Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Elizabeth Taylor and Goodman Theatre—An Unusual Connection

By Jenny Seidelman, Campaign Manager

Like many people, I was sad to hear about the recent passing of Academy Award winner Elizabeth Taylor. Sultry, stunning, compassionate and outrageous, there will never be another like her.

Although she was a lady of the world—having lived in London, Los Angeles and Washington DC, among other places—Taylor had an unusual connection to Chicago and the Goodman Theatre.

Taylor’s third husband, Michael Todd was a theater and film producer and an impresario. In the 1950s, Todd purchased the shuttered Harris and Selwyn theaters at Dearborn and Randolph Street. In their heydays, the Harris and the Selwyn had featured live theater with stars such as Ethel Barrymore and Mae West.

Todd converted the theaters into movie houses. The Selwyn re-opened as the Cinestage in 1957 with the premiere of Todd’s film Around the World in 80 Days, and the Harris as the Michael Todd the day after Christmas, 1958.

With Todd’s unexpected death in 1958 and the decline of the Loop in the following decades, the theaters fell into serious disrepair.

When Goodman Theatre began to look for a new home in the late 1980’s, Elizabeth Taylor—who as Todd’s widow still owned the theaters—became a key player in securing the Selwyn and the Harris.

“Through an arrangement with the city, the buildings were donated so that it could become the new home of the Goodman Theatre,” said Roche Schulfer, the Goodman's executive director.

Chicago Now has a wonderful photo-retrospective chronicling Elizabeth Taylor’s connection to Chicago. Keep an eye out for pictures of the Selwyn and Harris in their pre-Goodman days!

And for more on Taylor’s connection to Chicago, check out these videos by CBS Channel 2.

Left: The Goodman Theatre today—the north end of the building features the original Selwyn and Harris theater facades; Photo by Jeff Goldberg

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