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Dodge City Daily Globe - Dodge City, KS
  • HOLLYWOOD COMES TO DODGE

  •      There have always been those Dodge Citians who would prefer to let the town's "wicked" past be forgotten.

    So it's understandable that a little ripple of concern might have been felt when town officials announced they were going to invite the Warner Brothers movie studio to stage the premiere of its new movie "Dodge City" here in 1939.


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  •      There have always been those Dodge Citians who would prefer to let the town's "wicked" past be forgotten.
    So it's understandable that a little ripple of concern might have been felt when town officials announced they were going to invite the Warner Brothers movie studio to stage the premiere of its new movie "Dodge City" here in 1939.
    Although MGM had premiered its film "Boys Town" in Omaha, Neb., in September 1938, there had never been a Warner Brothers premiere outside of Hollywood.
    Dodge City and the state of Kansas marshaled forces to twist the studio's arm, recognizing a valuable opportunity for publicity. But the decision wasn't made easily.
    A delegation from Kansas traveled to Hollywood to make their case, promising to pull out all the stops for a celebration in Dodge City.
    Once the studio bought into the idea, the Hollywood publicity machine took over and the results were spectacular.
    The movie
    The tagline created for the movie tells the whole story: "West of Chicago, There's No Law! West of Dodge City, no God!"
    "Dodge City" was based, loosely at best, on the history of the frontier town after the Civil War: the arrival of the Santa Fe Railroad, the lawlessness and the effort to bring civility, the cattle drive years.
    It starred Errol Flynn, a popular swashbuckling movie star, and Olivia De Haviland, also an A-list name.
    The year 1939 was a banner year for the movie industry. "Gone with the Wind," "The Wizard of Oz," "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington" and "Wuthering Heights" all premiered in 1939.
    Depending on the critics' list you look at, "Dodge City" did well in both artistic achievement and box office revenue.
    The movie had all the standard ingredients of a great Western: the upstanding loner hired to clean up the town, a stampede, a shootout involving a train and the hero who gets the beautiful girl.
    Very little of the script was based on actual fact, but the movie remains part of the tradition that glorified and romanticized Dodge City's early days.
    Hollywood plans a premiere
    Plans for the Dodge City premiere were elaborate. Some have speculated that is was a kind of warm-up effort to get ready for the premiere of "Gone with the Wind" in December 1939.
    A massive pressbook was created to help theaters across the country market the film.
    "'Dodge City' gets the most spectacular exploitation ballyhoo Warners have staged since 'The 42nd Street Special,'" the pressbook said. "Not one train but four trainloads transport the most celebrated cargo of stars, newspaper people, newsreel and still photographers, and radio commentators from Washington, New York, Hollywood, Chicago, Dallas and other key cities to Dodge City!"
    Page 2 of 3 - The book offered advertising opportunities such as "Full page in full color in the American Weekly reaching 28,000,000 readers!"
    A sample ad depicting Olivia De Havilland lighting Errol Flynn's Chesterfield cigarette read, "The right combination for a satisfying show (Flynn and De Haviland) and the right combination for a really satisfying smoke (Chesterfield's American and Turkish tobaccos)."
    The House of Westmore cosmetic company promised to make you as glamorous as de Havilland.
    The book also offered "28 Ways To Ballyhoo 'Dodge City,' including the Triple Stagecoach Cavalcade, the Police Target Shoot-out, Any Pioneers Around?, Progress of Transportation, a Beard-Growing Contest, a Race Between Stagecoach and 'Iron Horse,' a Trolley Cars Plug Show and Dress 'Em Up In Style.
    There were ideas for newspaper and radio contests, tie-ins with the Santa Fe Railroad, a Check Your Guns desk in the theater lobby, and a contest to Find the Local Oomph Girl.
    The premiere
    The premiere took place on April 1, 1939.
    Warner Brothers left most of the local arrangements to the locals, but the studio asked for three elements to be included in the schedule: a parade, a rodeo and a street dance.
    All that and much more was crammed into the schedule of events.
    A headline in the Dodge City Journal of March 16, 1939, announced "Cowboy Capital Expects 100,000 Visitors For Premiere Showing." A second headline read "City Is Making Feverish Preparations for the Opening of the Greatest Event in Its Vivid History."
    The "Glamour Special," a train loaded with the stars of the movie, was escorted into town by a fleet of 45 private airplanes from the Wichita Aeronautic Society.
    On their arrival, the stars immediately joined a three-mile long parade through the city.
    The stars were taken to luncheons, banquets, appearances and broadcasts from the stages of Dodge City's three movie theaters. The coverage was nationwide.
    The celebrations went on into the night and the next day, the stars were on the train and on their way back to Hollywood.
    Postscript
    Under the headline "Film Star Sleeps on Boot Hill," in the Monday, April 3, 1939, Dodge City Daily Globe, a story begins: "For a great many years only concrete faces and the cowboy statue have rested in historic old Boot Hill cemetery. But Saturday night there was a newcomer there."
    The story goes on the tell how Guinn "Big Boy" Williams, one of the stars of "Dodge City," was found sleeping on Boot Hill Sunday morning after the festivities surrounding the premiere.
    Williams woke up sufficiently to elude authorities, who later learned that he had spent the day sleeping in a rooming house on West Chestnut street.
    Williams had missed the train back to Hollywood. He appeared in a west side grocery store later in the afternoon, took a taxi to the airport and caught a plane to Wichita. From there, he made it back to the coast.
    Page 3 of 3 - Williams reportedly told a Dodge City man he wanted to sleep among the dead men for his wild West thrill.
    Ah, Hollywood.

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