Most people would guess that an historical accounting of cinema shot in the Sooner State would just about fill a pamphlet, but John Wooley has filled a revelatory and richly readable 309-page book with facts about rolling film in red dirt country.
“Shot in Oklahoma: A Century of Sooner State Cinema” reveals a long record of movies filmed in the Land of the Red Man, dating as far back as 1904. That was the year inventor Thomas Edison himself, the American movie studio pioneer, sent a film crew to Oklahoma’s 101 Ranch near Ponca City, seeking to capture authentic Western atmosphere on celluloid.
Many people who’ve lived in Oklahoma for any significant length of time might recall that Francis Ford Coppola brought young unknown actors such as Tom Cruise, Matt Dillon, Mickey Rourke and Diane Lane to Tulsa to film “The Outsiders” and “Rumblefish” (both released in 1983), based on novels by Oklahoma author S.E. Hinton. They might also be aware that director Barry Levinson brought Cruise back to Oklahoma, along with Dustin Hoffman, to shoot scenes for the Oscar-winning “Rain Man” in 1988, and that the big-budget disaster movie “Twister” (1996), with Bill Paxton and Helen Hunt, was shot in Wakita, Guthrie and several other state locations. And that’s about all that most folks know.
But meticulously researched details of many older and/or lesser-known features shot in the Sooner state make for fascinating and informative reading, especially for film buffs and movie trivia fans who live here.
The book’s cover, for example, is taken from a poster hawking a low-budget 1950 Western called “Rock Island Trail,” a Republic picture shot mostly in Hollywood, with some outdoor action scenes filmed along a stretch of abandoned railroad track near McAlester. Its star, Forrest Tucker, is pictured leaping from the front of a locomotive with a six-gun in his hand and a savage look on his face. Great cover. Enhances the book’s title perfectly.
Roy Rogers and Dale Evans filmed 1946′s “Home in Oklahoma” around the Arbuckle Mountains, and Roy and Dale actually came back to the Sooner State and got married on a cattle ranch in the area the very next year.
I was intrigued that a Western project called “Osage,” starring, among others, Tulsa Western swing ace Johnnie Lee Wills and actress Noel Neill, who would later play Lois Lane on the first “Superman” TV series, was shot in part around Pawhuska, but never completed.
I was surprised to learn that parts of the wildcat oil boom drama “Tulsa” (1949), starring Robert Preston and Susan Hayward, were shot on the outskirts of Oklahoma City, and even a small bit of John Ford’s 1940 film version of John Steinbeck’s “The Grapes of Wrath” — a book vehemently denounced by Sooner citizens and politicians alike for its depiction of Dust Bowl Okies — was quietly filmed around the Beckham County courthouse in Sayre.
Fun stuff from Wooley, one of the most prolific and popular of Oklahoma writers, a former Tulsa World entertainment writer, novelist and author of many music- and movie-related books and articles rooted in Okie culture. “Shot in Oklahoma” is published in paperback by the University of Oklahoma Press with a list price of $16.95.
— Gene Triplett