Hearne: The R. Crosby Kemper Jr. Story That (Almost) Got Away

51LqwPLX1MLTime flies whether you’re having fun or not…

That said, I was definitely having fun in the summer of 1992 when Kansas City Star publisher Jim Hale and spanking new editor Art Brisbane sent me down to the minors for a chance to try out for a column in big leagues.

The back story: both the Pitch and rival alt weekly The New Times were struggling mightily – kinda like now except The New Times is long gone – and having run both, I had this genius stroke that the newspaper could buy one or both, let me run the show and turn all the red ink into black… just like that.

However after spending a couple months trying to put a deal together, Hale looked at me one afternoon and in his best Texas drawl said, “Do you want a job?”

The rest is history, but it wasn’t quite that simple.

First I had to prove myself by spending a month going to work every day at the Star and turn in three columns a week, none of which were to be published.

HC circa 1992

HC circa 1992

The working title that I chose for the column was Star Struck and the each one started with a longer lead item, followed by four or six shorter items and “tidbits” about newsy and/or gossipy things going on in, what I often referred to as the Cowtown.

Naturally I charmed the pants off of the largely white male editors at the Star – despite their better judgment – and they snapped me up at summer’s end for the tidy sum of $24,000 a year plus expenses and three weeks vacation. It was a humbling sum for a former New York Stock Exchange Allied Member and Financial Principal, but it looked like fun and I had a chance to grow the paycheck to six-figures.

High_and_mighty_FLY029554Return with me now to that not-so-lazy summer and the lead item in my third column about R. Crosby Kemper, Jr. – a giant among men in his prime, in full control of UMB and a force to be reckoned with to anybody he cared to bully –  family members, local politicians and Star writers, editors and publishers included.

Quite frankly my column about Kemper was the one that put me over the top. I got hand written notes complimenting me on it from Brisbane, Hale and soon-to-be new publisher Robert Woodworth.

After being hired, my aim was to wait for the exact right time to publish it somewhere down the road. Sometime soon, but that time never came.

I’ll tell you why after you’ve read it, so check it out:

                                      The High and The Mighty

It is fairly well known that banker R. Crosby Kemper, Jr. prefers not to fly.

And that’s putting it midly. Kemper’s friends and relatives and workers at United Missouri Bank have long marveled at the extended automobile, limousine, train and ocean routes Kemper has plotted over the years to avoid winging it.

Just this week the Kemper family embarked upon a European vacation, traveling by train to New York, where he boarded the QE2 for London. That’s a five to seven day travel itinerary each way.

Ledend among employees at UMB tell of a young Kemper, returning by airplane from Hawaii years ago. The trans oceanic flight is said to have been a harrowing one. A flight whose safe outcome was only determined in the final tortuous seconds. A book, then a film, based on the troubled flight are rumored to exist.

“Feather it, Dan! Quick! No time to fool with it!” reads a passage from the 1953 best seller, The High And The Mighty. The Ernest K. Gann novel was later made into a movie. John Wayne starred as the captain of the beleaguered plane. “A shudder passed through the ship and the number four tachometer fell down to zero. The ship sank rapidly,” Gann continues. “See anything yet? Not yet. When we pass the inner marker I’m shoving her on down regardless.”

From that time forth Kemper is said to have gone to almost any length to avoid flying. And who could blame him?

But now it can be told!

The fable has been validated, confirmed by knowledgable sources, including Kemper’s secretary Shirley. And now for the good news and the bad news.

The bad news is that local video dealers (and Shirley) report that the movie is unavailable on VHS. You can however pick up a copy of the book at the library.

Otherwise keep an eye on those TV listings.


Crosby Kemper Jr. circa 2013

Crosby Kemper Jr. circa 2013

For more than a dozen years I waited for my “news hook” to take the story public. During which time I literally combed the goofy Star TV book each week to see if the movie was on and kept a close eye on the weekly video releases.


Until 2005 when the High And The Mighty was finally released on DVD. 

But that summer I was on vaca and for some reason never got around to writing it.

I did at one point in 1992 call Kemper and after beating around the bush a bit, asked him about it. He responded awkwardly, with surprise and gruffly mumbled something about it being no big deal. But he didn’t deny it.

There’s more… 

The characters in the book and the movie that supposedly represenedt Kemper, were a young couple returning from their honeymoon. That would have been Crosby and his beautiful wife Cynthia Kemper.

Now it can be told…

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One Response to Hearne: The R. Crosby Kemper Jr. Story That (Almost) Got Away

  1. chuck says:

    Fun article Hearne. You look like Edward Norton’s happier taller brother.

    Claire Trevor is in the “High and the Mighty”, but more importantly, she is in “Stagecoach”. Remember the banker in “Stagecoach”?

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