Online Collection

Orville Nix film

Object Number: 2000.001.0001
Category: Films
Photographer: Orville Nix, Sr.
Type of Object: Film, 8mm
Dimensions: Gauge: 8 mm; Camera Speed: 18 fps
Medium: Film
Copyright Info: Nix Film © 1964 (Renewed 1992) The Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza
First-generation print of an 8mm color home movie by Orville Nix showing the presidential motorcade in Dealey Plaza.

The Nix home movie of the Kennedy assassination was taken from near the corner of Main and Houston streets nearly a block away from the site of the assassination. It begins with the Kennedy limousine moving north on Houston Street toward the Texas School Book Depository, then shows the fatal shot to Kennedy's head on Elm Street. The “grassy knoll” is in the background as Jackie Kennedy climbs onto the trunk and is met by Secret Service agent Clint Hill. Photographer Abraham Zapruder can be seen on top of a white pedestal farther back from the street. A third sequence, about 30 seconds later, shows bystanders running to the scene.

Nix returned the next morning and filmed the same general area. Eight days later, he and his son finished the film reel by filming a family member – the majorette – at a high school football game in Fort Worth, Texas.

This first-generation print of the original home movie was originally made for the FBI.

Nix Film © 1964 (Renewed 1992) The Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza

Curator's Notes

Orville Nix, an engineer working for the General Services Administration in the nearby Santa Fe Building, filmed the Kennedy motorcade in Dealey Plaza. He captured the limousine as it first turned onto Houston Street approaching the Book Depository and then the fatal shot to the president on Elm Street, followed by the aftermath as crowds ran to the scene.

The next morning, Nix returned to Dealey Plaza and at 7:28 (according to the clock atop the Book Depository) filmed the scene from the approximate locations where he stood the day before.  Investigators can be seen standing near a spot where some eyewitnesses thought a bullet struck the ground.  No such bullet is known to have been recovered.

Since he had only exposed about half of the reel, Nix waited before turning the film in for processing. The Friday night high school football games had been canceled following the assassination and the games were rescheduled for the following week. Nix and his son, Orville Nix Jr., drove to Fort Worth on Saturday night, November 30, and filmed a relative who was the majorette leading the school band during half time festivities. On the way back to their home in Dallas, Nix dropped off his completed film for processing at the Dynacolor lab where he usually took his home movies.

Late the next morning, Dynacolor called him at home and said, “Mr. Nix, you’d better come down right away to see your film for it shows the assassination.” Nix and his son watched the film projected onto a sheet or something unusual and Nix was surprised. He wasn’t sure he got much of anything after that first sequence at Main & Houston.

On the way home with the film, Nix and his son realized that, since they had seen the new issue of LIFE magazine with Zapruder film frames of the assassination, their film might also be valuable. Somehow, Burt Reinhardt of United Press International Television News learned about Nix while in Dallas looking for films and made him an offer. LIFE magazine found Nix, too, and made a similar offer. Within a few days, Nix and his son traveled to New York where Reinhardt prevailed.

Burt Reinhardt bought the Nix film for UPITN. Over the years, UPITN licensed the film for a few documentaries and television broadcasts. At the time of purchase, Orville Nix asked Reinhardt if someday the family could have the film back in, perhaps, 25 years or so. Reinhardt said OK and they shook hands.

In 1991, Gayle Nix Jackson, the daughter of Orville Nix Jr. who had heard the story from her father, sought to do just that. Reinhardt had left UPITN long before and became one of the founders of the Cable News Network (CNN).

Gayle contacted the successor company to UPITN, Worldwide Television News (WTN), and they were intrigued enough to contact Reinhardt, who promptly confirmed the 1963 oral agreement. WTN ultimately returned all copies of the Nix film they could find to Gayle except for the 8mm original, which could not be located. Gayle provided documentation from the 1978 House Select Committee on Assassinations showing the original 8mm film, which had been borrowed during their investigation, was returned to UPITN and a signed receipt was included. Nevertheless, WTN never found the original film.

As a favor to me for the Nix family, conspiracy researcher Robert Groden offered to travel from his home in New Jersey to New York City to assist with locating all copies of the Nix film and then flew to Dallas to deliver the reels to Gayle. She licensed use of the film to Oliver Stone for his JFK movie and she loaned the best reels to his production team. Stone retuned the films to Gayle with at least one new 35mm copy for her own use.

Also in 1991, before Gayle acquired the films from WTN, she mentioned that the family kept a battered 8mm copy of the film she thought came from UPITN many years before. Unfortunately, it was in terrible condition, was badly scratched and had been broken and repaired by splicing.

I suggested she call the Dallas FBI office to see if they happened to have a copy….and they did! An agent, a woman, told her their 8mm print had been in FBI files since 1963 (probably from when Orville Nix loaned his original film to them on Monday, December 2, 1963, the day after the film was processed at Dynacolor.)

Gayle asked if she could see it and the agent said sure, but they didn’t have an 8mm projector. Gayle knew that I had one and she soon made arrangements for us to visit the office for a screening. The three of us watched the film and it was in near-pristine, beautiful condition. As we prepared to leave, Gayle turned to the agent and said, “May I have this copy? It’s in much better condition than ours.” The agent, a woman, said she would check with the main office in Washington and would let her know. The next morning, the agent called to say, “Come and get it but may we have your copy in exchange?” Gayle quickly agreed.

Around 1992, Gayle, the family member responsible for managing the film, was asked to provide a video tape copy for a TV production. She asked me for help and I wound up taking the reels to Filmworkers, a new Dallas film post-production company. We looked at the reels and selected the best one for transfer to video – it was a print made by UPITN in 1964, according to the film’s date code, that included slow motion and blowup scenes. The videotape was sent to Stone's production company and they eventually returned it to Gayle.

In 2000, the Nix family transferred ownership of the Nix film to The Sixth Floor Museum.  The acquisition included the Nix film copyright along with all film copies, the FBI’s 8mm print, Oliver Stone’s 35mm copy, and the video tape transfer. In 2002 and 2004 the Museum acquired additional items from the Nix family including a replacement camera Nix received from the FBI in 1964 after the agency damaged his original camera during testing. - Gary Mack, Curator


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