Film History of 18th & Vine
In his film Kansas City, Robert Altman sought to capture the feel of KC in its wide-open heyday—the 1930’s. A time when jazz filled the air, Prohibition was overlooked and political bosses ruled the streets. No place during that time period was as vibrant and exciting as 18th and Vine.
When Altman returned to KC in the ‘90s, he found that this area, which was once a hub for art and culture, had been slowly deteriorating. Altman wanted to recreate the neighborhood that had fascinated him in his teenage years.
The film crew cleaned up the street, creating storefront facades and dressing the windows of then-closed businesses. What’s incredible about this transformation is its lasting impact on the city. Altman’s storefront facades still line the streets of this famous district, which is uncommon, considering most sets from studio productions barely survive days after a film has wrapped, let alone more than two decades.
Turns out that “Pearl Pickens Dress Shop” isn’t real. Not to mention “Owl Bar-B-Q”, “Lucille's Paradise Dinette” and “Paseo Bootery,” which were all created for Altman’s production and remain as imaginary storefronts.
Both jazz and the Negro Leagues have had a significant impact on Kansas City and the country. So it should come as no surprise that Hollywood has explored these American institutions, and likewise, Kansas City.
One of Kansas City’s most famous jazz sons was alto saxophone player Charlie “Bird” Parker. To this day, Parker is regarded as one of the most influential saxophone players and jazz musicians to ever play.
With a career so iconic and a life so tumultuous, it’s no wonder Clint Eastwood wanted to make a film about the artist. The film Bird, released in 1988 and starring future Oscar winner Forrest Whitaker, follows the rise and eventual fall of this jazz legend, but at the heart of it all is Kansas City.
The film would go on to win an Oscar for Best Sound and Eastwood would win the Golden Globe for Best Director. Meanwhile, Whitaker was awarded the Best Actor award at the 1988 Cannes Film Festival. Visit the American Jazz Museum to see just how important both jazz and Charlie Parker were in shaping Kansas City.
Negro Leagues Baseball Museum
Just across the way you’ll find yourself at the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, another institution that helped to shape Kansas City. Before the integration of Major League Baseball, black players faced off against one another in games that showcased the talent and skill of some of the game’s all-time greats.
Kansas City was home to the KC Monarchs, the two-time Negro Leagues World Series Champions and first ball club for the most influential players of all time—Jackie Robinson. Before he broke the color barrier in 1947 by signing with the Brooklyn Dodgers, the hall of famer played right here in KC.
The 2013 film 42, starring Chadwick Boseman and Harrison Ford, chronicles Robinson's historic transition to the majors, and begins with his time here as the star player for the Monarchs. The production held a special premiere of the film in KC to honor the Negro Leagues Museum and Kansas City’s role in Robinson’s career.
Head into the museum and you’ll find yourself viewing a short documentary about the history of this groundbreaking league—and don’t be surprised if you recognize an iconic voice narrating the film. James Earl Jones, the actor who portrayed Darth Vader (the galaxy’s greatest villain in the Star Wars franchise), voiced Mufasa from Lion King, and starred in Field of Dreams, lends his iconic voice to this inspirational documentary.
Bird’s Academy Award for Best Sound would be the first Oscar for Eastwood. He would go on to win Best Motion Picture for Million Dollar Baby (a film based on a Missouri woman’s life in the ring, Katie Dallam) and Best Director and Best Picture for Unforgiven.
Explore the Area
Kansas City’s historic jazz district is home to legendary smoked meats, the stellar Negro Leagues Baseball Museum and celebrated live music clubs. It’s this combination of barbecue, baseball and bebop jam sessions that melds together for one sweet melody.