In November, 1938, the magical powers of Hollywood sidestepped the time barrier, returning the small, ordinary western Kansas town of Dodge City to a time when it was known as the “Babylon of the Plains”, the “Barbary Coast of the cattle trails and dance halls”, the “Soiled Dove of the Prairies”, the “Queen of the Cowtowns.” Dodge City became the setting for one of the most ambitious promotional stunts in Hollywood history. In less than five months, the premier of the two million dollar Warner Brothers? feature, Dodge City, would help create the largest single event ever to take place in the city whose history had inspired its title and story: Dodge City, Kansas, population 8,000. Featuring cattle drives on the Chisoim Trail, beginning in Texas and ending in Dodge City (the Santa Fe railroad’s western
terminus), the western film, Dodge City, traced the town’s history from 1872-1878. Upon learning of a Hollywood film focusing on Dodge City, local merchants, members of the Chamber of Commerce, and many other interested parties fervently leapt to the task of convincing Warner Brothers to premier the film in their city.
Soon, an invitation committee was assembled. The committee members would travel to Hollywood and convince Jack Warner that Dodge City, Kansas, was the only logical city in which to premier the film. In the Kansas delegation were H. B. “Ham” Bell and Dr. Claud E. McCarty, early pioneers; Lieutenant Governor Carl Friend; Dodge City Daily Globe editor, Senator J. C. Denious, chairman of the invitation committee; Harry Starks, President of the Chamber of Commerce; Jay Wooten, theater manager; and representatives of the Santa Fe railroad. Along with the Dodge Citizens, railroad bigwigs saw in the premier an opportunity for favorable publicity as the film stressed the importance of the Santa Fe railroad to the development and livelihood of the west. The invitation committee took with it a scroll commissioned by Dodge City Mayor Arthur Nevins to be presented to Jack Warner by Lieutenant Governor Friend. The scroll, printed on historic buffalo hide was embossed with the following: We, the undersigned officials and citizens of Kansas are pleased to know that your company, which has been responsible for so many valuable and significant motion picture productions, has chosen Dodge City as the locale for one of its most ambitious undertakings.
We want to join in the official request made by the Kansas legislature herewith handed to you, that you hold the world premier of your production Dodge City in the city whose name it bears. All Kansas will be proudly grateful to you for this recognition.
We sincerely hope that this petition, formally presented to you by a delegation of Kansas citizens and officials, on this 20th day of February, 1939, will be favorably acted upon.
The scroll was “officially” signed by Governor Payne Ratner of Kansas, Lt. Governor Friend, members of the Kansas Supreme Court, all elected state officials, and thousands of Dodge City and area-wide businessmen and citizens, 15,000 in all.
In addition to the impressive scroll, the invitation committee also took petitions from Kansas City and Topeka businessmen, Kansas legislators, Santa Fe officials, and Chambers of Commerce located in Newton, Wichita, Manhattan, Sauna, Hutchinson, Hays, and Dodge City. They also carried a resolution passed by the Kansas legislature requesting the premier be held in Dodge City. No avenue of potential persuasion was left untapped.