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‘Okies’ Name Festival after Book They Once Reviled

October 12, 1990

SALLISAW, Okla. (AP) _ An eastern Oklahoma town that once reviled writer John Steinbeck for his portrayal of the region in ″The Grapes of Wrath″ has named a festival after the classic.

″We needed some kind of celebration,″ said Don Elwick, manager of the the Chamber of Commerce in this community of 6,400 people.

The Grapes of Wrath festival this weekend will feature souvenir bags of dust and a costume contest for the best-dressed Depression victim. There will also be showings of the movie of the book everyone once hated, though some locals were cast in it.

″We weren’t the Dust Bowl,″ insists 84-year-old Pauline Plunkett, who was an extra when ″The Grapes of Wrath″ was filmed in 1939.

″They left the impression that all this area of the country was just poor, non-working, ornery people,″ Ms. Plunkett said. ″That wasn’t the way it was.″

When the novel ″The Grapes of Wrath″ was published, Oklahomans of the era generally objected. It was banned in some places.

But when the book was made into a movie, Hollywood came to Sallisaw for background shots, including one 23-second scene of cars and trucks loaded down with Oklahomans and their belongings in the exodus to California.

Ms. Plunkett said she was on her front porch one day when her husband, Olen, drove up in his pickup and yelled, ″Y’all get your clothes ready.″

″We just hopped in the pickup like we was,″ she said. The next thing they knew, they were in the movies.

As the procession of vehicles reached the end of the road for the shot, the film crew paid passengers through the windows in silver dollars. Some recall getting $2, some $5, some $7 for drivers.

It was a lot of money then. ″We had people here working for 50 cents a day and supporting a family,″ said Bill Lovern, who played hooky from high school that day.


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