Historical society trying to preserve old movies

Wednesday, June 14th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) -- In 1904, Thomas Edison sent a film crew tothe open plains of Indian Territory to film a movie at the 101 Ranch in Ponca City.

The crew shot the movie, "Brush Between Cowboys and Indians." It was pretty rough compared with today's special effects-laden blockbusters.

The camera angle never changes, there aren't any close-ups and of course there is no sound. But considering the movie was made only 15 years after the motion picture camera was patented, it'spretty sophisticated.

Edison's movie was the first to be filmed in the state, even though Oklahoma didn't officially become a state until 1907.

Bill Moore, motion picture and broadcast archivist at the Oklahoma Historical Society, is trying to collect, categorize and file as many of the films, home movies and newsreels that detail Oklahoma's history.

"Preservation of Oklahoma history is the main goal of this organization," he said. "The great thing about film is that it'sbeen here all along."

Moore has already collected copies of several early Oklahoma film pioneers, such as Bennie Kent and Arthur Ramsey. Kent was a still photographer from Chandler known for capturing the images of American Indians in Oklahoma. He got his start in the film industry after he filled in for a camera operator who stormed off a movie set at the 101 Ranch.

Kent went on to form the Oklahoma Natural Mutoscene Company, probably Oklahoma's first movie company, with a few partners,including Oklahoma lawman Bill Tillman.

Ramsey was the son of an Oklahoma oil magnate. His father bought all his equipment in Hollywood and financed Ramsey's films.

Ramsey filmed Oklahoma throughout the 1930s. He shot films for oil companies and sold some of his work to newsreel companies. His films contain interviews with prominent Oklahomans of the time,such as former governors E. W. Marland and "Alfalfa" Bill Murray.

Home movies are just as important historically as the earliest films, Moore said, even though you may think no one wants to see your family.

Researchers and historians look at the old cars, the clothes and the historical buildings and settings long since vanished that are contained in home movies. Moore said probably half of Ramsey's and Kent's films have deteriorated or decayed. That's why the effort to preserve these movies is so important, he said.

"I hope to make it where Oklahomans trust the Oklahoma Historical Society with the care of their films," he said.

The collection process is in the early stages, he said. Moore is viewing and logging the reels of 16mm and 35mm films that are already in the climate-controlled archives at the OHS.

He also is contacting other repositories and historical collections to get an idea of what they have. Moore wants the OHS archive to become the starting point for anyone looking for films with Oklahoma ties.

He said if he knows what other collections have, even if he doesn't have the film, he can point people in the right direction. The Will Rogers collection in Claremore, the collections from state agencies such as the Department of Tourism and from prominent Oklahoma companies could prove as useful resources, he said.

"I want to make this a centralized location when they're looking for film footage on Oklahoma," he said.

Moore said he hopes there will eventually be a film display in the new OHS building.

"I'd like for visitors to come in here and see footage from anytime in the past," he said. "They could see it happen right before their eyes."

One of the joys of his job, Moore said, is the unexpected treasurers he finds in old films. That happened recently when Moore was scouring through the collection of Haskell Pruett.

Pruett was a professor at Oklahoma A&M College and shot film as a hobby during the mid-1920s through the 1950s. Most of Pruett's films were agricultural in nature, Moore said.

But on one reel of film, Moore discovered footage that Pruett had shot while in Norman. The footage showed the construction of four buildings that still stand on the University of Oklahoma campus.

Moore also discovered footage of Works Progress Administration workers pouring sidewalks at OU.

For a history buff, the job is a neat as it sounds, Moore said. While viewing Oklahoma's historical past, he is ensuring it will be there in the future.

To contact Moore and the Oklahoma Historical Society, call 405-522-6307 or write 2100 N. Lincoln Blvd, Oklahoma City, OK, 73105-4997.