LAKEVIEW (Sept. 24, 2021) — An iconic Rush Street entertainment venue is the subject of a new documentary which premiered at the Gene Siskel Film Center Sept. 17. “Live At Mister Kelly’s” documents the history of the night club at 1028 N Rush Street.

Though the club has been closed since 1975, interviewees in “Live At Mister Kelly’s” speak as if jazz is still streaming from the stage, and they just stepped outside for a smoke. Director Theodore Bogosian sheds light on the cultural and political significance of the club, from its acceptance of female performers to Black comics.

Courtesy of Virgil Film

Lily Tomlin speaks to the significance of seeing women like Joan Rivers and Phyllis Diller perform; Dick Gregory tells viewers there was “nowhere else” in the city for Black Chicagoans to safely enjoy entertainment – or for Black performers to feel safe and appreciated.

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From George Carlin and Lenny Bruce to Mike Nichols and Elaine May, from Cass Elliot to Ella Fitzgerald, the “incubator for jazz and stand-up” was at the intersection of art, politics and popularity from 1953 until it closed.

But its significance in the careers of comics and singers who went on to great success is what makes “Live At Mister Kelly’s” entertaining and surprising for viewers who don’t know its history, who walk past the building in 2021 and see only a Gibson’s Steakhouse. “To be a hit at Mister Kelly’s, that’s what it’s all about,” Oak Park native Bob Newhart says in the film.

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Courtesy of Virgil Film
I like to think that Chicago has always brought me good luck. It really is a very special town. I think there’s a song about that, isn’t there? -Barbra Streisand

Mister Kelly’s was owned by brothers George and Oscar Marienthal, who also operated the nearby London House. George’s son David Marienthal serves as producer on “Live,” which gives it an especially local angle. Though Bogosian is from New York, the director said he grew up listening to Chicago radio stations and reading the city newspapers. His film has the tone and feeling of being made by a longtime Chicagoan.

As live performances return to the city this weekend – with a special celebration of Chicago arts at Navy Pier this weekend – it is only fitting that “Mister Kelly’s” lives on through this film. The city’s place in the artistic landscape continues to change, but Bogosian’s film allows us to be transported to the 60s, when Rush Street was a “Midwestern version of Los Vegas.” It’s a must-watch for Chicagoans, native or new.

“Live At Mister Kelly’s” will be available on VOD Oct. 12. Watch the trailer here.

Courtesy of Virgil Film

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