Little Rock Culture Vulture

Cultural events, places and people in the Little Rock area


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Little Rock Look Back: STAR WARS opens in Little Rock

As a third grade boy, I remember devouring the novelized version of Star Wars in 1977. I read everything I could about the movie. I owned the two disc London Symphony Orchestra soundtrack on LP.

I was a few months late to Star Wars figures, but Christmas of 1977 and birthday of 1978 did feature them as gifts. (I promptly lost my Sandcrawler weapon at my grandparents’ house on Christmas day.)

In those early days, I was excited by the idea of NINE Star Wars movies. Then, I gave up hope when George Lucas abandoned them after Return of the Jedi. When the prequels were announced during my adulthood, I was excited. Only to be disappointed by the actual movies (though admittedly they did get better by episode 3).

Then in 2015, the day my eighth grade self dreamed of, is here! What happens AFTER Return of the Jedi.  I saw The Force Awakens and flashed back to those early days. (Cynics might say it was because so much of Episode 7 was a retread of Episode 4.)  And today (after sneak peaks last night), The Last Jedi opens.

In honor of Star Wars: The Last Jedi opening day, here is a flash back to the Arkansas Gazette ad in June 1977 when the first film hit Little Rock (a full month after it first opened in New York).

It did not reach Little Rock until June 24, 1977. Given its status as a sleeper hit, it is no surprise that it came into Little Rock largely unnoticed.

In that day, major films opening on a Friday would be heralded the previous Sunday with a substantial advertisement. The first Star Wars ad ran on Thursday, June 23, 1977, the day before it opened. By contrast, Herbie Goes to Monte Carlo, which would play at the same theatre, had a large ad on Sunday, June 19.

While Star Wars would seem like the perfect movie for the great UA Cinema 150, it did not play there. The film playing at the 150 was A Bridge Too Far, which was, at least an action movie. Star Wars did not even open at a UA theatre. It opened at the ABC Cinema 1 & 2 (located at Markham and John Barrow) and at the McCain Mall Cinema. (The ABC Cinema location is now home to discount cellphone and discount clothing businesses; a cinema has returned to McCain Mall but in a different location.)

The day it opened, there was a fairly large ad which incorporated the familiar beefcake Luke, Leia in flowing gowns, and Darth Vader mask. On the Sunday after it opened, there was a slightly smaller ad with the same artwork. McCain Mall also ran a small add for both Star Wars and Herbie. It noted that Star Wars was a film that management “does not recommend for children.”

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Little Rock Look Back: On Dec 4, 1939, a dozen LR aldermen held in contempt of court

The Pulaski County Courthouse where the 12 Little Rock aldermen were arraigned.

On Monday, December 4, 1939, a dozen of Little Rock’s aldermen reported to the county jail to serve sentences for contempt of court.  The previous Monday, the twelve council members had voted against an ordinance which had been ordered by the judge in an improvement district matter.  The remaining aldermen (there were 18 total aldermen at the time) had either voted in the affirmative or had been absent.  Because the twelve had refused to change their votes since that meeting, the judge ordered them jailed.

At the hearing, the judge brought each alderman up one by one. This seemed to be in order to further embarrass the aldermen.  The judge also interviewed Mayor J. V. Satterfield and City Clerk H. C. “Sport” Graham to put on the record that they had counseled the aldermen to obey the judge’s order.

Carolyn Conner, the only female alderman, was not jailed but was fined $50. The eleven men were held at the jail, though not in cells.  Newspaper photos showed the men playing cards in a conference room.  In order to get out of jail, the judge gave the aldermen the chance to change their votes.

Mayor J. V. Satterfield pleaded with the judge to let the aldermen leave the jail to attend the meeting at City Hall, which was nearby.  He requested that the city be allowed to maintain “what little dignity remained” by not having the meeting at the jail.  The judge relented, and the aldermen were escorted by deputies to the council chambers.

After the aldermen changed their votes, the judge suspended the remainder of their sentences.  The sentences were not vacated, they were only suspended.  The judge admonished them that should they attempt to reverse their reversal, he would throw them back in jail.


Little Rock Look Back: First meeting of Central and Hall in football

lrchs-lrhhsHall High opened its doors and started playing football in 1957. As a new school with a largely younger student body, it only played smaller schools that initial season.  The first Hall vs. Central game was set for Thanksgiving 1958 (November 27).

During the 1958-1959 school year, Little Rock’s high schools were closed for the ill-conceived, ill-advised reason to keep them from being integrated schools.  Though classes were not in session, football teams practiced and played.  The Arkansas Gazette noted that most of those games that season drew only 1,000 spectators, which was down from the usual 5,000 to 8,000 a game.

With the future of Little Rock’s high schools in doubt, there was some hand wringing about whether the 1958 Thanksgiving Day game would be not only the first meeting between Hall and Central, but perhaps also the last.

In only its second year of playing, Hall was undefeated and poised to win the state championship heading into the Thanksgiving game.  Central surprised the Warriors by winning 7-0 before a crowd of 5,000, which cost Hall the undefeated season and the championship (El Dorado became state champs).  This game set the tone for the high stakes of the rest of the series.


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Little Rock Look Back: Clinton Center opens in 2004

wjc library openingIt has been thirteen years since the Clinton Presidential Center opened on a wet, cold Thursday.

The days leading up to it has been glorious.  And while the weather may have literally dampened spirits a bit, it was still an important day for Little Rock and Arkansas.

The events leading up to the opening included a concert by Aretha Franklin with the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra and an appearance by Senator John Glenn at the Museum of Discovery.  Events were hosted by the Arkansas Arts Center, Arkansas Repertory Theatre, Historic Arkansas Museum, and Old State House Museum.  There were scores of receptions and parties as Hollywood, New York, and DC descended on Little Rock.

November 18 dawned rainy and cool.  As the day continued on the precipitation continued while the temperature did not warm up.  Years of planning for a grand opening ceremony came down to this.  But at the appointed time, festivities began.

On the site of an abandoned warehouse district and unofficial dump which had previously been a train station, many leaders of the free world were gathered.  They rubbed shoulders with thousands of Arkansans from probably every county in the state.

It had been seven years and eleven days since Bill Clinton had announced the site of his presidential library.  It had been five years since artifacts and articles started arriving from Washington DC in Little Rock.  There had been lawsuits, threats of lawsuits, the threat of a Counter-Clinton Library, and countless meetings.

After speeches from Presidents Carter, Bush 41 and Bush 43, remarks from President Clinton and then-Senator Clinton (who was made even wetter by water pouring off an ill-placed umbrella), and even a musical performance by Bono and The Edge, Chelsea Clinton turned over the ceremonial key from the Clinton Foundation to the National Archives to officially open the Clinton Presidential Center.

In his capacity leading the Clinton Foundation, Skip Rutherford oversaw the planning for the Clinton Library and the grand opening festivities.  He, along with the foundation’s Executive Director Stephanie Streett, oversaw a phalanx of volunteers and staff to anticipate every detail.  The 1,000 days countdown sign that had been on the construction site (the brainchild of Tyler Denton) finally reached 0.

Isabelle Rodriguez, Shannon Butler, Mariah Hatta, Jordan Johnson, Lucas Hargraves, and Ben Beaumont — among others — had been putting in twelve plus hour days for months on end to get ready for the opening.  City Manager Bruce T. Moore led a team of City officials who had assisted on the planning and execution of the site preparation and making sure Little Rock was ready to welcome the world.  Moore and City Director Dean Kumpuris had been appointed by Little Rock Mayor Jim Dailey to lead Little Rock’s efforts to land the library.  After Clinton’s announcement of the site, Dailey, Kumpuris and Moore continued to work together to ensure the library would be successful.

While the weather on November 18, 2004, may have been a disappointment, the people who were gathered knew they were witnesses to history.  And thirteen years later, is a day people still talk about.


20 years of THE LION KING

On November 13, 1997, THE LION KING opened on Broadway.  It would go on to win six 1998 Tony Awards including Best Musical.  Today it celebrates its 20th Birthday!  It has played 8,325 performances on Broadway.

This coming April the entire Serengeti will come to life inside the newly renovated Robinson Performance Hall when Celebrity Attractions brings this Disney production to Little Rock!

More than 90 million people around the world have experienced the awe-inspiring visual artistry, the unforgettable music, and the uniquely theatrical storytelling of this Broadway spectacular “one of the most breathtaking and beloved productions ever to grace the stage.

THE LION KING brings together one of the most imaginative creative teams on Broadway.  Tony Award®-winning director Julie Taymor brings to life a story filled with hope and adventure set against an amazing backdrop of stunning visuals.  THE LION KING also features the extraordinary work of Tony Award®-winning choreographer Garth Fagan and some of Broadway’s most recognizable music, crafted by Tony Award®-winning artists Elton John and Tim Rice.


Happy 186 to Little Rock!

With the stroke of Territorial Governor John Pope’s pen, Little Rock was officially chartered as a town on November 7, 1831. This followed approval by the Arkansas legislature a few days earlier.

As a chartered, officially recognized municipality, the Town of Little Rock was authorized to create a government and to plan for a Mayor and Aldermen to be elected. That election would take place in January 1832 with the initial council meeting later that month.

There are several earlier and later days which could be used to mark Little Rock’s official birth (La Harpe sighting in 1722, first settler in 1812, permanent settlement in 1820, selection of trustees in 1825, chartered as a City in 1835, chartered as a City of First Class in 1875) — but it is November 7, 1831, which has been the officially recognized and accepted date.

In 1931, Little Rock celebrated her centennial with a series of events.  Likewise, in November 1981, Little Rock Mayor Charles Bussey signed and City Clerk Jane Czech attested Resolution 6,687 which recognized the Little Rock sesquicentennial.


Little Rock Look Back: Bill Clinton announces LR as site for his library

Refuse on the site where the Clinton Center would be built

On November 7, 1997, President Bill Clinton announced his intentions to locate his presidential library in Little Rock at the end of a warehouse district.

The Little Rock City Board met in a special meeting that day to rename part of Markham Street, which would lead to the site, as President Clinton Avenue.

While the announcement was met with excitement in many quarters, there were still some skeptics who had a hard time envisioning a presidential library and park in the middle of a wasteland worthy of a T. S. Eliot poem.

There would be many hurdles between the November 1997 announcement to the December 2001 groundbreaking. But for the moment, City of Little Rock leaders, celebrated the achievement.  Then Mayor Jim Dailey had appointed City Director Dean Kumpuris and City employee Bruce T. Moore to lead the City’s efforts.  Moore and Kumpuris worked with Skip Rutherford and others to narrow the potential sites.

In September 1997, the Clintons were in town for the 40th anniversary of the integration of Central High School.  They surprised Kumpuris and Moore with a decision for a Sunday afternoon visit to the warehouse district proposed site. Secret Service would not let the limousine drive in part of the property, so the Clintons, Moore, Kumpuris, and Rutherford walked up a path to the roof of the abandoned Arkansas Book Depository.  It was there that the Clintons could see the Little Rock skyline which would be visible from the library.

Of course by the time the library had opened in November 2004, the Little Rock skyline was different. Spurred on by the library, several new highrises had been constructed in downtown.