Hollywood has always had a connection to the Heartland. It gets its name from a retired Topeka, Kan., couple who bought property in the foothills west of Los Angeles and, in 1887, established the City of Hollywood. When moving pictures made the move from East to West Coast, filmmakers from around the world flocked to Hollywood. The actors soon followed. And many of Hollywood’s brightest stars came from Kansas City including Jean Harlow, Wallace Beery, Ginger Rogers, and Ed Asner.
Needing more centralized distribution points to ship their features nationwide, Hollywood chose Kansas City as one of its largest and Kansas City’s Film Row was born. The industrial enclave occupied nearly twenty buildings in a four square block area of the Crossroads District near downtown. Film Row counted as tenants such major studios as MGM, 20th Century Fox, Warner Brothers, Paramount, and United Artists. It also housed peripheral suppliers to the industry, most notably the Manley Popcorn Company the makers of those wonderful popcorn poppers that made popcorn the “must eat” snack of moviegoers everywhere.
The roots of Hollywood animation reach to Walt Disney’s Laugh-O-Gram studios in Kansas City, where he started making animated films in 1922. The character Mickey Mouse is said to have been inspired by a pet he kept at the studio … a loveable little local rodent.
Generations of talented and experienced directors, producers and support crews honed their skills in Kansas City, including native son Robert Altman. Altman returned to shoot “Kansas City” in 1995, and hastened the renovation of Union Station, now a Kansas City centerpiece.
Altman is far from alone in choosing Kansas City and its surroundings as their backlot. There’s Joshua Logan’s “Picnic” … Richard Brooks’ Truman Capote classic “In Cold Blood” … James Ivory’s “Mr. & Mrs. Bridge” … Howard Deutch’s “Article 99″ … Ang Lee’s “Ride With The Devil” … and ABC-TV’s “The Day After,” which is still considered to be the most-watched and highest-rated TV event in the history of television.