The center stage belonged all to Tulsa back on April 13, 1949. It was estimated more than 100,000 people jam-packed the downtown streets that day.
A grand Technicolor movie depicting the city’s oil-boom heyday was going to make its world premiere showing. Four of the city’s biggest and most fancy theatres were ready to present the movie “Tulsa.”
Still the movie houses Orpheum, Rialto, Ritz and Majestic, presenting showings continuously, couldn’t fit the magnitudes.
What highlighted the carnival-like festivities were all the events going on in addition to the “Tulsa” movie opening.
Heading the happenings was the “Petroleum Industry on Wheels” parade. Due to the historic teaming of the city and the nearby oil fields, the City of Tulsa was certainly living up to its nickname “The Oil Capital of the World.”
Governor Roy J. Turner officially proclaimed it “Tulsa Day” for the movie and parade.
Schools were dismissed and businesses held special discounts. The city was going all out.
Even though the parade offered miles and miles of enormous and the most modern oil-industry machinery and countless politicians and dignitaries, there was another reason for the spectators to push and shove for better curbside viewing.
The loudest applause from the multitudes came as the four main stars appearing in “Tulsa” passed in front of them, each one in a separate convertible,
Beautiful Susan Hayward, he-man Robert Preston, humorous Chill Wills and Pedro Armendariz, a popular Mexican actor, were all in town to help promote advance publicity. Each one rode in the parade waving to fans the entire route.
Despite all the activities and events keeping the Hollywood group busy, something else occurred. The four actors and director Stuart Heisler were not just satisfied visiting Tulsa. They wanted to come to Claremore.
Each of them wanted to visit the Will Rogers Memorial.
Instead of going to Tulsa to see the stars, Claremore fans had Hollywood come to them.
Memorial curator Paula McSpadden Love and husband Bob Love hosted the visitors. Despite no advance notice to the public, a large group of local admirers were also present to welcome them.
Almost 25 years later, Chill Wills would return to Claremore and delight fans while serving as Will Rogers Days parade marshal.
The plot of “Tulsa” dealt with the area’s oil boom of the 1920s. It followed the path how obsession with accumulating wealth and power can lead to corrupt moral character.
Hayward is the daughter of a rancher killed by an oil well blowout. Her revenge against the oil men results in her obtaining drilling rights to prevent them from doing so. In the process, she becomes a bigger wheeler-dealer than any of them.
Usually appearing as an “all-for-himself” character, here Preston is a geologist who wants drillers to limit drilling in order to minimize oil field depletion. The practice would also preserve the ranchers’ grasslands.
While no means outstanding, the storyline does hold the viewer’s attention. The highlight of action comes near the end when a complete oil field goes up in flames.
That scene was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Special Effects.
While modern scenes of downtown Tulsa were filmed for the opening credits, most of the movie was produced in Hollywood. However, the oil field fire was shot here. Gov. Turner owned a 12,600 acre ranch near Sulphur. The oil field fire was staged in a corner of the ranch.
For movie making then (’49), the scenes were impressively dangerous looking. Countless derricks, storage tanks and tool sheds are razed to the ground.
To be honest, “Tulsa” is probably not the grandest movie about the state’s oil start. It certainly is not the only one. Clark Gable and Spencer Tracy teamed for “Boom Town” (1940) and George Scott and Faye Dunaway were good in “Oklahoma Crude” (1973).
For pure entertainment, check out John Wayne’s “In Old Oklahoma” (1943), also known as “War of the Wildcats.”
“Tulsa” would later appear at Claremore’s Yale Theatre and draw good crowds.
Claremore has been visited by other movie and television personalities over the years. Still, there hasn’t been as many at one time as that day back in ‘49; the day Hollywood paid a visit.