New Exhibit and Film Series Show History of Dallas’ ‘Mad Men’ Empire

Some of film and television’s greatest and most beloved gems were filmed in Dallas, including the original RoboCopTV show dallasdirector Arthur Penn Bonnie and Clyde and the epic adventures of Walker, Texas Ranger. But those productions might never have come to Dallas if the commercial, industrial film agency hadn’t built a staff and infrastructure for it.

A new online exhibit from the Texas Archive of the Moving Image (TAMI) titled Mavericks and (M)ad Men: The Legacy of Dallas Industrial Film shows how the advertising agencies and corporate film production offices built during the first half of the 20th century helped make Dallas the “third coast” for major Hollywood film and television productions in later years. The Texas Theater will also host a special screening of these films in conjunction with TAMI on Thursday, March 10.

“Over the years, we’ve received some very good stuff from Dallas,” says Elizabeth Hansen, TAMI’s general manager. “We wanted to highlight that content, but one of the other reasons for that is that when we look at film production in Texas, we see all of these leads that go back to Dallas.”

One of the most important contributors is the Jamieson Film Co., founded by Hugh Jamieson, a businessman who came to Dallas in 1916. Jamieson began his career as a movie theater operator and seller of the first movie players called kinetoscopes by Thomas Edison’s company. .

Jamieson is best known for handling early prints of Abraham Zapruder’s film about the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. He was also one of the most sought after producers, making newsreels for RKO and Paramount Pictures and instructional videos for the federal government and military agencies such as the Federal Security Agency and the US Office of Education.

Jamieson’s ambition can be seen in some of his early work. He was heard saying in a taped interview included in the online exhibit that he shot a profile film of the Southern Methodist University campus while sitting on the wing of an airplane with a hand-cranked camera on the knees.

“They’re passionate about their product,” Dallas film historian, collector, and teacher Gordon K. Smith, who also writes about film for Turner Classic Movies, says of the exhibit. “They tell you a lot about the eras there, what people thought was important, and how the companies saw themselves, whether it was Texas Instruments, Southwest Airlines, or JCPenney.”
Some of the earliest television and film commercials took ambitious production risks, such as including musical numbers like the “Pearl’s a Poppin'” commercials for Pearl Beer or hand-drawn animations like the commercials for Imperial Sugar that lasted early from the 60s.

“I don’t think anyone in our office realized as we were piecing the story together that animation would be a part of it,” Hansen says.

Companies like Jamieson Film, TracyLocke and Bill Stokes Associates were creating an advertising production hub for national products and campaigns while creating a filmmaking community that would attract filmmakers and studios with big-budget productions.

“If you have studios, production offices, and sound stages, it’s much easier to attract production,” says Hansen. “This stuff was born out of Jamieson, who seems to be the central figure in all of this. All of this lays the groundwork for an industry and a framework for these other things to come like Walker, Texas Ranger, [the PBS series] Wishbone and other film productions.”

The medium itself has proven its ability to stand the test of time and reach the age of digitalization, Smith says.

“That’s what’s great about filmmaking,” Smith says. “We still have the ability to watch it and show movies from 90 years ago. Video has outgrown itself in a decade.”

These industrial films may not be seen as works of art by those who see only their financial or marketing purposes, but Hansen says they have significant merit worth preserving and studying.

“There is an artist who still tells a story – whether that story is sold for entertainment or for more practical purposes, she says. “It might not be art with a capital ‘A’, but I think there’s an artistry to be enjoyed in creating this content.”

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