A gift for his father, the filmmaker
Long after his father’s death, Bob Chenoweth, a retired Hollywood producer, finds a perfect way to make amends with him.
Harold Chenoweth left our Earth long ago.
He was Omaha’s first film producer. He began shooting in the silent-film era. He left behind unbelievable footage:
Huskers playing football in the old Memorial Stadium.
Old Civil War veterans marching in a parade, one in a wheelchair.
Babe Ruth holding a chicken, laughing about it with Lou Gehrig.
Buster Keaton in Hollywood, standing alongside Harold.
Footage of his Omaha family.
Lots of footage of his family – footage that feels real in each reel.
Stolen kisses on the front porch. … Swimmers splashing around in a lake. … Adults who look like they’re in love, flying high in the air on a swing set. … And three babies who look adored by all.
The earliest films of those babies is of Harold’s oldest child, a blonde little girl, playing with a box of bunnies.
She died as a toddler. (It was a long time before Harold and his wife could bring themselves to have more children.) There’s a lot of footage, years later, of a dark-haired girl and then of a baby boy.
In Harold’s footage, you see the baby boy grow into an ornery little boy. There’s one long take of the boy spraying his big sister with a water hose.
That is Harold Chenoweth’s only son, Bob, who helped him in the family film business growing up.
But they grew apart over the years.
Bob is 92 now.
Father and son, he says, were a lot alike.
“Ornery as hell.”
“He was like me – ornery! In fact, he and I hardly spoke towards the end.”
Bob said this other day, at his condo in a renovated old warehouse in downtown Omaha. Bob is a former Hollywood producer. He and his wife, Gloria, live part of the year here in Omaha, part of it in California.
He’s sitting with a camera focused on him again, telling the story of his father.
“He was unbelievable.”
Bob worked alongside his father from the time he was old enough, doing sound, loading film, whatever his father needed. His father worked him hard.
Bob regrets that they grew apart.
But a “miracle” happened after his father died, Bob says, and he found a way to make amends.
He found the old reels of film in boxes in his sister’s basement and had them digitized, and he restored his father’s films.
Last fall, he and the Chenoweth family donated the digitized film to UNO’s Criss Library. You can go online to view that unbelievable footage of Omaha and this part of our Earth, so long ago.
And you can see the world through the eyes of a man whose favorite subject seemed to be his family.
If you would like to donate to the Robert & Gloria Chenoweth Film Preservation Fund, please give online or contact the University of Nebraska Foundation at 800-432-3216.