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The Rosenberg Library Collection - King Vidor on Galveston Hurricane of 1900

Galveston and Texas History Center - Rosenberg Library

Sound | 1976

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  •  King Vidor’s mother, Katie Lee Vidor, notices the strength of the waves in the Gulf of Mexico 
  •  Vidor and his mother take refuge in a friend’s house near the beach, which quickly flooded 
  •  Escape from the wreckage and evacuation to Dallas 
  •  Lasting impression 
  •  Rebuilding the city 
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In this unedited interview, filmmaker King Vidor recounts his childhood experience of the Galveston Hurricane of 1900. Vidor was six years old when the hurricane hit Galveston Island on September 8, 1900. He describes watching the storm surge in the Gulf of Mexico and being trapped for several days in a flooded house near the beach. Killing over 6,000 people and decimating the city, the hurricane remains the deadliest natural disaster in United States history. A native of Galveston, Vidor was a critically acclaimed Hollywood director, earning five Academy Award nominations for Best Director and receiving an Honorary Award in 1979. This film was made by Houstonian Philip Chumlea in 1976. He conducted this interview when he was fresh out of film school and living in Los Angeles. He says he thought that this interview would be his way of breaking into the business. (Chumlea ended up going into energy back home in Houston.) After finding Vidor's agent's number in the phone book, Chumlea called and asked for an interview. Surprisingly, Vidor agreed, and Chumlea and his friend Tom Glazner went to the director's home in the Hollywood Hills and filmed on the grounds. Vidor wanted to be filmed sitting in his Jaguar, but he settled for being filmed in his garden instead. See photographs from the film shoot in the Photos tab.
Filmmaker King Wallis Vidor was born on February 8, 1894, in Galveston. His father, Charles Shelton Vidor, was a lumber producer and merchant with the Miller-Vidor Lumber Company, headquartered in Galveston. (The towns of Vidor and Milvand were named after him.) Growing up in the coastal city, Vidor survived the Galveston Hurricane of 1900. 
Vidor began his career in film as a teenager, working as local a freelance newsreel cameraman and projectionist. After making a few amateur films, he opened his first film company, Hotex, in Houston. In 1915, a 21-year-old Vidor moved to Hollywood, directing his first feature film four years later. In 1922, he won a long-term contract with Goldwyn Studios (later part of MGM).  Following the commercial success of The Big Parade (1925), Vidor became one of MGM’s top studio directors. In 1929, he made his first sound film, Hallelujah!, which was also the first all-black musical. 
Vidor’s successful career as a director continued well into the Golden Age of Hollywood, including Stella Dallas (1937), Duel in the Sun (1946), The Fountainhead (1949), and War and Peace (1956). He also directed the Kansas sequences in The Wizard of Oz (1939), including “Over the Rainbow,” but did not receive screen credit. Vidor received five Academy Award nominations for Best Director, winning an Honorary Award in 1979 for his life’s achievements. Directing films until 1980, he was entered into the Guinness Book of World Records for the longest career as a film director. 
Vidor died on November 1, 1982, in California. He was 88 years old.

Photographs courtesy of filmmaker Philip Chumlea. 

King Vidor in his garden setting up for the interview. Also pictured is Philip Chumlea and Vidor's dog in the background.


Tom Glazner and Philip Chumlea setting up for the shoot on the grounds of King Vidor's home. This photograph was taken by King Vidor himself.