Kansas City has a surprising connection to Hollywood. Known as the Barbecue Capital of the World, Paris on the Plains and City of Fountains — Kansas City has been the setting of several major movies.
Kansas City is known for its Jazz, fountains, and barbecue, and it’s interesting to know Kansas City has always had ties to Hollywood. This is the home of the father of animation — Walt Disney and the birthplace of some of Hollywood’s biggest stars both past and future like Joan Crawford, Jean Harlow, Paul Rudd, Don Cheadle and Janelle Monea.
The Crossroads Arts District is where you’ll find boutique shops, one-of-a-kind restaurants, creative businesses, studios and art galleries. The Crossroads (officially the Crossroads Arts District) is a historic neighborhood near Downtown Kansas City, Missouri. It is centered at approximately 19th Street and Baltimore Avenue, directly south of the downtown loop and north of Crown Center. It is the city’s main art gallery district and center for the visual arts. Dozens of galleries are located in its renovated warehouses and industrial buildings. It is also home to numerous restaurants, housewares shops, advertising agencies and production facilities. The district also has several live music venues.
Do you know how MGM, Columbia Pictures, Twentieth Century Fox, Universal, Paramount and Disney are all connected to Kansas City? KC’s ‘Film Row’ District, was the distribution hub for every major movie studio in Hollywood from the 1940s until the late 1970s. The movie industry needed a more centralized distribution point to ship films nationwide and Kansas City was a natural choice. Studios would send film prints to Film Row, and theater owners would travel from as far as 100 miles away to pick up and drop off reels. Publicity tours brought celebrities — Clark Gable, Roy Rogers, Gene Autry — to the studio buildings, linking Kansas City to the stars of Hollywood’s golden age. Film Row spanned nearly twenty buildings in a four square block area in what has become the Crossroads Arts District. Today, Kansas City has one of the most intact Film Row districts in the nation.
Union Station in the heart of Kansas City was built in 1906. When it opened it was the second largest train station in the United States, next to New York City’s Grand Central Station. Union Station was a major filming location in Robert Altman’s film “Kansas City” which he described as a “cinematic love letter” to his hometown. The movie highlights KC’s booming jazz era, political corruption and organized crime during the 1930’s. It’s hard to believe Union Station almost faced the wrecking ball, but lucky for us, Robert Altman’s “Kansas City” inspired a local campaign to renovate this historic landmark. Today it’s a thriving entertainment and cultural hub, with restaurants, events and museums – and yes you can still catch a train here, just like in the movie.
Liberty Memorial at the National World War I Museum is Kansas City’s most visible landmark. Liberty Memorial was featured and reduced to rubble in the TV movie “The Day After”, which follows families the day after a devastating nuclear holocaust hits the United States. To this day the film is the most watched and highest rated TV movie of all time. In real life, the memorial and museum are still standing, and host one of the largest collections of World War One artifacts in the world. And it’s one of the top ranked museums in the U.S. Liberty Memorial was featured in the film “Article 99″ with a cast of rising stars -Kieffer Sutherland, Ray Liota, Forest Whitaker, Jeffrey Tambor and Lea Thompson.
Other big stars descended upon Kansas City for the film “Mr. & Mrs. Bridge”, a period drama, starring real-life husband and wife, Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward. For her portrayal of Mrs. India Bridge, actress Joanne Woodward was nominated for an Oscar for Best Actress. One of the film’s biggest scenes takes place at the Arvest Bank Theater at The Midland where Kansas City native and future Hollywood funnyman Jason Sudeikis made his film debut as an extra in “Mr. and Mrs. Bridge.” This historic downtown performance venue is a great place to see concerts and plays. Next time you’re here for a show you can appreciate it even more.
The Stanley H. Durwood Film Vault located in the Kansas City downtown library shows films. This very vault was a location in the film back when this building was still the First National Bank. You can visit here now and sit in the same seats Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward sat in and enjoy seeing movies like “Mr. and Mrs. Bridge.”
The 18th and Vine Jazz District is home to the American Jazz Museum, the Gem Theater, the Blue Room jazz club, the Mutual Musicians Foundation and Negro Leagues Baseball Museum.
Before the integration of baseball in the late 1940’s, black ballplayers competed against one another in several baseball organizations now referred to collectively as the “negro leagues.” KC was home to one of the most popular and successful teams: the Kansas City Monarchs.
The film “42,” is about the life of Jackie Robinson, a member of the Kansas City Monarchs negro leagues team who became a Brooklyn Dodger and broke the racial barrier in Major League Baseball. “42” and films like “Bingo Long” and HBO’s “Soul of the Game” feature the Negro League experience, whose rich history is captured beautifully in this must-visit museum.
When you visit the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum you’ll hear the familiar voice of James Earl Jones who starred in films like “Bingo Longo,” “Star Wars” and “Field of Dreams.” Right across the way is the American Jazz Museum.
Jazz greats and Kansas City natives like Charlie Parker, Lester Young, and Count Basie got their start playing into the night for the city’s who’s who. KC’s music history was the inspiration for movies like Robert Altman’s film “Kansas City” and Clint Eastwood’s Academy Award winning biopic “Bird” about the life of Charlie Parker starring Academy Award winner Forrest Whittaker.
This area was also party central during the 1930’s as captured in Robert Altman’s movie, “Kansas City.” You can even still see some of the building facades that were created for that movie. Each night afterū filming, jazz musicians used in the movie continued jamming at the Mutual Musicians foundations for the cast and crew. Sounds like a fun shoot.
This area is loaded with history, and is one of the many neighborhoods in Kansas City to visit on your Movie Trip. What we’ve covered here is just the tip of the iceberg.
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