There was a nice story in the Tribune last Friday about Evelyn Dee, the woman who played the organ at the York Theater in Elmhurst, for a number of years after the theater was renovated (and split from a single screen into three) and reopened in 1992.
That reopening was when I started working at the York, first as an usher and later on as an assistant manager over the course of five or six years. As the story says, every Friday night Evelyn would arrive about a half hour before the start of the 7:00 show in Theater 2 (the middle and biggest screen and, naturally, the one with the organ) and get ready for her set. After the ushers had cleaned out the theater after the previous show she would make her way down the hallway, often with one of us walking with her. Not because she needed the help but because we geninely like Evelyn and were chatting with her, as well as just wanting to make sure she got down to the organ safely. Then when the show was about to start we’d go down and help her come out of the organ pit and back up the hallway.
We’d always ask what movie she wanted to see that week and make sure that, even if it was going to be a popular one that was likely to sell out, we had a seat reserved for her. I can remember getting into some heated conversations with customers when I tried to explain that X seat was for the organist and I didn’t really care if not having it meant they were going to have to leave. Evelyn got her seat, come hell or high water.
She was part of the Friday night routine at the York and whenever I think of her it brings a smile to my face. We considered her part of the staff and a fixture of the theater every bit as important as the marquee that hung out over the front sidewalk.
I didn’t hear about her 2001 passing until much later and was sad until I realized she had done what she loved – play for an audience – until she just couldn’t anymore. The 7:00 and 9:00 audiences in Theater #2 never failed to give her a hearty round of applause. On the few occasions she couldn’t make it in customers would express their disappointment.
She was a wonderful lady and a lot of fun.