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Rhodes Patterson Collection

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Collection Identifier: C.2010-02
Preservation Sponsor: National Endowment for the Humanities
Extent of collection
517 reels of 16mm film; 50 reels of 16mm Magnetic Track; 1 reel of 1/4" audio
Inclusive Dates
1937 - 1979
Bulk Dates
1944 - 1979
Spanning 5 decades and a wide range of subjects and styles, the Rhodes Patterson Collection documents the rapidly developing city of Chicago during the mid-century and the fascinating life of Rhodes Patterson, a designer, cinematographer, photographer and writer. Patterson’s diverse subject matter and style reflect the interconnected communities of industrial and graphic design, commercial and industrial film production, fine art, and architecture in Chicago during this period. Whether made “just for fun,” as documentation, or for commercial purposes, Patterson’s films reflect his humor, interest in art and design, imagination and creativity. The collection includes footage of Mae West from 1938; numerous films Patterson shot while stationed as a WWII reconnaissance photographer on the Island of Tinian; the construction of the Marina City Towers, Playboy building and various skyscrapers in Chicago; films made during the early development of the Aspen Institute; commercial footage shot while Patterson was working at the Container Corporation of America; documentation of the construction of the Playboy West complex and grotto; early Playboy footage and burlesque films; footage of Lincoln Park, Lake Michigan and people on the streets of Chicago; and various home movies, commercial projects, and amateur and personal films.
The earliest films in the Rhodes Patterson collection were made while Patterson was a student at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in the 1930s. These home movies include a visit to the Brookfield Zoo and a performance by Mae West at the Palace Theatre in 1938.
A reconnaissance photographer during WWII, Patterson shot numerous films while stationed on the Island of Tinian in the Philippian Sea. These include footage of the Boeing B-29 Superfortress bomber, aerial footage shot while flying over the USS Missouri during the Japanese surrender ceremony on September 2, 1945, and films shot in India, China, and on the island of Iwo Jima during the war.

After returning home to Chicago, Patterson continued to shoot home movies and work on personal film projects. Short films from this period include titles such as “I Love Lucely” and “The Moulin Chartreuse.” Patterson documented family life as well as the energy, development, people, and architecture of the city of Chicago. He shot footage in Lincoln Park and documented the construction of Chicago skyscrapers including the Marina City Towers and the Playboy building on Michigan Avenue. Patterson filmed people on the streets and enjoying leisure time in the city’s parks. His films from the 1950s-70s capture Chicago’s changing skyline and include documentation of the city shot from downtown buildings and helicopters.

While working for the Container Corporation of America, Patterson made industrial and promotional films for the company and documented Walter Paepcke’s early efforts to transform Aspen, Colorado, into a modern cultural, artistic and intellectual destination. Patterson also worked with CCA on a special commission from Walter Paepcke to create a series of documentary films on the creative individual in contemporary society. The footage shot was to be part of a series entitled "Great Ideas of Western Man". This was an outgrowth of Hutchins' and Adlers' "Great Books of the Western World" series of 54 volumes (now 60) originally published by Encyclopedia Britannica in 1952. Books that were chosen had to be relevant to contemporary societal issues, important in their historical context to reward re-reading, and be a continuing conversation about great ideas. Walter and Elizabeth Paepcke had visions that the "Great Ideas of Western Man" film series would be a visual continuation of Hutchins' and Adler's "Great Books of the Western World" efforts. This was to fill in and enrich the gaps of liberal education to make the individual more well rounded with the great writings and ideas from the past three millennia.

Patterson and the Paepckes decided to include the work of Suzanne and Ronald Dirsmith, friends of Rhodes and founders of the Dirsmith Group (an architecture, landscaping and engineering firm based in Highland Park, IL), in the Container Corporation's "Great Ideas of Western Man" film series. Rhodes met Suzanne and Ron when they had returned from their 2 year odyssey as Fellow in Architecture at the American Academy in Rome. They had just designed and built the famed Bubble House with Eldon Danhausen, sculptor, which became their first design studio at 1418 N. LaSalle Street. Rhodes began filming the Dirsmiths' design and construction of the highly sculptural Playboy corporate offices in the venerable Palmolive Building in downtown Chicago as well as the firm's construction of the North Shore Unitarian Church in Deerfield, Illinois.

In 1971 the Dirsmith Group was hired by Hugh Hefner to construct the famed Grotto, Ponds and Pool environments for his Playboy Mansion in Holmby Hills California. As part of the film series, Rhodes flew out with the Dirsmiths on the Playboy private aircraft on many occasions to film the construction process at the Playboy Mansion, or Playboy West. While on site at the Playboy estate, Patterson made several films documenting the construction, mansion guests (Gene Siskel, Shel Silverstein, Barbi Benton, etc) as well as a handful of films containing soft-core pornographic material. A gentleman with an eye for the ladies, Patterson’s collection also includes burlesque films, documentation of a belly dancing class, and footage from the Miss Illinois pageant in 1968.

Patterson’s short film, “The Day After,” documents the mood and tensions in Grant Park the day after the end of the 1968 Democratic National Convention. Other highlights from the collection include footage of the construction of the Dirsmith Group’s famous North Shore Unitarian Church; the opening of an exhibition, “Letters in Living,” at the Institute of Design; the International Design Conference in the 1950s; documents of factories and industrial production; dogs in Aspen, Colorado; a home movie of Apollo 11; birds-eye views of the city streets and buildings of Chicago; and various images of people in the city and parks in the mid-century.  

Whether made “just for fun,” as documentation, or for commercial purposes, Patterson’s films reflect his humor, interest in art and design, imagination and creativity. 
Patterson, Rhodes (was created by)

Rhodes Patterson wore many professional and artistic hats during his lifetime; he was a designer, cinematographer, photographer and writer. Described by a former colleague as a “gentleman with a fine sense of humor, imagination and creativity,” Patterson was an artist whose keen sense of style and design is evident in both his personal commercial projects. An important figure in the community of artists and designers that emerged from and around Chicago’s Institute of Design in the mid-century, Patterson lived in and around the city of Chicago for all of his adult life. His home movies, amateur films, documentation and commercial work grant us the opportunity to explore Chicago, and more broadly, the world, from the 1930s through the 1970s.

Patterson was born in 1914 in rural Arkansas and moved to Chicago in the 1930s to attend the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. At the start of WWII, he enlisted as a reconnaissance photographer with the U.S. Army Air Corps and was stationed on the Island of Tinian in the Philippian Sea. After the end of the war, Rhodes returned to the Chicago area and moved with his family to the newly formed suburb of Park Forest, Illinois. Shortly after he began working for the Chicago design firm Bert Ray Studio.

In the mid 1950s, Patterson started working for the Container Corporation of America (CCA), writing much of their advertising material, designing internal publications, and documenting various aspects of the corporation and its activities. Under the leadership of John Massey and Walter Paepcke, the CCA became an important patron of the graphic arts and design. Patterson documented Paepcke’s early efforts to transform Aspen, Colorado into a modern artistic and intellectual destination spot through the development of the Aspen Institute. Patterson was an integral part of CCA’s creative team for more than twenty-five years, and was instrumental in the production of their “Great Ideas of Western Man” campaign.

In 1960, Patterson moved to Chicago’s Lincoln Park where he and his family lived for seven years. In 1967 the Patterson family moved to Evanston. Patterson stopped making commercial films in 1977 and shifted his focus to photography and writing. He died in 2003.

Custodial History
The films were stored by Rhodes Patterson's sons, Charles and Bruce Patterson, before donation to the Chicago Film Archives in 2010.
Language of Materials
Access Restrictions
This collection is open to on-site access. Appointments must be made with Chicago Film Archives. Due to the fragile nature of the films, only video copies will be provided for on-site viewing.
Use Restrictions
CFA holds the rights to the films in this collection.
"The Saga of Box Beer" CCA Comedy
1938 - Eve, Rhodes, Zoo; 1938, - Eve, Rhodes, Dad, Part Game; 1939 - Mother’s Visit (Gert ), Zoo
1938 Mae West on Stage at Palace Chicago
1960: Old Normandie House Demolition
1970: Christmas