Travel back in time to some of Chicago’s most eccentric, offbeat attractions with “The Golden Age of Wild Chicago, Volume 1,” a new DVD featuring best-of moments from the first two seasons of WTTW-Channel 11′s classic series.
The DVD, a 140-minute compilation of the show’s early highlights, goes on sale for $24.95 on Nov. 19. A preview screening will take place at Chicago’s Patio Theater Nov. 17, when advance copies will be on sale for $20.
WTTW’s “Wild Chicago” began in 1989. The first four seasons of the weekly, half-hour program that took viewers into the “urban jungle” were hosted by pith-helmeted Ben Hollis, who’s been prodding Chicago’s public television station to do a DVD for a while now.
“I was waiting around for years thinking certainly Channel 11 is going to release this stuff — they own the show,” the Andersonville man said Tuesday. He eventually started rattling WTTW’s cages to get the project off the ground. “”It took a great deal of patience and persistence, but it’s paid off.”
Hollis and producer John Davies co-created the quirky series that explored Chicago treasures like Fisherman’s Dude Ranch, Maxworks Hippie Commune and “Punk Rock Park” (Clark and Belmont), as well as local characters like “Rat Lady” Samantha Martin, John “Tiger Moves” McSweeney and “Piranha-man” of the now defunct Bosa Donuts on Division Street.
The DVD features 45 segments — drag racing on Elston Avenue, turtle races at Deja Vu, people who live under the Skyway — as they originally appeared on the show. It includes Dumb Question in Lincoln Park with a sunbathing appearance by then non-famous Stephen Colbert; Mayor Richard M. Daley showing Ben around his office (1992); the original 1987 Pitch Tape; and extensive audio commentary by show creators Davies and Hollis, journalist Rick Kogan, and “Wild Chicago” composer/musician Roger Adler.
“At its core, ‘Wild Chicago’ plays as comedy,” said Hollis, who came back to show when it made a short return in 2006. (The series aired from 1989-2003.) “So I put together this collection with an eye and ear for laughs. It’s very, very funny stuff. I think it’s going to be a total riot to see it up on the big screen.”
The screening will take place at 3 p.m. Nov. 17 at the Patio Theater, 6008 W. Irving Park. Admission is $5. Hollis will hold a Q & A session after the screening and sign DVDs.
The program also will be available digitally on demand at vimeo.com/ondemand/wildchicago.