In Jack Frank’s version of Oklahoma City, the letter A stands for Ann’s Chicken Fry House; L for Leo’s Barbecue; and H, well, that stands for hippopotamus.
A documentary filmmaker from Tulsa, Frank released a film last year titled “Tulsa A to Z.” This year, he focused his lens farther down the turnpike for “Oklahoma City A to Z,” which will air at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 1, on OETA.
As Jack Frank Productions, he has tackled subjects such as Tulsa’s downtown churches and the many art deco buildings scattered throughout the city. He had not exhausted material in Tulsa, but based on the response to “Tulsa A to Z” ” highlighting points of interest around town that coincided with each letter of the alphabet ” he knew Oklahoma City had a similar story to tell.
Rather than highlight the obvious, like B for Bricktown, Frank looked for more off-the-beaten-path places that made Oklahoma City unique.
Enter the hippopotamus.
In 1953, then-10-year-old Gayla Peevey of Ponca City sang the song, “I Want A Hippopotamus for Christmas.” The song became a hit, and the Oklahoma City Zoo used it in a fundraising campaign to buy a hippo. Frank tracked Peevey down in San Diego to interview her.
As he made his way around the OKC metro area, he eschewed business leaders and bureaucrats, and instead interviewed regular people. At each stop, he asked what they thought the next letter should represent.
“It’s all about making people appreciate where they live,” he said. “I love peeling away the layers and exposing different hidden charms that make Oklahoma City unique.”
Frank found a valuable resource in Western Trail Trading Post owner John Dunning, who has a treasure trove of more than 8,000 historic Oklahoma City pictures and postcards. There are photos of buildings razed by urban renewal projects: long-closed drive-in movie theaters, hotels and amusement parks, including Belle Isle Park, Delmar Gardens, Springlake and Wedgewood.
Other old favorites around town are featured, but perhaps not where people would expect. B.C. Clark Jewelers was a front-runner for B ” having been in business here since 1892 ” but Frank took another direction and assigned the family owned jeweler J, “for their Christmas jingle,” he said.
After broadcast, Frank makes the films available on DVD, giving him the chance to recoup some of his costs.
For him, the shift to Oklahoma City was a natural progression in his work, based on his love for all things Oklahoma. He has not abandoned his beloved Tulsa, and has no current plans to shoot more in Oklahoma City, but says he is always on the lookout for interesting people and places with a story to tell. In making the films, Frank narrates, but does not appear on camera.
“These shows are not about me,” he said. “I don’t want to be in it because that’s not what I’m there for. The ordinary people are the stars of these shows.” “Kelley Chambers
Photo: Jack Frank
Photo Credit: Mark Hancock