The University of Kansas Libraries
John Tibbetts brings Hollywood insider interviews to KU ScholarWorks
by Sarah Kanning
From Richard Attenborough (“A Chorus Line”) to Ed Zwick (“Glory”), in the course of the past thirty years, University of Kansas film professor, entertainment reporter and music scholar John C. Tibbetts has interviewed an incredible range and variety of directors, actors, writers, major Hollywood players and musicians.
Now, with the help of KU Libraries and the KU ScholarWorks digital repository, more than 250 of those full-length video interviews will be available and freely accessible to teachers, students, scholars, and film fans in “Over the Rainbow: The John C. Tibbetts Archive of Conversations in the Arts and Humanities (1980 – Present).”
As an entertainment correspondent for CBS television and several radio networks, Tibbetts spoke with Oprah Winfrey at the debut of “The Color Purple,” her first film role. He interviewed both Haing S. Ngor, the Cambodian physician-turned-actor who starred in “The Killing Fields,” and Dith Pran, the journalist Ngor portrayed in the film.
Out of the 10 minutes or more of each interview that Tibbetts typically recorded, only 15 or 20 seconds might actually make the broadcast. But in the unseen footage, Tibbetts often dug deeper—and his subjects responded, revealing tips and strategies about cinematography, acting and other film industry topics.
“I said to Richard Donner (director of the “Lethal Weapon” and “Superman” movies), ‘Let’s talk about how you plan a second unit car chase,’” Tibbetts said. He asked Donner and others for tips and strategies they’d offer to film students, using those interviews to illustrate aspects of film theory and criticism in his film courses at KU.
Tibbetts unearthed a few hidden gems along the way. “When the first Batman movie came out, I realized nobody had interviewed Bob Kane, who originated and drew the first Batman comic back in 1939,” he said. Tibbetts got the interview. “Sometimes you don’t know what use you’ll make of it,” Tibbetts said, “but I took the opportunity.”
Tibbetts not only took the opportunity to get the interviews, he also took the initiative to preserve them. “I knew it was important to preserve those interviews, because tape will deteriorate,” he said. “So I began the process of transferring them to CDs and DVDs, with the help of Larry Johnson, a recording engineer in Kansas City.”
“When I found out KU Libraries were doing these kinds of projects, I approached Deb” [Ludwig, assistant dean of collections and head of the Center for Digital Scholarship at KU Libraries], Tibbetts said. “She was instantly enthusiastic, and for me, making these interviews available in this way seemed useful to other scholars and students.”
Ludwig said of the project, “Often, when we in universities think about research data, we think about columns and rows of data in structured data sets. John’s collection of interviews is not only a lively and useful audiovisual archive of information; it is also an important collection of research data from the humanities. I’m delighted to see it available and preserved to benefit future students of the humanities.”
Tibbetts worked with Wade Garrison at the Center for Digital Scholarship in Watson Library to make the project a reality. Garrison’s role was to help transfer and organize the interviews, adding title cards to the videos and building catalog records to ensure they could be easily searched and discovered within KU ScholarWorks.
Tibbetts is still a very active scholar and interviewer; in 2010, he and coauthor James Welsh edited and published three volumes of features, profiles and interviews from “American Classic Screen,” a magazine Tibbetts edited. The covers feature paintings by Tibbetts of Katharine Hepburn, Marilyn Monroe and Paul Newman. Tibbetts’ book of interviews with science fiction authors, “The Gothic Imagination,” is forthcoming in fall 2011 from Palgrave Macmillan. He has also published extensively about music, particularly on 19th century composer Robert Schumann.
More than 100 of the Tibbett’s interviews have already been added to “Over the Rainbow: The John C. Tibbetts Archive of Conversations in the Arts and Humanities,” with more to come this spring. See them now at http://kuscholarworks.ku.edu/dspace/handle/1808/6581.