Vol. LIII No. 11
November 2018

Feature film to spotlight Chickasaw actress Te Ata

CONTRIBUTED BY Gene Lehmann, Media Relations.

ADA, Okla. – The remarkable life and legacy of Mary Frances Thompson, better known at Te Ata, will soon enthrall audiences on the silver screen.

The Chickasaw Nation is producing the movie about Te Ata.

She was inducted into the Oklahoma Hall of Fame in 1958; declared Oklahoma’s first “State Treasure” in 1987; awarded the Oklahoma Governor’s Arts Award in 1975, and named Woman of the Year by Ladies’ Home Journal in 1976.

Governor Bill Anoatubby said Te Ata was a great ambassador for Chickasaws and all Native Americans.

“Te Ata stands as a shining example of how artistic expression can change hearts and minds in a way that helps bring diverse cultures together,” Gov. Anoatubby said. “She brought the beauty and wisdom of Native American culture to the world in a way that helped develop greater appreciation for core values such as basic human kindness and respect for the natural world.

“We believe film is a great way to tell our own story and preserve the legacy of Te Ata and other  Chickasaws who have made a difference in the world.”

She adopted the name Te Ata in honor of her Chickasaw heritage at the infancy of her career in the 1920s.

She performed for presidents, kings, royalty and heads of state. She entertained nationally and internationally. Te Ata traveled the world bringing joy and promoting Native American culture to all people she encountered.

Scripting, casting and filming are planned for a number of Oklahoma locations, including Tishomingo, Guthrie, Oklahoma City, and extensively within the Chickasaw Nation’s 13-county tribal territory.

FRANKOWSKI TO DIRECT

A director who has filmed in 35 countries and 45 states has been hired to bring the story of Te Ata to life.

Nathan Frankowski is a Canadian citizen who lives in the U.S. He has won several awards for his directorial achievements. “Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed,” his 2008 documentary addressing intelligent design, won MovieGuide’s  Best Film for Mature Audiences, and the Faith and Freedom Award in 2009. He won the Omaha Film Festival’s Jury Award in 2012 for “Renee.”

His latest film, “Unlimited,” was released in 2013. The film stars actor and former U.S. Senator, presidential aspirant and Law and Order regular Fred Thompson.

Paul Sirmons has been hired as the film’s producer. He served  three years as Florida’s State Film Commissioner in the Gov. Jeb Bush administration.

He directed and produced the family movie “The First of May” (1999), which starred Broadway legend Julie Harris, the late Mickey Rooney, the late Charles Nelson Reilly, Dan Byrd, and featured baseball icon the late Joe DiMaggio. It won 13 film festival awards, and has aired on HBO, TBN, Cinemax and around the world. In addition to many other family films, Mr. Sirmons began his career working on the mega-hit television series The Waltons.

TOUCHING LIVES THROUGH ART

Te Ata was an exquisitely talented actress and dancer, trained at Carnegie Institute of Technology. She was also a storyteller, performing as a Native American in full regalia at the first state dinner hosted by President and Mrs. Franklin D. Roosevelt. She entertained King George VI in 1939 at FDR’s home at Hyde Park, N.Y.

Te Ata’s talent, education, and love of her Chickasaw heritage took her from Emet, Indian Territory, where she was born in 1895, to New York, Pittsburgh, London, Peru and many more far-flung regions. She wed renowned naturalist and academic Dr. Clyde Fisher in 1933 and traveled throughout South America with her husband on scientific missions. He was the first curator of Hayden Planetarium, known now as the American Museum of Natural History, in New York.

Many of her performances in the 1930s were at summer camps throughout New England and New York state. Te Ata toured Europe. Frequent travels to South America and extensive trips throughout America accorded Te Ata the opportunity to observe Native ceremonies and learn different traditions. She incorporated these experiences in performances and later in her storytelling.

She also authored a children’s book, Baby Rattlesnake, inspired by a traditional oral Chickasaw tale. The book is still available online at www.goodreads.com.

HONORING THE BEARER OF THE DAWN

Te Ata died just short of her 100th birthday in 1995. Her body of work and immense talent is not lost. Many of her performances are preserved in a 1971 film, “God’s Drum,” and on a video recording of a storytelling festival sponsored by the Oklahoma City Arts Council.

A portrait of Te Ata, painted by Nellie Ellen Shepherd, was dedicated in February 2010, and is proudly displayed at the Oklahoma State Capitol.

She was inducted into the Chickasaw Nation Hall of Fame in 1990.

Te Ata is a descendent of several powerful and influential Chickasaws. Former Chickasaw Nation Governor Douglas Johnston was her uncle. Her father, T.B., was Chickasaw Nation treasurer. She was the aunt of Helen Cole, a former Oklahoma Senator and educator, and great aunt to Rep. Tom Cole, Oklahoma Fourth District U.S. Congressman.

Her influence on the appreciation of Native traditions and the art of storytelling is an enduring legacy. She preserved and promoted great affection for old ways, American Indians and natural beauty.

The film’s progress may be followed at several web-based locations, such as TeAtathemovie.com and on Facebook at Te Ata Thompson Fisher/Facebook.