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Dream a Little Dream



Cathy O’Donnell was different from everyone else. Had she not been, no one would have paid to watch her on the silver screen. And watch moviegoers did – from her first film, 1946’s Academy Award-winning Best Picture “The Best Years of Our Lives,” to her last, 1959’s Best Picture winner “Ben Hur.”

Actor Farley Granger, who co-starred with O’Donnell in two film noir classics, wrote in his memoir that she “was very different from anyone I’d ever met: lovely, shy, wistful and ethereal.” She wasn’t pretty in the Hollywood sense, but she had an enchanting presence, and the fairy-tale life she led began long before Hollywood. To begin with, Cathy wasn’t her real name.

At the 1946 Academy Awards: Olivia de Havilland, Harold Russell, Cathy O’Donnell and Anne BaxterShe was born Ann Steely on July 6, 1923 in Siluria, an Alabama mill village near Birmingham and a far cry from the glamour of Hollywood. Her family moved to Oklahoma City when she was 12, where young Ann attended Harding Junior High School and Classen High School before studying stenography for a year at Hill’s Business. She worked as a secretary for the army induction center but had aspirations of acting, stemming from the days when her father, a school teacher by day, operated the local theater by night – giving the kids ample chances to get lost watching news reels, cartoons, war movies and westerns.

Eventually, the adventurous Ann Steely quit her day job and took acting classes at Oklahoma City University, becoming an occasional feature in student productions. She told her brother Joe she hadn’t liked “office work,” calling it “torture” and dramatically adding she’d have died if she’d had to stay in it much longer.

But acting quickly became something she took very seriously – she soon decided to leave Oklahoma City, and in 1944 went to Los Angeles to meet David O. Selznick in Hollywood. She’d sent a letter and picture to the producer and received a quick reply. When Steely arrived in California, she met with Selznick’s casting director, who promised to arrange an audition. But while she was waiting, she got her big break: whether or not she actually met agent Ben Medford at the lunch counter in Schwab’s drugstore as legend has it, he introduced her to the great star-maker Samuel Goldwyn.

“All the daydreams I had as a little girl are coming true.” - Cathy O’Donnell to Kyle Crichton, 1948

A glamorous Cathy O'Donnell

Despite her Midwestern awkwardness, she impressed Goldwyn enough for him to arrange a screen test. He then signed Steely to a contract, determined to make the would-be starlet into an ingénue. She studied acting, ballet and diction at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York City, and was soon hired to a touring production of “Life With Father.” She begged Goldwyn to arrange her casting in Tennessee Williams’ “You Touched Me” instead and to adopt the new name “Lark”; Goldwyn was reportedly unimpressed by both suggestions, and convinced her to change her first name to Cathy and “Steely” to the Irish surname of “O’Donnell.”

After a stint in “Little Women” and an uncredited film debut as a nightclub extra, “Miss O’Donnell” was cast in 1946’s “The Best Years of Our Lives,” in which she played Wilma Cameron opposite real-life handicapped veteran Harold Russell. She didn’t know it, but the film’s director, William Wyler, had seen and been impressed by her performance in “Life With Father.”

At the 1946 Academy Awards, O’Donnell proudly accepted Fredric March’s Best Actor award for his work in “The Best Years of Our Lives” – the film also garnered awards for Best Director (William Wyler), Best Actress (Olivia de Havilland), Best Supporting Actress (Anne Baxter) and Best Supporting Actor (Harold Russell)... and a radiant O’Donnell was in the midst of it all.

O’Donnell with brother Joe Seely; she began work as a secretary at the army induction center at the time her brother entered the military during WWII.Her followup roles included “They Live By Night” (1948) opposite Farley Granger, and she was slated to appear with him again alongside David Niven and Teresa Wright in “Enchantment” – but she was dropped from the project when she eloped with William Wyler’s older brother Robert.

“My uncle fell in love with Cathy during ‘The Best Years,’” explains niece Catherine Wyler. “He was always crazy about her, but my family was quite surprised when they married because of the age difference. Uncle Robert was a sweet, lovely guy, but he was my father’s ‘less celebrated’ brother. He always served as my father’s confidante. He did re-writes and associate-produced on a lot of scripts for William Wyler films.”

At the time of the new couple’s nuptials, Goldwyn was still smarting from the desertion of William Wyler – who, upon completion of his pre-war contract, left to join with Frank Capra and George Stevens in the independent production company Liberty Films. Wyler had become one of Goldwyn’s “cash cows,” as “The Best Years of Our Lives” grossed $11.3 million – so for Goldwyn, Wyler’s abandonment was both personal and professional. Granger wrote in his memoir, “Goldwyn took this situation personally and said Willy Wyler had put his brother up to marrying Cathy.” Granger later told his “Strangers on a Train” co-star Laura Elliott that O’Donnell had married Wyler to spite Goldwyn, who told O’Donnell “she would never work again.” Certainly all ties between O’Donnell and Goldwyn were permanently severed, but O’Donnell did finally get that interview with Selznick; she promptly signed with him, re-teaming in 1950 with Granger in another film noir classic: “Side Street.”

Over the next decade, O’Donnell appeared in “Detective Story” (primarily, as she said at the time, “because William [Wyler] was producing and directing”), “Roman Holiday,” the cult horror classic “Terror in the Haunted House” and the epic “Ben Hur,” in which she played Charlton Heston’s sister Tirzah.

By the end of the 1950s, O’Donnell was a fashion icon, both on- and off-screen. For more than a decade she had been photographed for, and profiled in, publications such as The American Magazine and Picture Show, Picturegoer, Redbook, The Sunday News, Screenland, Movie Album, Motion Picture and Snappy Shots.

She then appeared on television a few times, making her last episodic appearance on “Bonanza” in 1964, but mainly enjoying the comfortable and ordinary domestic life into which she and Robert had settled. Their comfortably sized California ranch home, designed by famous builder Robert Byrd, was on Wetherly Drive just above the Sunset Strip. Niece Kathy Steely explains, “I also recall visiting Aunt Ann/Cathy’s house in West Hollywood. We always joked that because the landscaping was tiered, she had a two-story back yard.”

O’Donnell first became ill around this time. “She had tell-tale signs of cancer,” says Catherine Wyler, “and hadn’t done anything about it, and by time she got to the doctor, it was too far advanced.”

In looking back to the time of their aunt’s illness, Donnell’s nieces and her nephew reflect on how well they knew their aunt. “Since Aunt Ann/Cathy lived so far away in California, and we were in Oklahoma,” recalls Kathy Steely, who was only 12 at the time of O’Donnell’s passing. “We didn’t see her much, but I was in awe of having a ‘movie star’ aunt!”

“As children growing up, we did feel special having a ‘movie star’ aunt,” concurs David Steely. He adds his aunt must have sensed his musical ability – he had played the guitar since age 11 – because she “once gave me several of her poems as lyrics to any music I might write.”

Shortly thereafter, “She phoned my father,” David Steely recalls, “and said, ‘There’s a new movie being made that calls for several children. Would you consider letting the kids audition?’ and my father said, ‘Absolutely under no circumstances whatsoever would I remotely consider that!’ The movie was ‘The Sound of Music.’”

In Rome for the filming of  “Ben Hur”: Robert Wyler, Cathy O’Donnell, James D. Zellerbach (U.S. ambassador to Rome) and Charlton HestonEven if O’Donnell’s plans had come to fruition, one glitch would have been that her brother-in-law William Wyler dropped out of directing the film. Melanie Wyler says “Cathy O. knew about auditions for ‘The Sound of Music’ because my father was originally slated to direct that film. But he pulled out of the project because, given his background and Jewish heritage, he couldn’t, in his words, ‘make a movie about singing Nazis.’”

Cathy O’Donnell finally died from complications due to cancer at the age of 46, on her 22nd wedding anniversary. Throughout her lengthy illness, she drew strength from her faith, having converted to Catholicism after coming to Hollywood. Catherine Wyler remembers, “Cathy O. became Catholic after her marriage to my uncle, and I recall my because my parents jokingly saying a Catholic convert’s more ‘Catholic’ than the Pope. She was very devout, though my uncle and father were secular Jews. Catholicism gave Cathy O. more romance and drama.”

Even with all the credits to her name, O’Donnell didn’t consider herself a huge success. Catherine Wyler remembers that “She wasn’t very satisfied with her career because there were a lot of ‘B’ movies.” Nonetheless, of Donnell’s 17 films, all in starring/featured roles, seven are classic film-noir/quasi-noir, making her a major contributor to that genre.

“I remember Cathy O. as a very lovely, quiet, sweet person,” remembers Sheldon. Catherine Wyler concurs, adding, “But, she wasn’t practical; she liked to live in a dream world, and she always thought of herself as a young woman.”

Funeral services for O’Donnell were held in Forest Lawn on April 11, 1970. Her obituary described her as “a resident of Oklahoma City during the early 1940s” and “the wife of a motion picture executive.”

Ann Steely’s journey from Oklahoma City to Hollywood had been a long one, and was the stuff of which dreams are made.

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May 2016

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Sponsor: Oklahoma Contemporary Arts Center
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Where:
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OKC, OK  73103
View map »


Telephone: 405.235.4458
Website »

More information

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Where:
Santa Fe Depot
200 S Jones
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View map »


Telephone: 405.307.9320
Website »

More information

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Where:
Red Earth Museum
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View map »


Telephone: 405.427.5228
Website »

More information

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Where:
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27 E Edwards
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View map »


Telephone: 405.340.4481
Website »

More information

In celebration of the many extraordinary acquisitions that have made the Oklahoma City Museum of Art the premiere collecting institution in central Oklahoma, this exhibition tells the story of the...

Cost: Varies

Where:
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View map »


Sponsor: OKCMOA
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Website »

More information

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Cost: Free

Where:
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Telephone: 918-551-2064
Contact Name: Amy Pulliam
Website »

More information

Step into another world where Summer Wheat explores an extensive portrayal of what she imagines to be behind the wall in Vermeer’s historical painting, The Milk Maid. Wheat will create an...

Cost: Free

Where:
Oklahoma Contemporary Arts Center
3000 General Pershing Blvd.
Oklahoma City, OK  73107
View map »


Telephone: 405.951.0000
Website »

More information

Art classes designed for artists at any level to nourish and build creativity and skills. Under the guidance of experienced instructors, class options are available in ceramics, 2-D arts, fiber...

Cost: Varies

Where:
Oklahoma Contemporary Arts Center
3000 General Pershing Blvd.
Oklahoma City, OK  73107
View map »


Sponsor: Oklahoma Contemporary Arts Center
Telephone: 405-951-0000
Website »

More information

Oklahoma artist Randall Barnes used to cover up graffiti for the OKC Police Department. Now he makes artwork depicting the process.

Cost: Free

Where:
The Project Box
3003 Paseo
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View map »


Sponsor: The Project Box
Telephone: 405-609-3969
Contact Name: Lisa Jean Allswede
Website »

More information

Artists: Apply to be part of our first installment of Guerrilla Art Park - an outdoor sculpture exhibition near our Showroom on the site of our future arts campus. We are accepting submissions now...

Cost: Free

Where:
Oklahoma Contemporary's Showroom
1146 N. Broadway Dr.
Oklahoma City, OK  73103
View map »


Sponsor: Oklahoma Contemporary Arts Center
Telephone: 405-604-0042
Contact Name: Lori Brooks
Website »

More information

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Cost: Free

Where:
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View map »


Sponsor: Oklahoma Contemporary Arts Center
Telephone: 405-951-0000
Website »

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Website »

More information

In celebration of the many extraordinary acquisitions that have made the Oklahoma City Museum of Art the premiere collecting institution in central Oklahoma, this exhibition tells the story of the...

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415 Couch Drive
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View map »


Sponsor: OKCMOA
Telephone: 405-236-3100
Website »

More information

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Where:
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View map »


Telephone: 405.340.4481
Website »

More information

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Native art simply doesn't get much better than this: an all-star collection of highlights from pieces made by the Master Artists in the Red Earth Festival's first 30 years.

Where:
Red Earth Museum
6 Santa Fe
OKC, OK
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Telephone: 405.427.5228
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The OKC Museum of Art screens overlooked treasures and unsung independent films.

Where:
OKC Museum of Art
415 Couch
OKC, OK  73102
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Telephone: 405.236.3100
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The visually engaging Paseo gallery hosts a collection of acrylic paintings that beg closer inspection.

Where:
In Your Eye Gallery
3005 Paseo
OKC, OK  73103
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Telephone: 405.525.2161
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Vitality suffuses the canvases of local artist Mitsuno Reedy in this engaging show.

Where:
Santa Fe Depot
200 S Jones
Norman, OK  73069
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Telephone: 405.307.9320
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The Champions of Health awards recognize those who make a difference in the health of Oklahomans. Winners in select categories will receive $5,000 for their organization or program, and will be...

Cost: Free

Where:
, OK


Sponsor: Blue Cross Blue Shield of Oklahoma
Telephone: 918-551-2064
Contact Name: Amy Pulliam
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Step into another world where Summer Wheat explores an extensive portrayal of what she imagines to be behind the wall in Vermeer’s historical painting, The Milk Maid. Wheat will create an...

Cost: Free

Where:
Oklahoma Contemporary Arts Center
3000 General Pershing Blvd.
Oklahoma City, OK  73107
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Telephone: 405.951.0000
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Art classes designed for artists at any level to nourish and build creativity and skills. Under the guidance of experienced instructors, class options are available in ceramics, 2-D arts, fiber...

Cost: Varies

Where:
Oklahoma Contemporary Arts Center
3000 General Pershing Blvd.
Oklahoma City, OK  73107
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Sponsor: Oklahoma Contemporary Arts Center
Telephone: 405-951-0000
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In One Ear … is a kaleidoscopic study of broadcast media's influence on forming and keeping relationships. In the new media installation by David Steele Overholt, a generatively...

Cost: Free

Where:
Oklahoma Contemporary's Showrrom
1146 N. Broadway Dr.
Oklahoma City, OK  73103
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Sponsor: Oklahoma Contemporary Arts Center
Telephone: 405-951-0000
Website »

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Artists: Apply to be part of our first installment of Guerrilla Art Park - an outdoor sculpture exhibition near our Showroom on the site of our future arts campus. We are accepting submissions now...

Cost: Free

Where:
Oklahoma Contemporary's Showroom
1146 N. Broadway Dr.
Oklahoma City, OK  73103
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Sponsor: Oklahoma Contemporary Arts Center
Telephone: 405-604-0042
Contact Name: Lori Brooks
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Oklahoma artist Randall Barnes used to cover up graffiti for the OKC Police Department. Now he makes artwork depicting the process.

Cost: Free

Where:
The Project Box
3003 Paseo
Oklahoma City, OK  73103
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Sponsor: The Project Box
Telephone: 405-609-3969
Contact Name: Lisa Jean Allswede
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Get ready for the height of the season at the Summit League Baseball Tournament. Come out and cheer as some of the best teams in college baseball fight for the title!

Cost: $7, $11, $14, $44, $59, $74

Where:
J.L. Johnson Stadium, Oral Roberts University
7777 S Lewis Ave
Tulsa, OK  74171
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Telephone: 918.495.6000
Contact Name: GWilson
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This event will highlight sexy choreography in a unique workout to target the waist, core, and legs. Dance is low-impact and low intensity...the heels will do the rest. All levels are encouraged....

Cost: $20

Where:
Macias Dance Center
1205 NW 23rd
Oklahoma City, OK  73120
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Telephone: 405-882-1909
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The University of Oklahoma celebrates its 125th anniversary with a trove of treasures from the history of science; artifacts, informational exhibits and much more about the legendary astronomer and...

Where:
Across the OU Campus
401 W Brooks St
Norman, OK  73019
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Telephone: 405.325.4142
Website »

More information

Native art simply doesn't get much better than this: an all-star collection of highlights from pieces made by the Master Artists in the Red Earth Festival's first 30 years.

Where:
Red Earth Museum
6 Santa Fe
OKC, OK
View map »


Telephone: 405.427.5228
Website »

More information

Woody Allen's quirky comedy moves from screen to stage in this Celebrity Attractions adaptation.

Where:
OKC Civic Center
201 N Walker
OKC, OK  73102
View map »


Telephone: 800.869.1451
Website »

More information

Vitality suffuses the canvases of local artist Mitsuno Reedy in this engaging show.

Where:
Santa Fe Depot
200 S Jones
Norman, OK  73069
View map »


Telephone: 405.307.9320
Website »

More information

Poole was a true master of his craft, a fourth-generation Oklahoman who often shifted between styles to push himself and continue exploring the realms of artistic creativity.

Where:
Oklahoma Hall of Fame Museum
1200 Classen
OKC, OK  73103
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Telephone: 405.235.4458
Website »

More information

The OKC Museum of Art screens overlooked treasures and unsung independent films.

Where:
OKC Museum of Art
415 Couch
OKC, OK  73102
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Telephone: 405.236.3100
Website »

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The FAI hosts a collection of beauty produced by students in its varied adult classes.

Where:
Edmond Fine Arts Institute
27 E Edwards
Edmond, OK  73034
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Telephone: 405.340.4481
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The visually engaging Paseo gallery hosts a collection of acrylic paintings that beg closer inspection.

Where:
In Your Eye Gallery
3005 Paseo
OKC, OK  73103
View map »


Telephone: 405.525.2161
Website »

More information

Sunset Song tells the deeply moving story of a young Scottish woman who struggles to forge her identity on the eve of the First World War. In the poetic tone that the film so elegantly...

Cost: Members: $5 Adults: $9 Seniors (62+): $7 College Students (with ID): $7 Teens

Where:
OKCMOA
415 Couch Drive
Oklahoma City, OK  73102
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Sponsor: OKCMOA Museum Films
Telephone: 405.236.3100
Website »

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In celebration of the many extraordinary acquisitions that have made the Oklahoma City Museum of Art the premiere collecting institution in central Oklahoma, this exhibition tells the story of the...

Cost: Varies

Where:
Oklahoma City Museum of Art
415 Couch Drive
Oklahoma City, OK  73102
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Sponsor: OKCMOA
Telephone: 405-236-3100
Website »

More information

A full 70 years but only a few feet separate a grieving young man and his grandmother as the ad hoc roommates form an unlikely but powerful bond.

Where:
Carpenter Square Theater
800 W Main
OKC, OK  73106
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Telephone: 405.232.6500
Website »

More information

Show More...
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Step into another world where Summer Wheat explores an extensive portrayal of what she imagines to be behind the wall in Vermeer’s historical painting, The Milk Maid. Wheat will create an...

Cost: Free

Where:
Oklahoma Contemporary Arts Center
3000 General Pershing Blvd.
Oklahoma City, OK  73107
View map »


Telephone: 405.951.0000
Website »

More information

PAMBE Ghana’s Global Market will be selling fair trade items from around the world. Proceeds benefit the La’Angum Learning Center in Bumboazio, Ghana.

Cost: Free

Where:
Rainbow Fleet office
30th and Dewey
Oklahoma City, OK  73103
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Sponsor: PAMBE Ghana
Telephone: 405.478.4936
Contact Name: Linda Temple
Website »

More information

Artists: Apply to be part of our first installment of Guerrilla Art Park - an outdoor sculpture exhibition near our Showroom on the site of our future arts campus. We are accepting submissions now...

Cost: Free

Where:
Oklahoma Contemporary's Showroom
1146 N. Broadway Dr.
Oklahoma City, OK  73103
View map »


Sponsor: Oklahoma Contemporary Arts Center
Telephone: 405-604-0042
Contact Name: Lori Brooks
Website »

More information

In One Ear … is a kaleidoscopic study of broadcast media's influence on forming and keeping relationships. In the new media installation by David Steele Overholt, a generatively...

Cost: Free

Where:
Oklahoma Contemporary's Showrrom
1146 N. Broadway Dr.
Oklahoma City, OK  73103
View map »


Sponsor: Oklahoma Contemporary Arts Center
Telephone: 405-951-0000
Website »

More information

Get ready for the height of the season at the Summit League Baseball Tournament. Come out and cheer as some of the best teams in college baseball fight for the title!

Cost: $7, $11, $14, $44, $59, $74

Where:
J.L. Johnson Stadium, Oral Roberts University
7777 S Lewis Ave
Tulsa, OK  74171
View map »


Telephone: 918.495.6000
Contact Name: GWilson
Website »

More information

Come join Edmond based Phil Smith & The Blend Project with special guest Gentry Counce! Hideaway Pizza, cash bar and ample free parking at one of the best listening rooms in the state.

Cost: $12

Where:
UCO Jazz Lab
100 E. 5th
Edmond, OK  73034
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Telephone: 405.206.2551
Contact Name: Phil Smith
Website »

More information

Woody Allen's quirky comedy moves from screen to stage in this Celebrity Attractions adaptation.

Where:
OKC Civic Center
201 N Walker
OKC, OK  73102
View map »


Telephone: 800.869.1451
Website »

More information

A full 70 years but only a few feet separate a grieving young man and his grandmother as the ad hoc roommates form an unlikely but powerful bond.

Where:
Carpenter Square Theater
800 W Main
OKC, OK  73106
View map »


Telephone: 405.232.6500
Website »

More information

Sunset Song tells the deeply moving story of a young Scottish woman who struggles to forge her identity on the eve of the First World War. In the poetic tone that the film so elegantly...

Cost: Members: $5 Adults: $9 Seniors (62+): $7 College Students (with ID): $7 Teens

Where:
OKCMOA
415 Couch Drive
Oklahoma City, OK  73102
View map »


Sponsor: OKCMOA Museum Films
Telephone: 405.236.3100
Website »

More information

The University of Oklahoma celebrates its 125th anniversary with a trove of treasures from the history of science; artifacts, informational exhibits and much more about the legendary astronomer and...

Where:
Across the OU Campus
401 W Brooks St
Norman, OK  73019
View map »


Telephone: 405.325.4142
Website »

More information

In celebration of the many extraordinary acquisitions that have made the Oklahoma City Museum of Art the premiere collecting institution in central Oklahoma, this exhibition tells the story of the...

Cost: Varies

Where:
Oklahoma City Museum of Art
415 Couch Drive
Oklahoma City, OK  73102
View map »


Sponsor: OKCMOA
Telephone: 405-236-3100
Website »

More information

Poole was a true master of his craft, a fourth-generation Oklahoman who often shifted between styles to push himself and continue exploring the realms of artistic creativity.

Where:
Oklahoma Hall of Fame Museum
1200 Classen
OKC, OK  73103
View map »


Telephone: 405.235.4458
Website »

More information

The casino is hopping this month, proving that weekends are even better when they include special guests like this.

Where:
Riverwind Casino
1544 W Hwy 9
Norman, OK  73072
View map »


Telephone: 405.322.6464
Website »

More information

The OKC Museum of Art screens overlooked treasures and unsung independent films.

Where:
OKC Museum of Art
415 Couch
OKC, OK  73102
View map »


Telephone: 405.236.3100
Website »

More information

The festival will take place May 28 & 29 from 10 a.m. to 11 p.m., and May 30 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Visitors will enjoy 86 visual artists, who will fill the Historic Paseo Arts District with...

Cost: Free

Where:
Paseo Arts District
28th & N Walker to 30th & N Dewey
Oklahoma City, OK  73103
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Sponsor: Paseo Arts Association
Telephone: (405) 528-2688
Contact Name: Amanda Bleakley
Website »

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This long-running kids' event offers food, fun and entertainment the cowboy way - crafts, grub, entertainment and more.

Where:
National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum
1700 NE 63rd
OKC, OK  73111
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Telephone: 405.478.2250
Website »

More information

The visually engaging Paseo gallery hosts a collection of acrylic paintings that beg closer inspection.

Where:
In Your Eye Gallery
3005 Paseo
OKC, OK  73103
View map »


Telephone: 405.525.2161
Website »

More information

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