The 1939 "Dodge City" Premiere
Warner Bros. Pulled Out All the Stops for a Premiere Like No Other
80 years ago today saw the premiere of Warner Bros.’ Technicolor western epic Dodge City, but this was no ordinary premiere. The studio chartered a Santa Fe Railroad train, and sent dozens of actors, reporters, studio publicists, politicians, and special guests from Los Angeles to the actual Dodge City, Kansas for the gala event. In addition to the premiere, the city also hosted a luncheon, a rodeo, and a four-mile-long parade. Below are a selection of the hundreds of images that WB photographers took of this landmark event.
Crowds and WB technicians await the departure of the Dodge City Special from Los Angeles.
A closer look at the stars in the previous photo: Olivia de Havilland, husband-and-wife actors John Payne and Anne Shirley, and former cowboy star Hoot Gibson, whose film career started in 1910!
Dodge City stars Olivia de Havilland and Errol Flynn aboard the train, which made a special stop in Pasadena, California shortly after departure so Olivia could disembark and continue her work on Gone With the Wind.
Schoolchildren gather for a glimpse at some movie stars in one of the many towns the Dodge City Special stopped at on its journey.
All the stars and VIPs pose during a stop in Rio Puerco, New Mexico. Standing from left to right are Lya Lys, Gilbert Roland, Frank McHugh, “Big Chief Santa Fe”, Maxie Rosenbloom, Priscilla Lane, Errol Flynn, John Garfield, Jack L. Warner, Humphrey Bogart, Rosemary Lane, Jean Parker, Wayne Morris, Frances Robinson, John Payne, and Alan Hale. Crouching at center in the black hat is Lee Lyles, vice-president of the Santa Fe Railroad. Seated on the tracks are Leon Turrou (former FBI agent and consultant on Warner Bros.’ soon-to-be-released Confessions of a Nazi Spy), Hoot Gibson, Buck Jones, and Guinn “Big Boy” Williams. Note the used flash bulbs on the tracks.
Errol Flynn and Humphrey Bogart help their boss, Jack L. Warner onto the train while Leon Turrou, Gilbert Roland, and Jean Parker look on.
Another view of Leon Turrou, Errol Flynn, Humphrey Bogart, Gilbert Roland, Jean Parker, and Guinn “Big Boy” Williams.
Aboard the train, Lee Lyles watched WB character actor extraordinaire Frank McHugh add his signature to the many others on a cowboy hat.
Humphrey Bogart grabs a camera to take pictures of sisters Rosemary and Priscilla Lane and Jean Parker, much to the delight of the press photographers. This was taken in a baggage car that had been dressed at the “Gay Lady Saloon”, a primary setting in the movie Dodge City.
An impromptu song in the Gay Lady Saloon. From left to right: Lya Lys, Hoot Gibson, Jean Parker, New Mexico Governor John Miles, Rosemary Lane, Priscilla Lane, Allan Jones, Susie Miles (the governor’s wife), Ann Sheridan, Gloria Dickson, and Buck Jones.
The gigantic crowd that greeted the arrival of the Dodge City Special. The population of Dodge City was about 11,000 at the time, and contemporary estimates claim that during the premiere events, the total number of people who turned out may have been as high as 50,000.
Actress Lya Lys chats with future television superstar Ed Sullivan, at that time a well-known newspaper columnist. Frank McHugh looks on in the background.
A public wedding was also held, with Errol Flynn and Ann Sheridan standing up for the bride and groom while thousands of spectators looked on.
Errol Flynn holds the key to Dodge City, as presented to Warner Bros. Also seen are (standing left to right) Maxie Rosenbloom. Lya Lys, Mayo Methot, Claire Windsor, Frank McHugh, Rosemary Lane, Priscilla Lane, and Jean Parker. Crouching are Humphrey Bogart and a snapshot-taking John Garfield.
The crowd surges toward the Dodge Theater for the film’s world premiere. Dodge City turned out to be WB’s biggest hit of 1939.
One more amazing crowd shot from Gallup, New Mexico. The kid holding the horn and sheet music just right of center wins the award for Best Photobomber of 1939.