Family behind Southland skating rinks produces inspirational movies
By Dave Hoekstra Sun-Times Media March 1, 2013 10:00PM
Carey Westberg (left) and Margaret Quitter at the Tinley Park Roller Rink. | Richard A. Chapman~Sun-Times
Updated: April 4, 2013 6:11AM
The Tinley Park Roller Rink looks like small peanuts in life’s circus.
The one-level former square dance hall was built in 1953 and converted in 1965 by skaters Ray and Margaret Quitter. With their son Carey Westberg, they still own and operate the rink, where on a recent Wednesday “Family Night,” a hundred folks skated on a maple hardwood floor to the beat of “Gangnam Style” and One Direction’s “What Makes You Beautiful.”
Unbeknownst to many people motoring by on Oak Park Avenue, the rink is a link to Hollywood.
Westberg is executive producer of the inspirational family film “My Lucky Elephant,” which was to be released Tuesday on DVD and iTunes. Margaret Quitter is producer.
The film is about a lonely boy who befriends an elephant that was shot in an elephant camp in Thailand. With its themes of respect, sharing and understanding, the movie is being used as a teaching tool in area schools.
“We’ve been in the family entertainment business for years,” says Westberg, 54. The family also owns the Glenwood Roller Rink and previously owned the Markham Roller Rink in Markham. The movie “hits a chord. It can give (kids) hope and a sense of peace.”
At St. Walter’s School in Beverly, where “The Lucky Elephant” was shown at an assembly, Principal Laura Kennedy said, “It was a very enriching experience for our children.”
Westberg is a man in motion — not surprising for a guy who puts people on wheels. The Frankfort resident has run in 27 marathons since 1981 when he graduated from the University of Illinois. He also plays tennis, often with Oscar Delgado, a friend since elementary school and a former Latin America bureau chief for NBC.
Delgado knows lucky. In 1992, he won $4.2 million as the sole winner in the Mexican lottery.
Through him, Westberg met Eric Schwab, best known as second unit director to Brian De Palma (“Mission Impossible,” “Carlito’s Way”). He directed “My Lucky Elephant.”
Schwab came up with the idea in Thailand, where he has a home. “Elephant” was shot in Bangkok and Chiang Mai, a small community in the jungle north of Bangkok. The crew was given permission to film in the Maetaman Elephant Camp, which houses 60 elephants with “mahouts” (caregivers) who work with the animals from a young age.
In 1998, the trio formed the company OCE (Oscar, Carey and Eric) and made their first feature film, “The Learning Curve,” a teenage drama written and directed by Schwab.
“My Lucky Elephant” was independently financed through previous OCE movies, friends and family, including Westberg’s biological mother, Ruth Westberg, of Tinley Park. Illinois State Police officers who work off-duty security at the roller rink also kicked in.
In his films, Westberg draws from the family vibe at the roller rink. His parents met at the since-razed Spotlight ’66 Roller Rink in LaGrange.
“Chicago is a wonderful city,” he says. “People like to focus on the dark, and we want people to be drawn to the light.”
His family knows firsthand of the dark side of urban life.
In 1971, Ray and Margaret Quitter were kidnapped in what is known as “The Whipple Street Murder.” Ex-con Arthur Etten shot and wounded his mother, who lived next to the Quitters in Oak Forest. Etten then forced the Quitters to drive their 1970 Cadillac convertible to the home of his ex-wife at 59th and Whipple in Chicago, where he shot her to death in front of her 11-year-old son.
“My husband and I jumped off the porch and ran down the street,” Quitter says. “He started shooting at us. I fell, just like in the movies. My husband was dragging me. I’m holding my dog, a little apricot poodle.
“We flagged down a (CTA) bus on 59th Street. I jumped out in my baby-doll pajamas in the freezing rain. We talked the bus driver into taking us to the police station.”
Etten served roughly 30 years until his death in 2002. Meanwhile, the Quitters and Westberg learned that family entertainment can soothe the savage beast.