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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.


From Encyclopedia Dubuque
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Photo courtesy: Telegraph Herald

MOTION PICTURES. Prior to the showing of motion pictures in Dubuque, club women in the city launched a campaign against what they considered to be offensive bill boards. In 1908 as a result of their activity, the Middle West Theatrical Managers had agreed to at least a year's veto on the use of elaborately sensational posters. No longer would attempts be made to exaggerate what was seen on the screen. (1)

On August 2,3, and 4, 1912, the MAJESTIC THEATRE showed Doyle Publicity Service Film Company's "One Mile of Dubuque." (2) The company shot the film during a visit to Dubuque in July, 1912 when they photographed "aeroplane" races at NUTWOOD PARK, a military drill in WASHINGTON PARK and scenery around the city. (3) The films were to be purchased by the DUBUQUE INDUSTRIAL CORPORATION and "used in various parts of the country to advertise the city in the most forceful way." (4) It was suggested that scenes filmed here would be exhibited at the Panama Exposition in San Francisco in 1915 and hundreds of "moving picture houses" throughout the country. Advertising of this type "has come to be regarded as one of the cost effective means of attracting attention." (5)

Credit for being the first person to operate sound movies in Dubuque went Leo Robinson. (6)

In 1916 the Zenith Motion Pictures Company of Chicago visited Dubuque. The company was making short features on cities in each state to show before feature films. The plan called for 1,000 feet of film to be devoted to each state showing the principal features of the cities in each state in a single film. The films would be booked to theaters through a film exchange and would consist of a series of fifty-two reels. The films were also to be leased to colleges and universities. (7)

Dubuque's first major motion picture project occurred the same year when Paragon Film Company produced "The Call of the Hills." (8)

         Wanted--Twenty to fifty men and women, all good swimmers, to
         jump from a burning steamboat in mid-river opposite 
         EAGLE POINT PARK, Friday. Apply Scenario Department,
         DUBUQUE COMMERCIAL CLUB. Positively (sic) guaranteed
         that all will be rescued. (9)

On June 26, 1916 the Telegraph Herald reported that the production still needed 25 golfers, 12 flower girls, 200 country club guests, 100 steamboat passengers, 500 wedding guests, and 3,000 townspeople to complete the cast. (10)

Abby McDonald KLAUER-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 without any of the passengers being hurt. The film crew recorded the characters getting into the car and then stopped filming. The characters got out of the car, waited at the bottom of the cliff, and watched as crew members pushed the empty car over the edge. Dancer had a copy of the film, but the sensitive silver nitrate film disintegrated. (11)

The DUBUQUE COMMERCIAL CLUB offered five dollars in gold for the best title which could not include the word "Dubuque." From the titles suggested a panel of judges chose one submitted by a mysterious "M.K." On July 3, 1916 when the title was announced, efforts were underway to find the winner. (12) It was determined less than a week later that the winner was Melanie Kretschmer. (13)

Photo courtesy: Telegraph Herald

The principal actors and members of the press were offered an advance viewing of the film on Tuesday, July 11, 1916. On the same day, the entire plot of the film was described in detail in the Telegraph-Herald. (14) General admission on Wednesday was ten cents with the exception of the box seats which were unreserved for twenty-five cents. To give the audience a full hour of entertainment, the Dubuque Commercial Club arranged for a first run movie to be shown in conjunction with the Dubuque film. (See advertisement) (15)

The production, done with much effort of the Commercial Club, did not cost anyone locally any money. Through a contract with the Paragon Film Company, the film company received a large percentage of the box office receipts. The single copy of the film was shown in 182 cities in the United States and then returned to become the permanent property of the Commercial Club. Actors were all volunteers and props and settings including shooting inside Mercy Hospital were offered at no cost. The Telegraph-Herald praised the Commercial Club for its role in a what was proclaimed a major promotion of the city's scenery and manufacturing. (16)

Members of the press, county and city government officials, and stockholders of the Colura Motion Picture Company viewed in 1920 a motion picture of Dubuque's Armistice Day Parade. While "adverse weather conditions" were blamed for the quality of the film, the picture was thought to show the possibilities of color photography. Shown as the STRAND THEATER together with the feature film for five days, the film was then turned over to the city. It was planned that in the future the New York Company would send its photographers to Dubuque to make another film. (17)

In 1921 a locally produced motion picture was shown for two days at the MAJESTIC THEATRE. The movie was made of Arbor Day activities of the Kiwanis Club which planted thirty-four elm trees along the Fourth Street extension in memory of military personnel. The rest of the movie offered candid pictures of individuals going to work or walking along the streets. (18)

Censorship became an issue in motion pictures by the 1920s. Prior to the showing of the silent film "Cleopatra" rumors spread that there were some risque scenes. It was decided a local official should inspect the film and decide which scenes were removed. Leo Robinson, a veteran projectionist, cut two frames from each scene, and the official was satisfied after placing the frames in a locked box. What this person did not understand, nor was he told, that that several hundred frames make up one scene. Jake Rosenthal, the theater manager, let the rumors spread and even announced that anyone under 16 would not be allowed into the theater. The movie was a tremendous success as customers stood in line for the theater to open. (19)

A statewide poll was taken in 1921 regarding censorship of movies. The total number of votes cast by readers of the Telegraph Herald and in theaters was 6,045. The results showed those in favor of no censorship--4,252, strict censorship--1,153, and liberal censorship--640. (20)

On August 4, 1928, Dubuque theater-goers were treated to their first local experience to an all-talking feature film. "Lights of New York," a 57-minute melodrama, was shown at the MAJESTIC THEATRE. By that time synchronized sound effects and some dialogue had begun to be shown in theaters which still showed silent films. Director Bryan Foy, according to the American Film Institute, produced the first feature-length film using synchronized spoken dialogue throughout the movie. (21)

In 1930 the Motion Picture Council was formed with the intent of "aligning organizations" with their own organization or with those beginning to organize as part of the Better Film Movement. In August of 1930 the organization included the Federation of Protestant Church Women, Parent-Teacher council, DUBUQUE WOMEN'S CLUB and the Hillside Reading Circle. A survey of the interest of children in movies was conducted in the schools as the first project. (22)

In June a committee of three people representing the Council was formed. This committee interviewed each theater owner in the city, presented the aims and plans of the organization, and asked for cooperation in distributing to parents and children lists of previewed films endorsed by the national organization. (23)

Mrs. Emil LOETSCHER, president of the Council, spoke to members of the Mothers' Club of Immanuel Congregational Church (later IMMANUEL CONGREGATIONAL UNITED CHURCH OF CHRIST) in late November, 1930. In asking for their membership in the Council, she stated her belief that the federation would become a way for all movements. "Whatever services we can render to uplift standards of society is a definite responsibility to church women who wish to be the interpreters of Christ's message." She pointed to a debate at a recent convention in which one side advocated government control of the motion picture industry. The opposition called for cooperation of organizations to work with the industry in implementing standards. This was the attitude of the Dubuque association. It was not an option to leave the industry to be operated only by competitive business practices. (24)

The organization was still operating in 1946 under the name of the Protestant Motion Picture Council. (25)

Reelife Motion Pictures filmed "Dubuque at War" Photo courtesy: Telegraph Herald

In early March, 1943 Mr. and Mrs. Robert Allen of Reelife Motion Pictures came to Dubuque for one week to film the community's religious, recreational, industrial, civic, and social life. The resulting motion picture was be shown in Dubuque from March 15-17. The couple filmed other communities all over the United States and had recently finished a movie in Cedar Rapids. The film was to be entitled "Dubuque at War." (26)

News reels were shown along with feature films for decades. In 1931 Marcellus Stangl, operator of the AVON THEATER filmed a blast at the quarry belonging to the DUBUQUE STONE PRODUCTS COMPANY. Stangl was also the official regional cinematographer for the Universal News Service. His motion picture was incorporated into the news reel released by Universal for the week of May 10-16th. (27)

"A Modern Newspaper in the Making" was one of the subtitles of a film to be made in Dubuque in 1934. Motion picture cameras were expected to be moved into the headquarters of the Telegraph Herald and Times Journal to record the operations of different parts of the newspaper publishing business. The film was to be shot in February and ready for viewing in April. The film was to be shown as a special feature at the GRAND THEATRE. (28)

In October 1956, Pajama Game, a movie based on the story written by Richard BISSELL was partially filmed in Dubuque. (29) 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 one dozen extras were hired locally for the filming.

For one week ending June 18, 1970 there was only one R--"restricted"--movie shown in Dubuque. All other theaters showed "G" or "GP" ratings--for general audiences or general with parental discretion recommended. When questioned, theater managers were divided as to the results. Although URBAN RENEWAL activity downtown may have hurt business, an official of the BRADLEY THEATRES described the week as "awful." "The Molly Maguires" (GP) and "True Grit" attracted 1,600 customers to the Grand. "The Games" (G) at the Strand only brought in 200 customers for the entire week. An official of the Dubuque Theater Corporation claimed, however, that attendance depended entirely on the merits of the individual picture. The only "R" rated film was shown at Cinema-on-the-Mall. "Boys in the Band" attracted 2,200 people. (30)

In 1970 Dubuque was a "star" of a documentary travelogue on the history of the MISSISSIPPI RIVER. Of interest to the film makers was the Dubuque Yacht Basin, SHOT TOWER, EAGLE POINT PARK, and the grave of Julien DUBUQUE. It was understood that the film would be used on all flights of Trans World Airways and in the fall in three half-hour segments of ABC Television's "Wild World of Sports." (31)

In January 1971 State Senator Gene KENNEDY of Dubuque suggested to the Senate Law Enforcement Committee that a special subcommittee be formed to investigate triple-X movies in Iowa. He believed it was the "legislature's duty to determine if the law should be rewritten or whether the theaters violated the present law." (32) Attempts to prevent the showing of such films were blocked by judicial rulings against pre-censorship. A new law that went into effect on July 1, 1974 prohibited the display of obscene materials rated X FOR persons under 18 years of age.

In 1977 a decency ordinance was drafted for consideration that would bar youth "under the age of majority" from theaters showing R-raged movies. (33)

Stars in the production of "F.I.S.T." left their foot and handprints in concrete outside of the BLUE MOON INN. The panels were removed when new sidewalk was installed and rediscovered in a municipal garage.

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. ZIGGY'S, a location used in the movie, 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. Filmmakers quickly realized that the story of a struggling manufacturing town and the story of Dubuque were similar. They discarded the name of the movie's fictional town and used Dubuque. Going further, they renamed the character played by veteran actor Art Carney as Charlie Pickett which was patterned after brewery owner Joseph PICKETT, Sr. (34)

Image courtesy: Mike Day. Kendall C. Day family collection.

In 1988 Field of Dreams was made in and around the Dubuque area. (35) Nominated for three Academy Awards in 1990, the film's last scene required Susan RIEDEL to coordinate three thousand extras. Scenes in the film included the downtown area as well as several scenes filmed on the bluffs overlooking the city.

Dubuque has received substantial financial gain 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 the principal 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 permission to use 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. (36)

Such locations as Gin Rickeys, MASON DIXON SALOON, and DOG HOUSE LOUNGE (THE) provided background for the movie "Repatriation." The story of a soldier returning home and reestablishing himself with friends at bars, the film was made by Douglas MUELLER, a native Dubuque resident, in 2013 and 2014. Appearing at film festivals in Texas, Illinois, and London, England, the movie was scheduled for its Dubuque premier on November 19, 2017 at MINDFRAME THEATERS. (37)



1. "Bill Boards Will No Longer Offend," The Telegraph-Herald, April 19, 1908, p. 12

2. Advertisement. Aug 2, 1912, p. 5. Online: http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=wk5CAAAAIBAJ&sjid=hqoMAAAAIBAJ&pg=1935,2708917&dq=motion+pictures+dubuque&hl=en

3. "Advertise the City By Motion Pictures," Telegraph Herald, July 14, 1912, p. 6. Online: http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=sE5CAAAAIBAJ&sjid=hqoMAAAAIBAJ&pg=4707,386124&dq=motion+pictures+dubuque&hl=en

4. Ibid.

5. "Finds Dubuque Rich in Scenes," Dubuque Telegraph-Herald, July 10, 1912, p. 8

6. Tyson, H. G. "Pioneer Tells About Days of Film Flickers," Telegraph-Herald, September 15, 1946, p. 7

7. "Scenic Dubuque in Motion Pictures," Telegraph Herald, Nov. 1, 1916, p. 10. Online: http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=kRleAAAAIBAJ&sjid=5l8NAAAAIBAJ&pg=5133,7890322&dq=motion+pictures+dubuque&hl=en

8. "Dave Pleaslee Is the Leading Man," Telegraph Herald, June 26, 1916, p. 8. Online. http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=FWZfAAAAIBAJ&sjid=418NAAAAIBAJ&pg=3496,3584612&dq=motion+pictures+dubuque&hl=en

9. Ibid.

10. Ibid.

11. Ibid.

12. Piper, Andy. "Hollywood Calls," 175th Telegraph Herald Commemorative Edition, Mar. 26, 2012, p. 2B

13. Dubuque's Movie Is Given a Title," Dubuque Telegraph-Herald, July 3, 1916, p. 5

14. "Photoplay Was Named by Girl," Dubuque Telegraph-Herald, July 6, 1916, p. 8

15. "Dubuque Photoplay Ready to Show," Dubuque Telegraph-Herald, July 11, 1916, p. 2

16. "Will See Dubuque "Movie" Wednesday," Dubuque Telegraph-Herald, July 9, 1916, p. 5

17. "Praise is Due the Commercial Club," Dubuque Telegraph-Herald, July 14, 1916, p. 4

18. "Film of Dubuque Shown at the Strand," Telegraph Herald, Nov. 28, 1920, p. 21. Online: http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=DRNeAAAAIBAJ&sjid=DGANAAAAIBAJ&pg=1023,7533322&dq=motion+pictures+dubuque&hl=en

19. Tyson, H. G. "Pioneer Tells About Days of Film Flickers," Telegraph-Herald, September 15, 1946, p. 7

20. "Dubuque Pictures Coming Tomorrow," Telegraph Herald, May 19, 1921, p. 5. Online: http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=DoRiAAAAIBAJ&sjid=iHcNAAAAIBAJ&pg=2968,3816268&dq=motion+pictures+dubuque&hl=en

21. Hogstrom, Erik, "Dubuque Theater Shows 1st All-Talking Movie," Telegraph Herald, August 9, 2018, p. 5A

22. "Blue Movie Folks Do Not Get Far in Dubuque District," Dubuque Telegraph-Herald, March 2, 1921, p. 13

23. "Motion Picture Council Assists," Telegraph-Herald and Times-Journal, August 24, 1930, p. 107

24. "Motion Pictures Council Meets," Telegraph-Herald and Times-Journal, June 25, 1930, p. 25

25. "Talks on Work of Pictures Council," Telegraph-Herald and Times-Journal, November 20, 1930, p. 19

26. "To Picture 'Dubuque at War'" Telegraph-Herald, March 5, 1943, p. 6

27. "Fall Plans Made By Council of Church Women," Telegraph-Herald, August 21, 1946, p. 6

28. "News Reel to Show Blast at Dubuque Quarry," Telegraph Herald, May 8, 1931, p. 6. Online: http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=ZL5FAAAAIBAJ&sjid=h70MAAAAIBAJ&pg=1636,5422507&dq=motion+pictures+dubuque&hl=en

29. "Movies Will Show Dubuque People, Businesses and Scenery," Telegraph Herald, Feb. 25, 1934, p. 10. Online: http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=ab5BAAAAIBAJ&sjid=xakMAAAAIBAJ&pg=2699,4093541&dq=motion+pictures+dubuque&hl=en

30. Smith, Peter. " 'Twas A Week of 'Clean' Movies," Telegraph-Herald, June 19, 1970, p. 17

31. "Travelogue to be Filmed in Dubuque," Telegraph Herald, July 12, 1978, p. 18

32. Walters, Steve. "Kennedy Asks Action to Halt 'Triple-X' Films," Telegraph Herald, January 18, 1971, p. 1

33. "Restriction Asked on Admitting Youths to R-Rated Movies," Telegraph Herald, October 18, 1977, p. 8

34. Piper.

35. Ibid.

36. Ibid.

37. Frenzel, Anthony. "Back Home," Telegraph Herald, November 10, 2017, p. 10A

Movie poster for "F.I.S.T." Photo courtesy" Bob Reding
Photo courtesy: Bob Reding
Memento of world premier of "Take This Job" in Dubuque. Photo courtesy: Bob Reding
The "final shot" of "Shoeless Joe" (renamed "Field of Dreams") required hundreds of Dubuque-area residents under the direction of Sue Riedel. Photo courtesy: Bob Reding
Photo courtesy: Bob Reding