Oklahoma is a budding film and entertainment industry hub which I lovingly referring to as Gollywood. On one of my recent trips scouting locations, Jim Jordan, a local friend and colleague, mentioned his lifelong friendship with Gray Frederickson. A longtime collaborator with Francis Coppolla, Frederickson is best known for his work producing the Godfather II (and the subsequent Academy Award he earned for his role), as well as The Outsiders, and Apocalypse Now, which also earned him an Oscar nom.
Eagerly, I asked Jim if we could all have lunch, and he quickly responded with two choices for dates and times that week. On our way, I asked Jim what he'd told Gray about me, and/or the purpose of our visit. He replied that he hadn't told him anything - just that he had a friend who wanted to meet him, and Gray said okay! I was surprised at his graciousness, but meeting him moments later, it all came into focus.
We met at Oklahoma City Community College (OCCC) or "O Triple C" for those in the know. In 2000, Gray moved back to Oklahoma City where he was brought in to launch the school's film program. He gave us a full tour of the production and training spaces, and I was incredibly impressed by the level of projects, work, training, and equipment these students were able to access as part of this program. In the editing lab, I spoke with students in the program, working on post-production work at a level similar to what you'd find in a post-production house. The students who worked in the facility Gray oversaw everyday were still star-struck to see him, even though a Gray sighting wasn't a rare one for them. But a star is a star.
We enjoyed lunch at Charleston's, a local mid-level dining establishment, after we talked Gray up from going to the nearby diner. When I ordered the steak, he looked at me deadpanned and asked, "I'm not paying for this lunch, am I?"
We spoke of his longstanding friendship with Francis Coppola, and how they were truly family at this point. He told me about his upcoming projects, and he even made an attempt to raise funds for them, ever the producer.
I've spent a good amount of time with the major players of the Oklahoma film scene, and without exception, they all cite Gray as their inspiration both to work in film, but also to work in film in Oklahoma. That really stuck with me, that over a career spanning many decades, those he met 40 years ago on the set of The Outsiders, or even the students he was working with this very year, he was simply a Firestarter of passion and creativity for the film industry.
We spent about three hours together, and I treasured every second of it. In the following months, we kept in touch via email and Facebook, and so I saw his post just about five weeks ago, when he announced on Facebook that he was in hospice care. I'd known of his health issues, but this still felt like a gut punch. I'd only had lunch with the man, and if I felt this way, I knew his reach was as profound and deep as I'd sensed. Now that's a life well lived.
The day after his hospice announcement, he posted a meme saying "This is not the year to get everything you want. This is the year to appreciate everything you have."
Gray Frederickson, I appreciate YOU. Thank you for your brilliance, your patience, your desire to teach and share with others, your unfathomable humility, and all the many contributions you made - not only to the arts - but to the lives of all you touched along the way. I will always be thankful for you.