A seven nation army couldn’t hold Jack White back from going there. Of course, Johnny Cash had already been there among many, many other places. A cute, redhead zombie apocalypse survivor was from there. John Cusack couldn’t wait to get the hell out of there. And now college basketball teams stand somewhat in fear of it.
I refer to Wichita, specifically Wichita, Kansas. It is my home town, and thanks to the recent success of our college basketball team the rest of the US knows us as, “Oh, that place the Shockers come from.” So, in honor of the Wichita State Shockers glorious time on the national stage I am looking back at all the times the town of Wichita has been referenced in films, television shows, and songs. In pop culture, Wichita is a place from which one must escape (e.g., Ice Harvest) or the location of actions performed by a historical figure (Wyatt Earp, B.T.K.) or simply a cool-sounding word worked into the lyrics of a song (“Seven Nation Army”). The real Wichita often bears little to no resemblance to its often unflattering depictions in pop culture. As such, it has not always been an honor to hear Wichita mentioned, but, hey, at least they know we exist:
1949 – Sheriff of Wichita
An old Republic Pictures western with a kind of cool sounding plot, at least based on this IMDB review:
Rocky Lane plays the title role in Sheriff Of Wichita and in this film the sheriff has an assignment to get an escaped prisoner back in custody. The prisoner is Clayton Moore who was an army lieutenant accused of a payroll robbery in which the commanding officer disappeared. The assumption was that the two planned to rob the army payroll and the commanding officer doublecrossed Moore and disappeared with the loot. Of course Lane catches up with Moore, but Moore tells an interesting tale about receiving a letter from that presumed dead officer to meet him at a deserted army fort. Several other people get those same letters and they all meet up at the fort.
1955 – Wichita
An old western starring Joel McRae as Wyatt Earp who becomes the Marshall for the film’s titular cattle town despite initially resisting. Legendary film director and writer Sam Peckinpah appears in an uncredited cameo, one of his earliest jobs in Hollywood.
Steve Martin’s Chicago bound flight is diverted to Wichita because of snow, and he’ll do anything he can to get home thus setting up a travelling partnership with John Candy. To the film’s credit, they get it right – you cannot take a train directly out of Wichita. Otherwise, Wichitans probably prefer to look away – we do not come off well in the film.
1990 – My Blue Heaven
Another Steve Martin movie. A San Diego Padres baseball player laments being demoted to Wichita, a factual reference as the town at that time was home to a minor league baseball team affiliated with the San Diego Padres. Rick Moranis’ wife leaves him for that baseball player, with whom she moves to Wichita.
1999 – Big Kahuna
Kevin Spacey and Danny Devito are two elder industrial lubricant salesmen at a Wichita-based convention. If the film sounds like a glorified play that’s because it was adapted from the play Hospitality Suite, which was also set in Wichita.
2000 – Erin Brockovich
Julia Roberts is a former beauty queen from Kansas, where she once served as Miss Wichita, whose legal diligence helps bring California power companies to their knees in court. The actual Erin Brockovich is from Lawrence, Kansas, and was a beauty queen. However, that part didn’t happen until after she moved to California.
2005 – The Ice Harvest
John Cusack and Billy Bob-Thornton are two seedy fellas attempting to rob the mob and subsequently skip town. Which town would that be? Wichita. The phrase “as Wichita falls, so falls Wichita Falls,” a reference to both Wichita, KS and Wichita Falls, Texas, re-occurs throughout the film. Moreover, the film is adapted from a novel of the same name by Scott Phillips, who is actually from Wichita, though he lives in St. Louis now.
Wichita is unfortunately the site of murders conducted by serial killer Dennis Rader, who referred to himself as B.T.K. (Bind, Torture, Kill). He murdered ten people between 1974 and 1991 before being captured in 2005. It was a huge national story at the time, and three direct-to-video horror films attempted to cash in on that name recognition between 2005 and 2008. They range, in quality, from pretty bad to a sin against cinema.
2009 – Zombieland
If the zombie apocalypse actually turns out to be a real thing may it be as funny as this Woody Harrelson, Jesse Eisenberg, Emma Stone comedy. In the film’s universe, the surviving humans have ceased using names and instead identify themselves by town names, be it their home town or the town they were in when the zombie outbreak began. As such, Emma Stone’s character is named Wichita. Her character will live on (and continue going by the name Wichita) in the forthcoming television series continuation of the film.
2010 – Knight and Day
From the “please like me again” portion of Tom Cruise’s career, this action comedy begins in Wichita and is partially set at Wichita Mid-Continent Airport. In fact, this one was this close to being named Wichita. Why was the name changed? Maybe because they realized how awkward the word reads as the title of a fun, light action comedy.
2012 – Looper
This one is a cheat. The movie states its setting as Kansas but shies away from naming specific towns. However, almost all of the evidence points to the setting being Wichita (or at least Kansas City). When I saw the film in the theater in Wichita we all kind of laughed at a couple of the film’s inaccuracies, although we’re probably among the few who would notice the film using entirely the wrong kind of crops for Kansas. Of course, it is set 30 years in the future.
1955-1961 – The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp
Running for 227 episodes across six seasons, this old western loosely chronicled the career of Wyatt Earp, played by Hugh O’Brian, with the early seasons focusing on his time in Kansas. The second season premiere was called “Wichita is Civilized,” and saw a skirmish break out between a new cafe owner and local thugs causing Earp to struggle to prove that Wichita had become a peaceful town under his watch.
1959-1960 – Wichita Town
A short-lived western television series, similar to the theatrical western film Wichita in that it starred Joel McCrea as a lawmen in cattle town-era Wichita, Kansas. Unlike the film, McCrea’s character was not Wyatt Earp.
1967 – The Virginian
The show? An NBC western focused on a ranch in 1890s Wyoming run by a local judge and assorted others. The episode? From the sixth season, “The Lady from Wichita” is about a woman who runs a saloon in Wichita, and inherits a Wyoming ranch right next door to the show’s main characters. She arrives from Wichita with the intent to sell the ranch, but unexpectedly decides to stay and give ranching a go. Want to guess who played this Lady from Wichita? Joan Collins. She was already on her second marriage by that point, and was a little over a decade away from the soapy classic Dynasty.
1998 – Veronica’s Closet
Mirroring Kirstie Alley’s real life, her character Veronica re-visits her home town of Wichita in the second season episode “Veronica’s Big Homecoming.” Wichitans are depicted as racist, homophobic, and just generally backwards assholes. At one point, Veronica’s African American friend (Daryl Mitchell) is arrested for basically being black, and Veronica and her friends are chased out of town by a glorified lynch mob. Alley and the town of Wichita have since made up, but back in 1998 her’s was not a name you mentioned in polite conversation around town.
2006-2008 – Jericho
A nuclear bomb explodes, and Skeet Ulrich broods until his mom gives him a good talking to. That’s the show in a nutshell. The title most directly refers to its setting, Jericho, Kansas, a fictional town. However, the show frequently references actual Kansas and Colorado towns, Wichita among them. Of course, at one point Wichita is revealed to be one of the towns destroyed by an nuclear bomb. So, that could have better, right?
2012 – Supernatural
An apparent killer clown brings supernatural hunters Sam & Dean to Wichita in the season 7 episode “Plucky Pennywhistle’s Magic Menagerie.” Other than a sign for a fictional sports team named the Wichita Stingers, the Wichita setting has no bearing on the episode. Not surprisingly, the show’s real life background of being filmed entirely in Canada produces a fictionalized version of Wichita which physically looks mostly like Canada.
1968 – “Wichita Lineman” by Glen Campbell, originally written by Jimmy Webb and since covered many, many times. The Rolling Stones played it at their Wichita concert a couple of years ago. The song was inspired by an observation of a lone telephone pole operator made by Webb while driving through Washita County in Oklahoma, but the name was changed to Wichita because “it sang better.”
1992 – “Wichita” by Jaywaks
1996 – “I’ve Been Everywhere” by Johnny Cash, originally written by Geoff Mack in 1959. It’s a basic list song of everywhere this man has been, and among them is Wichita.
2002 – “Wichita” by Gillian Welch
2003 – “Wichita Central” by Chatham County Line
2003 – “Seven Nation Army” by The White Stripes. In the song’s final verse singer Jack White proclaims he is “going to Wichita, far from this opera forever more, I’m going to work the straw, make the sweat drip out of every pore.” Wait. That song has actual lyrics? I thought it was mostly just Dun-DunDunDunDun-Dun-Dun-DunDun, aka, the single coolest guitar riff from a popular song from the past 10 years.
2006 – “Wichita” by Gary Jules
2009 – “Sunday in Wichita” by Ben Folds. Unlike all of the above mentioned songs, this one is not a proper song which has been released on an album. Folds’ improvised the song on the spot during a concert in Wichita. WeMinoredInFilm writer Julianne was there, and is somewhere in the crowd seen here:
2010 – “A-Z Blues” by Eric Bibb. Similar to “I’ve Been Everywhere,” Wichita is among the locations listed by the singer as one of the many places visited in the life of a transient musician.
-Long-running comic strip Dennis the Menace is set in Wichita. It is often unclear where exactly the various films or TV shows adapted from the comic are set.
-When attempting to explain the poor box office performance of his film The Rum Diary in America, actor Johnny Depp pointed to Wichita, Kansas as an example of a town in which smart, intelligent films perform poorly. The point about smaller films struggling in smaller markets where the people’s tastes are less refined is well-taken, if inherently elitist and insulting…and more true than we care to admit. But, why of all the possible places did Deep think to mention Wichita? Oh, Depp, you are forever an enigma.
-For reasons I have yet to undercover, there is an independent record label in the UK named Wichita Recordings. Their record label logo of a from the ground view of a stray telephone pole indicates it could be inspired by “Wichita Lineman.” They are the UK-label for the truly fantastic alt-country Swedish duo First Aid Kit.
These are the references I was able to uncover. There are likely more. It’s possible Quantum Leap referenced Wichita at some point. What have I missed, fellow Wichitans? For the non-Wichitans, I thank you for indulging me. This site shall soon return to its regularly scheduled programming.
CORRECTIONS & OMISSIONS (9/18/14)
This article was first published back in April 2013, inspired by WSU’s improbable Final Four appearance in the NCAA College Basketball Tournament. An entire season of college basketball has come and gone since then, with WSU going undefeated in the regular season only to then lose to Kentucky (!!!) in the second round of the Tournament. So, in all honesty, I’d almost forgotten about this article. However, in the past couple of days it has gone viral on Facebook and Twitter, and Wichitans have not hesitated to chime in. This thing has been crowd-sourced now which is great because most of the things people say I missed are ones I’ve never heard of before. In fact, when I brought this up to my dentist yesterday his first response was to ask if I remembered to include the classic Jimmy Stewart film Harvey since one of its characters refers to Wichita at some point. Well, I hadn’t, but I guess I have now.
-The hometown for Kirstie Alley’s character in Veronica’s Closet was actually Harper, Kansas…not Wichita.
-“Wichita Lineman” is not talking about Wichita, Kansas. It is about Wichita Falls, Texas. – It’s not actually talking about either town; it’s about Washita County in Oklahoma. However, Wichita Falls has a better claim to ownership in this case than Wichita, KS.
1976 – All the President’s Men
At one point, one character in this classic Dustin Hoffman-Robert Redford take on the Woodward and Bernstein story says, “That’s a question straight out of Wichita, Kansas!”
1979 – King Kung Fu
B-movie mash-up of, well, it’s right there in the title – King Kong and kung fu, centering around an intelligent, kung fu-capable gorilla from China who ends up in Kansas to … ah, honestly, the plot doesn’t matter. It’s an enjoyably bad old movie most notable for having been filmed in Wichita, with multiple local landmarks featured throughout.
1989 – Twister (not that Twister)
According to IMDB, this less-famous movie named Twister centers around a Henry Dean Stanton-fronted oddball family “trapped in their farmhouse by an impending storm.” It’s sprawling cast includes a post-Back to the Future Crispin Glover and pre-The Practice Dylan McDermott, and though it may not 100% be set in Wichita they definitely flmed in Wichita.
1992 – A League of Their Own
Just run to Netflix to check on this one if you want. This Tom Hanks-Geena Davis baseball classic is on there. Near the end of the film, when Hanks’ lovable bastard Jimmy Dugan is saying his goodbye to Davis’ retiring Dottie he mentions that he’d been offered but turned down a job managing the minor league men’s baseball team in Wichita. Why leave to manage the boys in Wichita when you can stick around and manage the women of the Rockford Peaches?
1996 – Twister (yes, that Twister)
It’s a special effects bonanza about tornados acting like the jerks they are and ripping through Tornado Alley, with the bad guys of the tale somehow turning out to be the equivalent of Weather Channel meteorologists who, the film argues, have corrupted the sacred art of storm-chasin’. Large portions of the movie are set in Oklahoma and Kansas, and Wichita pops up ever so briefly when, “One of the characters is complaining about a folded map and says ‘You put a crease right down the middle of Wichita.'”
2014 – Wichita
Take it away, comments section:
The recent movie “Wichita” which was directed by Nicholas Barton and premiered just this year at the Orpheum theatre in downtown Wichita,was mainly shot in Cowtown and featured almost an entire cast of Wichitans (except maybe 2 people) including my friend Justin France as the leading man. The crew was also comprised of locals and this movie is FANTASTIC.
2003 – NCIS
All TV juggernauts have to start somewhere, and for NCIS it was in Wichita. Kind of. The massively popular CBS procedural now has multiple spin-offs on the air not to mention endless re-runs in syndication, but it all started back in 2003 with NCIS’ series premiere, “Yankee White,” which carried the following basic plot, via Wikipedia:
While on Air Force One, a Navy Commander tasked with carrying the “football” dies under mysterious circumstances, forcing an emergency landing in Wichita, Kansas but while his death is originally thought be to a tragic accident, NCIS eventually uncovers evidence suggesting the Commander was murdered and that it might be connected to a possible assassination attempt on the President of the United States.
2009 – United States of Tara
Take it away, comments section:
Showtime’s “The United States of Tara” is set in Overland Park/KC but the first time Tara’s parents come to visit they mention that Tara’s son Marshall should come live with them and try out for a part in the Mosley Street Melodrama. I think they mention Wichita by name in a later episode.
1970 – “Captain Bobby Stout” by The Jerry Hahn Brotherhood is about a cop in Wichita
1971 – “Jack Straw” by The Grateful Dead, featuring a lyric that goes “Jack Straw from Wichita shot his buddy down……” It appeared on the album Europe ’72, and was performed live many, many times.
1981 –As Wichita Falls so Falls Wichita Falls – Though now most known for its inclusion in Scott Phillips’ The Ice Harvest, the expression “As Wichita Falls So Falls Wichita Falls” actually comes from this 1981 Pat Metheny jazz fusion album whose title song clocks in at just over 20 minutes long.
1991 – “Calling Out Your Name” by Rich Mullins, an ode to the beauty of the plains, featuring the following reference to one of Wichita’s iconic statues, “Where the sacred rivers meet beneath the shadow of The Keeper of the Plains….”
1994 – “True Dreams of Wichita” by Soul Coughing from the album Baby Vroom
2006 – “Wichita” by John Corbett from his self-titled album. Wait a minute. John Corbett? As in Chris the new-age DJ on Northern Exposure, Aidan on Sex & The City, and the groom in My Big Fat Greek Wedding? Yep, that’s the guy. He put out a country album (because of course he did) featuring a song in which the narrator laments that out of everywhere he’s been, including California, he should have stopped in Wichita because “That was where I had it all. There’s a woman there with brown hair who never did one thing wrong…”
2007 – “International Harvester” by country artist Craig Margin featured a music video filmed in and around Wichita:
2007 – “Wichita” by folk group Truckstop Honeymoon from the album Diamonds in the Asphalt, with lyrics which both build up and tear down the town, “Wichita, it’s a pretty good town, the people are a nice, all around, Wichita ain’t a bad place to be, but it’s Wichita that’s killing me, I wake up every morning and here we are, live most our lives in Wichita, been a lot of other places, too, like most of them better than I do Wichita.” You get the general idea.
2009 – “Wichita” by country artist Houston Marchman, featured on his 2009 album Long Gone. Oddly enough, he has another Wichita song as well, “Wichita Falls” from his 2000 album Tryin’ Again.
2010 – “Way to Kansas” by Carrie Nation & The Speakeasy from this freak-folk group’s self-titled album. There is a quick reference to Wichita at the beginning of the song.
-Wichita received the ‘Fickle Finger of Fate’ Award from Laugh-In for banning a musical. That’s a good thing to be remembered for, right?
-Allen Ginsberg’s anti-war poem “Wichita Sutra Vortex”
-Earl Thompson was born in Wichita in 1931, and used the events of his life, including everything in Wichita, for his semi-autobiographical novels A Garden of Sand (1970) and Tattoo (1974).