Traditionally movies premiere in Hollywood. The good people of Dodge City encouraged the Hollywood folks to break that tradition.
In the late 1930's, people in Dodge City were aware the movie "Dodge City" was being produced by Warner Bros. Studio. Upon its completion, some City fathers traveled to Hollywood to urge the Studio to hold the world premiere in the town upon which the movie was based.
They gave a compelling presentation. On April 1, 1939, the "most spectacular" world premiere, and the first to occur outside California, was in Dodge City.
Warner Bros. sent an entourage of over 200 cast members, crew, executives and media folk on a special 14-car train.
Dodge City's population grew five to 10 times as 50,000 to 100,000 people crowded the train depot and downtown streets to catch a glimpse of movie stars Errol Flynn and Ann Sheridan. Rising star Humphrey Bogart was among the celebs.
The passenger cars were a traveling party. Though Kansas was a "dry" state, witnesses said the riders were feeling no pain the morning they arrived in Dodge City.
A mile long parade featured the actors and elected officials, including the governors of Kansas, Colorado and New Mexico.
This was followed by a "rodeo" at McCarty Stadium. Though there was not enough time to stage a full-fledged rodeo, the event inspired Dodge City to have its first real rodeo, the Boot Hill Roundup, later that year. This event has evolved into today's PRCA's Dodge City Day's Roundup Rodeo.
In the evening, came the main event, the motion picture premiere. A single theater was not large enough to accommodate the demand, so "Dodge City" was screened in three separate theaters.
All the while, the participants as well as spectators reveled in the celebratory atmosphere.
This wasn't Dodge City's first brush with showbiz. America's entertainment industry has been enthralled with the old west since the beginnings of the western frontier.
Dodge City's entertainment history started when singer and comedian, Eddie Foy, came to Dodge City during the summers of 1878 and 1879 for early performances of his vaudeville acts.
The people of Dodge City watched Foy's career skyrocket with pride because he performed here before making the big time.
With the introduction of motion pictures, fascination with the old west spread worldwide. And men who had been lawmen in early Dodge City, including Wyatt Earp and Bill Tilghman, worked with movie-makers as technical consultants.
Of course, the premiere of "Dodge City" wasn't Dodge City's last brush with fame either. In the 1940's, the radio show "Gunsmoke" was set in Dodge City. "Gunsmoke" moved to television airing 640 episodes from 1955 to 1975. At the time it was the longest running TV series. During and after its run, Dodge City was visited numerous times by celebrities from the show.
Actors, from other venues, including Pat Boone, Roy Rogers and Tex Ritter have visited our town. Hugh O'Brien from the TV show "Wyatt Earp" helped dedicate a section of Boot Hill Museum's Front Street replica in 1958.
Back to 1939 - the high point of "Dodge City" appeared to have been the world premiere. Unfortunately, there was a lot of competition among movies in 1939. Both blockbusters "The Wizard of Oz" and "Gone With the Wind" premiered in 1939.
Kathie Bell works at the Boot Hill Museum and is a history buff. Her column appears weekly in the Dodge City Daily Globe. She can be reached at 227-8188.