Bill Sniffin: Wyoming Mentioned In Movie ‘Oppenheimer’ And TV Show About Jerry Buss

Columnist Bill Sniffin writes, “Wyoming got some mention in the movie “Oppenheimer” and in the HBO series “Winning Time,” which is about the rise of the Los Angeles Lakers and its owner, Kemmerer native Jerry Buss.

Bill Sniffin

August 12, 20235 min read

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(Cowboy State Daily Staff)

Wyoming got some mention in the movie “Oppenheimer” and in the HBO series “Winning Time,” which is about the rise of the Los Angeles Lakers and its owner, Kemmerer native Jerry Buss.

I took my grandsons to the hottest movie in the country this week, “Oppenheimer,” and we were all impressed.

It is a very well-made movie that tells one of the most compelling hidden stories of our time.

‘It Better Work’

As Gen. Leslie Groves (Matt Damon) says in the movie, “We spent $2 billion and three years. It damn well better work,” about the building of the Atom Bomb.

What Director Christopher Nolan tells us is a three-part story about the rise of theoretical physicists like J. Robert Oppenheimer, the building of the bomb itself and the aftermath, where Oppenheimer’s reputation was nearly ruined.

One of the U.S. senators shown during a hearing was the late Gale McGee, a long-time Democrat from the Cowboy State.

Spoiler alert: The best part of the film is the suspense that builds when they actually set off the first bomb in New Mexico. We all know now that it was going to work. But as one physicist said, “There is a near zero chance this will kill our atmosphere and kill everyone on Earth.”

Gen. Groves purses his lips and asks: “Near zero?”

It is chilling to think Oppenheimer worried that by pushing that button he could destroy the planet. They were in uncharted territory.

A few years ago, we visited Los Alamos, New Mexico, where all the Manhattan Project work was done. It is a beautiful place that mirrors Wyoming. In the movie, it looks like the Cowboy State. This movie was actually filmed in New Mexico near the original site.

Coincidentally, that part of New Mexico contains a super volcano caldera site called Valles, which is similar to the one in Yellowstone National Park. Oppenheimer and his crew did not realize they were sitting near a site of a super volcano, which was discovered in the 1960s.

Although the Valles site is a super volcano, it is much smaller than the truly gigantic Yellowstone caldera, according to volcanologists.

Also, if the Valles caldera site looks familiar, it’s because most of the “Longmire” TV series was filmed there. That series is based on books by Craig Johnson of Ucross and the stories are set in Wyoming.

Buss Is A Colorful Character

Just lately, I have finally caught up with the HBO series “Winning Time, The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty.”

It debuted last season and is running again this year. After three episodes I can guarantee I will be watching the rest of it.

John C. Reilly is superb in playing the role of the colorful Dr. Jerry Buss. In the second episode, he talks about growing up in the cold Wyoming winters where his stepfather made him go outside and work in weather so bitter, his teeth were chattering for days.

Yup, that is the Wyoming winter.

Buss did not want to grow up to be a coal miner, so he went to the University of Wyoming, where he graduated in 30 months with a degree in chemistry. He then received a doctorate in physical chemistry from the University of Southern California, and from then on wanted to be called Dr. Buss.

He stayed close to UW and established an endowment honoring two professors, Rebecca Raulins and Sara Rhodes, from the Chemistry Department. World-renowned chemists come to UW each year to speak to classes funded by that endowment.

In 2005, UW awarded Buss an honorary law degree.

He made his fortune in real estate in Southern California and bought the Lakers in 1979 from Jack Kent Cooke. Buss paid $67 million at a time when the team was losing money, as was the NBA. He created a theme called Show Time where he turned the Laker games into special events. His team won five NBA championships in the 1980s.

The show is entertaining and really treats Buss as a caricature. In real life, he had a great many wonderful and innovative accomplishments.

Buss died 10 years ago at age 80, but left quite a legacy. Today, his daughter Jeanie Buss runs the Lakers.

‘Teton’ Shows Off Jackson Money

Amazon is fast-tracking a project called “Teton,” which will contrast the rich people of Jackson, Wyoming, with the ordinary folks just trying to eke out a living.

The project is on hold because of writers and actors strikes, but it will come soon once workers go back to work.

It is the brainchild of Amy B. Harris, who worked on shows like “Sex and the City” and the “Carrie Diaries” with her working partner Jason Reilly.

Concept of the show came from a musician named Cameron Duddy, who plays for a group called Midland. Duddy has celebrity genes as the stepson of Joely Fisher and step-grandson of actress Connie Stevens. Connie owned a home in Jackson for decades. His father is Chris Duddy, a well-respected cinematographer.

Duddy is focusing on a group called the “skids,” which defines local ski bums who are always out of money, in contrast with the rich 1% who dominate Jackson’s activities.

At this point the project is held up by union delays.

Also, because Wyoming does not offer film incentives, you can guarantee the program will be filmed in either Canada or New Mexico. Too bad. There will be lots of shots of the Tetons but little money spent here in the Cowboy State.

But let’s stay tuned for “Teton.”

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Bill Sniffin

Wyoming Life Columnist

Columnist, author, and journalist Bill Sniffin writes about Wyoming life on Cowboy State Daily -- the state's most-read news publication.