Little Rock Culture Vulture

Cultural events, places and people in the Little Rock area


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Little Rock Look Back: Central & Hall Football at 2-0

lrchs-lrhhsAfter two weeks of prep gridiron (that is high school football to those who don’t write like a 1950s inky wretch), Little Rock Central and Little Rock Hall are both posting records of 2 wins and 0 losses.  This feat has not been achieved in quite a while.

How long?  37 seasons!  It was 1979, the last time that the Tigers and Warriors were both out of the gate at 2-0.

1979

Jimmy Carter was in the White House. Bill Clinton was in his first term as Governor. First Lady Hillary Rodham was several months pregnant with Chelsea. Hall High and Razorback standout Webb Hubbell was Mayor of Little Rock.  The City’s population was in the 150,000s (it would be 159,151 after the 1980 census).  Little Rock had an area of approximately 80 square miles.  (Today it is approximately 200,000 citizens over 122 square miles.)

Lou Holtz was coaching the Arkansas Razorbacks in the Southwest Conference.  Harry Hall was in his first season as Commissioner of the Arkansas Intercollegiate Conference.  Rex Nelson was a student at Ouachita.  Paul Eells was in his second year with KATV, while Dave Woodman was finishing his first decade at KARK.  Gary Hogan was anchoring sports for KTHV.  Hogs football games were broadcast on KAAY radio.  While Bob Buice and Jim Elder were ruling the airwaves at KARN, Craig O’Neill was dominating mornings at KLAZ.

Orville Henry, Jim Bailey, and Wadie Moore covered college and high school sports for the Arkansas Gazette.  The Arkansas Democrat had switched to morning delivery and hired John Robert Starr as editor.  Both papers carried ads for Kempners, Golds, M.M. Cohn, Skaggs Albertsons, Minute Man, Union National Bank, Commercial National Bank, Worthen National Bank, and First National Bank.

Metrocentre Mall existed with bricked over streets on Main and Capitol. The Grady Manning Hotel and Hotel Marion still stood (though in their twilight days before their February 1980 date with demolition.)

So a lot has changed since Central and Hall previously achieved this.  In the interval, Central has been 2-0 a dozen times and Hall has achieved that a brace. But the schools never managed it during the same season.  Three times the schools both managed 1-1 seasons and seven times they each started at 0-2.

The 1979 Warriors were helmed by C. W. Keopple, who would lead the team from the 1960s into the 1980s winning four conference/state titles. (When your conference is statewide, winning one got you the other.)  Bernie Cox was in his fifth season as the Tigers’ mentor, with two state championships already under his belt, five more would be in his future.

The teams stayed tied through the fourth week. But in the fifth week, while Central won, Hall lost to Parkview by a score of 7-0.  The following week, the Warriors rebounded, while the Tigers settled for a 0 to 0 tie with Ole Main.  Weeks seven through ten saw both teams notching another win each week.  This set up a Thanksgiving Day classic with the state’s top two teams facing off.  Central was slightly favored, but season records seldom carried any weight when the two cross-town rivals played on Thanksgiving afternoon.  In an upset, Hall bested Central by a score of 17 to 0.

From 1987 to 1990, the second game of the season was the Hall-Central matchup, which meant that it would have been impossible to both start with a 2-0 record.  This second week matchup was made necessary by the fact that not only could the two teams no longer face off on Thanksgiving after 1982, but the two schools were not in the same conference from 1983 through 2000. So the faceoff was early in the season, during the non-conference portion.

Due to subsequent restructurings by the Arkansas Activities Association, the two schools have not played a football game since 2005.  The bell from the “Battle of the Bell” which was supposed to replace the pageantry and intense rivalry of the Thanksgiving Day matchups, sat forlornly and largely forgotten in the trophy case at Central following the 2005 edition which Central won by a score of 24 to 7.  (That season Central started at 0-2 on the way to a 5-5 record and Hall started at 1-1 on the way to a 3-7 record.)  UPDATE: As noted in a comment on this piece, the Bell has now been refurbished and sits proudly at Quigley Stadium.  Thank you Belinda Stilwell for the information!

Who knows how the 2016 season will turn out for these two teams?  In the past 2-0 has led both to State Championships and to a 6-4 record.  But for two schools that have struggled in the past few seasons, to start with a 2-0 record is quite an accomplishment. For both to start with that record is remarkable.

 

While the blog hiatus and a restructuring continue, this was a bit of history that needed mentioning.


John Miller-Stephany named new Producing Artistic Director of Arkansas Rep

John Miller-StephanyArkansas Repertory Theatre announced today that John Miller-Stephany has been named the theatre’s new Producing Artistic Director. He assumes his new role in mid-October. The announcement by Board Chair Brian Bush ends an extensive national search.

John Miller-Stephany has worked at some of the most significant theatres in the country,” said Bush. “He is without a doubt the right leader for our organization at this point in our history. His leadership ensures a bright future for The Rep.”

“I’m tremendously excited and deeply honored to be appointed Arkansas Repertory Theatre’s next Producing Artistic Director,” said Miller-Stephany. “By all accounts – and from my personal observations over the past few months – The Rep is one of the most vibrant cultural organizations in Arkansas. I’m thrilled to join the greater Little Rock community and to work alongside my new neighbors and colleagues as together we write the next chapter in the life of this remarkable theatre.”

Miller-Stephany has enjoyed a distinguished career as a director, administrator, educator and non-profit theatre producer. From 1996 to 2015, he was Artistic Administrator and Associate Artistic Director of The Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis, Minn. From 1989 to 1996, he was Associate Producer of The Acting Company in New York City.

“Because of the vital role non-profit, professional theatres play in the life of their communities, I have proudly dedicated my career to serving them,” said Miller-Stephany.

At the Guthrie, he held a key leadership position during several major transitions and over a period of unprecedented growth. From 1997 to 2015, the theatre more than doubled its budget, going from $11 million in 1997 to $27 million in 2015. He was instrumental in the artistic development of the company, helping to guide more than 200 productions from their inception through their final performances.

Founded in 1963, The Guthrie Theater has been recognized as one of the most successful resident theatres in the country, receiving the 1982 Tony Award for Best Regional Theatre. With an annual audience of 400,000, the theatre focuses largely on classic productions. Miller-Stephany’s productions of The Music Man, Jane Eyre and 1776 are three of the top ten highest grossing productions in the history of the Guthrie.

“While I have loved living in the Twin Cities, and am deeply grateful for all of the opportunities I’ve enjoyed at the Guthrie, I’m very eager to make a new home in Little Rock and to provide leadership for The Rep,” said Miller-Stephany.  “I believe that my experiences working with one of America’s largest resident theatres have given me insights about programming, education and community engagement that will serve The Rep well.”

As an educator, Miller-Stephany has conducted classes and workshops with students at many levels including professional, college, conservatory, high school and avocational.

Miller-Stephany’s directing credits at the Guthrie include To Kill A Mockingbird, The Music Man, Born Yesterday, Roman Holiday, Charley’s Aunt, God of Carnage, A Streetcar Named Desire, When We Are Married, Jane Eyre, 1776, The Constant Wife, She Loves Me, The Night of the Iguana, Wintertime, Merrily We Roll Along, To Fool the Eye, and Sweeney Todd. He has also directed 10X10 (Barrington Stage Company), The Odd Couple (Geva Theatre/Cape Playhouse), Little Shop of Horrors (St. Louis MUNY), Queens of Burlesque (History Theater), The Poetry of Pizza (Mixed Blood Theatre), Biloxi Blues (Theatre L’Homme Dieu), Farm Boys (History Theater), and Murder by Poe (The Acting Company). He was the Associate Producer of the 1995 Broadway revival of The School of Scandal, directed by Gerald Freedman, co-produced by the National Actors Theatre and The Acting Company.

Miller-Stephany’s appointment follows a national search conducted by David Mallette of Management Consultants for the Arts. The search committee included members of The Rep’s Board of Directors, community representatives, and The Rep’s managing director Michael McCurdy.

Miller-Stephany will become the third artistic leader in The Rep’s 40-year history. He assumes his new role in October, succeeding Bob Hupp (1999-2016) and Founding Artistic Director Cliff Baker (1976-1999), who is currently serving as Interim Producing Artistic Director.

Ben composite


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Little Rock Look Back: Ben Piazza

Ben compositeActor-director-playwright-author Ben Piazza was born on July 30, 1933, in Little Rock.  Piazza graduated from Little Rock High School in 1951 as valedictorian. He also had starred in the senior play that year (The Man Who Came to Dinner) and edited the literary magazine.

Keeping the Tiger as his mascot, Piazza attended college at Princeton University.  While there he continued acting, including an appearance in a Theatre Intime production of Othello.  Following his 1955 graduation, he moved to New York City and studied at the Actor’s Studio.

Piazza was an understudy in the 1956 play, Too Late the Phalarope at the Belasco Theatre.  In February 1958, he starred in Winesburg, Ohio sharing the National (now Nederlander) Theatre stage with James Whitmore, Dorothy McGuire, and Leon Ames. Other cast members included Claudia McNeil (who originated the part of Lena in A Raisin in the Sun) and Sandra Church (who originated the part of Gypsy Rose Lee in Gypsy).

In April 1959, Piazza starred in Kataki at the Ambassador Theatre. This two actor play also featured Sessue Hayakawa, who played a Japanese soldier who spoke only his native language.  Therefore, Piazza’s part was largely a very lengthy monologue.  For his performance, Piazza received one of the 1959 Theatre World Awards.

As the 1960s dawned, Piazza joined a small cadre of actors who had achieved status on Broadway who then also returned to acting Off Broadway.  Colleen Dewhurst, George C. Scott, and James Earl Jones were others in this select group who helped establish Off Broadway as an entity in itself, instead of being just a farm team for Broadway.

piazzaPiazza started the 1960s on Broadway starring at the Eugene O’Neill Theatre in A Second String with Shirley Booth, Jean-Pierre Aumont, Nina Foch, Cathleen Nesbitt, and Carrie Nye.   Following that, he started his association with Edward Albee by appearing as the title character in The American Dream.  That play opened at the York Playhouse in January 1961.  Later that year, he appeared in Albee’s The Zoo Story opposite original cast member William Daniels at the East End Theatre.

 

Also in 1961 Piazza starred in several plays during a South American tour sponsored by the American Repertory Company.  He played Christopher Isherwood in I Am a Cameraand Chance Wayne in Sweet Bird of Youth.  In 1962, he starred in a series of plays at the Cherry Lane Theatre.  Piazza returned to Broadway to star along with Jane Fonda and Dyan Cannon in The Fun Couple at the Lyceum Theatre. This play had a troubled rehearsal period, which was documented in a short film about Jane Fonda.

Ben Piazza stayed on Broadway and returned to Albee in February 1963.  He took over the role of Nick in the original run of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? when original actor George Grizzard left to play Hamlet at the Guthrie Theatre.  (He had participated in earlier readings of the play prior to it being mounted on Broadway.)

This play was at the Billy Rose Theatre, which marked a return for Piazza. He had acted at this theatre when it was the National while appearing in Winesburg. Piazza played Nick for the remainder of the run and acted with Uta Hagen, Arthur Hill, fellow Arkansan Melinda Dillon, Eileen Fulton, Nancy Kelly, Mercedes McCambridge, Rochelle Oliver and Sheppard Strudwick.

Exact and Very Strange cover

During the run of this show, Piazza’s novel The Exact and Very Strange Truth was published.  It is a fictionalized account of his growing up in Little Rock during the 1930s and 1940s.  The book is filled with references to Centennial Elementary, Westside Junior High, Central High School, Immanuel Baptist Church and various stores and shops in Little Rock during that era.  The Piazza Shoe Store, located on Main Street, was called Gallanti’s.

Following Virginia Woolf, he starred in The Zoo Story at the Cherry Lane Theatre in 1965.  In August of 1967, his play The Sunday Agreement premiered at LaMaMa.  This was Piazza’s first playwright output to be professionally staged.

As Sunday Agreement was opening, Piazza was in rehearsal for his next Broadway opening. He appeared with Alfred Drake in The Song of the Grasshopper in September 1967.  In 1968, he returned to Albee and starred in The Death of Bessie Smith and The Zoo Story in repertory on Broadway at the Billy Rose Theatre.

Later that season, in March 1969, a double bill of his one-acts: Lime Green/Khaki Blue opened at the Provincetown Playhouse.  It was directed by future Tony nominee Peter Masterson and starred Louise Lasser, Robert Walden (who starred in the 2013 production of Death of a Salesman at Arkansas Repertory Theatre), Clinton Allmon and Dolores Dorn-Heft, to whom Piazza was married at the time.

Throughout the 1960s and early 1970s, Piazza toured in many plays nationally and internationally. He also appeared in major regional theatres as an actor and a director.  During this time period he was in productions of Bus Stop, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, You Know I Can’t Hear You when the Water’s Running  and Savages.  In 1970, he starred as Stanley Kowalski in a production of A Streetcar Named Desire in New Orleans.  As the 1970s progressed, he turned his focus to television and movies.

BDP early

Piazza’s film debut was in a 1959 Canadian film called The Dangerous Age. That same year, his Hollywood film debut came opposite Gary Cooper, Karl Malden, Maria Schell and George C. Scott in The Hanging Tree.  Though he received positive reviews for his performances, Piazza chose to return to New York and perform in stage and TV productions.

Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, he appeared in a number of TV shows including Studio One, Kraft Theatre, Zane Grey Theatre, The Naked City and Dick Powell Theatre.  He had a recurring role during one season of Ben Casey and appeared on the soap opera Love of Life.

In the 1970s, he starred in the films Tell Me That You Love Me, Junie Moon; The Candy Snatchers and I Never Promised You a Rose Garden.  He also starred as the City Councilman who recruits Walter Matthau to coach a baseball team inThe Bad News Bears.

Among his numerous TV appearances in the 1970s were The Waltons, Mannix, Switch, Barnaby Jones, Gunsmoke, Mod Squad and Lou Grant (where he was reunited with Walden).

BDP final

In the 1980s, he appeared in The Blues Brothers, The Rockford Files, Barney Miller, Hart to Hart, Family Ties, The Winds of War, Dallas, Dynasty, Too Close for Comfort, The A Team, Saint Elsewhere, Santa Barbara, The Facts of Life, Mr. Belvedere, Moonlighting and Matlock.

Piazza’s final big screen appearance was in the 1991 film Guilty by Suspicion.  He played studio head Darryl Zanuck in this Robert DeNiro-Annette Bening tale of Hollywood during the Red scare.

Ben Piazza died on September 7, 1991.


Happy Father’s Day with Rabbit Reach

Cherry - Rabbit ReachToday is Father’s Day.  In honor of that, today’s Sculpture Vulture revisits Tim Cherry’s Rabbit Reach.  The sculpture was given in memory of two fathers.

The sculpture is a gift from Whitlow Wyatt and the Carey Cox Wyatt Charitable Foundation. It was given in memory of George Wyatt and Frank Kumpuris.  Those two gentlemen were the fathers of Whitlow Wyatt and Dean & Drew Kumpuris.

The sculpture is located at the corner of Sherman Street and President Clinton Avenue across from the Museum of Discovery.

Cherry’s sculpture was selected for this spot because of its proximity to children at the Museum and in the River Market district.  The design and size of the sculpture encourages children to climb on it and to play around the rabbit.

While some public art is situated so it cannot be touched, this one is situated to be touched as part of the appreciation experience.

Rabbit Reach received national publicity in 2015 when Melissa Joan Hart featured it on her social media while she was in Little Rock filming a movie.


Little Rock Look Back: Former LR Mayor Sprick takes on Muhammad Ali and Loses

Ali SprickDan T. Sprick was a Little Rock Mayor for two years in the 1940s after having previously served on the City Council.  From 1961 until 1970, he served as a State Senator from Little Rock and was a reliable ally for Governor Orval Faubus. Once Faubus left office and was replaced by Governor Winthrop Rockefeller, Sprick continued to wave the banner of segregation and agitation.  One of his new focuses was boxer Muhammad Ali.

In 1969, the University of Arkansas announced that Ali would be one of the speakers for its public appearance series.  After refusing to be drafted and go to Vietnam, Ali was barred from earning a living as a professional boxer and so was making a living giving lectures.  His refusal to submit to the draft was based on his religious beliefs as a recent convert to the Nation of Islam.

Opposition to Ali’s appearance rose almost immediately, and from Little Rock not Fayetteville. The Pulaski Businessman’s Association sent a letter to UA president David Mullins asking him to bar Ali from speaking. President Mullins insisted that he had the right to speak on campus. When that didn’t work, Senator Sprick and his cohorts in the state’s upper chamber went to work. A resolution calling for Ali to be barred from speaking failed on a voice vote after much debate.

While there were certainly some racial overtones to Sprick’s opposition, he and others seemed to be more concerned over the former Cassius Clay’s conversion to Islam plus his ensuing refusal to be drafted.  Senator Sprick declared that if President Nixon would draft him now he would go to serve in Vietnam.  (Sprick was in his late 60s at the time.)

Ali’s speech on the campus actually caused some controversy on its own.  One of the things he advocated for segregation. He praised Alabama Governor George Wallace.  The Arkansas Gazette which had been following the saga in both news stories and editorials, noted that remarks like that should have endeared Ali to Dan Sprick and others.

Ali, of course, resumed his boxing career and defined that sport in the 1970s with his talent in the ring and his showmanship.

Based on an editorial, Sprick sued the Gazette for libel. The paper settled with him out of court because his health was poor. Sprick died in 1972.


Little Rock Look Back: Cornice placed on Robinson Auditorium

JTR CorniceOn June 1, 1939, the cornice was installed on Robinson Auditorium.  This granite slab noted the name of the building as the Joseph Taylor Robinson Memorial Auditorium.  (It is interesting to note that it used the more modern “u” instead of the classical “v” which was often used in buildings during prior decades – as evidenced by the Pvlaski Covnty Covrt Hovse across the street.)

This was a milestone marking the completion of the front facade of the structure.  Much work would continue on the interior of the structure.  This step in the construction was considered major enough that the Arkansas Gazette mentioned it in a news article.

Today the cornice is again surrounded by construction materials and braces. The front lobby, the cornice and columns are pretty much the only parts of the building not currently under construction as Robinson Center is readied for its second act.  It is scheduled to open in November 2016.