Those Places Thursday: The Medinah Children’s Theatre

Starring…

Phillip “Buddy” McCormick (1927 – 2004)

Jane (McCormick (1927 – 2011)

and

Joan Schiavon (1928 – 1987)
 
Cover of the program for the one act play,
“Darby and Joan,” presented by the
Medinah Children’s Theatre

 

My mother, Joan Schiavon, always loved drama and musicals.  An imaginative little girl, she spent hours playing with her cousins, Phillip “Buddy” and Jane McCormick, dreaming up skits and acting them out.  The threesome listened to serial dramas and musicals on the radio and looked up to their Uncle Gene McGinnis, who had a stint in vaudeville.  So perhaps it should be no surprise that we find them listed in this program as a cast of three in the Medinah Children’s Theatre production of Darby and Joan by Rose Fyleman on Saturday, May 8, 1937.

 

The one act play “Darby and Joan” must have been
the highlight of the evening for the Schiavon and
McCormick families!

The Medinah Children’s Theatre had the distinctive honor of being located at – where else? – but inside the Medinah Athletic Club, a distinctive architectural jewel that still stands today at 505 Michigan Avenue, on Chicago’s famous Magnificent Mile.

The Shriners organization built the 42-story Medinah Athletic Club for its members in 1929, just before the stock market crash. The building combined a number of architectural styles and featured an indoor golf course, ballrooms, a junior Olympic size swimming pool, a shooting range, a gymnasium, a tea room, a bowling alley, running track, and several conference rooms, as well as a number of guest rooms for members.

The Children’s menu, shown here, is delightful
and a wonderful example of the food of the day.

 

Unfortunately, the cost of running the building during the Great Depression was prohibitive for the Medinah Athletic Club, and it filed for bankruptcy in about 1933, a mere four years after its debut.  The building went through several owners before it became an historic part of the Intercontinental Chicago, the grand hotel that occupies it today.
For some reason, however, the Medinah Children’s Theatre was alive and well at the site in 1937, some four years after the club filed for bankruptcy.  Is it possible that the Athletic Club operated for a few years after declaring bankruptcy?  Did the Children’s Theatre still belong to the Shriners?  If not, did a benevolent new owner retain the Medinah name for the recognition value and allow the theatre to operate in the building?   There seems to be no information available on the children’s theatre, nor anything to indicate whether my grandfather, Ralph Schiavon, or my great-uncle, Philip McCormick (Buddy and Jane’s father) were Shriners themselves.
We do know that Darby and Joan was a proverbial phrase dating back to 1735 that referred to a happily married elderly couple known for living a simple life of mutual affection and devotion.  There are a number of stories written about the couple, but the play here was written by Rose Fyleman (1857 – 1957), an English writer who went from writing fiction and poetry for adults to writing the same and more for her young students when she could not find age-appropriate children’s literature for them.  She specialized in writing magical and wondrous fairy tales, such as this one.

In this production, Darby was played by Buddy and Joan was played by his sister, Jane, both age 10 at the time.  My mother, who was a year younger, played the fairy.  She is incorrectly listed in the credits above as “John” Schiavon, thereby missing her fifteen minutes of fame.  It must have mortified her.

Notwithstanding the error in the credits, the three cousins must have felt they were in a major production in the midst of the splendid surroundings of the Medinah.  We can just imagine them singing and dancing their hearts out, hamming it up for their adoring parents and relatives.

They must have had quite a fan club.  Their parents, Ralph and Alice (McGinnis) Schiavon and Phil and Benita (McGinnis) McCormick (Alice’s sister) were there, cheering them on. It is likely that the rest of the family was there, too:  their uncles John and Eugene McGinnis, and their grandmother and great-aunt, Mary Jane (Gaffney) McGinnis and Elizabeth “Aunt Lyle” Gaffney.  They must have been very proud of their fledgling thespians.
The Children’s Menu on the facing page of the program is also delightful and a wonderful example of the food of that era.  It was made more sumptuous, no doubt, by the opulent and magnificent surroundings of the Medinah Club’s Imperial Dining Room.


Copyright
 ©  2012  Linda Huesca Tully

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