The 1948 Jimmy Stewart movie Call Northside 777 was, remarkably, the first ever filmed in Chicago. It was based on a real murder case, and producers thought the verisimilitude of the actual Windy City would lend itself to the documentary feel. They were right. Chicago was a gritty, working-class town emerging from the stockyard past but nowhere near the shiny Sears Tower stage. At one point, Stewart's character, a reporter, has to go into the Polish part of town to find a shadowy figure who has gone into hiding. As he roams the real Chicago streets, ducking into bar after bar, he passes these two signs:
(That's him almost obscured in shadows entering the bar.)
As it turns out, Fox DeLuxe and Kingsbury were both real breweries. Fox was a Grand Rapids, MI brewery that survived for just 11 years, while Kingsbury had a much more illustrious life. Founded in Manitowoc, WI in 1847, it was one of those 700-odd breweries that managed to hang on through Prohibition, lasting until 1963 when Heileman gobbled it up. (The name had a zombie life, like so many other American brands, and apparently there's still a non-alcoholic beer that bears the name. Sad.)
As I watched the names flit by, I felt a dual wave of sadness: first that so many American breweries have vanished (I know, the virtuous churn of capital and all that), but second because, by using LA as a stand-in for all other American cities, we have lost these kinds of records. How many more signs might we have of flickering neon breweries if movies had been filmed in Pittsburgh, Cleveland, and Detroit?
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