Ben Hollis, the pith-helmeted host and co-creator of WTTW-Channel 11's "Wild Chicago," is about to release a DVD featuring highlights of the fondly remembered magazine show.
From 1989 to 1992, Hollis took viewers on a weekly safari through the "urban jungle" of Chicago, spotlighting offbeat places and eccentric personalities rarely seen on television. The series continued for another decade, but the Hollis years were its defining ones.
"The love and affection from fans to this day still humbles and uplifts me," Hollis told me.
The multiple Chicago Emmy winner went on to host "Ben Loves Chicago" for WPWR-Channel 50 and "Ben Around Town" for WYCC-Channel 20 before returning to Channel 11 with the travel series "Wild Chicago's Illinois Road Trip" in 2006. He also contributed to "190 North" on WLS-Channel 7 (a show at least in part inspired by "Wild Chicago") and most recently has been producing videos for individuals and municipalities.
After years of negotiations with the public television station — and thanks to a crowdsourced fundraising project — "The Golden Age of 'Wild Chicago,' Volume 1" finally emerged. Included among dozens of segments are such classics as "Maxworks Hippie Commune," "Drag Racing on Elston Avenue" and "Lyn Duenow, the Skull Man of the North Shore" as well as visits to Moo and Oink Meats, Margie's Candies and the old Greyhound bus station.
Special features on the DVD include the original pitch tape to Channel 11 executives from 1987, a pre-stardom appearance on the show by Stephen Colbert as a sun-bather in Lincoln Park, a 1992 visit by Hollis with Mayor Richard M. Daley, and audio commentaries with Hollis, co-creator John Davies, music composer Roger Adler and Chicago Tribune columnist Rick Kogan.
"The Golden Age of 'Wild Chicago,' Volume 1" will premiere at a special screening Nov. 17 at the Patio Theater, 6008 West Irving Park Road. A Q&A will follow with Hollis and Davies. For tickets see: http://wildchicagopremiere-es2.eventbrite.com.
DVDs will be on sale at premiere event and are available for pre-order at: gowildwithben.com.