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Oklahoma exhibit spotlights state's roll in moviemaking

Oklahoma History Center's movies exhibit showcases 73 movies made in Oklahoma and other film history.
BY MAX NICHOLS Modified: October 1, 2012 at 11:04 am •  Published: October 1, 2012

When I think back to movies I have loved and were filmed at least partially in Oklahoma, “Grapes of Wrath” always comes to mind. Filmed in 1940 in Sayre and McAlester, it brought to life the Great Depression, which had a great influence on my boyhood and my approach to hard work and life.

I also recall memorable scenes from “Around the World in Eighty Days,” (Lawton, 1956); “Dillinger” (Enid, Nash and Oklahoma City, 1973) and “Twister” (Waurika, Wakita, Ponca City, Pauls Valley, Norman, Maysville and Guthrie, 1996).

Now, the Oklahoma History Center, in conjunction with Tulsa-based OKPOP, is presenting “Oklahoma @the Movies,” a dramatic 8,000-square-foot exhibit that features Oklahoma's role in filming movies.

Oklahoma has hosted the production of upward of 73 movies from “The Daughter of Dawn,” filmed in 1920 in the Wichita Mountains, to “August: Osage County” (Pawhuska and Bartlesville, 2012), according to Jill Simpson, director of the Oklahoma Film and Music Office. The locations include 35 Oklahoma cities and towns.

“Encouraging people to visit Oklahoma sites where movies have been made accomplishes two goals,” said Bob Blackburn, executive director of the Oklahoma Historical Society. “It promotes tourism and the shared memory of movies to open doors to history for a wide range of people from all parts of the world.”

The History Center exhibit also explores films about cowboys and westerns, American Indians and Hollywood, African American movies filmed in Oklahoma, the film industry in Oklahoma and the “Oklahoma image” on screen, said Larry O'Dell of the Oklahoma Historical Society staff.

“Oklahoma's vast number of actors provides the magic of the ‘on screen' section of the exhibit,” said O'Dell. “These range from early cinema heroes such as Tom Mix and Will Rogers to current stars, who tell hundreds of stories.”

Many of the most important movies produced in Oklahoma were shot in the Tulsa area, said John Wooley, who wrote “Shot in Oklahoma.” His book, published by the University of Oklahoma Press, was named Outstanding Book on Oklahoma History for 2011 by the Oklahoma Historical Society.

Wooley pointed to a trio of movies made in Tulsa from books by S.E. Hinton of Tulsa during the early 1980s. These included “Tex,” (1982), “The Outsiders” (1983) and “Rumble Fish” (1983). Matt Dillon starred in all three movies. Also starring in “The Outsiders” were C. Thomas Howell, Ralph Macchio, Patrick Swayze, Emilio Estevez, Rob Lowe and Tom Cruise — young actors who went on to “considerable fame,” Wooley said.

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