Category Archives: Film

RIP Ron Robinson

News has broken that longtime Little Rock ad man Ron Robinson has died.

His contributions to the advertising profession in Arkansas would be worthy of note in and of themselves. But Ron was much more than that.  He was a collector — of stamps, of movie posters, of sheet music, of many things.

If Arkansas was included in a piece of music or a film, Ron Robinson wanted it represented in his collection. The Central Arkansas Library System (CALS) houses and is in the process of cataloging Robinson’s vast collection of sheet music, film posters, and other memorabilia connecting those industries with Arkansas’s history and culture.

The Ron Robinson Theater in the Arcade Building on the Library Square campus, the newest performance space in the River Market district bears Robinson’s name. Programming in the 325-seat multi-purpose event venue is designed for all ages and includes films, music performances, lectures, and children’s activities.

The Ron Robinson Collection includes a large number of pieces of sheet music of songs about Arkansas or with the state’s name in the song’s title, containing everything from Tin Pan Alley tunes describing the state to hits by Arkansas musicians such as Patsy Montana and the Browns to would-be state songs. The collection also includes a number of vintage recordings-including Edison disks of the “Arkansas Traveler”-and other materials depicting the state’s music. It will include Robinson’s huge collection of Arkansas-related movie posters, from which the Butler Center co-produced with him an exhibition last year called “Ark in the Dark,” as well as a vast number of pieces of Arkansas political memorabilia.

A native of Little Rock, Robinson has been an avid collector of all things Arkansas for the past fifty years. He is past chairman and chief executive officer of Cranford Johnson Robinson Woods, a full-service advertising, marketing, and public relations firm. He has served on numerous boards and committees including the Friends of Central Arkansas Libraries (FOCAL), Arthritis Foundation, United Way, American Red Cross Public Information Committee, Arkansas Arts Center, and Arkansas Children’s Hospital.

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Ben Piazza – born in LR 85 years ago

Actor-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.

Piazza attended college at Princeton University and graduated in 1955.  While there he continued acting, including an appearance in a Theatre Intime production of Othello.

In February 1958, he starred in Winesburg, Ohio sharing the National (now Nederlander) Theatre stage with James Whitmore, Dorothy McGuire, and Leon Ames. In April 1959, Piazza starred in Kataki at the Ambassador Theatre.  For his performance, Piazza received one of the 1959 Theatre World Awards.

Piazza 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.

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.)

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.

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, West Side 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.

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, his one-acts: Lime Green/Khaki Blue opened at the Provincetown Playhouse.  Throughout the 1960s and early 1970s, Piazza toured in many plays nationally and internationally. As the 1970s progressed, he turned his focus to television and movies.

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.

Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, he appeared in a number of TV shows.  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 . 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.

In November 2016, a room at the Robinson Conference Center was dedicated to his memory.

Shark Week remembrance of Roy Schneider

Actor Roy Scheider’s connection to Little Rock is a sad one.  He visited the City quite frequently during the last years of his life as he was getting treated at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences.  Despite UAMS’s best efforts, Scheider died in Little Rock on February 10, 2008.

Though he starred in several iconic films in the 1970s and 1980s, he is probably best remembered for his role in the Jaws series of films.

In the 1970s, Scheider received two Oscar nominations. His first, for Best Supporting Actor, was in The French Connection.  While Scheider did not pick up the Oscar, the film itself was named Best Picture.  It won four other Oscars that night. (As a side note: it was the first R-rated movie to win Best Picture.  Though Midnight Cowboy was re-released as an R-Rated movie after winning the Best Picture Oscar, it was initially released as an X-rated movie.)

Scheider’s second Oscar nomination came for playing Bob Fosse’s stand-in in the movie All That Jazz.  It, too, won four Oscars, though Scheider’s nomination would not result in a win.

Happy Fiscal New Year to many LR Cultural Not-for-Profit Organizations

July 1 marks the start of a new fiscal year for many (if not most) cultural organizations in Little Rock.  The previous year has ended, hopefully in the black.

Just as a new calendar year does not automatically wipe away past problems (oh, if only), a new fiscal year does not erase past issues. But it does provide a new framework and new opportunities for moving forward.

So HAPPY FISCAL NEW YEAR. May FY 2018/2019 be the best year ever!

Little Rock Look Back: Birth of Jane Russell

Actress Jane Russell was born on June 21, 1921.

One of her best known film roles was as Dorothy Shaw in the 1953 film version of GENTLEMEN PREFER BLONDES.  In that movie duetted with Marilyn Monroe on the song “Little Girls from Little Rock.” (It was a revised version of the song “(I’m Just a) Little Girl from Little Rock” which was written for the original stage version.)

She also had the chance to spoof Monroe in the film by imitating her and hamming it up singing a snippet of “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend” in a courtroom scene.  But it is the opening sequence of the movie which is one of Russell’s iconic moments on screen.

Here is a clip.

After a multi-decade career in film and humanitarian causes, Russell died in February 2011 at the age of 89.

SCHOOL OF ROCK in the Rock tonight with Movies in the Park

The 2018 season of Movies in the Park continues with SCHOOL OF ROCK.  The 2003 film starts tonight at sundown at the First Security Amphitheatre in Riverfront Park.  (It will be shown adjacent to the Little Rock from which the City takes its name.)

After being kicked out of a rock band, Dewey Finn becomes a substitute teacher of a strict elementary private school, only to try and turn it into a rock band. The film stars Jack Black, Adam Pascal, Lucas Papaelias, Sarah Silverman, Joan Cusack and Miranda Cosgrove.

Little Rock’s Movies in the Park is sponsored by the Little Rock Convention and Visitors Bureau and the City of Little Rock.  Movies are shown every Wednesday during the season and begin at sundown.

Families, picnics and pets are invited to the park to enjoy movies under the stars, no glass containers please. A parent or adult guardian must accompany all children and youth under the age of 18 and an ID is required. The amphitheater will open an hour before film showings and movies will start at sundown each week. For more information please visit http://moviesintheparklr.net.

Terror Tuesdays Film Series at CALS Ron Robinson Theater – DEAD MEN WALK

The Central Arkansas Library System’s (CALS) Ron Robinson Theater continues the $2 horror movies tonight with the 1943 film DEAD MEN WALK as part of the Terror Tuesday Summer Series. All showings are open to the public and start at 6:00 p.m.

Tickets are available at ronrobinsontheater.org.  They cost $2.00.

Shot in only six days, DEAD MEN WALK tells the story of twin brothers.  One a kindly physician, the other a sinister, Satanic-worshiper.  Concerned about his brother’s impact on society, the physician kills him.  But the dead brother returns from the dead to avenge his death and terrorize the town.