It is with heavy hearts that OETA mourns the loss of B.J. Wexler. He passed away Wednesday, February 10, 2021, at the age of 83. Wexler was the long time host of the OETA Movie Club, OETA’s weekly program featuring beloved films. He received an Emmy® Award for hosting the 2008 season. For thirty years, B.J. was a part of Oklahomans’ Saturday night routine. He provided a fun evening for families and date night opportunities during a time before streaming. He will surely be missed.
Below is a Q&A with B.J. from 2016.
OETA: What are the most common questions viewers ask?
Wexler: Oddly enough it’s about the popcorn! Is it real? Do you really eat all that popcorn during the movie? Answer: Yes and No!
Yes, the popcorn is real. We pop a huge batch for each movie. And honestly “No,” I don’t eat popcorn during the movie and here’s why. I love popcorn. Always have. Every time I try to sneak some during the movie I’m sorry a few minutes later when I get ready to speak on camera. That’s right, those tiny little kernels have a way of stickin’ around your teeth for hours. Try it at home and you’ll see why I have to wait.
OETA: What’s your favorite bit of film trivia?
Wexler: I guess my favorite stories surround the making of Singin’ in the Rain (1952) which starred Gene Kelly, Debbie Reynolds and Donald O’Connor. Singin’ in the Rain was voted the #1 movie musical in American Film History by the American Film Institute and as the #5 Greatest Movie of All Time.
- It was the sixth time the song Singin’ in the Rain was used on the big screen.
- On the day they filmed the famous Singin’ in the Rain number, Gene Kelly was very ill with a 101 temperature. Even though the director was ready to send him home Kelly insisted on trying it. And, EVEN THOUGH HE ADLIBBED MOST OF IT, HE DID IT—IN JUST ONE TAKE, which is what you see on film!!
- Two incredibly talented choreography assistants: Carol Haney and Broadway star Gwen Verdon were brought in to the recording studio to re-create additional ‘tap dancing sounds’ for Gene Kelly. And, because truth is stranger than fiction, they actually had to stand ankle-deep in a drum full of water to match the soggy on-screen action.
- Even though there was a severe water shortage in Culver City the day the sequence was shot, two city blocks, at the studio’s back lot, were equipped with overhead sprays and a tarp, for the night scene, in order for Kelly to perform the title number.
OETA: What is your favorite film?
Wexler: There have been many, many wonderful movies I’ve enjoyed over the years. But, truth be known, my all time favorite is The Jolson Story nominated for six Academy Awards including one for Larry Parks, for Best Actor in a Leading Role. The Jolson Story was a nostalgic tribute to the ‘world’s greatest entertainer,’ the man who loved to sing, as portrayed by Larry Parks, covering the life and career of Al Jolson from the turn century to about 1940.
Long before this movie, I was a huge fan of Al Jolson. The Jolson Story is included in the book “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die” by Steven Jay Schneider. Jolson, of course, made film history way back in 1927 appearing in The Jazz Singer, the first film musical and first feature-length movie with audible dialogue. The actual first feature film with all synchronous dialogue was Light of New York.
OETA: How has OETA Movie Club maintained such popularity, on OETA, throughout the last 25 years?
Wexler: In my opinion, it’s about families. That’s what I’ve heard from our viewers, young and old, through the years. Think about it! Going to the movies has always been something the whole family can do together. Right there, at home, smack dab in the middle of the weekend, there’s a chance to sit down together, as a family, pop a bucket of popcorn and enjoy one of Hollywood’s greatest movies.
I know it’s true because I’ve heard it so often, through the years, especially from young adults. They’d say, “Growing up, we always had a date, on Saturday night, with my parents, to watch the Movie Club on OETA. And, to this day, I still love classic movies thanks to OETA.”
It also pleases us when viewers say, in some cases, even though they have a particular movie in their own home library they still love to watch it with us and learn a little bit more about their favorite movies. Isn’t that nice?
OETA: After 25 years of hosting, what do you love most about Movie Club?
Wexler: This one’s easy! It has been an honor to share my love of classic movies with not only our friends and neighbors here in Oklahoma but our many viewers in the surrounding states as well. Everywhere I travel, here in Oklahoma, I run into so many folks who have favorite movies. I so enjoy hearing about them and what great memories they bring back to them. Thank you! What a joy to know that our “Movie Club” is jam packed with such nice people every Saturday night.
OETA: What is the coolest celebrity photo you have featured on Movie Club?
Wexler: Oh, this is difficult. We’ve been blessed to have received so many, many wonderful celebrity photos over the years. The one that stands out was taken with Elvis Presley, outside the gate of boot camp before he was deployed. A young girl asked her mom to drive her and a friend to the base to see if they might be able to catch a glimpse of him. When they stopped for gas the attendant suggested the best place to wait to see him. Sure enough, Elvis saw them standing outside the gate waving to him. He came over to the fence and said, “You wait right there until I check out and I’ll meet you right back here.” He did and they had the photo to prove it.