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Join the rumble

Tulsa Pop Culture Expo brings ‘Ponyboy’ C. Thomas Howell for Outsiders House Museum benefit

C. Thomas Howell


We’ve grown used to accepting a certain status quo of anonymity in Tulsa—a place where, somewhere along the line, we resigned ourselves to the idea that nothing much is supposed to really happen. We know how pastoral Tulsa must look in the eyes of the proverbial Big Coastal City, flanked for miles in each direction by rolling plains: a fishing bobber floating in a vast, still pond.

Both metropolitan movement and small-town stillness paint the backdrop of S.E. Hinton’s 1967 novel “The Outsiders.” The wildly popular characters, teens struggling together in Tulsan darkness, captured the American imagination and their message of interrogating one’s prejudices in the name of community spread across the globe like prairie fire.

“The Outsiders” called out to Danny Boy O’Connor long before he ever set foot in Tulsa. Though he’s famous around the world for his career making hip-hop records with House of Pain, here in Tulsa he’s becoming a legend of a different sort.

Francis Ford Coppola’s 1983 film adaptation of “The Outsiders” was O’Connor’s favorite movie when he discovered the Curtis brothers’ residence while passing through Tulsa on tour in 2009. When he saw that the dilapidated house was on the market with no buyers, he feared it was going to be bulldozed. He’d be damned if anyone was going to try to tear it down.

O’Connor was shocked. “I couldn’t believe a national treasure could be had for 16 grand.”

He’s since been busy renovating the house and upgrading it for use as a public facility, The Outsiders House Museum. “This house will always need some form of community support. We’re constantly trying to raise awareness and build support to keep this thing afloat,” O’Connor said.

C. Thomas Howell—who immortalized the iconic “Ponyboy” Michael Curtis onscreen—will join celebrity guests like Karen Gillan and Summer Glau at the Tulsa Pop Culture Expo on Nov. 2-4 at the Renaissance Hotel. He’ll also take four VIP bus tour groups to some of the filming sites from “The Outsiders,” ending with a guided tour of The Outsiders House Museum. The $125 VIP tickets sold out in two hours. Three standard tours minus Howell’s in-person commentary also sold out quickly.

Arthur Greeno, organizer of Tulsa Pop Culture Expo and Tulsa Pop Kids, says there’s still an opportunity to snag some extra tickets as a small number of seats open up. Purchase of a Tulsa Pop Culture Expo ticket will allow you to enter a lottery to buy two of the coveted Outsiders VIP tour tickets.

Tulsa Pop Kids, the organizer of Tulsa Pop Culture Expo, doesn’t make money from the tours, because the nonprofit group has a greater goal: to stimulate the local economy and forge connections. “All that money will roll back into The Outsiders House Museum,” Greeno said. “The goal is for them to make money on it, so we can support them.”

C. Thomas Howell spoke about the legacy of “The Outsiders,” in a swelling, expressive growl. “People can identify with this book and characters in the film,” he said. “We’re all just trying to figure out who we are as people.”

 Howell strongly supports Danny Boy O’Connor’s cause, which is why he’s coming to Tulsa to fight alongside him in this effort to preserve and celebrate one of Tulsa’s most iconic cultural landmarks. It’s a fight that’s near and dear to his heart. Howell discovered “The Outsiders” book at age 14. “I fell in love with the book, and I fell in love with the character,” he said of Ponyboy. “Instead of revering switchblades and chains and grease, he loves poetry and life and love.”

At age 14, Howell was following in the footsteps of his dad, a movie stuntman and professional bull rider. Howell’s friends in the rodeo were older kids, but they embraced him. “I would be the kid that would point out the budding flower, on the side of the hill, as we were dragging our bull ropes, and people would be like, ‘You’re fucking different, but you’re cool.’”

Howell’s background made it easy to channel Ponyboy’s bravery. Acting didn’t scare Howell. He already knew real danger. “I mean, Francis Ford Coppola wasn’t a 2,000-pound bull,” Howell laughed. “My father lit himself on fire for a living. I didn’t care if you won an Academy Award because you made a movie. My dad was a fucking badass.”

With the blessing of his dad back home in L.A., Howell filmed “The Outsiders” without parental supervision. He forged strong bonds with his onscreen brothers during production. “My family became my cast in the production, and that’s probably why it means so much to me to go back, and to share these stories, and to keep this spirit and the intention alive,” he said.

Tulsa isn’t just a pit stop on Route 66 to C. Thomas Howell and Danny Boy O’Connor. It was the setting for genuine, lasting memories. Tulsa means enough to these two outsiders that they’ve chosen to come here to preserve it, pro bono, in hopes the rest of us will join the rumble.

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