Hats Off to Rose Dunn
Rose Dunn had a different hat for each day of the week, with extras to
match the films she was showing. She was more than manager of the
Hyde Park Movie Theater, she was the best show the theater presented.
Rose was one of those women whose single features were unattractive, but whose demeanor was so vibrant, so dynamic that she was surprisingly
beautiful. She had a nose with a large crinkle in the middle and a broad
mouth that covered her face when she laughed. Her eyes were small, but like her entire self, illuminated. She sparkled with life, wit, joy and on several occasions, violent temper. When her temper took hold, Rose put on a better show than the movies being seen in her theater.
She prided herself on bringing the finest foreign and domestic films to
Hyde Park, the only film repertory house on the south side and one of three in all of Chicago. She imported Bergman, Fellini, Trouffeau, and Korasawa long before any other theaters chose to do so. She wore hats as a commentary on films: a Stetson hat for Stage Coach, a wild flowered thing for La Dolce Vita, a small beret with feathers for Jules et Jim and so on. Saturday nights the crowd admired Rose more than the films.
Her temper flared when an audience laughed at what she felt was an inappropriate place. She stopped the projector, stormed down the aisle, and announced in a voice which never needed amplification that this was a serious film and if anyone thought it was funny, they could leave the theater. On the other hand, she once showed a perfectly dreadful Hollywood film, filled with a fake hurricane on an impossible south sea island. Rose strolled down the aisle, with humility – which was an unnatural pose for her, stopped the projectionist, and confessed that this was the first and last time she would show a flick which her boss recommended without viewing it herself in advance. She offered to refund anyone the cost of their ticket, gave the audience permission to laugh when the film was pretending to be serious. No one asked for their money back but the boss fired her. The entire neighborhood protested. She was rehired.
Rose’s temper became fiercer and more unpredictable. Sometimes she flared at patrons for accidentally spilling popcorn in the lobby. Often she screamed at the staff of the Herald, blaming them when she missed a deadline. She screamed at her boss for not obtaining the movies she wanted when she wanted them. The firings became more frequent and the rehiring less. Ultimately, Rose was terminated for good. She was devastated. She tried to form a cooperative to open another movie house but that effort failed. She tried to get employment at one of the North Side theaters, her good and bad reputation followed her. Rose fell into a depression, Few people saw her around the neighborhood. With a literal and metaphorical broken heart, at age 47, Rose Dunn suffered a severe coronary attack and died within twenty-four hours.
Her funeral service was private.
No one knows what happened to her hats.