Little Rock Culture Vulture

Cultural events, places and people in the Little Rock area


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Little Rock Look Back: The Sun shines in as HAIR plays Robinson Center

Ad for the original production of HAIR in Little Rock. Note the ticket prices. And that they could be purchased at Moses Music Shops.

Ad for the original production of HAIR in Little Rock. Note the ticket prices. And that they could be purchased at Moses Music Shops.

Forty-five years ago today, on January 18, 1972, the musical Hair settled in for a week-long run at Robinson Auditorium.  The saga to bring the national tour to Little Rock had actually begun eleven months earlier.

In February 1971, a young Little Rock attorney named Phil Kaplan petitioned the Little Rock Board of Censors to see if it would allow a production of Hair to play in the city. He was asking on behalf of a client who was interested in bringing a national tour to Arkansas’ capital city. The show, which had opened on Broadway to great acclaim in April 1968 after an Off Broadway run in 1967, was known for containing a nude scene as well for a script which was fairly liberally sprinkled with four-letter words. The Censors stated they could not offer an opinion without having seen a production.

By July 1971, Kaplan and his client (who by then had been identified as Southwest Productions) were seeking permission for a January 1972 booking of Hair from the City’s Auditorium Commission which was charged with overseeing operations at Robinson Auditorium. At its July meeting, the Commissioners voted against allowing Hair because of its “brief nude scene” and “bawdy language.”

Kaplan decried the decision. He stated that the body couldn’t “sit in censorship of legitimate theatrical productions.” He noted courts had held that Hair  could be produced and that the Auditorium Commission, as an agent for the State, “clearly can’t exercise prior censorship.” He proffered that if the production was obscene it would be a matter for law enforcement not the Auditorium Commission.

The Commission countered that they had an opinion from City Attorney Joseph Kemp stating they had the authority. One of the Commissioners, Mrs. Grady Miller (sister-in-law of the building’s namesake the late Senator Robinson, she had served on the Commission since 1940), expressed her concern that allowing Hair would open the door to other productions such as Oh! Calcutta!

On July 26, 1971, Southwest Productions filed suit against the Auditorium Commission. Four days later there was a hearing before federal Judge G. Thomas Eisele. At that hearing, Auditorium Commission member Lee Rogers read aloud excerpts from the script he found objectionable. Under questioning from Kaplan, a recent touring production of Neil Simon’s Plaza Suite was discussed. That play has adultery as a central theme of one of its acts. Rogers admitted he found the play funny, and that since the adultery did not take place on stage, he did not object to it. Among those testifying in favor of it was Robert Reddington, who was director of performing arts at the Arkansas Arts Center.

Judge Eisele offered a ruling on August 11 which compelled the Auditorium Commission to allow Hair to be performed. Prior to the ruling, some of the Auditorium Commissioners had publicly stated that if they had to allow Hair, they would close it after the first performance on the grounds of obscenity. To combat this, Judge Eisele stated that the Commission had to allow Hair to perform the entire six day engagement it sought.

Upon hearing of the Judge’s ruling, Commissioner Miller offered a succinct, two word response. “Oh, Dear!”

In the end, the production of Hair at Robinson would not be the first performance in the state.  The tour came through Fayetteville for two performances in October 1971 at Barnhill Arena.

On January 18, 1972, Hair played the first of its 8 performances over 6 days at Robinson Auditorium.  In his review the next day, the Arkansas Gazette’s Bill Lewis noted that Hair “threw out all it had to offer” and that Little Rock had survived.

The ads promoting the production carried the tagline “Arkansas will never be the same.”  Tickets (from $2 all the way up to $8.50) could be purchased at Moses Melody Shops both downtown and in “The Mall” (meaning Park Plaza). That business is gone from downtown, but the scion of that family, Jimmy Moses, is actively involved in building downtown through countless projects. His sons are carrying on the family tradition too.

Little Rock was by no means unique in trying to stop productions of Hair.  St. Louis, Birmingham, Los Angeles, Tallahassee, Boston, Atlanta, Charlotte NC, West Palm Beach, Oklahoma City, Mobile and Chattanooga all tried unsuccessfully to stop performances in their public auditoriums.  Despite Judge Eisele’s ruling against the City of Little Rock, members of the Fort Smith City Council also tried to stop a production later in 1972 in that city. This was despite warnings from City staff that there was not legal standing.

Within a few years, the Board of Censors of the City of Little Rock would be dissolved (as similar bodies also were disappearing across the US). Likewise, the Auditorium Commission was discontinued before Hair even opened with its duties being taken over by the Advertising and Promotion Commission and the Convention & Visitors Bureau staff.  This was not connected to the Hair decision; it was, instead, related to expanding convention facilities in Robinson and the new adjacent hotel.  Regardless of the reasons for their demise, both bygone bodies were vestiges of earlier, simpler and differently focused days in Little Rock.


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Little Rock Look Back: Pulaski Heights officially joins City of Little Rock

Ninth WardOn January 13, 1916, the Little Rock City Council formally accepted Pulaski Heights into the City of Little Rock.

The Council had held a regular meeting on Monday, January 10, 1916, which was the same evening as the final meeting of the Pulaski Heights City Council.  Three days later, on Thursday, January 13, 1916, Mayor Charles Taylor again convened the Little Rock City Council to take the steps to officially annex Pulaski Heights into Little Rock.

By Ordinance 2259, the City’s boundaries were increased to include the land which had been Pulaski Heights.  Resolution 918 directed city staff to replat the land, which was necessary to bring the land in accordance with existing city plats and documents.

Resolution 919 set forth January 20 as a special election date to elect the two new members of the Little Rock City Council who would represent the new Ninth Ward of Little Rock.  Those who won would serve until April 1916.  The election would also serve as the primary for the April election.  Back then, winning the Democratic primary for a City race was tantamount to winning the race.  Since there were two seats being created, one would have a two year term, the other would be for only one year.  The candidate receiving the most votes on January 20 would, after April, take up the two year term and be able to run for re-election in April 1918. The candidate with the second highest total of votes would win the one-year term and be up for re-election in April 1917.  At the time, there were three publicly declared candidates for the two seats.  Another had been interested, but dropped out that morning.

Making Pulaski Heights the Ninth Ward was not the only focus of the City Council meeting.  An ordinance was also approved which allocated $438 for the purchase of beds, mattresses, chairs and other furniture for the City hospital.  (That is the equivalent of nearly $10,000 today.)  The Council then reimbursed a doctor the $438, which presumably had been spent on making the purchases.


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Little Rock Look Back: First Basketball at Robinson Center

Former entrance to Robinson off Garland Street. Used to attend basketball games.

Former entrance to Robinson off Garland Street. Used to attend basketball games.

While Joseph Taylor Robinson Memorial Auditorium is known today as a performance and meeting venue, in its early days it was also the home to sports. Seventy-seven years ago tonight the first basketball game was played at Robinson.

One of the first regular activities which took place in the lower level exhibition hall was a series of boxing and wrestling matches.  Building on the success of this, basketball came to the convention hall in January 1940.

A series of games featuring Little Rock High School and North Little Rock High School were announced by Tiger Coach Earl Quigley to take place from January 11 through February 16, the official opening day for the facility.

At that time, neither high school had a gymnasium; therefore both schools played their basketball games on their school auditorium stages with fans seated in the audience. The convention hall offered a regulation size floor (made of pecan block parquet) with seating for over 1,300 people along the sidelines and in the balcony.  The first men’s basketball game in Robinson Auditorium took place between the Little Rock High School Tigers and the North Little Rock High School Wildcats on January 11, 1940.

The Tigers lost the game before a crowd estimated to be 1,300.  Earlier in the evening there had been an exhibition between two women’s basketball teams.  The cost for admission to the games was 35 cents for the reserved seating and 25 cents for general admission.


Little Rock Look Back: City Hall resumes after Civil War

Jan 1866 minsOne hundred and fifty-one years ago this month, Little Rock City Hall resumed functioning after the Civil War.  The City government had disbanded in September 1863 after the Battle of Little Rock.  From September 1863 through the end of the war (on on through part of Reconstruction), Little Rock was under control of Union forces.

Following the April 1865 conclusion of the Civil War, plans were made to restart local government in Little Rock.  Even though Arkansas would not have Congressional representation in Washington until June 1868 (becoming the second Confederate state after Tennessee), the establishment of local government took place in January 1866.

The first City Council meeting took place on Monday, January 8, 1866. The council met again on Tuesday, January 9 and Monday, January 15 as they were trying to establish committees and rules for the new government.

The first post-Civil War mayor was Dr. J. J. McAlmont, who was a physician and pharmacist. Following his service as the city’s chief executive, he would later be a co-founder of what is now UAMS.  The initial aldermen were I.A. Henry (who had been on the City Council when it ceased in 1863), Henry Ashley, M. H. Eastman, Rick Bragg, P. O. Hooper, G. S. Morrison, John Collins and Alexander George.

Their first action was to approve the bond of Thomas C. Scott as Constable and City Collector.  Vouching for him were S. H. Tucker and John Gould Fletcher.  The Recorder was asked to present his bond and the next meeting.

The Mayor then established several committees of the City Council and named his appointments. Among the committees were Finances, Streets, Ordinances, Mount Holly Cemetery, Fire Department and Police.

That meeting and the following two meetings, the City continued to approve motions, resolutions and ordinances to set up the duties and responsibilities of a government.

Ordinance Number 1 established the rates of Licenses for 1866.  Among those were:

  • $100 for the privilege of selling goods at auction
  • $20 for a one-horse wagon, paid quarterly
  • $35 for a two-horse wagon, paid quarterly
  • $50 for a four-horse wagon, paid quarterly
  • $25 to run a cab or bus (which would have been in some horse drawn conveyance), paid quarterly
  • $40 a month to sell liquor, wine, ale, beer, etc., by the glass or bottle to be consumed in a store, tavern, shop or store
  • $25 each quarter for each billiard table
  • $50 each quarter for each ten pin alley

 


82 Years of Elvis

Elvis backstage at Robinson–photo by Wayne Cranford

Eighty-two years ago today, Elvis Presley was born in Tupelo, Mississippi. He would, of course, grow up to become a cultural phenomenon.

Elvis performed in Little Rock throughout his career. In April 1972, he played at Barton Coliseum (with tickets on the arena floor going for a whopping $10!). In the 1950s, he played three at Robinson Auditorium. His first appearance was as his career was just starting to take off. The final appearance on that stage, a mere 15 months later, was when he had become a national icon.
His first appearance at Robinson was on February 20, 1955. Billed as the “WSM Grand Ole Opry” show, Elvis Presley was third on the bill behind the Duke of Paducah and Mother Maybelle and the Carter Sisters as he began week long tour of Arkansas and Louisiana. On this date there were a pair of shows, at 3:00 and 8:15 p.m., at Robinson Auditorium. Tickets were 75-cents in advance, $1.00 at the box office and 50-cents for kids. It is believed that Gladys and Vernon Presley attended this performance, invited by Elvis who wanted to introduce them to the Colonel. Gladys was a big fan of the Duke of Paducah. Elvis Presley, Scotty Moore, and Bill Black receive $350 for these two shows instead of their usual $200 per day. In August 1955, he returned and played Robinson as part of the All-Star Jamboree.
His third and final appearance at Robinson Auditorium was on May 16, 1956. This time, the Auditorium was packed. The tickets were $1.50 in advance at Walgreens and $2.00 at the box office. The ads featured 8 great acts in “his” variety show which consisted of the Jordonaires; Rick and Emil Flaim and their orchestra; vocalists Frankie Conners and Jackie Little and comedian-magician Phil Maraquin. A second show was added to accommodate the ticket demand.
About 30 minutes late, due to a missed flight, Elvis appeared on stage in a purple blazer and started singing “Heartbreak Hotel.” The crowd rushed the stage. Little Rock police officers were able to control them eventually and get the teenagers back to their seats. While the crowd was impressed, the police officers were less so. One of the patrolmen told the Arkansas Gazette reporter: “I wouldn’t know him if I saw him. And I wouldn’t be here unless I was being paid.”


Little Rock Look Back: Mayor John Gould Fletcher

Future Little Rock Mayor John Gould Fletcher was born on this date in 1831. The son of Henry Lewis and Mary Lindsey Fletcher, he later served as a Captain in the Capital Guards during the Civil War. One of his fellow soldiers was Peter Hotze.
Following the war, he and Hotze began a general merchandise store in Little Rock. They were so successful that they eventually dropped the retail trade and dealt only in cotton. Peter Hotze had his office in New York, while Fletcher supervised company operations in Little Rock. In 1878 Fletcher married Miss Adolphine Krause, sister-in-law of Hotze.
John Gould Fletcher was elected Mayor of Little Rock from 1875 to 1881. He was the first Mayor under Arkansas’ new constitution which returned all executive powers to the office of the Mayor (they had been split under a reconstruction constitution). Following his service as Mayor, he served one term as Pulaski County Sheriff. Mayor Fletcher also later served as president of the German National Bank in Little Rock.
Mayor and Mrs. Fletcher had five children, three of whom lived into adulthood. Their son was future Pulitzer Prize winning poet John Gould Fletcher (neither father nor son used the Sr. or Jr. designation). Their two daughters who lived to adulthood were Adolphine Fletcher Terry (whose husband David served in Congress) and Mary Fletcher Drennan.
In 1889, Mayor Fletcher purchased the Pike House in downtown Little Rock. The structure later became known as the Pike-Fletcher-Terry House. It was from this house that Adolphine Fletcher Terry organized the Women’s Emergency Committee which worked to reopen the Little Rock public schools during the 1958-1959 school year.
In the 1960s, sisters Adolphine Fletcher Terry and Mary Fletcher Drennan deeded the house to the City of Little Rock for use by the Arkansas Arts Center. For several decades it served as home to the Arts Center’s contemporary craft collection. It now is used for special events and exhibitions.
Mayor Fletcher died in 1906 and is buried in Mount Holly Cemetery along with various members of his family. Several of his descendants still reside in Little Rock.


Arkansas connections among 2017 Writers Guild Awards nominees

wgaCourtesy of Skip Rutherford comes news that the Writers Guild Award nominees include two with Arkansas connections.

The first is that Little Rock native Jeff Nichols scored a nomination in the Original Screenplay category for LOVING.  (If it is nominated for an Oscar, it would be in the Adapted Screenplay category — because the Oscars don’t always have the same rules as other awards.)

The second is that Command and Control is nominated for Documentary Screenplay.  This film depicts that Titan II silo explosion at Damascus.  It features a telescript by Robert Kenner and Eric Schlosser, story by Brian Pearle and Kim Roberts. Based on the book Command and Control by Eric Schlosser;