Whether it was an older film or a piece of classical music that caught his attention, Harrison Kash was always eager to share when he considered something to be “really a gem.”
“He had a circle of friends in his phone network, and about once a week he would call me with something on his mind,” says Dr. Bill Kumbier, a retired professor of English at Missouri Southern State University. “The conversation usually started with a film he saw on Turner Classic Movies or something on the radio he would want me to listen to right away. It was always because he was very generous in sharing things he loved.”
Kash, who passed away Tuesday at his home in Webb City at the age of 89, spent more than 50 years sharing his love of film with the community, establishing an international film series in 1962 that continues to this day.
An assistant professor of chemistry, he began his teaching career in 1958 at what was then Joplin Junior College.
Four years later, he partnered with Alma Doan, Arthur Boles and Philip Jones to establish the International Film Society. Their first screening was of the 1954 British comedy “The Belles of St. Trinians.”
“I had seen it in Chicago at the old World Playhouse theater,” Kash said in a 2014 interview about the series. “I thought it was very funny and picked it out on that basis.
“Like any hobby, you discover a creative art form and want to do something with it. Sharing … that’s the fun of it.”
Over the years, the international film series was supported through a combination of ticket sales and contributions, and later through funding provided by the Missouri Arts Council and the MSSU Institute of International Studies.
From 16 mm film prints rented through distributors to securing the rights to screen a movie on DVD, Kash’s stewardship of the film series stretched across five decades and showcased an estimated 500 films. He retired from Missouri Southern in 1997, but remained active in the film presentations.
Kumbier began working with Kash to program films in the mid-2000s. When Kumbier retired in the spring of this year, the film series fell under the direction of the university’s Institute for International Studies.
“I think for the majority of people on campus and in the community, Harrison provided their very first experience to the wide world of international film,” says Dr. Chad Stebbins, director of the institute. “He and three others founded the film society, but for the bulk of the time it was just Harrison, always showing films on Tuesday evenings. He compiled film notes before every one and typed them out on his typewriter and gave a short introduction.
“He persevered all those years when so many film societies have come and gone … and he made sure someone was in place to carry on the tradition.”
He provided a $50,000 endowment to the Film Society in 2014, which was renamed the Harrison and June Kash International Film Society.
“We want the endowment to honor the people who have contributed so much all these years by volunteering their time,” Kash said at the time. “There were dozens and dozens of people, and my wife was one of them.”
Kash stayed involved with the film series until around 2016, when Missouri Southern celebrated the Great Britain Semester, says Kumbier.
“That was probably the last year Harrison played an active role,” he says. “He was charming. He would sit outside the door (to the auditorium) and welcome people. He really looked forward to that.”
Kash once compiled a list of his 31 favorite films – “to honor films identified as creative masterpieces by film scholars and critics, and to recommend those which I discovered and judged to be lesser-known and sometimes underrated treasures,” he wrote.
Among his 31 favorites were “Potemkin” (1925), “The Bicycle Thief” (1948), “Seven Samurai” (1954) and “The Wages of Fear” (1953).
Stebbins says the film series will hopefully be able to pay tribute to Kash sometime in 2021, possibly by screening one of the festival founder’s favorites at Joplin’s Bookhouse Cinema – which has partnered with the university for several semesters to screen some of the film selections.