Dick Walter Entrepreneur Showman
Where the travelogue was shown or who the filmmaker was, has been lost with time. The venue could have been anywhere in Nebraska or his home state, Iowa. What is known, it was late in 1957 or early in 1958 and the travel film season was in full swing. It was then, Omaha entrepreneur and showman, Dick had been invited to his first travel adventure film show. For 40 years Dick had been producing Broadway shows and had brought hundreds of the nations top stars to Omaha: Carol Channing, Sid Caesar, Liberace to name a few. Now he found himself a patron, in a chair, viewing a “travelogue,” his first travel adventure film ever.
After the show he admitted he was surprised, he didn't expect to be entertained, but he was. The Omaha showman saw the potential in this show: a travel filmmaker on stage, telling of his experiences and then presenting his film and knew he could sell it.
Although travel adventure filmmakers have been entertaining millions of travel loving patrons since the late 1800s, starting with the late Burton Holmes, to Walter this was a “new” form of entertainment and he would capitalize on it. Dick said he never met Burton Holmes, the star and father of the “travelogue” and would only learn of Holmes in later years.
The goal was quite clear; Mr. Walter had decided to make these world-traveling cinematographers “Stars.” However it was a challenge, how do I sell this “new” generation of entertainers? His answer: the same as all of his stars, first class from start to finish. With Walter, there was no cutting of corners. The first thing was to secure Omaha’s premiere theater, the Joslyn. It had to be the best. But unfortunately the Joslyn’s Board said, no, “We don’t rent to outside entrepreneurs.” Undeterred, the showman went to work; he knew people and how to pull strings. Six months later he had secured the landmark theater and booked his first season of film artists. Note: It was Walter who referred to the filmmaker as an “artist.” Continually he reminded them, “You’re the artist don’t forget it!”
Walter’s ability to promote and sell was uncanny; he had been doing it for 40 years. He said he went from door to door, to every business in Omaha and sold. Omahans were learning about his new show: the Dick Walter’s Travel Adventure Film Series and the series began. The shows popularity began to grow, more and more patrons were attending. It wasn’t long before the artist filmmakers were making four appearances in two days to a “sold out” Joslyn.
For the patrons attending a Walter’s show it was an “Event” a classy “Event!” For the artist filmmaker who appeared on the Dick Walter Series it was crème de la crème.
In those early years over 100 film artists appear on the Dick Walter Series. We wanted to know what made his show so special, contacted a number of them and asked for their recollections:
When I did my first show for Dick Walters it was somewhat intimidating. Dick is a larger-than-life personality who, upon introducing himself, made it clear that this was his show and everything WILL go exactly as planned. However, unlike other sponsors I have dealt with who treat the speaker like the hired help, I soon realized that Dick considered me as an equal. As long as I followed his plan, we would have a great relationship and I would make money. Indeed, over the years, that is exactly what happened and we remained good friends.
And what if you didn't follow his instructions? He told me the story of very famous stage and film actor (who shall remain nameless) who was appearing in a Broadway road show in Omaha sponsored by Dick. Apparently, this actor had his own ideas of when he should show up, how he should deal with the rest of the cast and other issues. Dick approached him one day and in that commanding voice of his read the riot act to the actor, threatening to fire him and have his understudy do the role. That actor never appeared in Omaha again. You didn't mess with Dick Walters.
Dick was the ultimate showman, a true impresario, one of the few in the country who was almost totally responsible for the performing arts in his city, or as Shakespeare might say "the Master of the Revels".
Dick's enthusiasm for travel film presentations was palpable, and infectious. He really loved the genre, although he also loved the showmanship involved in his presentations of our programs. And upon arriving at the Joslyn, he made you feel as if you really were someone of special talent and maybe had some
showmanship abilities yourself.
I usually like to mingle with members of the audience a bit before the show, but in Dick's venue he kept you out of sight...like a special surprise package he would only allow the audience to see when all was in readiness. Then at the end of the program you were to be at his side to receive any comments and to answer questions as attendees would exit the theater. Always, Dick's enthusiasm was right there, and on display.
I was welcomed into the Travel Adventure business by Dick Walter and performed for him at the beautiful Joslyn Museum in Omaha two or three times.
In some ways he was an "old-fashioned" showman, a Broadway entrepreneur, a kind of P.T. Barnum of Omaha. But he was not old-fashioned in the sense of being out of touch with his audience. I remember him schmoozing with his well-heeled crowd at the Joslyn: it was the perfect venue for his style and every show night was a sparkling occasion. He was a larger than life character who encouraged showmanship in everyone he contacted. His audience seemed quite devoted to him.
Once I told him that had he been working in London, which he easily could have he would surely have been knighted by the Queen. Sir Dick Walter! It has a nice ring to it and it suits him to a tee.
Dick Walter's pre-show activities were well balanced and a remedy to the efforts of promotion of a show coming to town.
The first round was a newspaper article on the film and the filmmaker that preceded the event by at least five days.
The second round was a grand cocktail party in a special room at the Joslyn Auditorium where Western Art of the finest caliber surrounded the guests. Usually a special guest would be the Consul General of the country to be shown that same evening. The filmmaker was always there to meet and greet the members of the audience in a very special ambiance. The paintings on the walls of the room were always a catalyst for vibrant conversation.
The third round was the impresario himself taking the stage and regaling the audience with his first hand stories of his many European trips and adventures. The audience loved it. Many members of the audience had been members of Dick Walter's tours and he brought it alive for them. At the end of his "front talk" Dick Walter had set the stage for the show by illuminating the subject in so many ways that the audience felt as if they were actually in the country at that moment. The excitement in the auditorium was electric if not profound.
The fourth round was his impressive introduction of the evening's speaker and filmmaker giving an aura that he justly deserved. Dick Walter always booked the finest speakers in the USA and they were a compliment to Walter's well-chosen evening's entertainment.
Dick Walter deftly handled each and every performance as if it was an evening at Carnegie Hall and he made the audience feel as if they were deeply involved.
SHOWMANSHIP and relevance is what Dick Walter added to the world of Travel Film Production.
thought of…and taken care of. Both producers and audiences really felt that Dick took care of them100%. He just oozed with competence and professionalism, and radiated that both on and off stage. His passion for creating a memorable experience for everyone was so obvious, yet always coated with a gentle grace. He made everyone feel that this was where you wanted to be. That's real showbiz
Editor Note: Dick is now in a retirement home in Council Bluff, Iowa. According to one of his three daughters, “He is slowing down and a little forgetful." His Travel Adventure film series continues under the name of Omaha World Adventurers, 2014/2015 will be the 58th season of the Dick Walter shows.