Lambert: Plainfield’s Tie to 1960s Television

The Sonntag family left its mark on Plainfield — and on Hollywood.

The Inquiry

One night while plagued with insomnia and watching late night television, an observant Patch reader noted that the program credits included a director’s name that is also found on a downtown Plainfield building. Is there a connection between the television director and the building? 

The Facts 

Jack Sonntag (1914-1977) was a well-known television and movie producer and assistant director throughout the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s and was directly related to the Sonntag family of Plainfield for whom the Sonntag Building is named.

Today, the Sonntag Building is occupied by .  

The Sonntag Family and Plainfield

Peter and Christena Sonntag came to the United States from Bavaria, Germany during the early 1850s, settling in Pennsylvania. There, two sons were born: John in 1853 and Gustav in 1855. The Sonntag family moved, in 1856, to Homer Township in Will County where they farmed. Two more sons were born after their arrival in Illinois: Albert in 1857 and Charles in 1869. 

After John Sonntag married Mary Ann Brennan in 1876, the newlyweds moved to Plainfield. Here, John Sonntag established a harness-making business near the DeMeritt Livery Stable on Lockport Street (approximately the present-day location of ). Within a few years, John’s younger brother, Albert, joined the business.

At Plainfield, six children were born to John and Mary Sonntag: Josie (1879-1883); Daisy Jane (1881-1947); John Brennan (1883-1938); Joseph Harold (1886-1961); Mabel Ida (1888-1981); and Milton Thomas (1897-1984).

By the late 1880s, Peter and Christena Sonntag moved to Plainfield along with their son, Charles. 

In 1891, fire destroyed much of the north side of the Lockport Street business district. Within a few years, Charles Sonntag, then about 24 years old, opened a pharmacy and soda fountain in a newly-constructed building (present-day location of ). According to some accounts, Charles Sonntag is credited with inventing the ice cream sundae there. However, the ice cream sundae was sold at Two Rivers, Wisconsin as early as 1881; at Evanston, Illinois in 1890; and at Ithaca, New York by May 1892. 

Across Lockport Street, John and Albert Sonntag operated their harness-making shop at the same location until it was destroyed by fire in 1899. After the fire, they moved to the recently-constructed building that now bears the “Sonntag” name.

Between 1900 and 1920, several of John R. and Mary Sonntag’s children moved from Plainfield.  

In 1908, John Brennan Sonntag moved to Joliet, where he, later, operated a Standard Oil Station. At Joliet, John Brennan married Elizabeth “Bessie” Kelly and began a family. Their second son, John “Jack” Leonard Sonntag was born in 1914.

Around World War I, Charles Sonntag closed his Plainfield pharmacy and became a funeral director at Joliet’s Wunderlich, Harris & Sonntag Funeral Home (which continues as the Blackburn-Geigerich-Sonntag Funeral Home).

Around 1920, Joseph H. Sonntag married former Plainfield resident Grace Corbin after the death of her first husband. They settled in Los Angeles, California. Mabel Sonntag went to California a short time later.

John and Al Sonntag remained at Plainfield until their deaths. John’s children Daisy Jane and Milt remained at Plainfield as well.

Jack Sonntag in Hollywood 

After graduating from Joliet Township High School in 1931, John “Jack” L. Sonntag moved to California. 

Sonntag immersed himself in Hollywood and the new medium of television. In 1954, he was named “Assistant Director of the Year” by the Directors Guild of America. From 1954-1964, Jack Sonntag was in charge of several TV series, including "Four Star Playhouse," "The Rifleman," "Wanted Dead or Alive," "The Big Valley," and others.

During the mid-1960s, Sonntag joined 20th Century Fox television as a production executive overseeing numerous television series including “Daniel Boone,” "Batman," "Peyton Place," "Julia," "The Ghost and Mrs. Muir" and "M*A*S*H." Sonntag’s prolific production career also included well-received shows such as “Lost In Space,” “Land of the Giants,” “The Green Hornet,” “The Odd Couple,” “The Brady Bunch,” “Bracken’s World,” “Trapper John, M. D.” and many other television shows and several movies. 

After a long and successful career, Jack Sonntag died in 1991 and is interred in California.

Hollywood Postlude

The Sonntag family tie to Hollywood continued in the late 1980s when scenes from the Jessica Lange movie, “Men Don’t Leave” was filmed at the former Plainfield home of Milton Sonntag (1897-1984) on Ottawa Street.

Next Week: Herbert Cowell: Prolific Architect

Have a question about Plainfield’s history?  Send your inquiries to Michael Lambert via Plainfield Patch.


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