This documentary illustrates what was undoubtedly the greatest test of endurance, an unbelievable cross-country foot race from Los Angeles to New York that took place in 1928. Dubbed "the Bunion Derby" by sports writers of the day, the 199 runners faced endurance obstacles of almost Herculean proportions as they had to endure sunburn, injuries, towns that refused to cooperate with the race, detours, sandstorms, snowstorms, bankruptcy, food shortages and even threats that New Jersey citizens were going to knock off the competition so their home-state runner could win. Only 55 men finished the 84-day race that spanned 3,422-miles, primarily on U.S. Highway Route 66. Won by 19-year-old Cherokee Indian Andy Payne, the shy son of an Oklahoma farmer who entered the race because "I just thought I could do it." Payne took his $25,000 back to Oklahoma, paid off his family’s mortgage, and built them a new house. He continued to live on the family farm, eventually becoming Clerk of the Oklahoma State Supreme Court, a position he held until his retirement in 1973. The film not only describes Payne’s incredible achievement, but tells the story of a race that was filled with drama, hucksterism, and even, unfortunately, the early beginnings of corporate sponsorship of athletic events. PBS started broadcasting this film in November, 2002, and you may now visit the Official Web Site to obtain fascinating historical information or Visionmaker.org to obtain your own DVD copy. The producer/director for this project is Dan Bigbee, Jr. and producer/writer/researcher Lily Shangreaux (read interview below), clearly did the homework needed to make this a fine film production.
Running Movies: What prompted you to make a historical documentary about the 1928 running of the "Bunion Derby"?
Don Bigbee Jr.: Our interest was Andy Payne. He was a Cherokee farm boy from our home state. Being Indian ourselves we feel the need to bring Indian heroes to life for our children and call attention to the great things tribal people do.
RM: How long did it take to complete the research for you film and was there some resource that you found most revealing?
DB: Actually the research continues. We get bits of information from viewer through the website all the time. Several descendants of the runners have added to the story. Unfortunately we only had an hour on PBS.
RM: Was it difficult making reenactments of the runners with these events happening over 70 years ago?
DB: Yes and no. It was a difficult effort to find the 1928 alignment of Route 66. Once we knew the route, all of the shots were made on the actual race course. We do believe in most cases the road conditions we found were the same as 1928. This made it easy to shoot the reenactments.
RM: Your official website to the film is one of the most extensive sites I have seen to promote a movie. What was your main goal in putting your site up?
DB: As I said, we only had an hour on PBS. We learned so much by digging in the newspaper, morgues, libraries, and historical societies that we couldn’t just keep it to ourselves. For the most part the Bunion Derby was forgotten. We hope through the website and the show that this most amazing undertaking will take a more prominent place in our history.
RM: Public television initially broadcast your film on a national level. What was the initial response with such a large audience seeing your work?
DB: It has been overwhelming. We have received so many positive comments.
RM: Visionmaker.org currently has distribution rights to The Great American Footrace. How long will they be providing your movie for sale and what is the plan after that time for distribution?
DB: We have not thought about it much. The contract is in place for a few more years. Some cable TV folks have expressed an interest.
RM: Do you have any other projects in the near future that will be featuring running?
DB: Not at this time, not running anyway. We are working on a film about the 1920’s oil boom in Oklahoma and how it affected the Osage tribe. The Osage owned one of the biggest oils reserves of the day.
RM: Thank you, Dan. Is there anything else you would like to mention to my readers?
DB: We hope you enjoy the film as much as we enjoyed making it. In this day of “extreme” sport lets not forget what Andy Payne and the Bunioneers accomplished.