John Ur introduces us to the "trigger word" and challenges you not to break into song during his visit to Oklahoma.
On my mother’s side of the family, we have trigger words. It's a running joke between my grandmother, aunt, and my mother and I that has been carried down the line. At any random point in conversation, if you were to say a trigger word, the other person will launch into at least one line of song. So, if you were to say, mention the word “spoonful” around mom, she will immediately jump in with: “A spoon full of sugar helps the medicine go down." At that point, I usually shake my head in disappointment at myself for not seeing it coming.
I can thank Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein for writing the musical, Oklahoma! We collectively can thank former governor George Nigh for making the title tune Oklahoma’s state song. And I can thank my mother for giving me a life with the trigger word, “Oklahoma.” As soon as the state is mentioned, she will round her lips and raise her eyebrows and proceed into the song and a little two-step dance:
“OOOOOOOOooooooklahoma where the wind comes sweepin’ down the plain."
The classic image of Oklahoma, besides the Broadway cowboys with gleaming teeth and bandannas around their necks, can be derived from John Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath—a family of Okies in their overloaded truck driving off through the dust looking for work in California. John Ford adapted this image of Tom Joad and his family to screen back in 1940. Some scenes were shot in Sayre and McAlester, OK, but much of the rest of the film was shot in New Mexico, California, and on sets built on studio lots. (Tom Joad is also a trigger word for Bruce Springsteen’s “Ghost of Tom Joad” in my book.)
But the dustbowl depicted in the film is a bit dated. Right now Oklahoma is in the midst of promoting the geographic diversity in its ten different land regions: the Ozark Plateau, the Prairie Plains, Ouachita Mountains, Sandstone Hills, Arbuckle Mountains, Wichita Mountains, Red River Valley, Red Beds Plains, Gypsum Hills, and the High Plains. It's also working to promote it's Native American history (modern day OK was where the infamous Trail of Tears began) as well as it’s burgeoning wine industry—according to a friend who recently took a vineyard tour while visiting.
But before the state began ramping up it’s production of vino, it
was able to attract a top-notch director to shoot two movies in the
city of Tulsa. Back in 1982-83, Francis Ford Coppola, the celebrated
director of Apocalypse Now, The Conversation, and The Godfather (I, II, and III), made two films adapted from S.E. Hinton novels: Rumble Fish and The Outsiders. Since Rumble Fish covers many of the same type of locations—streets and alleys, boarded up buildings—as Outsiders, I’ll keep my coverage to the latter.
S.E. Hinton grew up around Tulsa and set both novels about hard, tough boys around the city. With the urging of a middle school librarian and her class, Coppola was turned on to The Outsiders novel and decided to make the film. The young cast included up and coming stars Emilio Estevez, Tom Cruise, Ralph Macchio, Patrick Swayze and Matt Dillon (who would also star in Rumble Fish). The film is set in the 1950s when the preppy, rich kids and the poor kids were fighting. The preppies, aka the Socs (short for Socials), were trying to keep the “white trash” out, while the greasers, aka the Outsiders, were trying to prove they had a place in society. The feeling of greasers during that time could be summed up in Dallas’s (Matt Dillon's) comment in a drive out towards the countryside: “What do they do in this place for fun anyway? Play checkers?”
If you’re to pass through Tulsa today, you should still be able to see the Admiral Twin Drive-In Theatre, the location of some of the opening scenes of the movie, and Crutchfield Park, the location of a fight between some socs and two greasers—Ponyboy (C. Thomas Howell) and Johnny (Macchio). There’s also a scene where Ponyboy and Two-Bit (Estevez) chat out on the street. In the background is an art deco landmark—the Boston Avenue Methodist Church.
Watching The Outsiders today makes Oklahoma seem almost as dated as its dustbowl days. But although the images of the state seem eternally linked to dust or horses, it seems that new vines are sprouting all over. These may be the golden years for Oklahoma. In the immortal words of Johnny on his deathbed, “Stay Gold, Ponyboy, Stay Gold."
Also Recommended: Far and Away, Rain Man
Read More: Check out this site for other films shot in Oklahoma. Some nice shots of Oklahoma can also be found at the the OK Film and Music Commission site. Previously on CRT: Kansas, Nebraska, The Dakotas, Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, Utah, Nevada, Idaho, Washington, Oregon, California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas.
Photo: Marvin908 via the Intelligent Travel Flickr pool