Monthly Archives: February 2018

Rock the Oscars: Charles Durning

In 1980, future two time Oscar nominee Charles Durning came to Little Rock to film the TV movie Crisis at Central High.  In the movie he played Jess Matthews, who was principal at Central High during the desegregation of the school.  Girls Vice Principal Elizabeth Huckaby had written a book about her experiences during that time which was published earlier in 1980.

The film, which aired on TV on February 4, 1981, also starred Joanne Woodward and Henderson Forsythe.  Several local actors also appeared in the movie.  While much of the interior scenes were shot in Dallas, there were exterior scenes shot at the Central High.  Other Little Rock locations were also used.

Durning was born on February 28, 1923.  Following World War II, he worked in a variety of professions, including as a ballroom dance instructor.  In the 1960s, he started appearing on TV, which led to his breakout role in the Oscar winning film The Sting.  Throughout the 1970s, he started appearing in supporting roles in major films.  After filming Crisis at Central High he received back-to-back Oscar nominations in the Supporting Actor category for Mel Brooks’ To Be or Not to Be and for The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas.

In the 1990s, he made visits to Arkansas in conjunction with his role in the TV series “Evening Shade.”  Durning died in 2012.

Advertisements

Rock the Oscars: Joanne Woodward

In 1980, Oscar winner Joanne Woodward came to Little Rock to film the TV movie Crisis at Central High.  In the movie she played Elizabeth Huckaby, who was vice principal for girls at Central High during the desegregation of the school.  Huckaby had written a book about her experiences which was published earlier in 1980.

The film, which aired on TV on February 4, 1981, also starred Charles Durning and Henderson Forsythe.  Several local actors also appeared in the movie.  While much of the interior scenes were shot in Dallas, there were exterior scenes shot at the Central High.  Other Little Rock locations were also used.

Woodward was born on February 27, 1930.  In the early 1950s, she split her time between theatre and TV, both based in New York City.  In only her third year of making motion pictures, she won the Best Actress Oscar for her role(s) in The Three Faces of Eve.  As she continued to make movies, she received three other Best Actress nominations over the decades.

In the past two decades, she has focused more on directing and producing theatre, with some voice work for films.  Her last motion picture onscreen role was in 1993’s Philadelphia, where she played Tom Hanks’ mother.

 

Rock the Oscars: Johnny Cash

Cleveland County, Arkansas, native Johnny Cash was the subject of the Oscar winning film Walk the Line.  Although he never lived in Little Rock, he was a frequent visitor throughout his career.

Born on February 26, 1932, in Kingsland, Arkansas, as a young boy he moved with his family to Dyess.  After service in the military (in which he also had his first band), Cash moved to Memphis. It was there he broke into the music scene.

Among the venues Cash played in Little Rock were Barton Coliseum and Wildwood Park for the Arts.  In one performance, he shared the stage with his friend and fellow Arkansan Glen Campbell.   The largest crowd for which Cash performed in Little Rock was in 1989, when he appeared at a Billy Graham crusade at War Memorial Stadium.

 

Rock the Oscars: Elia Kazan

William H. Alden/Evening Standard, via Getty Image

Oscar winning director Elia Kazan married his second wife, actress Barbara Loden, in his son’s house on Alpine Court in Little Rock in 1967.  Chris Kazan was, by that time, a copy editor for the Arkansas Gazette.  He was also a Pulaski County Justice of the Peace and performed his father’s ceremony.  (At the time, the Pulaski County Quorum Court had so many justices of the peace-467-that it was the world’s largest legislative body.)

Elia Kazan’s first wife had died in 1963. He and Loden had known each other for several years before the wedding.  Kazan visited Little Rock frequently in the 1960s visiting his son.  While here, he would go to War Memorial Park to play tennis.

Kazan won two Oscars for directing: Gentlemen’s Agreement and On the Waterfront.  He was also nominated for helming A Streetcar Named Desire, East of Eden, and America America.  On the latter film he was also nominated for producing the film and for being a screenwriter.  All together, his films won 21 Oscars and received an additional 37 nominations.

In 1999, Kazan received an Honorary Oscar in tribute to his career.  Because he had “named names” before the House Un-American Activities Committee thereby abetting in the blacklisting of people suspected of being Communists, this recognition was not without controversy.  Approximately 250 people picketed that ceremony, and some in attendance did not applaud when he came out.  Earlier in the ceremony, comedian Robin Williams made light of the controversy by opining “Let Lainie Sing” a joking reference to the singer and actress Lainie Kazan (no relation).

Rock the Oscars: Fatima Robinson

Born in Little Rock, Robinson moved to Los Angeles at the age of four with her mother and two younger sisters.  Ultimately, however, Robinson’s love for dance would become the catalyst for dreams even bigger than she ever dared to dream.

She was the choreographer for the 2007, 2009, 2014 and 2016 Oscar ceremonies.  She also was the choreographer for the Oscar winning film version of Dreamgirls.

Her “big break” had come when film director John Singleton asked her to choreograph the video for Michael Jackson’s “Remember the Time” single. . After seven nominations, in 2004 she walked away with the MTV Video Music Award for Best Choreography in a Music Video.  Fatima recently directed and choreographed Cee-Lo Green’s new Las Vegas show “Loberace,” and choreographed commercials for Nike and Heineken with director Rupert Sanders. Fatima also notably choreographed the 2011 Super Bowl Halftime show with the Black Eyed Peas, 2012 Coachella Tupac Hologram, HBO Inauguration event for President Barack Obama, and the Sony Pictures movie Sparkle,starring Jordin Sparks and Whitney Houston.

In 2004, she was inducted into the Arkansas Black Hall of Fame.

Rock the Oscars: SOUTH PACIFIC

Written for the stage by Oscar winners Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II, along with Oscar nominee Joshua Logan, in 1958 South Pacific was the fourth Rodgers and Hammerstein stage musical to make it to the Silver Screen.  With the female leading character, Nellie Forbush, hailing from Little Rock, there are references to Arkansas and its capital city throughout the film.

Mitzi Gaynor, played the Little Rock native, opposite Rossano Brazzi (with singing help from Giorgio Tozzi). Others in the cast were John Kerr, France Nuyen, Ray Walston, Juanita Hall, and Russ Brown.  Only Hall had been in the Broadway cast.

Though the film was financially successful, it was criticized at the time for its plodding direction (by Logan) and its use of tinted washes to reflect the moods of the characters and the movie.  (If the film was in a bright moment, the screen would take a yellowish hue; during tense times, it might get a blueish tint.)

Ironically, given the criticism of the film’s look, it did receive an Oscar nomination for Cinematography-Color.  It also received a nomination for Scoring of a Musical Picture.  South Pacific won the Oscar for Best Sound, which went to Fred Hynes.  He had previously won an Oscar for work on Oklahoma! and would also win one for The Sound of Music.

Little Rock Look Back: US Supreme Court rules in Bates v. City of LR

On February 23, 1960, the U. S. Supreme Court handed down a decision in the case of Daisy BATES et al., Petitioners, v. CITY OF LITTLE ROCK et al.  This case had been argued before the Court in November 1959.

Daisy Bates of Little Rock and Birdie Williams of North Little Rock were the petitioners.  Each had been convicted of violating an identical ordinance of an Arkansas municipality by refusing a demand to furnish city officials with a list of the names of the members of a local branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. The question for decision was whether these convictions can stand under the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution.

The Little Rock ordinance (10,638) was passed on October 14, 1957. It charged that certain non-profits were actually functioning as businesses and using non-profit status to skirt the law. Therefore it required the non-profits to disclose their members and sources of dues.  North Little Rock passed an identical ordinance.

(Mayor Woodrow Mann was not present at the meeting of the LR Council when the ordinance was passed. But he signed all of the resolutions and ordinances approved that night.  Ordinance 10,638 was the only legislation that night which had also been signed by Acting Mayor Franklin Loy.  Mayor Mann crossed through Loy’s name and signed his own.)

Mrs. Bates and Mrs. Williams as keepers of the records for their respective chapters of the NAACP refused to comply with the law.  While they provided most of the information requested, they contended they did not have to provide the membership rosters and dues paid.

After refusing upon further demand to submit the names of the members of her organization, each was tried, convicted, and fined for a violation of the ordinance of her respective municipality. At the Bates trial evidence was offered to show that many former members of the local organization had declined to renew their membership because of the existence of the ordinance in question. Similar evidence was received in the Williams trial, as well as evidence that those who had been publicly identified in the community as members of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People had been subjected to harassment and threats of bodily harm.

Each woman was convicted in the court of Pulaski Circuit Court, First Division, William J. KirbyJudge. They were fined $25 a person.  On appeal the cases were consolidated in the Supreme Court of Arkansas in 1958. The convictions were upheld by five justices with George Rose Smith and J. Seaborn Holt dissenting.

Mrs. Bates and Mrs. Williams then appealed to the U. S. Supreme Court.  The pair’s legal team included Robert L. Carter and George Howard, Jr. (who would later become a federal judge).  Little Rock City Attorney Joseph Kemp argued the case for the City.  The arguments before the U. S. Supreme Court were heard on November 18, 1959.

The SCOTUS decision was written by Associate Justice Potter Stewart.  He was joined by Chief Justice Earl Warren and Associate Justices Felix Frankfurter, Tom C. Clark, John M. Harlan II, William J. Brennan and Charles E. Whittaker.  Justices Hugo Black and William O. Douglas wrote a concurring opinion.

The U. S. Supreme Court reversed the lower courts.

In sum, there is a complete failure in this record to show (1) that the organizations were engaged in any occupation for which a license would be required, even if the occupation were conducted for a profit; (2) that the cities have ever asserted a claim against the organizations for payment of an occupation license tax; (3) that the organizations have ever asserted exemption from a tax imposed by the municipalities, either because of their alleged nonprofit character or for any other reason.

We conclude that the municipalities have failed to demonstrate a controlling justification for the deterrence of free association which compulsory disclosure of the membership lists would cause. The petitioners cannot be punished for refusing to produce information which the municipalities could not constitutionally require. The judgments cannot stand.

In their concurring opinion, Justices Black and Douglas wrote that they felt the facts not only violated freedom of speech and assembly from the First Amendment, but also aspects of the Fourteenth Amendment. They wrote that the freedom of assembly (including freedom of association) was a principle to be applied “to all people under our Constitution irrespective of their race, color, politics, or religion. That is, for us, the essence of the present opinion of the Court.”

Neither the Gazette or Democrat carried any reaction from City leaders. There was a City Board meeting the evening of the decision. If it was mentioned, the minutes from the meeting do not reflect it.

Arkansas Attorney General Bruce Bennett, on the other hand, was very vocal in his outrage. The city laws were known as Bennett Laws because they had been drafted by him as ways to intimidate African Americans and others he viewed as agitators.

In 1960 Bennett was challenging Governor Orval Faubus for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination.  In reaction to the to the Supreme Court he vowed that, if elected Governor, he would “de-integrate” (a term he proudly took credit for coining) the state.

For his part, and not to be outdone by the AG, Faubus fretted that the Court’s decision meant that Communists would be able to give money to the NAACP.