League of Chicago Theatres Self-Destructs

An unusual string of events has left the League of Chicago Theatres without an executive director and most of its staff. Sources confirm that the league’s board of directors voted last Friday to can chief Tony Sertich, whose contract reportedly was bought out, though he will remain in his position for the next month.

Sertich’s ouster came only two weeks after he fired the league’s marketing director Michael Pauken and Hot Tix manager Phil Lombard. Both Pauken and Lombard supposedly lobbied for the league to increase its marketing efforts, advocating high-visibility promotions that apparently clashed with Sertich’s view of the league’s more modest mission. At an emergency board meeting called immediately after the firings of Pauken and Lombard, members voted narrowly to support Sertich. Pauken was subsequently offered his job back, which he refused. Several staffers submitted their resignations soon after in a show of solidarity with the fired employees. By the time the board met again last Friday, the tide had turned against Sertich.

One source sympathetic to the former executive director maintains that his job was made impossible because of the many conflicting agendas of board members. The league’s staff must now be completely rebuilt. A bookkeeper is apparently the only full-time employee left.

All the Right Movies

Ron Ver Kuilen may find his new director’s chair at the Illinois Film Office to be a hot seat. The health of the state’s official link to the lucrative movie industry is at an all-time low, and Ver Kuilen faces more than a few hurdles in regaining lost ground.

Just two short years ago the movie industry spent a record $115 million in Illinois. But this year 20 film projects will net the state only $25 million in direct cash expenditures, half of last year’s $50 million. Ver Kuilen says he doesn’t expect the state to match the gains of 1993 anytime soon, but he claims Illinois can return to pulling in its fair share of location filming business, somewhere between $50 million and $70 million a year. For now, he’ll have to achieve that goal on an annual budget of $475,000, a figure that’s remained relatively flat since 1988.

Ver Kuilen’s efforts have been hampered by last summer’s reports of mob influence in the Chicago movie business, but he believes the worst has already passed. “There’s really no substance to those reports,” says Ver Kuilen, who admits he has not seen the FBI account that prompted Mayor Daley to pull the plug on city financing for a film studio to be built on the west side. He sees a more realistic threat coming from the low cost of filming in Canada.

The first several months of 1996 already look promising. Director Andrew Davis, who shot most of the hit movie The Fugitive in Chicago, will be in town again to film his new picture Dead Drop with John Travolta. Michael, a film directed by Nora Ephron, also will be shooting here for a month, and The Chamber, a movie based on the John Grisham novel and slated to star Chicago-area native Chris O’Donnell, will be in town for two weeks.

Ver Kuilen is no stranger to the Illinois Film Office. He worked for 15 years as a location scout for former IFO director Suzy Kellett and her predecessor Lucy Salenger, the only two people to head the agency since it was founded in 1975. In that time Ver Kuilen has assisted a slew of Hollywood executives and become familiar with many Illinois-based directors, actors, and technical people.

Ver Kuilen says he wants local film professionals to take a more active role in attracting business. “Getting new film business is about networking,” he says. He also hopes to convince the state to provide money to get more locals involved in location scouting. Such a program, argues Ver Kuilen, would put area talent in contact with Hollywood personnel and possibly lead to new business down the road. “Getting more people involved could have a major impact.”

London Suite’s Bitter End

Neil Simon’s London Suite closed on November 28, a mere two months after it opened at the Briar Street Theatre. According to producer Michael Leavitt, the show managed to recoup only about 10 percent of its $300,000 investment, and the loss would have been $50,000 greater if the Chicago production had not been able to use a set from the off-Broadway staging, which closed at the end of August after it too had a briefer-than-expected run. Leavitt maintains he could have run London Suite for at least another month, but the sudden availability of Jackie Mason: Politically Incorrect prompted him to close the show early. Sometime at the start of the new year, Leavitt plans to bring in the Broadway hit Having Our Say.

Leavitt and Fox Theatricals have had better luck with previous Simon efforts. Laughter on the 23rd Floor ran for more than nine months at Briar Street and just about broke even on its $350,000 investment. Lost in Yonkers, which garnered strong reviews and ran for 19 months at the Royal George, more than doubled its investment of $380,000.

Given the lackluster New York reviews, London Suite could have been dropped by Leavitt, but he says his ties to Simon were a factor in deciding to do the show anyway. “We wanted to continue our relationship with Neil.” Behind-the-scenes fiddling prior to its Chicago opening failed to improve the show. Simon and Leavitt dropped “Settling Accounts,” one of London Suite’s four playlets. Simon explains that “Settling Accounts” was “one of the high spots of the evening when the show tried out in Seattle, but audiences didn’t seem to respond to it in New York.” The pair also toyed with tacking on a new vignette called “The Book Tour,” but Simon says, “Michael couldn’t find the right actors for the new piece, and it would have taken too long to rehearse.” Simon says he liked the New York production of London Suite better than its Chicago version because “in New York we had a real terrific group of actors.”

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Bruce Powell.