The legendary Oklahoma aviatrix
How a Chickasaw girl named Pearl soared into history and onto the silver screen.
Once upon a time, there was a girl named Pearl, who lived in the town of Marlow, Okla., near the Chisholm Trail. Pearl was a Chickasaw Indian, born in 1915. She was bright, curious and strong-willed. She liked going to see Will Rogers movies at the local picture show.
Pearl was adventuresome by nature; she learned to drive a car at age 11. And then one day, in the late 1920s, the famed aviator Wiley Post landed his plane in a field near Marlow. He and Pearl met, and then became friends — eventually, Pearl Carter Scott would become the youngest person ever to fly solo (at the age of 12) and then the youngest licensed pilot in America. She was performing as a barnstormer — and working as a commercial pilot, whose private-plane clients were often business hotshots and oil barons — by age 14.
Sounds like a storybook account or the stuff of fiction, right?
Actually, it’s true. And it’s the gist of a new feature film, “Pearl,” produced by the Chickasaw Nation and based (at least in part) on a 2007 biography entitled “Never Give Up: The Life of Pearl Carter Scott” by Dr. Paul Lambert.
Set between the years 1920 and 1932, “Pearl” was shot at various locations all over the state and was directed by King Hollis, a longtime veteran of the Dallas indie film scene who’s worked on scores of narrative films, commercials and music projects over the years.
The cast of “Pearl” features actors from across Oklahoma and across the country. The Chickasaw Nation also provided many of the cast members, eight of them with speaking roles. And a good 200 or so “locals,” many of them Chickasaw citizens, serve as extras.
The film’s title character is played by Elijah DeJesus, a teen actor who’s been seen on ABC’s “Ugly Betty” and who’s now making her on-screen debut in a lead role. Andrew Sensenig, who plays Pearl’s father, has appeared in the TV series “Burn Notice” and “Prison Break.” And Tom Huston Orr, who plays Wiley Post in the film, is the director of the University of Oklahoma School of Drama.
The real “Pearl” died in 2005, but her son Bill Scott, a resident of Boyce, appears in the picture as one of the aforesaid extras. Recently, he told an interviewer how much he enjoyed being on the set and talking with the cast.
“We started telling stories,” Scott said. “And they were thirsting for this information (about her).”
Not surprisingly, he’s something of an authority on the life and career of his famous-flier mom. And he’s justly proud of her. He also seems proud of “Pearl” the movie, adding: “The casting is phenomenal.”
After marrying and having children, Pearl Carter Scott retired from the cockpit. She raised her kids and then, in the 1970s, became one of the first community health representatives for the Chickasaw Nation. Later, in 1983, she was the first woman elected to the Chickasaw Nation Tribal Legislature.
Ms. Scott was inducted into the Oklahoma Aviation and Space Hall of Fame in 1995 and the Chickasaw Nation Hall of Fame that same year. She was a charter member of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian.
“Pearl,” the new film that dramatically documents the early, honest-to-goodness-amazing years of this woman’s life, was first screened for public audiences at the AFI Dallas International Film Festival in March. An invitation-only “Oklahoma Premiere” of the film will happen in late July or early August at the Warren Theater in Moore.
The Chickasaw Nation hopes to show “Pearl” regularly at the Chickasaw Cultural Center, located in Sulphur — and a Tulsa screening (at a theater TBA) also is planned for later this year, tentatively in August.
Scott Gregory hosts “All This Jazz” on Public Radio 89.5 KWGS, where he also serves as the producer and editor of “Studio Tulsa.”