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Art For Ad's Sake: How Industrial Films and Ads Built a Production Empire for Dallas

The TracyLocke ad agency of Dallas founded by Shelley Tracy and Raymond Locke produced national advertisements like this Dr. Pepper commercial that ran on screens throughout the 1960s.
The TracyLocke ad agency of Dallas founded by Shelley Tracy and Raymond Locke produced national advertisements like this Dr. Pepper commercial that ran on screens throughout the 1960s. courtesy of Texas Archive for the Moving Image
Some of the biggest and most beloved gems of film and television were filmed in Dallas, including the original RoboCop, the TV show Dallas, director Arthur Penn's Bonnie & Clyde and the epic adventures of Walker, Texas Ranger. But those productions may never have come to Dallas if the commercial and industrial film agency hadn't built a staff and infrastructure for it.

A new online exhibition from the Texas Archive of the Moving Image (TAMI) called Mavericks and (M)ad Men: The Industrial Film Legacy of Dallas shows how ad agencies and corporate film production offices built through the first half of the 20th century helped make Dallas the "third coast" for major Hollywood film and TV productions in subsequent years. The Texas Theatre will also host a special screening of these films in conjunction with TAMI on Thursday, March 10.

"Over the years, we've gotten some really great things in from Dallas," says TAMI's managing director Elizabeth Hansen. "We wanted to highlight that content but also one of the other reasons for that is as we looked at film production in Texas, we see all these trails that go back to Dallas."

One of the most significant contributors is the Jamieson Film Co., founded by Hugh Jamieson, a businessman who came to Dallas in 1916. Jamieson started his career as a movie theater operator and salesman of the early motion picture players called kinetoscopes by Thomas Edison's company.

Jamieson is best known for processing the first copies of Abraham Zapruder's film of 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 federal government and military agencies such as the Federal Security Agency and the U.S. Office of Education.

Jamieson's ambition can be seen in some of his earliest works. He's heard saying in a recorded interview included in the online exhibition that he shot a profile film of the Southern Methodist University campus by sitting on the wing of an airplane with a hand-cranked film camera in his lap.

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

"I don't think anyone in our office realized as we were piecing together the history that animation would be a part of that," Hansen says.

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

"If you have studios and production offices and sound stages, that makes it so much easier to attract production," Hansen says. "These kinds of things grew out of Jamieson, who seems to be the central figure in all of this. All of this lays the groundwork for an industry and framework for those other things to come along like Walker, Texas Ranger, [the PBS series] Wishbone and other film productions."

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

"That's the great thing about film," Smith says. "We still have the ability to look at it and show film from 90 years ago. Video's outdated itself in a decade."

These industrial films may not be considered works of art by those who can only see their financial or marketing goals, but Hansen says they have significant merit that are worthy of preservation and study.

"There's an artist who's still telling a story — whether that story is sold for entertainment purposes or more practical purposes," she says. "It might not be art with a capital 'A' but I think that there's artistry to be appreciated in the creation of this content."
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Danny Gallagher has been a regular contributor to the Dallas Observer since 2014. He has also written features, essays and stories for MTV, the Chicago Tribune, Maxim, Cracked, Mental_Floss, The Week, CNET and The Onion AV Club.