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Encyclopedia Dubuque


"Encyclopedia Dubuque is the online authority for all things Dubuque, written by the people who know the city best.”
Marshall Cohen—researcher and producer, CNN

Affiliated with the Local History Network of the State Historical Society of Iowa, and the Iowa Museum Association.


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MOTION PICTURES. Motion pictures, referred to in 1913 as "talkies," first appeared in Dubuque on July 31, 1913. Shown to hundreds of curious viewers at the MAJESTIC THEATER, the Edison Talking Pictures drew crowds willing to pay fifteen cents in the afternoon and twenty-five cents at night. Reserved seating was available.

Dubuque's history in the making of motion pictures dates to the end of World War I. Around 1919 movie makers came to Dubuque and filmed "The Call of the Hills." Abby McDonald DANCER, a star of the movie, remembered one scene calling for a car to plunge over the cliff at EAGLE POINT PARK into the quarry below without any of the passengers being hurt. The film, which according to Dancer, played in Dubuque theaters for two years, used sensitive silver nitrate film. No copies are known to exist. In the 1930s, director Robert Altman brought a film crew to Dubuque to film honeymoon sequences for the celebrated film "The Wedding."

In October 1956, Pajama Game, a movie based on the story written by Richard E. BISSELL came to Dubuque. Although the film starred Doris Day and John Raitt, only Raitt came to Dubuque and only the opening scenes, including panoramic shots of the city, were made in Iowa. An estimated dozen extras were hired in Dubuque for the filming.

The next movie made in Dubuque was F.I.S.T. starring Sylvester Stallone. The 1977 film, of which an estimated 40 percent was filmed in Dubuque, led to approximately four hundred extras being hired. Special effects crews, wanting to recreate the feeling of Cleveland in the Depression era, obtained permission from the Iowa Air Quality Commission to temporarily cloud Dubuque's air. Other crews darkened some buildings. ZIGGIES TAP became a popular tourist site. The premier of F.I.S.T. was held on April 26, 1978.

Film crews again came to Dubuque for the filming of Take This Job and Shove It. Filming began in August 1980 and led to the hiring of one thousand extras.

In 1988 FIELD OF DREAMS was made in and around the Dubuque area. Nominated for three Academy Awards in 1990, the film's last scene required Susan RIEDEL to coordinate three thousand extras.

A substantial financial gain comes to Dubuque from movie production. During the first week of the filming of F.I.S.T., sixty-five local employees worked 2,235 hours and received salaries of $40,000. Salaries paid to seventy-five professional crew members-excluding actors and actresses-totaled $60,000. During the eight weeks of filming, the estimated one thousand film extras earned approximately $200,000. The film company paid an estimated $60,000 to obtain Dubuque-area locations for filming plus an additional $85,000 to rent Depression-era trucks and cars. Robert KEHL supplied 16,000 meals to the crew during their stay and estimated his revenues at between $90,000 and $100,000. The total financial impact on the community amounted to between $1.5 million and $2 million.

Through 1991 the last film to be shot in Dubuque was Field of Dreams with Kevin Costner. Scenes in the film included the downtown area as well as several scenes filmed on the bluffs overlooking the city.