When Ted Bulthaup was the senior class president at Downers Grove South High School in 1975, he managed to get Styx — which had the No. 1 song in the country at the time — to perform there.
When he returned home for his 25th high school reunion, he took another big chance — he decided to buy a movie theater. But he wanted to do something a little different: he wanted to combine the dinner and a movie into one experience.
That’s how Hollywood Blvd. in Woodridge, and later Hollywood Palms in Naperville, was born.
The formula is simple: serve gourmet food and specialty drinks in intimate theaters that employ comfortable executive chairs and tables. Show a first-run movie, a campy cult flick or something from the classic cinema vault.
Every few months book an actor fans wouldn’t normally ever get the chance to meet to sign autographs and pose for pictures.
It’s no secret that people can stream new releases from the comfort of their own homes, yet his theaters are thriving because of these extra touches.
The Styx concert was his first taste of event promoting, and he was hooked. After several years in the music promotion business, he turned his attention to the big screen — literally.
In 1991, he turned a warehouse in Indianapolis into a three-screen theater called Hollywood Bar and Filmworks, the first multiplex to do dinner and a movie with first-run pictures. He was even one of the first to use a touch screen for ordering food.
At his high school reunion he was ready to return to his Illinois roots. Bulthaup saw the vacant building on 75th Street in Woodridge. He saw through the spiders, dust and other creepy crawlies, and saw its potential as a new theater in his Hollywood line.
In March 2003, he opened Hollywood Blvd. with only four screens. In between 2005 and 2010, he made five major expansions to the theater. In between expansions four and five, he opened Hollywood Palms in Naperville in 2009.
The theaters are all exotically and exquisitely decorated, with the original location of Hollywood Blvd. even housing a museum of movie memorabilia.
It was tripping over a Munchkin 15 years ago that gave him the idea to start booking celebrities.
“I had no idea that there were any still alive, and now there’s only one left,” he said. “He was doing a signing at a restaurant in downtown Chicago. I kept circling back to that (idea).”
The Munchkins were the first celebrity signings he booked into Hollywood Blvd. Since then, he’s had Tippi Hedren (from Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Birds”), actors from “Star Wars,” Zachary Gordon from the “Wimpy Kid” movies, James and Oliver Phelps (Weasley brothers from the “Harry Potter” movies), Robert “Freddy Krueger” Englund, Dan Aykroyd, Jennifer Hudson, Mickey Rooney, William Shatner, Tony Curtis, Lauren Bacall, Ernest Borgnine, Richard Dreyfuss, Debbie Reynolds, Michelle Pfeiffer, Peter Falk, Leslie Nielsen and Paris Hilton.
The biggest lines he can remember were for Tom Felton, who played Draco Malfoy in the “Harry Potter” movies, Ashley Greene from “Twilight” and Robert Englund.
“The lines have been six or eight hours long for some of those people,” he said. “They’ve always been very nice.”
Other events have helped Hollywood carve out its niche. About 10 years ago, they added midnight screenings of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” at Hollywood Blvd.
“I purchased a search light and mirror ball and a fog machine and confetti cannon and some other accoutrements to make sure it was an exciting show,” he said. “Along with the cast that’s been there from the beginning.”
Then there’s the Hollywood Classic Film Series, which goes along with actors’ appearances. Next up in that line will be actress Bo Derek and the movie “10” in the upcoming months.
“We will be starting off a classic series once or twice a week in the not too distant future that is not associated with any particular actor,” he said.
He’s also going to roll out a membership program with a perks card this year.
In addition to Bo Derek, other celebs slated to visit Hollywood this year include Rosario Dawson for “Sin City 2” in August, Sean Astin and Paul Reubens from “Pee Wee’s Big Adventure.”
“I think Paul with his ‘Big Adventure’ would be just amazing,” he said. “I’m really excited about Paul. He comes in costume when he does appearances and I just think it would be hilarious and very well-attended.”