The Politics of “The Blues Brothers”

If you watch The Blues Brothers as many times as I have, you’ll eventually start noticing references to Chicago political figures of the 1970s, when the movie was filmed. Just another reason it is, and always will be, the quintessential Chicago movie. And how can you make the quintessential Chicago movie without politics? Here are the ones I’ve spotted. If you’ve spotted any more, tell me in the comments section. 

  • As the maitre’d at Chez Paul, Alan “Mr. Fabulous” Rubin tells a caller, “No sir, Mayor Daley no longer dines here. He’s dead.” 
  • Murphy Dunne, the keyboard player in the Blues Brothers’ band, is the son of George Dunne, who was president of the Cook County Board from 1969 to 1991, and committeeman of the 42nd Ward. Murphy was exposed to the nightclub scene while working as a precinct captain for his father on Rush Street. 
  • The “Illinois Nazi” played by Henry Gibson was based on Frank Collin, the National Socialist Party of America leader who in 1977 sued to march in Skokie, which then had a large population of Holocaust survivors. Collin was discredited after it was learned his father was Jewish, and he was arrested in Michigan for having sex with a pair of 10-year-old boys. Collin moved to Wisconsin, and now writes books about the lost city of Atlantis, under the name Frank Joseph.
  •  When Burton Mercer (played by John Candy) receives a phone call informing him that the Blues Brothers will be playing at the Palace Hotel, photos of mayors Richard J. Daley and Jane Byrne can be seen on the wall behind him.
  • On its way to the County Building, the Bluesmobile drives through the lobby of the Richard J. Daley Center.
  •  As the police and the sheriff’s department  charge up the stairs of the County Building in pursuit of the Blues Brothers, they pass a sign for the office of Cook County Treasurer Arthur T. Bourne. Edward J. Rosewell was actually the treasurer in 1979, when the movie was shot.
  •  The Blues Brothers pay the taxes for the orphanage in Room 1102 of the County Building, the office of Douglas C. Hines, Cook County Assessor. At the time, the actual assessor was the similarly-named Thomas C. Hynes.
  • Before filming began, actor John Belushi met with Mayor Jane Byrne to ask for permission to shoot a large-scale Hollywood movie in Chicago -- the sort of production that had been prohibited under Mayor Daley, who was concerned that filmmakers wanted to tell stories about Prohibition-era gangs or the 1968 Democratic National Convention. Belushi offered to donate $200,000 to local orphanages, but what really seemed to sell Byrne was the proposal to drive the Bluesmobile through the Daley Center, named for the family of her political enemies.
  • Byrne and her daughter, Kathy, posed for a photo with Belushi and Dan Aykroyd, wearing fedoras and sunglasses. Byrne was furious and embarrassed when the photo got out.
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