The iconic WWII romance “Casablanca” introduced me to Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman, the classic comedy “Some Like It Hot” introduced me to Marilyn Monroe, Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis, and the romantic comedy “Teacher’s Pet “introduced me to Clark Gable and Doris Day.
But the man who made the introductions was BJ Wexler, the longtime host of the popular “OETA Movie Club”.
Every weekend for three decades, Wexler has appeared graciously on TV screens across Oklahoma with a bucket full of fresh popcorn and a generous helping of behind-the-scenes fun facts and anecdotes to go along with the list of films. classics of the series.
Wexler passed away on February 10 at the age of 83, and the hearts of moviegoers across the state were shattered.
“BJ was loved at OETA and throughout Oklahoma,” Oklahoma Educational Television Authority (OETA) executive director Polly Anderson said in a statement. “His kind smile and generous spirit have been linked to viewers since the beginning of the ‘OETA Movie Club’ in 1988. Although he retired from OETA in 2018, his legacy continues – we keep a framed photo of him on the set of the “Movie Club.” Our thoughts and prayers are with BJ’s family and (I hope) everyone will think of BJ the next time he bakes popcorn and watches his favorite classic movie . I know I will. “
Born and raised in Buffalo, New York, Wexler planned to follow his father, Sam, into real estate. While studying at the University of Buffalo, however, he began working for the college radio station, which marked the start of a 50-year career in broadcasting.
In the fall of 1976, Wexler arrived in Oklahoma City to serve as the program director for KTOK-AM 1000. In addition to his daily radio show, he produced the before and after football shows. University of Oklahoma game.
Wexler started working at OETA in 1983, first as a co-organizer of the Festival and Augustfest, then as a host of the “OETA Movie Club”.
The idea for the “OETA Movie Club” was first developed in January 1988 during a luncheon that Wexler had with Bob Allen, then president of the OETA Foundation and former executive director of OETA. The late Bill Thrash, then director of station OETA, had pitched a similar concept at a commercial station, Wexler told The Oklahoman in a 2013 interview.
“OETA Movie Club” first aired on February 5, 1988, with Wexler presenting the classic films “Citizen Kane” and “Love Me or Leave Me”.
For the first two years, the show aired live at 9 p.m. on Friday, and viewers often voted on which movies they wanted to see, Wexler said. When the show aired at 9 p.m. on Saturday in 1990, it was taped.
“It’s really remarkable at the checkout and in the aisle of the store,” Wexler said in 2013, “people are starting to talk to me. ‘Oh, you’re the popcorn guy!’”
Even 25 years after the start of the “OETA Movie Club” race, it was among the most popular programs on the state network, ranking in the top five in viewer polls.
“It’s about families,” Wexler told The Oklahoman. “This is what I’ve heard from our viewers, young and old, over 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 though you were home alone on a Saturday night, you still had a friend to watch a movie with,” Thompson said in a statement to The Oklahoman. “BJ Wexler wasn’t just the host of a show. His warm demeanor and affable charm invited Oklahoma residents of all ages to not only watch a movie, but experience it with him. Saturday nights haven’t been quite the same without him over the past few years. With his passing, he will be missed even more. “
After the news of Wexler’s death, the staff of the Tower Theater changed marquees to pay tribute to the host of the “OETA Movie Club”: “Rest in Peace, BJ Wexler”.
“BJ Wexler has brought joy to generations in Oklahoma as the host of the ‘OETA Movie Club’ for over 25 years. His long career in broadcasting spanned half a century and left an undeniable impact on our great state. He will be sorely missed, “said Stephen Tyler, Managing Partner of Tower Theater, in a statement.
Now hosted by Robert Burch, the “OETA Movie Club” continues to air at 9 p.m. on Saturdays.