Tulsa on Film
Tulsa stars as the "Oil Capitol of the World" in this Hollywood drama that captures the spirit of Tulsa's most formative era.

A crowd of 100,000 Tulsans crowded downtown to watch a parade lasting 2 1/2 hours preceding the world premier of the movie "Tulsa". The Hollywood stars of the film, Rita Hayworth and Robert Preston and Chill Wills, were present, and the premier was shown simultaneously on the screens of Tulsa's four main downtown movie theaters.

Tulsans loved the movie. This was less true for people in other cities. The box office was disappointing. The film lost money for MGM. Film critics were also not enthused with the movie.

As a pop-culture artifact, however, it captures the spirit of Tulsa when our city was at its peak as the “Oil Capital of the World” …a title that would start slipping away just a few years after the debut of the movie.

Its producer was Walter Wanger, was one of the most respected in Hollywood. His movies were noted for containing socially conscious themes. In “Tulsa” there were two themes well ahead of their time, at least from the Oklahoma perspective. One was feminism. The protagonist of the movie is a woman. Perhaps Hollywood was able to imagine a female oilman, but it was viewed as a highly fictional proposition in Oklahoma. The second theme was environmentalism. At the time when this movie was made the petroleum industry's concerns about the environmental impacts of drilling were modest, at best. In those days it was common to see open sludgepits in the oil fields for holding waste by-products of drilling. These sludgepits were the size of a farm pond and chemical fumes fouled the air as the sludge evaporated. The pits were standard practice during this period of the oil industry.

The themes of feminism and environmentalism undoubtedly amused the oilmen of Oklahoma in 1949. Little did they imagine...

Prof. Rodger A. Randle
This movie is in the public domain.

OU Center for Studies in Democracy and Culture

Prof. Rodger A. Randle, Director
The University of Oklahoma Tulsa
4502 East 41st Street, Tulsa, Oklahoma 74135
E-mail: randle@ou.edu