Oklahoma film fans remember 'OETA Movie Club' host B.J. Wexler
A version of this story will appear in Thursday's Life & Style section of The Oklahoman.
Film fans mourn longtime 'OETA Movie Club' host B.J. Wexler
The iconic World War II romance "Casablanca" introduced me to Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman, the classic screwball comedy "Some Like It Hot" introduced me to Marilyn Monroe, Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis, and the uproarious rom-com "Teacher's Pet" introduced me to Clark Gable and Doris Day.
But the man who made the introductions was B.J. Wexler, the longtime host of the popular "OETA Movie Club."
Every weekend for three decades, Wexler affably appeared on television screens across Oklahoma with a full bucket of fresh popcorn and a generous helping of fun facts and behind-the-scenes trivia to accompany the show's slate of classic films.
Wexler died Feb. 10 at the age of 83, and the hearts of movie fans across the state broke.
“B.J. was beloved at OETA and throughout Oklahoma,” said Oklahoma Educational Television Authority (OETA) Executive Director Polly Anderson in a statement. “His kind smile and generous spirit connected with viewers since the 'OETA Movie Club' first began in 1988. Although he retired from OETA in 2018, his legacy continues—we keep a framed picture of him on the 'Movie Club' set. Our thoughts and prayers are with B.J.’s family and (I) hope everyone thinks of B.J. the next time they make some popcorn and watch their favorite classic movie. I know I will.”
Born and raised in Buffalo, New York, Wexler planned to follow his father, Sam, into the real estate business. While attending the University of Buffalo, though, he began working for the college radio station, which heralded the start of a 50-year career in broadcasting.
In fall 1976, Wexler arrived in Oklahoma City to take the job of program director for KTOK-AM 1000. In addition to his daily radio show, he produced the University of Oklahoma pre- and post-game football broadcasts.
Wexler started working at OETA in 1983, first as co-host of the Festival and Augustfest pledge drives, then as host of the "OETA Movie Club."
The idea for "OETA Movie Club" was first developed in January 1988 during a lunch conversation Wexler had with Bob Allen, then-president of the OETA Foundation and former OETA executive director. The late Bill Thrash, the OETA station manager, had pioneered a similar concept at a commercial station, Wexler said in 2013 interview with The Oklahoman.
"OETA Movie Club" first aired Feb. 5, 1988, with Wexler introducing the classic films "Citizen Kane" and "Love Me or Leave Me."
For the first two years, the show aired live at 9 p.m. Fridays, and viewers often voted on what movies they wanted to see, Wexler said. When the show moved to the 9 p.m. Saturday slot in 1990, it was taped.
“It’s really remarkable at the checkout stand and down the aisle of the store,” Wexler said in 2013, "people start conversations with me. ‘Oh, you’re the popcorn guy!’”
Even 25 years into the "OETA Movie Club's" run, it was among the most popular on the statewide network, ranking in the top five in surveys of viewers.
“It’s about families,” Wexler told The Oklahoman. “That’s what I’ve heard from our viewers, young and old, through the years, that going to the movies has always been something the whole family can do together.”
Wexler received a Heartland Chapter Emmy Award for hosting the 2008 season.
Trait Thompson, the new director of the Oklahoma Historical Society, called Wexler "a true Oklahoma icon."
"For 30 years, even if you were home alone on a Saturday night, you always had a friend to watch a movie with," Thompson said in a statement to The Oklahoman. "B.J. Wexler wasn't just the host of a show. His warm demeanor and affable charm invited Oklahomans of all ages not just to watch a movie, but to experience it with him. For the past few years, Saturday nights haven't been quite the same without him. With his passing, we will miss him even more."
After word got out about Wexler's death, the Tower Theatre staff changed the marquee to pay homage to the "OETA Movie Club" host: "Rest in Peace, B.J. Wexler."
"B.J. Wexler brought joy to generations of Oklahomans as host of the 'OETA Movie Club' for over 25 years. His extensive career in broadcasting spanned half a century, and left an undeniable impact on our great state. He will be missed dearly," said Tower Theatre Managing Partner Stephen Tyler in a statement.
Now hosted by Robert Burch, the "OETA Movie Club" continues to air at 9 p.m. Saturdays.
Features Writer Brandy "BAM" McDonnell covers Oklahoma's arts, entertainment and cultural sectors for The Oklahoman and Oklahoman.com. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org, www.facebook.com/brandybammcdonnell and twitter.com/BAMOK. Please support work by her and her colleagues by subscribing at oklahoman.com/subscribe.