Orville Nix Film Overview and Time Line

About the Collections

The Orville Nix film is considered the second most important film showing the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Key to the film's significance is the photographer's perspective from the south curb of Main Street inside Dealey Plaza—the reverse angle from the Abraham Zapruder film—showing part of the grassy knoll in the background. The most famous frames of the Nix film show Jackie Kennedy scrambling over the trunk of the presidential limousine and Secret Service agent Clint Hill climbing onto the back of the vehicle as it speeds away from Dealey Plaza.

• Orville Nix, 52 years old and with a fourth-grade education, worked for the U.S. General Services Administration as an air conditioning engineer in the former Terminal Annex building on the south side of Dealey Plaza.

• Using a Keystone 8mm Auto-Zoom camera, Nix filmed three scenes on November 22, 1963: the presidential motorcade entering Dealey Plaza, the last part of the assassination with the grassy knoll in the background, and the aftermath of the shooting a few seconds later. He stood first near the northwest corner of Main and Houston streets, then moved to the south curb of Main about 20 to 30 feet west of Houston.


• Nix filmed the moments just before or after Nellie Connally said to JFK, "You can't say Dallas doesn't love you, Mr. President!" The next scene captured the fatal shot to President Kennedy's head with the grassy knoll in the background, Jackie Kennedy climbing onto the trunk of the car and Secret Service agent Clint Hill jumping onto the moving car. Then, after about 20 seconds, crowds of people begin to run toward the spot, and Nix filmed some of their actions.

• Nix returned to Dealey Plaza at 7:28 the next morning, November 23, and filmed the main buildings, including the Texas School Book Depository with the Hertz sign on top, and investigators standing at a spot on the south side of Elm near where some thought a bullet may have hit.

• Nix and his son, Orville Jr., attended a high school football game in Fort Worth, on Saturday night, November 30, and filmed a family friend involved in half-time activities.

• On the way home, Nix dropped his film off for processing at Dynacolor in northwest Dallas. The next morning, the lab called to say he should come see his film right away. Nix and his son watched it at the lab, then drove to the Dallas FBI office and loaned the original reel to investigators. The FBI returned the original film to Nix on December 4, 1963.

• Nix sold his original color film on Friday, December 6, to United Press International (UPI) for $5,000, signing an agreement turning over all rights to them (he had earlier turned down offers from Life and CBS). As an afterthought, Nix asked if he could have the film back someday, and the UPI executive agreed that he could after 25 years. They shook hands but did not make that part of the agreement official on paper. Nix also received a first-generation 8mm print of the film around this time.

• On December 7, UPI news subscribers received several frames of the film, and it appeared in theaters in a black-and-white Fox Movietone newsreel about the assassination.

• On January 29, 1964, Nix loaned his camera to the FBI for testing and analysis, and they used it in their May 1964 assassination re-creation studies in Dealey Plaza. Needing the camera for a planned vacation, Nix requested its return, but the FBI delayed. Eventually the FBI bought Nix a duplicate camera and finally returned the original in June 1964.

• The FBI used a copy of the Nix film to study the assassination, and the Warren Commission reproduced six frames from it in volume 18 of its hearings along with frames from the Abraham Zapruder and Marie Muchmore films of the shooting.

• In 1965, New York researcher Jones Harris found in the Nix film what he thought was the image of a second gunman on the grassy knoll. Eventually UPI arranged for computer enhancement by the Itek Corporation, which reported in 1967 that the "man" was the shadow pattern of leaves and branches on the wall of the pergola.

• Orville Nix appeared in Rush to Judgment, a 1967 documentary produced in conjunction with critic Mark Lane's book of the same name. Nix explained that he thought the three shots he heard came from the fence on the knoll, but he was satisfied with the Warren Commission conclusion that they came from the Texas School Book Depository.

• Nix also appeared in a June 1967 CBS News four-part special examining the Warren report; Nix's granddaughter, Gayle, rode with him to Dealey Plaza for the interview (although she did not appear in it). Nix brought his camera with him and filmed a few scenes in the plaza, capturing an unidentified photographer. That original film is also part of the Museum's Nix Collection.

• Nix died at the age of 61 on January 17, 1972, in Dallas of a heart attack.

• In 1978, Congress' House Select Committee on Assassinations obtained the original 8mm Nix film and enhanced certain frames. Their experts confirmed the "gunman" image noticed by Jones Harris was actually shadows on a wall, but no other new information could be found.

• In the late 1980s, Gayle Nix Jackson made inquiries of UPI in an effort to have the film and copyrights returned to the Nix family, which had encouraged her to be their spokesperson. She eventually reached Burt Reinhardt, the UPI executive who made the promise to Nix to return the film after 25 years. Reinhardt, who had become a top executive with CNN, confirmed the agreement and offered to help. He enlisted the aid of Maurice Schonfeld, the UPI executive in charge of the 1967 enhancement project.

• By 1991, UPI had agreed to return the original footage, all known copies and all ownership rights to the Nix family. Upon searching their files, UPI failed to locate the original 8mm film. The remaining copies, 16mm color and black-and-white prints and negatives, were sorted at UPI's New York archive with the help of Robert Groden, who hand-carried them to Dallas and gave them to the family. Those films are also in the Museum's Nix Collection.

• In 1992, taking advantage of publicity generated by Oliver Stone’s JFK movie, Jackson appeared on several national and local talk and magazine TV shows, such as Geraldo! and Entertainment Tonight and pleaded for the return of the original film. The original, of course, would have the clearest image. Despite considerable publicity, the original Nix film has not been located.

• Also in 1992, Jackson called the Dallas FBI office to inquire whether it had any copies of her film or information about the missing original. The office located an original, first-generation 8mm print of the film and offered to let her see it. After the viewing, Jackson asked if she could have the film because the original was lost. The agent said she would check with FBI headquarters. The following morning, the agent called to say, "It's yours. Come and get it." Jackson offered to give the FBI her grandfather's only original print, although it was badly scratched and worn; nevertheless, the FBI agreed to the exchange. The 8mm-print Gayle received is part of the Museum's Nix Collection.

• In 2000, The Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza acquired the copyright to the Nix film and all film and tape copies in the Nix family's possession, as well as numerous film-related documents. The Museum later acquired the camera Nix used to make the film (currently on exhibit at the Museum), as well as 42 additional reels of Nix family home movies.