Little Rock Look Back: W W Stevenson

On January 29, 1797, future Little Rock Mayor William Wilson “W. W.” Stevenson was born in South Carolina.

In 1811, he came to Arkansas when his family settled in Batesville.  An ordained Presbyterian minister, he married Ruana Trimble in 1821 and had two children. After she died, he married Maria Tongray Watkins in 1831 and had two more children.

In 1831, he ran for Little Rock Mayor in the first election for the office but was defeated by Dr. Matthew Cunningham.  The next year he ran to succeed Cunningham and was elected.  After leaving the Mayor’s office on December 31, 1833, he continued public service.  He was asked to run for Mayor later in the 1830s, but declined.  He did serve as State Commissioner for Public Buildings in 1839.

In 1849, he delivered the funeral oration at the ceremony for Hon. Ambrose H. Sevier.  Later that year, he was hired as a geologist for the Little Rock and California Association which was created to take advantage of the gold rush.  He and his two oldest sons moved to California and never returned to Arkansas. He died in 1888.

Rock the Oscars 2019: Marjorie Lawrence

Opera star Marjorie Lawrence, CBE, was born in Australia, but spent the last two decades of her life in Arkansas.   Her triumph over polio to return to the opera stage was the subject of the Oscar winning film Interrupted Melody.

First singing in her native country, she rose to star in the opera halls of Europe before conquering the Metropolitan Opera.  Lawrence had contracted polio as an adult while on a trip to Mexico.  She eventually returned to the stage, usually singing while seated or reclining.  She also had an extensive recital career.  She performed at the White House at the invitation of Franklin Roosevelt and later Lyndon Johnson. During World War II, she performed at Buckingham Palace.  When Queen Elizabeth II made her a Commander of the British Empire in 1977, the Queen fondly remembered that wartime concert.

Eleanor Parker as Lawrence in INTERRUPTED MELODY

In 1949, she wrote her autobiography Interrupted Melody. The next year, Hollywood was interested in making it into a film.  Lawrence only wanted to agree to that if she herself did the singing.  In 1955, MGM released the film starring Eleanor Parker as Lawrence and Glenn Ford as her husband. Lawrence did not provide the singing voice; Eileen Farrell did.  Lawrence was openly critical of the film, though some suspected it was because she did not get to sing for it.  By the time of the filming, her vocal range was not what it had been, which is apparently what led MGM to make the decision not to use her.

Despite Lawrence’s disdain for the film, the film was financially successful.  It was nominated for three Oscars: Original Screenplay (though it was actually based on a book), Eleanor Parker as Best Actress, and Costume Design for Color motion pictures.  Sonya Levien and William Ludwig won the statuette for their screenplay.

Lawrence and her husband bought a ranch near Hot Springs in 1952.  She spent most of her life there afterward though she was a vocal coach at Southern Illinois University and Tulane. She also welcomed international students to her home for coaching.  In 1975, she started working with students from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock.  She was also an early member of the Arkansas Arts Council.

Lawrence died in January 1979 and is buried in Hot Springs.

The ASO River Rhapsodies tonight features Artist of Distinction: Andrew von Oeyen

Andrew von Oeyen, pianoThe Arkansas Symphony Orchestra, Philip Mann, Music Director and Conductor, presents the third concert of the 2018-2019 River Rhapsodies Chamber Music season with Artist of Distinction: Andrew von Oeyen, Tuesday, Jan. 29th at 7:00 p.m. at the Clinton Presidential Center. The program opens with Haydn’s String Quartet, Op. 20, No. 4, featuring ASO’s Quapaw String Quartet. Von Oeyen then performs a solo rendition of Ravel’s Le Tombeau de Couperin, and the concert closes with the pianist joining ASO’s Rockefeller String Quartet and Shostakovich’s Piano Quintet in G minor.

The Richard Sheppard Arnold Artist of Distinction is a musician with an exemplary international career as a soloist and chamber musician, widely sought after by leading performing arts organizations.

River Rhapsodies Chamber Music Concerts are held in the intimate setting of the Clinton Presidential Center’s Great Hall. A cash bar is open before the concert and at intermission, and patrons are invited to carry drinks into the concert. The Media Sponsor for the River Rhapsodies Chamber Music Series is UA Little Rock Public Radio.

General Admission tickets are $23; active duty military and student tickets are $10 and can be purchased online at www.ArkansasSymphony.org; at the Clinton Presidential Center beginning 60 minutes prior to a concert; or by phone at 501-666-1761, ext. 1.

Artists

Andrew von Oeyen, piano, 2018-2019 Richard Sheppard Arnold Artist of Distinction

Quapaw String Quartet
Meredith Maddox Hicks, violin
Charlotte Crosmer, violin
Ryan Mooney, viola
David Gerstein, cello

Rockefeller String Quartet
Trisha McGovern Freeney, violin
Katherine Williamson, violin
Katherine Reynolds, viola
Ethan Young, cello

Program
HAYDN – String Quartet in D Major, Op. 20, No. 4
RAVEL – Le Tombeau de Couperin
SHOSTAKOVICH – Piano Quintet in G minor, Op. 57

Original A STAR IS BORN shown tonight at the CALS Ron Robinson Theater

A Star Is Born PosterBefore Lady Gaga. Before Barbra. Before Judy.

Janet Gaynor starred in the first film version of A Star is Born, which was released in 1937.  Co-starring Fredric March, Adolphe Menjou, May Robson, Lionel Stander, and Andy Devine, the film was directed by William A. Wellman. Dorothy Parker, Alan Campbell, and Robert Carson wrote the screenplay.

As with the subsequent versions, this film tells the tale of a young woman with dreams of stardom. But she achieves them only with the help of an alcoholic leading man whose best days are behind him.

The film was nominated for seven Academy Awards, including nominations for March and Gaynor (both of whom were previous Oscar winners). It won the award for Best Story, which went to Wellman and Carson. It also received a special Oscar to W. Howard Greene for his color cinematography.

The 1954 version (Judy) received six Oscar nominations and zero wins, while the 1976 version (Barbra) received four nominations with a win for Best Song. The latter is also the only version to date which received no acting nominations. The 2018 version received eight nominations. How many it may pick up will be announced on February 24.

The showing starts tonight at 6:30pm. Admission is $5.00.

Rock the Oscars 2019: THE WAR ROOM

This Oscar-nominated 1993 American documentary film follows Bill Clinton’s campaign for President of the United States, during the 1992 presidential election.  At the start of the 1992 Democratic primaries, husband and wife filmmakers D.A. Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus requested permission from the Campaign to film its progression. The Clinton Campaign agreed, and Pennebaker and Hegedus were allowed to film Communications Director George Stephanopoulos as well as Lead Strategist James Carville; they were given limited access to Bill Clinton.

At the start of filming, the film team was embedded with the Clinton Campaign in New Hampshire for that state’s Democratic primary. During the onset of the campaign, the film crew traveled around the state with the Clinton campaign.

After the surprise Clinton second place finish in the New Hampshire primary, the crew filmed mostly in Little Rock, home to the Clinton campaign’s national headquarters. As the film focused in on Carville and Stephanopoulos, the film crew saw no need to travel outside of Little Rock as both were present in the city for much if not all of the primary and general election campaigns.

Because of the time spent in Little Rock, numerous buildings and backgrounds familiar to the capital city residents appear throughout the film. Jason D. Williams’ song “Get Back to Little Rock” is featured in the film’s soundtrack.

Though Stephanopoulos and Carville were the film’s main figures, many other prominent figures in the campaign were featured, including Paul Begala, Dee Dee Myers, Mandy Grunwald, Bob Boorstin, Stan Greenberg, Mickey Kantor, Harold Ickes, and Bush deputy campaign manager Mary Matalin, who later married Carville.  Also featured in footage are rivals George H. W. Bush, Ross Perot and Jerry Brown.

Though the film did not win the Oscar for Feature Documentary, Pennebaker would receive an Honorary Oscar in 2013. (Another winner that night was Arkansan Hal Needham.)

Skip Day! Happy Birthday to Skip Rutherford!

Though a native of Batesville (and a proud booster to this day), James L. “Skip” Rutherford has lived in Little Rock for many years. While he was a student at the University of Arkansas, he probably never envisioned the impact he would have on the cultural scene of Little Rock.

After moving to Little Rock, Skip (and his wife Billie) became civic boosters which often involved attending or promoting cultural events.  However, by the mid-1990s, this moved into a whole new realm.

Skip was one of the visionaries behind the creation of a Central High Visitors Center.  His interest in this project combined his interests in public service, public policy, and public schools. This was an extension of his work as an aide to Senator David Pryor from 1979 to 1983 and a Little Rock School Board member from 1987 to 1991.  As the 40th anniversary of the integration of Little Rock Central High approached, Skip worked with Mayor Jim Dailey and others to plan the 1997 commemoration activities as well as the 1998 recognition of the Women’s Emergency Committee.

A few weeks after the Central High 40th anniversary events in September 1997, President Clinton announced that Little Rock would be the site of his Presidential Library.  As President of the Clinton Foundation, he was involved in the planning for not only the construction of the building but also the grand opening festivities.  Through his efforts, the City’s major cultural institutions all had events in conjunction with the opening of the Clinton Presidential Center.

In 2006, he followed Sen. David Pryor in the role of Dean of the Clinton School of Public Service.  Among his accomplishments in this role has been the expansion of the Clinton School Speaker Series. This free series of lectures and public discussions has added immensely to Little Rock’s cultural life. Topics range from foreign relations to domestic policy, from social services to community philanthropy, The lecture series has also focused on productions at the Arkansas Repertory Theatre, guest artists with the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra, books by historians, and many other cultural topics over the years.

That he would oversee the expansion of this lecture program should not be a surprise.  He is also the founder (in 1983) of the Political Animals Club. While the original, non-partisan group still meets regularly in Little Rock, several other affiliates have been created in other portions of the state. He has always been one for civil, civic dialogue.

In April and May 2018, Skip was one of the civic leaders who stepped up to promote efforts to save the Arkansas Repertory Theatre. He was also involved in the planning and promotion of the Elizabeth Eckford Bench which was installed near Little Rock Central High School in September 2018.  Later that month, he presided over an event celebrating the 60th anniversary of the Women’s Emergency Committee.

Earlier this month, the Clinton School partnered with UA Little Rock Downtown for the a Clinton School program which discussed the 1930s mural which has been restored and now hangs in the new UA Little Rock space.  2019 will offer more opportunities for his civic and cultural boosterism, as well.

Rock the Oscars 2019: Mikhail Baryshnikov

On July 24, 1983, Mikhail Baryshnikov danced on the stage of Robinson Center under the auspices of Ballet Arkansas.   Nearing the end of his dancing career with American Ballet Theatre, he was leading a summer tour of the Southeast and Midwest US.

In the early spring of 1983, Ballet Arkansas was contacted to see if they would be interested in having him perform in Little Rock.  (The $60,000 sponsorship was paid completely by the ARKANSAS DEMOCRAT.) The performance was announced in April with tickets going on sale shortly thereafter.

Following Baryshnikov’s performance, he and his fellow dancers attended a reception at the Old State House Museum which was hosted by Governor and Mrs. Bill Clinton.  Baryshnikov would later be welcomed by the Clintons to the White House when he received a 2000 Kennedy Center Honors.

He returned to Little Rock in the summer of 1985 for a program entitled “Baryshnikov & Co.” It featured fifteen American Ballet Theater (ABT) dancers along with artistic director Mikhail Baryshnikov.

After dancing with the Mariinsky Ballet for several years, Baryshnikovdefected to Canada while the ballet was performing there in 1974. He later came to the US to dance with American Ballet Theatre and later New York City Ballet. He returned to ABT in 1980 to take on the role of Artistic Director and continue dancing.  It was in this capacity that he visited Little Rock.

He received a 1977 Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor for his role in the ballet-themed film The Turning Point.