This raw news footage, shot by KTBC-TV cameraman Gordon Wilkison, captures preparations for and the aftermath of Hurricane Carla in September 1961. The news crew—traveling in KTBC's "Red Rover"—visits cities both along the coast and further inland to document the extensive damage to homes and businesses. (The KTBC crew includes Austin broadcast personality Cactus Pryor, who can be spotted speaking with survivors of the storm.) While the footage largely focuses on storm damage and cleanup, it also highlights relief efforts. Evacuees arrive at shelters in Central Texas, where they receive food and supplies. The film also goes behind the scenes of the United States Weather Bureau, now known as the National Weather Service.
Carla is the second-most intense hurricane to ever hit the Texas coast. (The most intense was the "Indianola" hurricane of 1886.) Though the storm made landfall between Port O'Connor and Port Lavaca, it was so large that the entire coast was affected; over half a million residents were evacuated, and damage was reported as far inland as Dallas. Carla caused $325 million (today $2.03 billion) in damage and killed 31 Texans.
An interesting note from the 1961 hurricane: then little-known news anchor Dan Rather reported live during the storm from the Galveston seawall. It was the first live broadcast during a hurricane, later to become common practice in weather reporting.
Richard S. "Cactus" Pryor was a comedic television and broadcast personality from Austin, Texas. Cactus, an Austin native, was born in 1923, straight into the entertainment business. His father owned the Cactus Theater on Congress Avenue (hence the nickname), and starting at just 3 years old, Cactus made stage appearances before the shows began. Cactus attended the University of Texas and served in the US Army Air Corp. When he returned to Austin from his service in 1944, Cactus joined the broadcasting team at Lady Bird Johnson's KLBJ radio station, where he worked until 2008. He joined the world of broadcast television at KTBC in 1951 where he was program manager and hosted a variety of television programs, including a football program with Darrell K Royal and many celebrity interviews. Cactus appeared in two films with his friend John Wayne, Hellfighters and The Green Berets. Throughout the 1960s and 70s, he became a sought-after speaker and event host, famous for his roasts of entertainers and politicians, most of whom he counted as close friends. Cactus was also known for his disguises. He would appear at functions in character, often pulling a fast one on the crowd as he charmed them first in disguise, then again as he revealed himself and used his earlier conversations to entertain the crowd. As an active member of the Headliners Club of Austin, Pryor starred in many humorous television news satires alongside Texas politicians, some of which can be seen in his film collection, as well as the Gordon Wilkison Collection and the Wallace and Euna Pryor Collection. He was nationally-known, but kept Austin his home, helping put the city on the map in the 60s and 70s. Cactus Pryor announced to his KLBJ listeners in 2007 that he had Alzheimer's disease, and Austin's "original funnyman" died in 2011.
Gordon Wilkison began work as a cameraman at the local Austin television station KTBC (now FOX 7) during 1952, its first year of operation. At the time the station was owned by the Texas Broadcasting Company, which was owned by Senator Lyndon B. and Lady Bird Johnson. This relationship would continue to shape Wilkison's career well into the next decades. During the Johnson administration, Wilkison covered the president's visits to Texas, preparing material for national and international news correspondents.
A particularly notable moment in his career occurred on August 1, 1966, when Wilkison and KTBC reporter Neal Spelce risked their lives to capture footage of the Tower shooting at the University of Texas at Austin.
Wilkison was also the General Manager of Photo Processors at the LBJ Broadcasting Corporation, which he later took over and renamed Cenetex Film Labs. In addition to his camera work and film processing, his work at the station also included direction of a number of television film productions.
Outside of KTBC, Wilkison shot, edited, and processed Longhorn football game footage for the University of Texas at Austin, a partnership that lasted nearly 30 years.
Recognizing the historical value of film and news footage, Wilkison kept the material, later contributing hundreds of reels to the Texas Archive of the Moving Image's collection.