Who knew that the pretty blonde woman who comes face to face with Mrs. Bates in the climactic scene of “Psycho” was little Vera Jean Ralston of Boise City?
Or that the neurotic whiner who played Rock Hudson's buddy in all those Doris Day comedies was Arthur Leonard Rosenberg, from Tulsa?
Or that the guy who guided Peter Sellers to international stardom in the “Pink Panther” series was William Blake Crump, also from Tulsa?
Or that the blacklisted screenwriter who won an Oscar for “A Place in the Sun” and a posthumous Academy Award for “The Bridge Over the River Kwai” grew up in McAlester?
The first three are better known as actress Vera Miles, actor Tony Randall and director Blake Edwards, and the beleaguered screenwriter was Michael Wilson, who wrote or co-wrote some of the most critically revered works in film history, including “It's a Wonderful Life,” “Friendly Persuasion,” “Lawrence of Arabia” and the original “Planet of the Apes.”
Oklahoma movie buffs can learn all this and more about their state's major contributions to the film art and industry when the Oklahoma History Center opens its latest pop-culture exhibit, “Oklahoma @ the Movies,” on Tuesday.
“It's all about Oklahomans on the screen, Oklahomans behind the screen, the image of Oklahoma in the movies and going to the movies in Oklahoma,” said exhibit curator and Director of Collections Larry O'Dell as he stood in the middle of a vast roomful of memorabilia, artifacts, props and vintage equipment from the world of filmmaking.
One of the first sights a visitor encounters upon entering the museum's Inasmuch exhibit hall is a strip of red carpet leading into the “Awards Section,” where five Oscar statuettes are displayed in a lighted glass case.
There's the Best Actress trophy won by Tulsa native Phylis Lee Isley — better known as Jennifer Jones — for her work in the title role of “The Song of Bernadette” in 1943.
That Best Supporting Actor Oscar belonged to Walters-born Emmett Evan Heflin Jr. — aka Van Heflin — for his turn in the 1942 crime thriller “Johnny Eager” as the intellectual, alcoholic best friend of Robert Taylor's title character.
Blake Edward's honorary Oscar for his body of work as a writer, director and producer is on view, and so is Oklahoma City-based producer Gray Frederickson's Best Picture award for “The Godfather Part II.”
And perhaps the most interesting Oscar is that of screenwriter Michael Wilson.
“He won the Oscar for ‘A Place in the Sun' (1951, starring Montgomery Clift and Elizabeth Taylor) and then he got blacklisted,” O'Dell said. “He kept it with a black hood on (his Oscar statuette). His daughter loaned it to us and so we're going to have a black hood on it, and then tell the story of his blacklisting. So that's gonna be fun.”
On the scene
The glittering centerpiece of the exhibit is the colorful, neon-lighted State Theater facade, complete with towering 20-foot sign, glowing marquee announcing “Express Employment Professionals Present ‘Oklahoma!'” and a glassed-in box office occupied by a life-size video of an actress in an old-fashioned theater usherette uniform, giving an overview of what's about to happen inside.
Visitors can then actually enter the theater and find themselves on a meticulously recreated set from the 1955 Rodgers and Hammerstein film “Oklahoma!” Here, they can don pieces of costumes and play a scene from the movie, reading from copies of the script, while a camera allows everyone to watch themselves on a monitor screen.
Another big attraction in this “in front of the screen” section is a scaled-down drive-in theater with seats resembling the front and rear end of a 1965 Mustang convertible. Here, visitors can watch a documentary about drive-ins by Oklahoma author John Wooley, told through the eyes of the late B-movie actor and producer John Ashley, who was born in Kansas City, Mo., but lived in Tulsa.
“He started off doing ‘Dragstrip Girl' and he was always the second lead in the ‘Beach Blanket Bingo'-type of movies with Annette Funicello,” O'Dell said. “And then he went on to do late '60s, early '70s horror movies, kind of the Roger Corman type of stuff. He had that career and he owned three or four drive-ins in the state.”
The drive-in show comes complete “with a really nice, original intermission segment stuck in the middle of it,” said David Davis, co-curator and Director of Exhibits. “Dancing popcorn and hot dogs. It's really neat.”
Theaters on display
Historic Oklahoma theaters also are featured in the moviegoing section, including the Coleman in Miami, the Poncan in Ponca City, and many of the ornate golden-age marquees that brightened the state's downtown streets. Vintage projectors, an early 3-D lens and other equipment also will be on view.
In the “behind the screen” segment of the exhibit, visitors learn about such significant film industry figures such as cinematographer and Jones native Haskell Bus Jones (“Teacher's Pet,” “I Married a Monster From Outer Space”), Lone Wolf-born film editor Elmo Williams (“High Noon,” “The Longest Day”), Anadarko novelist and screenwriter Jim Thompson (“The Killing,” “Paths of Glory”), Oklahoma City native and public relations executive Stan Rosenfield (George Clooney, Robert De Niro), Tulsa author S.E. Hinton (“The Outsiders,” “Rumble Fish”), Tulsa-born art director K.K. Barrett (“Being John Malkovich,” “Where the Wild Things Are”) and actor-turned-director and Duncan native Ron Howard (“Far and Away,” “A Beautiful Mind”).
Other intriguing off-camera exhibits focus on the late Mary Blair, of McAlester, who was a concept artist for Walt Disney on such films as “Alice in Wonderland,” “Peter Pan” and “Cinderella,” and Watonga's Clarence Nash, who was the original voice of Donald Duck.
The “on screen” portion of the exhibit will showcase Oklahoma's galaxy of stars, from early heroes such as one-time 101 Ranch hand Tom Mix and Claremore's all-time favorite son Will Rogers; to present-day stars such as former University of Oklahoma drama student Ed Harris, Tulsans Jeanne Tripplehorn, Alfre Woodard, Mary Kay Place and Tim Blake Nelson; Ryan's Chuck Norris and Shawnee-born Brad Pitt.
In between, there are exhibits on such Golden Age stars as Joan Crawford, who was born in San Antonio, Texas, but spent several years of her youth in Lawton; William “Hopalong Cassidy” Boyd, who was born in Ohio but raised in Tulsa; former Oklahoma City University student Cathy O'Donnell; Dale Robertson, of Harrah; Ben Johnson, of Foraker; and James Garner, of Norman.
The exhibit also will examine the Western film genre, the depiction of American Indians in Hollywood films, African American movies filmed in Oklahoma, the film industry in Oklahoma, and the history of Oklahoma's image on screen in movies such as “The Grapes of Wrath.”
Most of these stories will be told on small TV screens throughout the exhibit.
Like the Oklahoma History Center's previous pop-culture exhibit, “Another Hot Oklahoma Night: A Rock and Roll Story,” “Oklahoma @ the Movies” typifies the kinds of exhibits that would be housed in The OKPOP, the Oklahoma Historical Society's proposed museum of Oklahoma popular culture that would be located in the Brady Arts District of downtown Tulsa.
“For a state that's only been around a hundred years, has a population a tenth of Texas, if you look at what this state has been able to contribute culturally by population, there's not another state that compares,” said Jeff Moore, director of the OKPOP Project.
“And people don't know that. You talk about quality of life issues, you talk about reasons to move somewhere because there's a cool gestalt about a place, Oklahoma has that. We just don't advertise it. ... Oklahoma has the cool factor. We just need to capitalize on it.”
“Oklahoma @ the Movies,” which will remain on view until mid-2014, is made possible by the Inasmuch Foundation, Express Employment Professionals and Distinctly Oklahoma, with additional support from the Oklahoma Film and Music Office, Oklahoma City Museum of Art, Oklahoma City Community College, Oklahoma City University, Dead Center Film Festival, Harkins Theatre, Circle Cinema and the Will Rogers Memorial.
IF YOU GO
‘Oklahoma @ the Movies'
When: Opens 10 a.m. Tuesday. Museum hours are 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Saturday.
Where: Oklahoma History Center, 800 Nazih Zuhdi Drive.
Admission: adults $7, seniors $5, students $4, children 5 and under, veterans and active military, free.