SPERRY — You may have seen the news that a former service station — it was used as a film site during the making of “The Outsiders” — is going to be refurbished to past glory.
Classical gas? It’s a nod to the past, but the hope is it will impact a town’s future.
The service station, which has been out of operation for more than 30 years, is in Sperry.
A town in northern Tulsa County with a population of about 1,300 people, Sperry is like many other map dots that aren’t necessarily on the beaten path. Sperry would like to be visited by outsiders and maybe a way to do that is by capitalizing on a connection to “The Outsiders.”
“We think that it’s going to bring tourism to Sperry, which in turn is going to bring people to eat at the restaurants here,” Gary Coulson said. “We intend on having some sort of merchandise related to it. We’ll be able to market it right there. If possible, we may open a gift shop.”
Coulson is the president and spokesperson of UpWard Sperry. The nonprofit organization was founded last year, and you can likely glean the mission from the group’s name.
Is it crazy to think a film site from a decades-old movie could result in positive momentum for Sperry?
Tulsa has learned in recent years that you shouldn’t underestimate the drawing power of “The Outsiders.”
The 1983 movie, adapted from Tulsa author S.E. Hinton’s 1967 novel, helped launch the careers of Patrick Swayze, Tom Cruise, Emilio Estevez, Rob Lowe, C. Thomas Howell, Matt Dillon and Ralph Macchio.
The movie was filmed in Tulsa. Among film sites was a home at 731 N. Saint Louis Ave. that is now called the Outsiders House Museum. Rescued and renovated by music artist and “The Outsiders” fan Danny O’Connor, the museum will be christened with a Friday, Aug. 9, ribbon-cutting event and bus tours of film locations over the next two days.
People from around the world have showed up to take selfies and other photos outside the home. Coulson said he has been contacted by people from Australia, Canada and the United Kingdom since a $30,000 GoFundMe drive was announced to restore the service station to what it might have looked like circa-1965.
The service station is not meant to be a competitor of The Outsiders House Museum. It’s a complementary attraction about 10 miles due north of The Outsiders House Museum and presumably could be included on bus tours of film locations.
The service station isn’t the only place in Sperry where “The Outsiders” footage was shot. And “The Outsiders” isn’t the only film that brought movie cameras to Sperry.
The right location
Chris McDonald is probably best known for playing Shooter McGavin in “Happy Gilmore” and Geena Davis’ husband in “Thelma & Louise.”
Between those flicks, in the fall of 1993, McDonald was among actors who descended upon Sperry for the making of “Midnight Runaround.” The made-for-TV movie starred McDonald as California bounty hunter, Jack Walsh, who tracks a bail jumper to rural Oklahoma.
The script called for the movie to be set in Kentucky, according to a 1993 Tulsa World story. The site changed when Los Angeles-based location manager Ivan Schwarz (with an assist from the Oklahoma Film Commission) was introduced to Sperry.
“They had gone looking for the right location everywhere and had just about given up,” unit publicist Bill Bremer told the Tulsa World. “Then, the producer and location manager drove into Sperry, looked at each other, and said, ‘This is it.’ ”
Sperry also was “it” 11 years earlier when “The Outsiders” was filmed. The service station, then a DX station, is shown early in the film. Howell, Macchio and Dillon visit Cruise and Lowe at the station.
The shell of the former station, gas pumps removed, still stands. You can look across the street and see a former drug store where footage was shot. The scene where Dillon’s character “helped” kids play 52-card pick-up was shot behind the drug store, although bonus footage for a foot chase that followed was shot elsewhere.
Otis Hughs recalled watching the 52-card pick-up scene being filmed. “I’m sure a lot of locals remember it as well,” he said. “(It’s) not every day a movie gets filmed in your hometown.”
Dedicated fans of “The Outsiders” take pride in tracking down and visiting film locations like the ones in Sperry.
“They’ve been doing that for years and I didn’t know it,” Coulson said.
That’s because Coulson said he was mostly unaware of “The Outsiders” until recently. He met O’Connor because O’Connor has a “Burger Brothers” partnership with Ron Terrell of Tulsa television station KOKI. The Burger Brothers visited Ted’s Hamburgers, and Coulson said that happens to be his family’s hamburger joint. Coulson started following O’Connor on social media and, hey, what’s this Outsiders stuff?
“I actually bought the movie, both versions — regular and extended — and my interest goes up,” Coulson said. “I knew, but I didn’t really remember, that parts of it were shot in Sperry.”
UpWard Sperry wasn’t created because of “The Outsiders” project. Rather, the restoration of the service station was added to UpWard Sperry’s to-do list.
The priority for UpWard Sperry is building public-use restrooms. Among the town’s visitors are bicyclists who pedal down the Osage Prairie Trail, a 14.5-mile track that passes immediately behind the service station. Said UpWard Sperry’s Facebook page: “Our gazebo and new picnic shelter are natural gathering places for the locals and those just passing through on the trail, and we wanted to make our downtown usable and inviting to all.”
Giving the service station a facelift is priority No. 2. A third project for UpWard Sperry is a multi-use assembly hall that, at least for now, is being called The Event Center. The gazebo, assembly hall site and a new eatery (Juanita’s Mexican Restaurant opened seven months ago) are a few steps from the service station. UpWard Sperry will continue to add projects to its plate and is asking for community support.
In “Midnight Runaround,” McDonald played a character Robert De Niro christened in the 1988 theatrical feature “Midnight Run.” In the TV movie, McDonald’s character came to Oklahoma and found a town united to prevent the bail jumper’s arrest.
Maybe UpWard Sperry and an old gas station will cause folks in Sperry to unite for a cause again.
“I love the fact that people are interested in restoring the old station,” Hughs said. “It’s a part of Sperry history.”
Ready-made movie set
Sperry’s Larry Briggs goes to the Chuck Wagon Diner to eat and joust about politics with the dozen or so folks who congregate at the table. Maybe they even fix a few problems. Here’s a question for the Chuck Wagon crew: What can be done to spark Sperry?
Briggs shared his thoughts and said there have been spurts of activity and cooperation over the years. He’s part of this story because he’s the owner of Sperry’s “Outsiders” film sites — the service station and the drug store. He said he’s “absolutely” on board with the plan to spruce up the sites in hopes of attracting visitors.
Briggs said the service station was functional when the movie was made, and it had not been closed long when he bought it in the late 1980s.
“I restored both of those structures back in the ’80s, and I spent a lot of money on the drug store and quite a bit of money on the station,” he said.
Briggs said he had a little extra money to spend at the time because his music business was pretty good. Briggs’ company is Strings West, which gained a reputation for selling guitars to the stars. The business was launched in 1970 when he and his father opened a used guitar shop in Sperry. He later branched out to Tulsa. Among those to whom he has sold guitars and/or amps: Stevie Ray Vaughan, Rick Nielsen, Billy Gibbons, Pink Floyd, Ted Nugent, Neal Schon, the Bee Gees, Ronnie Dunn, Brian Setzer, Joan Jett, Bob Dylan and Hank Williams Jr.
Briggs had a plan for restoring old buildings downtown: Turn Sperry into a ready-made movie set. If a film required a grocery store, barber shop or drug store setting, he had all the fixings and trimmings ready to go.
“Kind of like a Universal Studios kind of thing,” said Briggs, who said he discussed the idea with the Oklahoma Film Commission.
Briggs said his music business went through a lag and there were more pressing needs for his money. Some of that money has gone toward paying the electric bill at the former drug store. Passersby might notice the “Swift’s Ice Cream” sign lit up in a front window.
“That sign hasn’t gone out since the 1940s, I guess,” Briggs said, adding that he has paid $50 a month for more than 30 years to keep the juice on and the sign lit. Who wants to do the math on the cost? (He said he has renegotiated the rate.)
There are no plans to resurrect the former drug store into a functional store, but Briggs said he needs to get a new roof on it.
“A lot of people in the town think I am rat-holing these buildings and won’t rent them out,” he said. “But it would take so much money — $50,000 to $75,000 to $100,000 per building — to get it up to where it would be a viable business.”
One of those downtown buildings is a museum that wasn’t. Briggs wanted to house an Oklahoma guitar and cowboy museum in Sperry. He said he “dressed it out” and had country music artist Hank Thompson fly out for a concert, but the museum never really opened. Information on stringswest.com said the museum is open by appointment only, but Briggs said he needs to revise the info.
“There are no appointments,” he said, adding that he has turned down major stars who wanted to see the museum’s contents.
“I’m good friends with Vince Gill, which he’s good friends with just about everybody,” Briggs said. “He wanted to come in one time with Ranger Doug from Riders in the Sky and I had to turn them down. I had to turn down Roger Waters’ group.”
Briggs relented and let the Bacon Brothers (actor Kevin Bacon and Michael Bacon) inside a few years ago, but the museum is in no shape to be seen, so he doesn’t want any more visitors.
Because the guitar museum isn’t a drawing card, maybe that distinction will fall to “The Outsiders” film sites in Sperry. Briggs hopes the town will benefit.
Said Coulson: “We just think it’s going to bring foot traffic to Sperry.”
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