Recently we have been celebrating the anniversary of Oklahoma!, and the Claremore MoH is taking the celebration one step further. From now until December, museum visitors can see two Norelco projectors on loan from Ben Kehe of Broken Arrow.

The Norelco 35/70mm Universal projector came in to being as the result of Michael Todd requiring a heavy-duty motion picture projector capable of showing his movie, Oklahoma! in wide film format, 70mm at 30 frames per second. He engaged the engineers at Norelco in Holland to design and build the projector to his specifications.

The Norelco projectors on display at the MoH, Serial No. 2257 and 2258, were originally installed in an audience reaction room in Hollywood, California and then spent 30 years in a private screening room with Motion Picture Projection Services, Inc. in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma.

This projector was built to run 35mm at 24 frames per second and 90 feet of film per minute, 70mm at 24 frames per second and 112.5 feet of film per minute and 70mm at 30 frames per second and 140.6 feet of film per minute. It could reproduce sound from 35mm optical soundtracks, 35mm four track magnetic soundtracks and 70mm six track magnetic soundtracks.

As the story goes, if you wanted to show Oklahoma! in 70mm at 30 frames per second, it was required that you install two Norelco Todd-AO projectors. The projector was later revised in to the Norelco AAII projector.

There were only three 70mm movies made at the increased frame rate of 30 frames per second; Oklahoma!, Around The World In 80 Days, and The Miracle of Todd-AO.

For an in-depth analysis of the Norelco projector and stories related to 70mm film presentation, visit the following website:

On June 8th, 1956, Shirley Jones presented many artifacts to the Lynn Riggs Memorial at an opening commemorative ceremony. One of those artifacts was Reel 1 Print 5 of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Oklahoma!  in 70mm. The interesting thing about Print 5 is that it does not have a single magnetic soundtrack. This could have been an unwed print in which sound accompanied the film or this print could have been used for film editing. Mysteriously, there are 70 mm strips from this silent print that can be found at the Western History Collection at the University of Oklahoma and the Department of Special Collections at the University of Tulsa.

Oklahoma! in 70mm is nine reels long. The total reel footage for Oklahoma!  is 20,500 feet (Reel 1, 2800ft, Reel 2: 2400ft, Reel 3: 1800ft, Reel 4: 1700ft, Reel 5: 2600ft, Reel 6: 1400ft, Reel 7: 2800ft, Reel 8: 2500ft, Reel 9: 2500ft).

The loaner of the projectors, Ben Kehe, is originally from Iowa. As a young child, he was a film buff and began learning the art of projection when he was 12. The owner of the Sunset Theatre in Sumner, Iowa, began mentoring him every Sunday night, and Ben was hooked. He had his first projectionist job at 16, and continued on with it, moving first to California, and then to Tulsa. He worked full time at the Will Rogers Theatre at 11th and Toledo in Tulsa. Ironically, the first theatre he was a projectionist at in Tulsa was the Rialto, the theatre that had premiered Oklahoma! when first released.

When he was drafted into the United States Army, he ran movies at the base in Ft. Sill, and even in Viet Nam. Kehe said, “Showing movies in a battle zone presented quite a few challenges with a 16mm Bell & Howell Jan projector and portable generators.”

Upon release from the Army, Kehe continued learning and expanding his projectionist skills. He worked with United Artists for 16 years before starting Motion Picture Projection Services, Inc. and has continued sales, installation and service of projection and sound equipment in commercial movie theatres covering most of the U.S. and Hawaii.

Ben’s generosity is allowing more people to see the projectors, and it’s perfect timing as we celebrate the anniversary of Oklahoma!

On a related note, the Claremore MoH has expanded their hours! They are now open Tuesday – Saturday from 11a – 4p. The MoH is located at 121 N. Weenonah.