Thank You, Thank You


With all the recent hoopla about saving the crumbling old Walt Disney Laugh-O-Gram Studio, no one seems to remember that Disney wasn’t the only entertainment icon to spend formative years in Kansas City.

Thank You Walt Disney is the sugary name of the nonprofit group devoted to saving the long-abandoned building at 1127 E. 31st Street. (The organization hosts a fund-raising event at 7 p.m. at Union Station on July 21.) But what about a Thank You Robert Altman Museum? Or a Thank You Joan Crawford Memorial Tour? Or a Thank You Lorraine Collett Petersen Garden?

Lorraine Collett Who, you ask? According to local historian Greg Smith, Petersen was the model for the curly-topped beauty featured on every box of Sun-Maid Raisins produced since the days before World War I. Petersen’s family home, at 2315 Wabash, is gone, but surely there’s room for a neighborhood grapevine or two in her honor.

And a few blocks south, at 2629 Wabash (it’s incorrectly listed as 2613 Wabash in most biographies), is the childhood home of Virgil Thomson, one of America’s greatest 20th century composers and music critics. He deserves at least a plaque but barely gets a footnote in Kansas City history.

Some of Disney’s Hollywood contemporaries — Joan Crawford, Wallace Beery, Jean Harlow, and William Powell (all major MGM stars in the 1930s) — started out in Kansas City, although only Harlow’s childhood home is left standing, a tidy 1913 shirtwaist at 4409 Gillham. William Powell’s childhood house is long gone, and so is the house on Paseo where future film actors Wallace and Noah Beery lived with their saloonkeeper father until big fat Wallace, called “Jumbo” by his boyhood pals, ran off at age 16 to join the circus in 1902. But the old Beery saloon is still standing, just waiting for a Thank You Beery Brothers plaque: It’s now the El Patio Restaurant at 2801 Southwest Boulevard.

And what about a Thank You Mommie Dearest organization to honor the legendary Joan Crawford? Crawford possibly learned to hate wire hangers while helping at her mother, Anna’s, business, the Gate City Laundry, which once stood at 403 E. 9th. Few of the buildings associated with Oscar-winner Joan are still standing in Kansas City, although the mansion that housed the snazzy boarding school where the one-time Billie Cassin was both student and maid (and was physically abused by the principal) is still standing at 4343 Campbell, a rambling old house with a front yard nearly overgrown with greenery. Little Billie was the school drudge about the time Disney was packing up for Los Angeles.

A block or so from Disney’s studio was the house where future nude fan dancer Sally Rand, then known by the name of Helen Gould Beck, lived at 2904 Forest. Like Joan and Sally, another Kansas City girl with aspirations for bigger and better things was Angeline Crowell, who spent most of her teen years at the now decrepit-looking Ruxton Apartments at 3845 Wyandotte. If a nonprofit group were to start up in her honor, it might be called the Thank You Ann Woodward group, for the girl Truman Capote later called “a jazzy little carrot-top.” She left Kansas City in 1936 for New York, where she reinvented herself as the actress Ann Eden and then snagged a handsome millionaire, Billy Woodward. In 1955, Ann shot her husband to death, claiming she thought he was a prowler. The scandal inspired both Dominick Dunne’s The Two Mrs. Grenvilles and a chapter of Truman Capote’s unfinished Answered Prayers.

A more flamboyant moviemaker than Disney and still very much alive, Robert Altman grew up at 200 E. 67th Street. What about a Thank You Bob Altman? After all, he came back to make a movie.

And although Atchison claims Amelia Earhart, the truth of the matter is that her actual birth home is at 1021 Ann Avenue in Kansas City, Kansas, where she lived until she was 3.

There’s no Thank You Amelia Earhart group yet, but fans of the legendary aviator can either pay tribute to her local home or travel to Atchison this weekend for the annual Amelia Earhart Festival.

The Amelia Earhart Festival takes place in Atchison, Kansas, July 21 to 22. Events begin Friday night at 5 with a concert featuring Mark Chestnutt. Gates open Saturday at 8 a.m. with events until 1 a.m. For more information, call 800-234-1854 or visit