At the movies and in the movies
If we were just to rattle off a list of household-name Hollywood actors with Sooner State roots, we might well include Joan Crawford (of Lawton); Brad Pitt (of Shawnee); James Garner (of Norman); Ben Johnson (of Foraker); Gene Autry (of Berwyn); Vera Miles (of Boise City); Kay Francis and Ed Harris (both of Oklahoma City); and Tony Randall, Mary Kay Place, Jennifer Jones, Jeanne Tripplehorn, Alfre Woodard and Tim Blake Nelson (all of T-Town, of course). And so on.
The careers, personalities and legends behind all those names — and so many others — will be fully covered by the “on screen” section of the forthcoming “Oklahoma @ the Movies” exhibit in Oklahoma City at the Oklahoma History Center.
The 8,000-square-foot exhibit will document the experiences of those Oklahomans who have written, filmed, acted in, assisted with, worked on, produced and/or simply watched movies. It will also feature “behind the screen” and “in front of the screen” sections.
Accordingly, the “behind the screen” component will cover the achievements and contributions of filmmakers such as film editor Elmo Williams (of Lone Wolf), producer Gray Fredrickson (of Oklahoma City), writer S.E. Hinton (of Tulsa) and director Ron Howard (of Duncan). Again: and so on.
And perhaps most engagingly, the exhibit’s “in front of the screen” facet will look beyond the famous films and familiar stars to profile historic movie theaters (both past and present) from across the state, such as the Coleman in Miami and the Poncan in Ponca City, while also presenting the countless movie-related memories and shared movie-going experiences of all Oklahomans.
The exhibit will also explore crucial cinematic themes, such as cowboys and Westerns, American Indians and Hollywood, and African-American movies made in Oklahoma, as well as the Oklahoma film industry and images of “Oklahoma” onscreen.
Larry O’Dell, Oklahoma History Center’s (OHC) director of collections, is one of the curators of “Oklahoma @ the Movies.” He recently agreed to tell me a bit more about it.
This is a big show. Who else is putting it together? Who are the other curators of “Oklahoma @ the Movies”? Jeff Moore, who’s the director of the proposed OKPOP (a pop culture museum proposed for downtown Tulsa’s Brady Arts District) and a previous director of exhibits for the OHC who still helps with our work on Popular Culture exhibits, is the other OHC curator, along with myself. And we have three guest curators: John Wooley, Elizabeth Anthony and Brian Hearn.
John was a longtime entertainment writer at the Tulsa World and he recently published a book called “Shot in Oklahoma,” a history of filmmaking in this state. He also has firsthand knowledge of the industry.
Elizabeth, from Oklahoma City, runs the Reel Classics website — she’s made a career out of her knowledge of “classic” movies and is helping us in that capacity.
Brian runs the theater at the Oklahoma City Art Museum; he not only has a good grasp on art films and classics, both of which he shows often at his museum, but he also knows the current industry in Oklahoma and is a part of the DeadCenter Film Festival.
Tell me how this exhibit came into being, how it got started, etc. There were several reasons for the creation of this exhibit. I worked for seven years on the “Encyclopedia of Oklahoma,” and one of my themes was recreation/entertainment.
In that book, I had to leave out several great stories about Oklahoma’s movie stars, behind-the-scenes filmmakers and Oklahoma-related movies.
Also, after Jeff and I worked on the show called “Another Hot Oklahoma Night: A Rock and Roll Exhibit,” we knew that this state’s movie aspect was just as rich — and probably more so.
And third, we’ve been doing exhibits on popular culture with the hope that we’ll be able to get the funding for the OKPOP museum; doing an exhibit like this one also gives us a head start on collecting for that museum and on gathering stories from the people involved.
Our other pop culture shows, apart from those on movies and rock ’n’ roll, have included “Starmaker: Jim Halsey and the Legends of Country Music,” “The Uncanny Adventures of Okie Cartoonists” and “Pickin’ and Grinnin’: Roy Clark, ‘Hee Haw,’ and Country Humor.”
Talk about the newly announced interactive website that’s connected to “Oklahoma @ the Movies.” We’ve recently launched a website — at okhistory.org/movies — where people can view photos of classic or bygone Oklahoma theaters and share their own stories, experiences and photos associated with movie-going. Even in the days and weeks after this site first went up, we had already received some great information from it.