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The day when Hollywood came to Dodge City, KS

31 Jul

I found this article about when Errol, cast, and others came to premiere the movie “Dodge City” in Dodge City, KS in 1939:

DODGE CITY, Kansas — The year 1939 is considered by most experts to be the greatest year in the history of movies. There were such classics as “Gone with the Wind”, “Wizard of Oz” and “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” along with many others. There were also a number of very good movies, one of which helped to make Dodge City, Kansas, the focal point of the midwest and much of the country for a couple of days in April of 1939.

The movie was “Dodge City”, starring Errol Flynn and Olivia DeHavilland. Dodge City and the state of Kansas lobbied hard to convince Warner Brothers to open the movie in the town for which it was named. Jack Warner agreed and it led to one of the biggest days in Kansas history. At the time, it was only the second movie opening ever held outside Hollywood.

Warner Brothers went all out, sending a trainload of studio stars, including Flynn, to Kansas for the opening.

Noel Ary is former director of the Kansas Heritage Center in Dodge City and 88- year-old Luis Sanchez is a former mayor who was there that day as a 15 year old.

Ary talks of the unprecedented spotlight shone on Dodge City: “It attracted the attention of people from all over the country. All the major New York newspapers were represented by reporters.”

In addition to that, NBC Radio did five live broadcasts from Dodge City over that weekend, and Life Magazine put together a lengthy picture spread circulated around the country.

When the train rolled in, among the thousands at the Dodge City depot was 15-year-old Luis Sanchez, who talked his way onto the train to meet movie stars and get autographs.

“I hadn’t seen any movie stars”, says Sanchez, “and I figured here’s a trainload of them. Now’s the chance. You better take advantage of it.”

Among the stars on hand were such names as John Payne, John Garfield, Jane Wyman, Ann Sheridan and a man who would become to many the greatest movie star of all: Humphrey Bogart.

But that was in the future. In 1939, none of those names was even close to Errol Flynn (Miss DeHavilland could not make the trip). To understand how big Flynn was in 1939 just think George Clooney and Brad Pitt, combined. Flynn was simply one of the top handful of movie stars in the world.

“He was a swashbuckler. He was a good looking guy, he was tall and he played the part well,” says Ary. “He fit everybody’s dream, he really did. He played the part of hero and ladies’ man the way you thought it should be played.”

Following the greeting at the train station, complete with a live, nationwide broadcast, there was a one mile parade with thousands of people lining the streets. It included all the stars who were there, governors of three states, floats and a marching band.  The parade ended at the new stadium just south of downtown where there was a rodeo and more.

“They had a wedding”, says Sanchez. “And Errol Flynn was the best man and Ann Sheridan was the maid of honor. The place was packed. It was packed.”

And as much as anything, that was the story of the day: the crowds. No one can say for sure, but most agree that about one-hundred thousand people showed up in a town of ten thousand. Pictures and film of that day showed wall-to-wall people at the train station, the parade route and the stadium. For one day, it made Dodge City the second largest city in the state of Kansas.

That night, at three local theatres, the Dodge, the Cozy and the Crown, the movie premiered. It was a story of cattle drives, railroads, romance and cleaning up a rowdy town. It bore little resemblance to the actual history of Dodge City, but it’s fair to say no one complained. Had they been handing out Oscars in Dodge City on that day, the movie would have swept the awards.

The Dodge theatre still stands, refurbished but empty, standing now as mute testimony to a day when Hollywood came to Dodge City.

“Hollywood did well by Dodge City”, says Ary. “We’re gonna talk about it for a long time, at least as long as somebody remembers it. And we’d like to make sure nobody forgets.”

This is the link to this station’s website: www.ksn.com…

 

— Mary Ann

 
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  1. Inga

    August 1, 2012 at 4:24 pm

    Great find, Mary Ann. I wonder if the couple that was married is still alive, or their kids… and Bogey as the greatest movie star of all times – is that common opinion in the US???

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  2. DerekD

    August 2, 2012 at 8:56 pm

    There are some great pictures of the Dodge City trip on Peter Stackpole’s book if I remember correctly?

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    • Inga

      August 3, 2012 at 11:07 am

      Thanks for mentioning this book, I had no idea about its existence, must be great!

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      • DerekD

        August 3, 2012 at 11:21 am

        Stackpole was a photographer for Life Magazine. The book is called something like Life in Hollywood. Lots of great pics

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        • Inga

          August 4, 2012 at 5:38 am

          I found it on abebooks and ordered it. Thanks again!

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          • DerekD

            August 4, 2012 at 8:23 am

            No problem Inga. It’s a great book if you like old Hollywood but there’s 5 or 6 pages of flynn pics including the wonderful ones taken for Life on his yacht. The text, though sparse is also interesting on the rape allegations as Stackpole was around at the time

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