Ben Joravsky’s description of the old Rialto as a “low-rent hotel” is a little like calling Wrigley Field “urban green space.” (Reader, September 29–“Expelled From the Garden.”) The Rialto has a unique place in Chicago’s entertainment history. It was the city’s premier burlesque house during the 30s and 40s and actually continuing into the 50s.

It featured entertainers ranging from Gypsy Rose Lee to Phil Silvers and Abbot and Costello together with movies of undetermined worth. It was the Chicago version of Minsky’s in New York and actually part of a national burlesque circuit.

The inevitable “butcher boys” hawked their wares up and down the aisles during breaks between the films and the live acts, and every 16-year-old worth his masculinity would brag about how he was able to convince the box office attendant he was over 21. The fact that his voice hadn’t changed completely or that he had no facial hair had no bearing on the admission policy of the theater.

Though there were other burlesque houses in town, notably the Star and Garter at Madison and Halsted and the Gem, which was at State and Harrison, Rialto was top of the line when it came to strippers, “topless” chorus girls, and faux naughtiness. City censorship of the time required pasties, but somehow the idea of nudity got across–especially to 16-year-olds.

Shame on you Ben–you’re a better researcher than that. But then you were 16 a long time after I was.


Ed Lowe

N. Lake Shore Drive