Ron Onesti: Lights, camera, action … All because of him!

  • Ron Onesti, owner of the Arcada and Des Plaines theaters, traveled to Florida this week to visit Thomas Alva Edison's home in Fort Meyers.

    Ron Onesti, owner of the Arcada and Des Plaines theaters, traveled to Florida this week to visit Thomas Alva Edison's home in Fort Meyers. Courtesy of Onesti Entertainment Corp.

Posted11/19/2021 6:00 AM

After months of being on lockdown, working to reopening my businesses and defending my Italian American culture, I was a bit exhausted, I must say. So I literally hopped on a plane by myself to Florida for a couple of days just so I can reset and clear my head for a minute. I really needed it!

I headed off to Fort Meyers earlier this week. Not by accident, though. It wasn't the weather (believe it or not), the water or the golf that brought me down there. Don't get me wrong, I brought my clubs and did some gator-dodging on the greens. But I could have gone anywhere for that.


When people stop me on the street or see me at one of our venues, they are always just so nice! They are quick to tell me about the last show they saw at The Arcada, how cool the new Des Plaines Theatre is and how much it brought them back to their "good ol' days."

I get asked all the time who my rock 'n' roll hero is, or what my favorite band or my favorite concert was to present. "Is it Zeppelin, the Beatles or James Brown?" "Was it McCartney, Hendrix or Plant?" "Dick Clark, Alan Freed or Bill Graham?" "Sedaka, Anka or Rickles?"

A little known fact about me: my top hero was not a performer, but we owe it all to him when it comes to record albums and films. Thomas Edison!

Edison was THE inventor of recorded music and movies (it makes sense, right?). Throw in the light bulb, and it really makes sense why he is a big deal to me! And what can you say about a guy who invented sound recording and would select the music his company would record even though he was nearly deaf? He would actually bite on the recording devices and pianos to "hear" the music.

He also said: "I have not failed. I've found 10,000 ways that won't work." If that's not inspirational, I don't know what is. And his winter home and laboratory was next door to his best friend, automobile pioneer Henry Ford -- in Fort Meyers, Florida!

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It's an incredible estate, meticulously preserved as if he and his 29 other inventors, chemists, botanists and machinists had a scientific session just last night, and not in the 1920s when he, Ford and Harvey Firestone set out to create their own domestic synthetic rubber. After testing more than 17,000 plants, Edison found a solution.

As I sit here in his laboratory writing this, in the shadows of test tubes, beakers, flasks and Bunsen burners, I am really feeling the vibes of greatness. It's inspirational. Think about it. Their job was to "invent" something small every couple of weeks, and something "big" about every six months. THAT was their goal!

To create something today that didn't exist last week, it just blows my mind! Edison has 1,093 U.S. patents! That's 1,093 products and processes that helped make society better. I walked the trails outside his home that he walked as he contemplated new inventions. It is wonderfully eerie. I can almost feel his presence.

Thomas Edison invented the phonograph in 1877 by recording sound waves on tin foil and playing them backward. It then went to a wax cylinder, then the disc, or album. Twenty years later in 1897, Edison received the patent for his Kinetograph, the first commercial movie camera.


I first became aware of this guy by watching Frazier Thomas' Family Classics movies on WGN-TV on Sundays. First was "Young Tom Edison" starring Mickey Rooney, then it was "Tom Edison, The Man" starring Spencer Tracy. These films truly inspired me at a young age. I think it awakened my inquisitive and analytical sides.

I was probably 12 years old when I saw those films for the first time more than 45 years ago, yet they affect me to this day.

So as technology advances, and everyday experiences become more digital and hands-free, I try to slam the brakes on all of it once in a while. Today, I am here, where the great Thomas Alva Edison stood, thought and contemplated. I try to channel his ability to see things before they become reality. I imagine the obstacles, the naysayers and the hurdles that stood between he and his vision.

Somehow, my daily quest to provide the best music and meatballs to our guests all of a sudden doesn't seem that difficult. I wonder what Edison would say about things as they are today. I think much of it would mystify him. A part of me thinks he would just shake his head.

Regardless, he is as popular now as he has ever been, almost 175 years after his birth -- and he never made a meatball in his life. Maybe I should change my focus …

• Ron Onesti is president and CEO of the Onesti Entertainment Corp. and The Historic Arcada Theatre in St. Charles. Celebrity questions and comments? Email

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