Blues Brothers orphanage, screen home to Cab Calloway and ‘The Penguin,’ was

The whole “Blues Brothers” plot was based on saving a phony front — literally.

The brothers’ “mission from God” was to rescue the Calumet City orphanage where they grew up, St. Helen of the Blessed Shroud. It’s where they grew up with mentor Curtis (played by singer Cab Calloway), who taught the brothers to love the blues, and where they later encounter the ruler-swinging nun known as “The Penguin.”

As the story goes, the orphanage owed $5,000 in property taxes. Instead of paying up, the archdiocese was going to sell the building to the Board of Education.

In a scene from the movie, Curtis, played by legendary singer Cab Calloway, lectures the brothers about the need to go to church during a visit to the orphanage.
Sun-Times files

But such an orphanage never existed in Calumet City or Chicago, where the outside of the film institution was shot. The interior was a Hollywood set.

Filmmakers built a phony front for St. Helen’s in an alley just north of 18th and Normal. The alley ran between several buildings in the long-defunct Schoenhofen Brewery, which made Edelweiss beer and Green River pop. All but three of the buildings the Blues Brothers drive by were razed in the mid-1980s, said property owner Dan O’Brien. A fence currently blocks off the passage.

The movie’s premise — which many have claimed was inaccurate because church-owned property is exempt from property tax — actually has some basis in fact. Dan Aykroyd said the story was a reference to a controversial plan to tax some religious property. A bill introduced in the state Legislature in early 1979 would have required all property owners to pay some taxes. But the bill died.

Why Calumet City?

Like the Mississippi Delta, those who lived there in the shadow of the steel mills knew something about the blues.

“This is where the real blues is born, in the blue-collar belly of the United States,” Aykroyd said.

Why “mission from God?”

Director John Landis said he penned that line to poke fun at Aykroyd’s near-obsession with the Blues Brothers characters and promoting Black American music.

Read MoreBlues Brothers orphanage, screen home to Cab Calloway and ‘The Penguin,’ was

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