Hidden Hollywood- The Photography of John R. Hamilton

Welcome back. The 56th annual Western Heritage Awards which were held last weekend drew a big crowd of true cowboys and how fortunate I was to be there. It was a celebrity packed event with the likes of actor, musician and poet Red Segall, Buck Taylor from Gunsmoke, stunt man for the stars Dean Smith, all of John Wayne’s kids, all of Alan Ladd’s and friends the list goes on. The 2017 Western Heritage Awards was some kind of party for sure and if you missed it mark April 13th and 14th on your calendar for next year. I’ve met the museum’s Board President Lynn Friess and their Treasurer Linda Mitchell Davis along with several other Board members and I can tell you that it’s their behind the scenes hard work and dedication that keeps this event going strong.

Of course when you’re in one of the premiere museums of western art in the world you never know just what you might run into and here’s just one example. Like me many may not know the name John R. Hamilton so here’s a little history about a special exhibit highlighting the work of a man whose friends called him “Remington with a camera.”

John Wayne, Paul Newman, Steve McQueen and even Elvis all let Remington have free rein with his camera in their presence. He captured personal shots behind the scenes on their movie sets. Hamilton took intimate photos of actors like Woody Allen and Client Eastwood not in character but as they were in real life. John Ford filming The Searchers in Monument Valley, Gregory Peck having fun, Frank Sinatra with Sammy Davis, Jr. All these previously unseen photos are on view in a touring exhibit thanks to the John Wayne Enterprises. This is the same John Wayne Enterprises that is working on a cure for cancer as well as many other worthy causes. Presided over by John Wayne’s son Patrick, the organization is making great strides in medicine and as I found out they are also involved in important arts projects and in protecting images and artifacts from our great American past.

So hopefully you might ask just who was this John R. Hamilton whose works had fallen into obscurity before this exhibit? According to Wikipedia, he was born in Philadelphia in 1923 and served as a Sargent in the Marines during World War II. After the war he attended art school in California where he studied photography and started doing magazine work. Shooting on the set of The Searchers with John Wayne was his first job in the film industry and was followed by work on 76 other film. Natalie Wood, Jane Mansfield and Elizabeth Taylor were just a few of the big stars who considered Hamilton to be a friend and trusted his judgement with a camera. Hamilton died in 1997 but his work with all the stars I’ve mentioned, and many more, lives on in his photographs. I personally recommend this exhibit but don’t wait too long, Hollywood and the American West closes on May 14th and when it does it’s gone.

The museum also has one of the finest collections of western art anywhere with dozens of rotating exhibits that you could never cover in a day. It’s just one ticket to see everything and if you become a member you can come and go as many times as you want. Their membership is also reciprocal with many other museums including Woolaroc. What a deal, what a place and what a weekend! See you there for sure next year.

Till next time, I’ll see ya down the road….

Daughter of Dawn: A Fascinating Silent Film is Rediscovered

Welcome back. Over the years, I’ve traveled with many Native American Indians, Delaware, Cherokee, Osage, Comanche and Sioux just to name a few, and I have enjoyed listening to stories about their ancestors.

At museums like Gilgrease in Tulsa and Woolaroc here in Bartlesville you can see photos and paintings of many Indians along with clothing and artifacts from their daily lives but until recently most of the known film footage about Indians was created in Hollywood and depicted them in a one dimensional way to fit a particular story line. The clothing, the tepees and most of the actors all came from Hollywood.
Always on the lookout for an interesting piece of the history, this past week I learned about something that grabbed my interest. The year was somewhere around 1919 and the film industry was just getting started. It was around this time that director Nobert Myles from the Texas Film Company got an idea. Why not shoot a movie about Indian life and culture not with big name stars but with real people in an all Indian cast? It would be a drama with romance, buffalo hunts and fighting. Myles would film it in the Wichita Mountains of Oklahoma, hiring over three hundred Kiowa and Comanche people as actors. These people brought their own tepees, horses and other personal items, built an entire village in the Wichitas and then went about their daily lives, observing their own traditions while Myles filmed different scenes. The shooting wrapped up in 1920 and the movie was a true gem which reflected the real lives of Indian people. All of the actors dressed in their own traditional clothing, hunted buffalo as they had for hundreds of years and danced to the drums of their ancestors. The story was titled Daughter of Dawn and the central character Dawn was the daughter of an actual chief of the Kiowas who also had a role. The movie was shown in only a handful of theaters including one in Tulsa and then tragedy struck. The details are lost to time but the print disappeared and for over ninety years everyone involved was baffled presuming that it had been lost. Then in 2013 the film reappeared and the Oklahoma Historical Society was able to purchase it. They restored the multi reel silent film and commissioned a musical score to accompany it.

It’s an unbelievable story and you can learn all about it in an exhibit at the Oklahoma History Center in Oklahoma City. The Center is located at 800 Nazih Zuhdi Drive and friends not only can you view the film here but you can also see over 2,000 artifacts all related to the history of Oklahoma. The exhibits are housed in a beautiful 215,000 s.f. state of the art facility and the Center is affiliated with the Smithsonian Museum system so they are able to exhibit items from the Smithsonian’s huge collections as well. Bob Blackburn is the Director of the Center and as the author of 18 books on Oklahoma history this is a guy who knows his stuff. It’s definitely a must see place and well worth a drive to Oklahoma City.

While you’re there the National Cowboy Hall of Fame and Western Heritage Museum is also in Oklahoma City and they have a wide range of art and artifacts on display related to both western and Native American history. I also just learned that starting this Friday, in conjunction with the Western Heritage Awards, they will be having a big Navajo rug sale and auction. It’s all adding up to be quite weekend at the museum and I hope to see you there.

Till next time I’ll see ya down the road….

Spring Events Are Coming!

Welcome back. The prehistoric Spiro people, well if you’ve never heard of them they’re new to me too but these were a people who lived right here in Oklahoma back somewhere between 800 A.D. and 1450 A.D. How do we know about this you may wonder? They left the proof of their existence in the form of twelve great mounds, each full of cultural artifacts and objects related to their daily life. Chairman Dan Reeves with the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Center in Oklahoma City was recently quoted as saying “When they discovered this place (Spiro mounds) it was like the opening of King Tut’s tomb.” Friends, according to Dan and many others involved in archaeology this is the most important find in North America and the museum is currently organizing a major exhibition of artifacts from the mounds which will open in 2019. Officials are expecting people from around the world to attend so it’s going to be quite a big deal and a must see.
Another big deal is coming up on April 21st and 22nd when friends of the museum gather for the annual Wrangler Awards. As I mentioned last week, this is always a fun filled weekend and there’s still time to get tickets so give ‘em a call at (405) 478-2250 for all the info and I hope to see you there.

If you’re looking for an event a little closer to home with ties to history dating back before statehood there’s another gathering of fine folks coming up on May 13th that might fit your fancy. It’s held on Mother’s Day weekend and what better way to celebrate than with a nice dinner, music from western swing band Gypsy Twang with special guest Les Gilliam, the Oklahoma balladeer and exciting live and silent auctions. Yes, it’s time for Elder Care’s The Good, The Bad & The Barbeque out at the legendary Cross Bell Ranch. This is a place where cowboy history started in Oklahoma and the Barbeque is your chance to walk the same ground that legends walked. You can just imagine what it must have like when Gene and Kathleen Mullendore were building their three hundred thousand acre empire. The Good, The Bad & The Barbeque began nineteen years ago to raise funds for Elder Care’s many programs and services and this is still the only time that the ranch is open to the general public. For more information call Elder Care at (918) 336-8500 or visit www.eldercarebbq.com.

Looking for inspiration? On May 11th the E/E is hosting a big party at the Hilton Garden Inn to honor students from throughout the region and give out some very nice prizes to these deserving kids. OU greats Joe Washington and Greg Pruitt will be in town for the event and it’s shaping up to be a special night in Bartlesville. With limited seating I’d call the E/E sooner rather than later.
Another big event coming to Bartlesville in June is of course OK Mozart. The lineup of entertainment they just released includes many big name acts that you would expect to see in New York City but one caught my eye a little bit more than the others because I’ve had the opportunity to hang out quite a bit with him over the years. Michael Martin Murphy’s name is no secret to cowboys. A singer and guitar player, Michael has been traveling down the road many years longer than I have and like me he’s still going strong and sounding as good as ever. Murphy is always at the Wrangler Awards and I’m glad to hear he’s coming to Bartlesville. Call the OK Mozart box office at (918)366-9800 for tickets and information.

Till next time I’ll see ya down the road……

Wichita, Kansas The Air Capitol of the World

Welcome back. From Wagner to Claremore to Grove to Tulsa to Wichita and then Topeka, I know Johnny Cash, Glen Campbell or was it Bob Wills someone must have written a song about a similar trip. This weekend I’m headed to Wichita and I’m excited. For our generation Wichita is known for its big aviation industries. It’s no secret that since 1929 in the aviation business this town has been referred to as the ‘Air Capital of the World.” Cessna, Stearman, Beechcraft, Boeing, even the U.S.military and the famous B-29 bombers all have history here. The aviation industry got its start in 1914 with the discovery of oil and gas in the area when the wealth created from that industry led to investments in aviation. During that time Wichita saw massive growth with twelve refineries either operating or under construction. The aviation industry was growing fast too and for this young town I’m now headed for there was no turning back. But you regular readers know me, I want to know some of the old stuff about the early years in Wichita’s history.
Around 1541, close to five hundred years ago, a Spanish expedition discovered what would be called the Wiehita people in the region. This part of the country was later claimed by France until the 1803 Louisiana Purchase. In 1854 the area became known as the Kansas territory and finally in 1861 became the state of Kansas.
Wichita started as a trading post established by Jesse Chisholm for the cowboys driving cattle up from Texas and when the railroad came through this little settlement soon was full of wild cowboys and dozens of entertainment venues. According to dozens of books it took the famed gunman Wyatt Earp to settle the town down.
The 1870s brought three major train lines into town as more and more Texas cattle were driven along the Chisholm Trail. Back then most just called the town Cowtown because of all the cattle coming through but it’s not just cows anymore. With world class sports complexes and museums, corporate headquarters and a great public transportation system, I think you’ll see why I’m looking forward to my visit to the town where John Wayne made Jesse Chisholm famous in the movies. I’ll bring you more on my Wichita visit next week.
If you are looking for real cowboy history put April 21st and 22nd on your calendar for a yearly party that has become a tradition with me. It’s called the Western Heritage Awards Weekend and it’s held in Oklahoma City at the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum. Celebrities you bet there will be plenty as well as lots of good food and entertainment throughout the weekend. This party is a must but if you can’t come Saturday for the black tie gala be sure to come for the big Friday afternoon get together. Cowboy clothes and your best western bling is the attire for this great mingling event in a one of a kind venue. I truly guarantee you’ll like this one!
Till next time I’ll see ya down the road….


Grand Lake and the Pensacola Dam

One of my favorite places in Oklahoma…….

Welcome back. Fiddler Jana Jae from the T.V. series Hee Haw, hot rod designer and builder Daryl Starbird and musician, comic and television personality Roy Clark are all from the Grove, Oklahoma area. Grove is my destination this Thursday night where I will be showing my film for a fundraiser for the town library. Thousands of tourists flock to Grove every year and it’s easy to see why but first a little history about the area.
Named for a grove of trees, the town has been around since before statehood, first as a small community in Indian Territory. A post office was established in 1888 and town leaders officially incorporated the settlement in the 1890s.
According to the Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture, the first proposal for building a dam for hydroelectric power on the nearby Grand (lower Neosho) River came from a Cherokee tribal member named Henry Holderman in 1907 but it wasn’t until 1938 that construction began on what would be called the Pensacola Dam. Construction was funded by the WPA (Works Progress Administration) during the depression and the depression era workers hired by the WPA poured concrete 24 hours a day. The dam was completed in 1940 and if you haven’t heard of this engineering and construction wonder it is the largest multiple arch dam in the world. Grand Lake of the Cherokees or simply Grand Lake was created by the flooding of over 43,000 acres by the dam.
With a surface area of over 59,000 acres and 1,300 miles of shoreline, as you can imagine this is a popular destination for recreation. Along with all manner of water sports, nowadays big resorts, great restaurants, marinas and million dollar private homes surround the lake but bass fishing is the biggest draw for visitors. The bass fishing is so good that the prestigious Bassmaster Classic competition has been held here twice, one in 2013 and again in 2016.
Another interesting fact is that nearby Lake Hudson which is another popular fishing lake and was also constructed by the WPA, and Grand Lake are the only two major lakes in Oklahoma which allow you to build a home right on the water’s edge making housing there even more attractive to weekenders and retirees. Grove, Disney, Langley and Bernice are all scenic small towns well worth a stop during a leisurely drive around the lake.
As for me, it sometimes seems that the road doesn’t get any shorter. This weekend I’ll be in Tulsa for the largest gun show in the world followed by a long weekend in Topeka, Kansas and then another in Wichita with R&K guns shows and along the way there will be several library fundraisers all in different communities.
If you’re looking for history you need not travel as I do because on April 13th at 5:30 PM the Washington County Historical Society’s featured speaker is Dr. Bob Blackburn who is the Executive Director of the Oklahoma Historical Society. Bob knows his stuff and is sure to deliver a talk that everyone will enjoy. I know this because I have heard him speak several times before and I guarantee you will like him too. Call (918) 534-0215 for more info.
Till next time I’ll see ya down the road……………………..