AUSTIN (KXAN) - Back in 1960, Cactus Pryor and Gordon Wilkison had an idea. They would create a made-for-TV film, highlighting how the public should react in the event of a nuclear attack. Both Pryor and Wilkison were working for KTBC-TV, which at the time, was owned by the Lyndon and Lady Bird Johnson family. Johnson was a U.S. Senator, so people at the station had some connections in high places. Those connections came in handy during the production of "Target Austin."
You see, the producers wanted to film a bomber crew racing to their B-52 bomber on the runway at Austin's Bergstrom Air Force Base. The problem was there was no B-52 at Bergstrom. A couple of phone calls, though, did the trick.
"They came down here and set it up; they sent two of them down here," said the 80-year-old Wilkison, still living in Austin in retirement. "We told them what we were doing and everything and the commander up there (in Fort Worth) thought that was a pretty damn good idea. We sent him a copy and everything. We had all the cooperation we could get from Bergstrom on that thing."
Now imagine for a moment that you are a TV camera person now and you're making a film that needs a B-52 in it. How do you think the Pentagon would react to such a request in 2011? Wilkison knows exactly what the generals would say.
"There ain't no way on Earth that could happen today," he said. "I don't even think you could get a balloon nowadays. People were cooperating with each other in those days, especially with news people who were getting a message out to people."
That kind of cooperation is evident in many of the films Wilkison saved from his three decades of work at KTBC. Take the fake news conference set up by then Texas Department of Public Safety director Colonel Homer Garrison. Wilkison was rolling as the director sat down with a reporter from United Press International and another from the Associated Press. Two other people at the table were visible only from behind and were likely not real reporters. But Garrison wanted to send a message about safety to the public in advance of the upcoming Christmas holidays, so everyone pitched in to make the public safety announcement.
Wilkison also shot campaign promotions for political candidates, among them the 1962 announcement from Texas House Speaker James A. (Jimmy) Turman , from Gober, Texas, that he was running for Lt. Governor. In the short statement, Turman assured voters he would push for strong public education in the state. He had a specific reason for that position, a reason deeply embedded in American society at that point in history.
"It is my firm conviction," Turman said, "that the schools are the first line of defense against the penetration of communism into our American way of life."
Turman narrowly lost the Lt. Governor race to Preston Smith, who then went on to become governor of the state.
"My thinking was that a lot of this, about 90 percent of it is going to be history, good history to hang onto," Wilkison said. "But there was no place to put it so I boxed up a bunch of it and brought it out here (to his house). That's how I wound up with it; nobody else wanted the dang stuff. They gave it to me. And whenever I retired, my boss at the time, J. C. Kellam , said everything there is yours."
All of this started in the early 1950s, when Wilkison and a friend left their hometown of San Angelo in west Texas and struck out for Austin and the University of Texas . Wilkison enrolled in the first two television classes ever offered by UT. At the same time, the Johnsons were getting ready to sign on the TV station. Wilkison recalls that finally happening on Thanksgiving Day in 1952. Lady Bird was looking for people with any experience at all in the brand new industry and she settled on the young Wilkison. His job included lots of responsibilities.
"Director, producer, cameraman, even swept a floor or two," he recalled. "I mean, in those days, you did everything."
The footage he shot over the years included priceless film of 1950s and 1960s Austin street scenes, complete with traffic made up of cars and trucks that are considered rare classics today. It revealed a city skyline devoid of the towering condo, office and hotel buildings that now rise above the Capitol building and the UT Tower, sometimes blocking views of those historic buildings.
But one street scene was particularly difficult to capture. Wilkison was shooting film for "Target Austin," and he needed some shots of deserted major streets in town, especially of Congress Avenue downtown, looking north toward the Capitol.
"The challenge there was to get a shot down Congress Avenue with no damn birds or people or nothing moving," Wilkison said. "And I got up at 6:00 on Sunday morning for about two months, I think, to do that. And there was always some jackass walking into something."
In the end, though, he and Pryor, who went on to a long and distinguished broadcasting career in Austin, got the job done.
"Even Mrs. Johnson saw it and called in
and congratulated me," said Wilkison. "She didn't think we could do something like that."
These days, Wilkison keeps much of his treasure in a secure and air-conditioned part of his home. But copies also live on the Internet. He donated them to the Texas Archive of the Moving Image , ready and waiting for history-hungry eyes to feast upon them.
Late Saturday night into early Sunday morning, a light band of freezing drizzle traversed the I-35 corridor eastward. With sub-freezing temperatures, even the light precipitation created major problems.
APD is responding to a 25 vehicle accident near the 5400 block of Ed Bluestein near Thurgood Ave.
A man is dead after being hit by several vehicles in the eastbound lane of Highway 71 Saturday night.
A representative at the Fayette County Sheriff's office said that Fayette County is effectively shut down due to icy conditions.
The Austin City Council is set to vote Thursday on design changes for the Auditorium Shores Dog Park.
Bryce Petty threw touchdown passes on the first two drives of the second half for No. 9 Baylor and the Bears won their first Big 12 title and a Fiesta Bowl berth with a 30-10 victory over No. 23 Texas on Saturday.