Tulsa TV Memories: Tulsa pop culture      

On the Web: 'Memories' of Mazeppa

By John Wooley World Entertainment Writer 7/16/2000
(Reprinted by permission of Mike Kimbrell of the Tulsa World, 3/9/2001)

It was just about 30 years ago that the lives of Mike Ransom and Gailard Sartain first intersected. And they came together in a way that typifies the heady zeitgeist of early 1970s Tulsa.

For a few golden months there, you might have seen Leon Russell's Rolls Royce pull up next to you in the Pennington's Drive-In parking lot, or Eric Clapton getting off an airplane at Tulsa International. And you certainly would have had the opportunity to see another of Russell's pals, Gailard Sartain, appearing every Saturday night as the manic title character on KOTV's "Dr. Mazeppa Pompazoidi's Uncanny Film Festival and Camp Meeting," an absolute must-see show for anyone who even aspired to be hip and happening.

If you were of a certain age then, you believed that anything could happen in this town -- that the stars you heard on records and watched on TV might actually, magically, cross your path, and, like, talk to you.

The Uncanny Film Festival and Camp MeetingWhich is exactly what happened to Ransom and a couple of his friends on a long-ago Tulsa night.

"Mazeppa was on, and he kept talking about how the show was live," recalled Ransom recently. "He kept looking at his watch, and talking about how everything was live, so a couple of friends of mine and I got the idea to hop in the car and drive down to the Channel 6 studio."

When they got there, they found Sartain himself, standing outside the studio door on a smoke break.

"He improvised a little sketch with us right on the spot, and the camera panned by and picked us up," Ransom noted. "I have to say that we weren't the most . . . alert-looking individuals at that moment. And as it turned out, my brother and dad were watching at home. But that was my moment in the sun."

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The curtain falls and time passes. These days, Sartain has earned a secure reputation as a top character actor who can either play it straight or comic, with dozens of featured roles in major movies to his credit. And Ransom is a "real-time coverage programmer" for the Tulsa-based Sabre, an independent company whose primary business is handling airline reservations. But Ransom is also the man behind a web site called Tulsa TV Memories that not only celebrates Sartain's beloved old show, but a plethora of other local series and characters as well.

Interestingly enough, the site didn't start with Mazeppa. It began with another Tulsa late-night horror show, Channel 2's The Sonic Vibrations of Tom Dissevelt and Kid Baltan"Fantastic Theater," featuring announcer Josef Hardt (who called himself Peter Hardt on the program) hosting horror movies.

"Over the years, I'd tried to find out what the name of the theme song was for `Fantastic Theater,'" explained Ransom. "I called Channel 2, a friend of mine talked to Josef Hardt, but nobody knew for sure."

In late '98, he turned to the Internet in hopes of finding the name of that unusual piece of electronic music. And at around the same time, he created a web site for his girlfriend, realtor Gaye Brown.

"I cobbled up a very simple site for her, put it out there, and got bitten by the bug," he said.

By the time he'd gotten the answer to his "Fantastic Theater" query (the theme was "Sonik Re-Entry" by Tom Dissevelt and Kid Baltan), he'd also made contact with a number of people who had their own questions and comments on Tulsa television. With that feedback and the urging of his girlfriend, he started the Tulsa TV Memories site.

Lee & Lionel "When I started, all I had was a postcard of Lee & Lionel and the old Mazeppa (audio) tapes I'd recorded off the show back in 1971," he said, "and I exhausted my store of things I had to say on the topic almost immediately.

"It didn't do much for a few months, but then one guy, Mike Bruchas, started writing in from Washington, D.C. He used to work in Tulsa TV, and I think he remembers everything that ever happened. He came in, his friends started coming in, and it just took off."

An indication of how well it's going is the number of diaries that visitors to the site have filled with their observation and commentary.

"I'm on guestbook No. 44 at this point, he noted. "Each guestbook typically runs about 40,000 characters, and it's mostly text, so I'd guess that there's the equivalent of 10 pages of text in each one. It's pretty large. I can't imagine someone sitting down and reading through them all, but I guess they do."

And if they do, they'll find entries from -- among other figures -- both Sartain and his KOTV cohort Lee Woodward, who, with his hand puppet Lionel, was a huge figure in Tulsa entertainment through the '60s, '70s and beyond.

"The two most popular people, as nearly as I can tell, are Gailard Sartain and Lee Woodward," said Ransom. "It was very exciting the first time Gailard came in, and very exciting to see Lee Woodward, who just sent me several pages on Lee and Lionel. I think Lee came in because of Gailard. I went to the KOTV 50th anniversary party recently, and I was with Gailard, and he called Lee over and told him about the site and me."

A trip through the web site also produces nostalgic photos, sound bites, theme songs, and questions, answers, reminscences and comments about '60s and '70s Tulsa TV from fans and players scattered all across the world. Confronted with this rush of words and images, a visitor is likely to find himself wondering if there was something unusually noteworthy about Tulsa'sJohn Chick as Mr. Zing local entertainment, back in the days before cable and satellite came along to homogenize it out of existence.

"I think if you go to any city at a given time period, when people are growing up, there'll be programs that will always be very special to them," opined Ransom. "But I do think Tulsa was a special place, when there wasn't the corporate presence there is now and the Gailard Sartains and Lee Woodwards could utilize their talents to the fullest.

"There's a story on the site about (the late Tulsa TV figure) John Chick," he added. "He went up to Chicago and auditioned for an announcer's job and got it. But he turned it down. When they asked him why, he said, `I just don't think I could have as much fun in Chicago as I do in Tulsa.' "

Copyright © Tulsa World, 2000

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