Skip to main content

The Idaho Film Collection – a Tom Trusky legacy

Truth is stranger than fiction

It’s a phenomenal story about a professor in search of preserving artifacts, a beautiful woman assisting him, and a run-in with the Soviets. Sounds like an Indiana Jones film, huh? Not quite. This is not Hollywood fiction, but a true story at the heart of the Idaho Film Collection, a fabulous archival collection now available for research in Albertsons Library’s special collections and archives

Former English professor Tom Trusky, an expert historian on Idaho filmmaking, made it his mission to seek out lost relics of film and other related materials specifically connected to Idaho. In 1987, while searching for lost movies by silent film star/producer Nell Shipman, Trusky discovered the Soviet Archives held two surviving reels of Told in the Hills. Shot in 1919, Told in the Hills was, at the time, believed to be the first feature-film made in Idaho. The film also realistically depicted the Nez Perce Indians who were cast, and involved, in the production, something unheard of at the time.

Marilyn Monroe seals the deal

These characteristics made Told in the Hills a genuine holy grail of Idaho films. Trusky wrote to the Soviet Archives asking if there was any way to purchase the film. He sent two items with his request to sweeten the deal: a Trusky-published booklet on films made in Idaho and a poster of Marilyn Monroe dressed in an Idaho Potatoes sack dress. Trusky later surmised it might have been Monroe that helped secure the deal, since the Soviets wrote back, and Trusky purchased the reels. 

 

Members of the Nez Perce and actor Robert Warwick on the set of Told in the Hills (1919)
Actor Robert Warwick poses with members of the Nez Perce in 1919
The Idaho Film Collection

After this event and other adventures, Trusky formed the Idaho Film Collection (IFC) in the mid 1990s. The IFC supported Trusky’s research on films shot entirely (or partially) in the Gem State, and mainly pertaining to materials from the first half of the 20th century. The results of this work now make up the collection preserved in the library’s special collections and archives. The collection contains extensive material relating to the films of Nell Shipman, historical publications by Trusky, correspondence between Trusky and others regarding his search for specific films, movie reels, stills, set photos, film reviews, actor and actress biographical information, and other audio and visual multimedia. 

The Anderson bequest

Trusky’s IFC efforts were aided by a generous bequest from the estate of Idaho native Howard Anderson, and the donation of several “lost” films by Boise physician Dr. Raymond Bungard. Although Trusky died in 2009, the spirit of his work lives on. The Anderson bequest continues to support filmmaking and photography in Idaho through grant funds administered by a board of Boise State faculty operating as the Idaho Film Collection. The board is currently accepting applications to support student projects as well as projects by faculty, staff and independent artists. Applications are due March 15 for the next cycle. Please contact Mariah Devereux Herbeck at DevereuxHerbeck@boisestate.edu with any questions.

Special collections continues to collect materials related to Idaho film history. Email Cheryl Oestreicher, head of special collections and archives, at cheryloestreicher@boisestate.edu for more information. 

by Bryan Cottle, temporary processing archivist, Special Collections and Archives