For years the prolific writer-producer-director-exhibitor shared his views in both news stories and the letters section of the Kansas City Star.
“You know, I quit taking the Star after all these years because there’s nothing in it,” Williams says. “You’re not in it – you were fun – there’s no movie reviews worth a (darn) and all the news is a day old. And there’s not much movie news in the entertainment section; everything is about rock or some not very talented band playing at some bar.
“There’s nothing in it but sports and a bunch of ads. And the first thing I do is throw the sports section away and all the ads and then there’s nothing left. I’m not a sports fan and much of the paper deals in every aspect of sports. They don’t have much of a movie section anymore – they pick up syndicated reviews and have a couple of local freelancers.
Does Williams miss reading the Star?
“Yes, I do,” he says after hesitating. “I miss coming in and sitting down in a chair and reading the paper – but not enough to spend 100 bucks to get it back. I miss the way it used to be.”
His advice to the powers-that-be at 1`8th and grand: Act your age.
“Most of the people they’re trying to appeal to in the entertainment section don’t take the paper,” he says. “I think if they would concentrate more on movies and other things their readers care about instead of rock bands, they’d be better off.”
Williams is best known locally for resurrecting and restoring historic movie theaters like The Leawood at 95th and Mission, The Englewood in Independence and Overland Park’s Rio and Glenwood Arts theaters.
The latter is on the endangered species list after word that new owners plan to raze the Metcalf South Shopping Center, where the Glenwood is located.
Should that go down, “I think we’ll probably just move all of the arts stuff over to The Leawood,” Williams says. “I own the Glenwood sign, so we’re planning on taking it out to the Englewood at Winner Road and Sterling in Independence. And Acme Sign will convert it to read Englewood – it’s a pretty simple process – just add or switch a few letters. That’s what should happen.”
But why not keep the Glenwood near its historic, original home and move the sign to Williams’ Ranch Mart location?
“Are you kidding?” he quips. “They won’t let you do anything in Leawood.”
As for razing Metcalf South, “I wish they would just redo the facade on the Metcalf side like they did at Ranch Mart and put in some pad sites,” Williams says. “It’s really not a big enough area to build a new mall.”
Should the Glenwood Arts go bye-bye, Williams would take another look at the long-stalled, former Aztec movie theater in downtown Shawnee.
“We finished the exterior of the Aztec, it’s beautiful on the outside,” Williams says. “And we’d probably finish the interior and call it The Fine Arts. It was a silent movie theater in 1926. You know, I invested a fortune out there in Shawnee and the building code has changed, but I would like to finish that theater because with the Rio, that would give us two historic theaters. I would like to have it operate and be the jewel of Shawnee.”
Williams purchased the Fine Arts marquee from the small movie theater in Abilene, Kansas, the hometown of World War II hero and former president Dwight D. Eisenhower.
“It’s the most beautiful marquee I’ve ever seen on a small town movie theater,” Williams says. “Eisenhower used to go there.”
Emphasis on the word, “go.”
“They tried to sell me the urinal in the men’s room that Eisenhower had used,” Williams says. “I probably would have taken it if it had been an easy removal, but it was poured into the concrete and we probably would have broken the porcelain.”
And while that odd bit of history somehow got away, the theater’s “Mens” sign over the bathroom – that the former president undoubtedly passed under however many times – is proudly on display in the lobby of the Rio outside its men’s room.