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Ad Astra: Stars descended on Dodge City 75 years ago for movie premiere

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Sunday, April 6, 2014, at 9:55 p.m.
  • Updated Monday, June 23, 2014, at 6:27 a.m.

Photos

Ad Astra

This is one in a series of vignettes celebrating Kansas history. The series’ name comes from the state motto, Ad astra per aspera: To the stars through difficulties.

It was considered one of the great Hollywood experiments of the day – a movie premiere far and away from California.

This month marks the 75th anniversary of when more than two dozen Hollywood stars and movie executives boarded an Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad train and traveled to Kansas for the premiere of “Dodge City” in Dodge City.

The stars of “Dodge City” included Errol Flynn, Olivia de Havilland and Ann Sheridan, but others – such as Humphrey Bogart and Jane Wyman – came along for the ride. The star power caused Dodge City, a town of 10,000 in 1939, to reportedly swell to 160,000 or more.

The train made 12 stops along the route where the stars signed autographs and waved at the gathering crowd, but none could compare to what they came across in Dodge City.

“As the premier event remained only days away, people and horses began flooding the city,” according to a 1980s article in Under Western Skies magazine called “Dodge City, Kansas: Hollywood for a Day.”

Because there were few hotel rooms, people opened their homes to out-of-town guests after urging from the local Chamber of Commerce, the Under Western Skies article noted. Police and the newly organized Kansas Highway Patrol helped control the crowds.

Betty Muncy, now 94, was a University of Kansas sophomore in 1939. Her hometown was Dodge City, and her father, Jess Denious, was the owner and publisher of the Dodge City Globe.

She remembers coming home for the event and sitting in on a luncheon and press conference when the stars arrived.

“I brought two girls home with me; we had a big time,” Muncy recalled last week from her home in Dodge City. “My dad had so much to do with the organization of the events.”

Muncy remembers that she and her friends had “great seats at the luncheon,” held in Dodge City’s Lora Locke Hotel, now listed on the National Register of Historic Places. She was awestruck by Flynn.

“He was very nice,” Muncy said.

But she also noticed he chain-smoked throughout the meal. When the luncheon was over and the stars had left, Muncy said, she quietly went over to Flynn’s ashtray and took the cigarette butts.

“I got a bunch and took them back to school with me,” she said.

At KU, the college women were willing to pay 25 cents a puff to put their lips where Errol Flynn’s had been, Muncy said.

In Dodge City, three movie theaters – the Fox-Dodge, the Crown and the Cozy – ran the movie nonstop the night of April 1. There was a parade and rodeo, a street dance and an NBC radio broadcast.

And then it was over.

The Hollywood stars boarded the train and headed back to California.

Reach Beccy Tanner at 316-268-6336 or btanner@wichitaeagle.com. Follow her on Twitter: @beccytanner.

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