’s office, sweat beading on his forehead. Dan Aykroyd waited outside the door. He gave Belushi, a Wheaton native, the breathing room to appeal to the mayor, hat in hand, local boy to local girl. Belushi was nervous. Byrne expected him to be. She sat at her desk stone-faced and silent, she recalled, offering no relief.

Mayor Daley the Dictator

Belushi and Aykroyd wanted to shoot a movie in Chicago, but, as everyone knew, Chicago government wasn’t exactly amenable to movie production. There wasn’t an official policy or anything. Movies did shoot here. Brian DePalma shot “The Fury” here a year earlier. A lot of commercials were shot here. There was even a cottage porn industry in River North. But the cooperation needed for a large-scale Hollywood production — the kind Belushi, Aykroyd and director John Landis had in mind, only bigger — was out of the question. It had been for years.

It was 1979, and Byrne had just started her term. Mayor Richard J. Daley, the reason movie studios usually didn’t consider Chicago a viable location, had died three years earlier. Byrne, now 76, remembered that Belushi “looked kind of fat, a sweaty guy already, but he wore a suit jacket and I thought he looked sick, to be honest. To the point that his hair was getting wet. I was a fan of his. But, of course, I wasn’t going to say this right away.”

So, for a laugh, she let him drown. She thought it would be funnier if she “acted like the first Daley, nodding like Buddha.”

“I know how Chicago feels about movies,” the comedian said to the mayor. Byrne nodded. Belushi said the studio would like to donate some money to Chicago orphanages in lieu of throwing a big, expensive premiere. “How much money?” she asked. He said, “$200,000.” She nodded again.

“And so he kept talking,” Byrne recalled. “Finally, I just said, ‘Fine.’ But he kept going. So again I said, ‘Look, I said fine.’ He said, ‘Wait. We also want to drive a car through the lobby of Daley Plaza. Right though the window.’ I remember what was in my mind as he said it. I had the whole 11th Ward against me anyway, and most of Daley’s people against me. They owned this city for years, so when Belushi asked me to drive a car through Daley Plaza, the only thing I could say was, ‘Be my guest!’ He said, ‘We’ll have it like new by the morning.’ I said, ‘Look, I told you yes.’ And that’s how they got my blessing.”

And that, more or less, is how Chicago became a regular location for movie production.

(click to continue reading Blues Brothers movie 30th anniversary –

but it all wasn’t peaches and cream:

Few claim “The Blues Brothers” changed filmmaking here overnight — retired casting director Alderman, for instance, pointed out that the industry has gone through dramatic swings, generating $24 million in 2003, $155 million in 2007. But few debate that those 14 weeks of production in 1979 were the turning point. Indeed, to Byrne, “The Blues Brothers” should be remembered as no less than the dawn of contemporary Chicago, “part of one big push to remind people how attractive their city was.” “I didn’t see it any different from sidewalk dining or Taste of Chicago,” both of which started during her term, she said.Richard J Daley Bicentennial Plaza

Landis, however, doesn’t remember it as a bright, new civic dawn. By summer 1980, he was one of the hottest directors in Hollywood. His previous film was “Animal House.” “The Blues Brothers” was then one of the most expensive movies ever made (and became a blockbuster). But as he entered the lobby after the Norridge screening, he said the tension seemed elsewhere.

“These two Cook County commissioners approach Jane,” Landis said. “And they start shouting at her. They were really abusive, and you could see her getting mad. ‘How could you have let them do this?’ they screamed. ‘They ruined the floors! Troops on Daley Plaza!’ It was the most bizarre scene. She’s saying back, ‘They replaced the floors!’ A guy’s shouting, ‘No way we let this happen!’ She’s saying, ‘It happened months ago! And you didn’t even notice!'”

  1. one term only, I think []

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