Wheels photo mystery solved

Well, we can finally report that we had some luck identifying a few of the folks and cars photographed at the world premiere of the movie "Hot Rod Gang" right here in Wichita 55 years ago.

It was Rocky Burris, who bought a series of old black-and-white photos on the Internet, who came up with the information. The biggest mystery had been who was the girl featured so prominently in so many of the photos with John Ashley, star of the movie.

Major King, who was her boyfriend at the time, called Burris and identified Dixie Lee Rose as the young Wichita woman. He wasn’t too keen on having his girlfriend squired around by the likes of a Hollywood leading man, Burris reported.

To Burris’ surprise, Rose called him after the story appeared on the Wheels page.

"Some of her high school friends and cousins who saw the story had called her about it," Burris said. Now 72, Rose is married to Richard Sutton and lives in Thornton, Colo.

He said she was a model and a tap dancer at the time and was hired to appear with Ashley at publicity stops, including two TV stations and at least one radio station. Burris said she was a delight to visit with.

"She didn’t have any pictures at all, and that was kind of sad," he said. He is going to have a set of reprints made for her.

"That should bring back some good memories," he said.

As best he could piece together, the tall, distinguished-looking guy in the photos with Ashley was a Hollywood agent named Buddy Rogers, Burris said. He was also able to identify the young guy in some of the photos as Wayne Chesapeake, the owner of the red ’34 Ford 5-window coupe on a tow bar. The car had no starter at the time and was being drag-raced regularly, Burris said. Chesapeake sold it a year later for $1,000 and it sort of disappeared after that.

The white roadster and the white Corvette with flames could not be identified, but an early Mercury coupe parked in front of the Wichita Theater was picked out as one owned by Garland Smith, whose father ran a nearby welding shop at the time.

"I got a lot of calls from guys correcting me about the `Oldsmobile’ in front of the theater," Burris said. We misidentified the car, which was actually a Buick customized for Harold Kite, a West High student, by Darryl Starbird.

"I got so many phone calls about that. I actually thought it was kind of funny," Burris said.

In the interest of our friendship, we have agreed to blame each other for that flub.

Thanks to all who called Burris with information about those great old photos.

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