Made in Lawrence

River City's filmmaking history continues to evolve


Thad Allender /

Stills from "Carnival of Souls," "Leo Beuerman," "Linda Lovelace for President," "Where Pigeons Go to Die" and "The Day After."

Culturally, Lawrence may be best known for its live music and arts scenes, yet there is a thriving interest in film to be found throughout the city.

Whether that interest stems from the underground hipster crowd, the film schoolers at KU or the moviegoing general public, it's never hard to find folks discussing what they watched last night at the art house or multiplex.

This isn't a contemporary phenomenon, either. Lawrence has a respectable cinematic history. In fact, quite a few movies have been shot here through the years.

What follows are highlights culled from some of the more notable productions to have chosen the city as their main filming location.

The list does not include works such as the 1999 western "Ride With the Devil," which concerned Quantrill's Raid. Not even a frame was shot here. Neither does it contain blockbusters such as "Mars Attacks!" or "About Schmidt," which inserted a few second-unit clips of the area, nor the spate of 1950s and '60s educational films such as "Fire Safety is Your Problem" or "Pork: The Meal With a Squeal" that were cranked out by Lawrence's defunct Centron Studios.

And there is absolutely nothing about "The Wizard of Oz."

Carnival of Souls (1962)

Kansas (1988)

Nice Girls Don't Explode (1987)

Day After (1983)

These are feature-length projects that have a tangible and significant connection to the city.

Carnival of Souls (1962)

Lawrence filmmaker Herk Harvey made a low-budget horror classic that proved a major influence on "Night of the Living Dead" director George Romero -- and every gory zombie flick that followed. "Carnival of Souls" centered on a young organist (Candace Hilligoss) who survived a car crash, only to be plagued by visions of pale ghouls following her at all times. "The Sixth Sense" owes a great deal to this atmospheric film's trick ending.

Leo Beuerman (1969)

A handful of Centron filmmakers, including Trudi Travis, Gene Boomer, Arthur Wolf and Russell Mosser, made a moving tribute that garnered an Oscar nomination for Best Documentary Short Subject. The "short subject" himself was only 3 feet tall, unable to walk, deaf and nearly blind. Beuerman became renowned in the community for driving his tractor to the corner of Seventh and Massachusetts, lowering himself by a system of pulleys onto a cart where he would supplement his day-to-day existence by selling pens and pencils. The man and his story proved inspirational and unforgettable.

Linda Lovelace for President (1976)

"Deep Throat" headliner Linda Lovelace chose the 1976 presidential campaign to launch this campy comedy. Monkees drummer Micky Dolenz and character actor Scatman Crothers added to the craziness, which featured a parade and political rally held downtown and on KU's campus. While the film sucked at the box office, it did represent one of the first times a porn star found a way to cross over into the mainstream.

The Day After (1983)


Journal-World File Photo/Courtesy of University of Kansas Archives

Actors portray victims of a nuclear attack on Lawrence during the shooting of the movie "The Day After" in the fall of 1983.

At the height of the Reagan-era Cold War came an ABC movie that explored how all-out nuclear warfare would affect the citizens of the U.S. -- specifically Lawrence. So powerful was the material that the network decided no commercials would be shown once the missiles struck. The effort became a media phenomenon, resulting in a record audience (nearly 100 million viewers) for a made-for-TV movie. It went on to receive 12 Emmy nominations.

Nice Girls Don't Explode (1987)

Michelle Meyrink of "Valley Girl" fame played April Flowers, a teenager who was convinced that she had pyrotechnic abilities, because whenever she became romantically aroused a fire would break out. Or could it be that her mother (Barbara Harris) was just setting the blazes to keep guys away? The underground comedy proved significant in that it was one of the first Hollywood projects to be shot in Lawrence despite having no specific thematic connection to the region.

Kansas (1988)

Stars Matt Dillon and Andrew McCarthy were among Hollywood's reigning heartthrobs when they spent a few months holed up at the Eldridge Hotel while filming this quiet character piece. McCarthy portrays a Kansan returning home for a wedding who befriends a shifty drifter (Dillon), who ends up drawing him into a bank robbery. While Dillon continued to find success in films such as "There's Something About Mary," McCarthy's career never recovered from this box-office dud.

Cross of Fire (1989)

Mystery novelist Robert Crais penned an NBC miniseries about the rise and fall of D.C. Stephenson (John Heard), a Midwestern leader of the Ku Klux Klan who found success as a mainstream politician. The production did a convincing job of converting modern downtown locations into those characteristic of the "roaring '20s." A creepy performance by the ordinarily bland Heard ("Big") gave the four-hour piece some resonance.

Where Pigeons Go to Die (1990)

Television icon Michael Landon wrote and directed an adaptation of R. Wright Campbell's tear-jerker about an aging man's memories of his relationship with his grandfather (Art Carney) and their time spent raising racing pigeons. The sentimental drama went on to nab two Emmy nominations and proved to be Landon's swan song; he succumbed to pancreatic cancer less than a year later.

C.S.A. -- The Confederate States of America (2004)

The brainchild of KU film professor Kevin Willmott, "C.S.A." took a faux documentary approach to depict what would have happened if the South had won the Civil War. Spanning the 1860s through modern times, the picture was a biting collage of recreated footage, movies, TV shows and commercials showing an America where slavery was STILL accepted and encouraged. A hit at Sundance, the picture will be released theatrically in February.


Use the comment form below to begin a discussion about this content.

Commenting has been disabled for this item.