Ozarks Life: Ozark Jubilee’s restoration project
The national phenomenon aired from Springfield between 1955-1960.
SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (KY3) - Once upon a time, only three cities in the United States produced national, network programming. New York City, Hollywood, and Springfield, Missouri.
“It was a big deal,” Jaynie Chowning, whose father was the executive producer of Ozark Jubilee said.
“It was a huge entertainment phenomenon,” Tom Peters, the Dean of Library Services for Missouri State University added.
“People drove from other states to see the Jubilee,” KY3 Anchor, Steve Grant said.
The Ozark Jubilee first aired on KY3 the day after Christmas, 1953. After some tweaking to the show, it was picked up by ABC in 1955 and broadcast to homes around the nation.
“Ozark Jubilee was, I would say, one of the pinnacles of that long tradition of the hillbilly variety show,” Peters said. “You’ve got country music, country singing, country dancing, and country comedy.”
“It was great fun,” Chowning remembers. “I mean, it was just really just a success.”
Chowning’s father, Si Siman was in radio in Springfield in the 1950s. He produced the Tennessee Ernie Ford Radio Show for KWTO. One day, Siman and Ralph Foster from the radio station turned their attention to a new form of media.
“(Siman and Foster) and John Mahaffey and Lester Cox decided they wanted to get in on the beginning of live television here,” Chowning said. “And nobody told them they couldn’t do it. So they just did it.”
Siman become the executive producer of Ozark Jubilee; booking the talent for the weekly tv extravaganza.
“All of the talent big talent, Patsy Cline, Eddie Arnold, Smiley Burnett, Tex Ritter,” Chowning said. “I mean, the list goes on and on. They were thrilled to come to Springfield, Missouri, and be on the Jubilee, because they got that national exposure.”
One of the most popular, reoccurring guests was West Plains native Porter Wagoner. Siman discovered him years earlier on a road trip back from Memphis.
“Somebody had told him about Porter,” Chowning said. “And so he stopped by West Plains and Porter was behind the meat counter. And Daddy said, ‘I heard you’re a pretty good singer. Why don’t you come on out and sing a song?’ So he did.”
“The air was just a buzz the whole time when they weren’t clapping and yelling,” Grant said.
A native of the Ozarks, Grant remembers the later years of the Jubilee on KY3.
“I got to go backstage,” Grant remembers, “little five-year-old Steve there to meet some of the stars. It’s like, ‘here’s Carl Smith’ and ‘here’s Joe Slattery’ changing suits.”
‘Hello, kid’ Slattery said to Grant.
“I was always enamored with the whole thing,” Grant said. “The lights, the music, the performers.”
But after six years, the Jubilee was canceled.
More than sixty years later, Missouri State University is bringing it back.
“Just the amazing talent that came out of the Ozarks and performed on the Jubilee is worth celebrating,” Peters said.
Peters has successfully led a campaign by Missouri State University to share Ozark Jubilee episodes of the past with viewers on YouTube.
Local historian Wayne Glenn learned there were 65 kinescopes (film copies) at the UCLA Film and Television Archive in Los Angeles. Peters then began negotiating the return of an Ozarks treasure.
“We negotiated a non-exclusive right to do whatever we wanted with the digitized versions,” Peter said, “that we basically paid to have UCLA Film and Television Archive do for us.”
UCLA copied over all of its 74, 30-minute segments it had for Missouri State. Most of them are from 1955 and 1956. It would have been 75 copies, but one was too deteriorated to copy.
“Most television programs,” Peters said, “the early years are the better years. I think so on this. We got really great footage of the early years of the Jubilee.”
“Kudos to Missouri State and whatever it took to acquire all those because I know it’s, it was no easy undertaking,” Grant said.
“It’s very special, that they acquired those and digitized them,” Chowning added. “I was watching one episode and all of a sudden, I said, ‘that’s my grandmother’ in the audience. She was all dressed up to go to the Jubilee.”
But for Peters and Missouri State, this project is not done.
“I know there are private collectors that have kinescopes out there,” Peters said. “We’ll digitize them and give them back the original kinescope and copy of the digitized version. And all we ask is to make it freely available to the public.”
“It’s almost a race against time at this point with them deteriorating to try to get these identified, located, and digitized,” Peters concluded.
Peters believes the 74 episodes on YouTube account for less than 10% of the show’s entire run. He led a fundraising effort to get those episodes. Many local families donated to the cause. Each segment cost $2,500 to copy.
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