Little Rock Culture Vulture

Cultural events, places and people in the Little Rock area

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LR Women Making History – Janis Kearney

Janis Kearney is the only person to have held the title of U.S. Presidential Diarist. In 1995 she was appointed to that position by President Bill Clinton.

After graduating from the University of Arkansas, she was hired by the State of Arkansas as a program manager.  Nine years later, she became managing editor for the Arkansas State Press. She later purchased it from owner Daisy Bates.

In 1992, she took a leave from the paper to work on the Clinton presidential campaign.  Following the election, she worked in the transition office, the White House, and the U.S. Small Business Administration until her appointment as Presidential Diarist.

In 2001, she moved to Chicago and started working on a book, while also having fellowships at Harvard and DePaul.  In 2004, she founded Writing Our World Press and published her first book, Cotton Field of Dreams.  Her Clinton biography, Conversations: William Jefferson Clinton-From Hope to Harlem was published in 2006.  Since then she has also published a novel, a biography of Daisy Bates, and the second part of her memoirs.

She is also active in the Celebrate! Maya Project. This program seeks to honor and promote the inclusive literacy, creativity, and social consciousness of the life and work of artist and activist Maya Angelou.


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LR Women Making History: Stella Boyle Smith

When Stella Boyle Smith died at the age of 100 in 1994, she was well known for her love of music and philanthropy.  It is a lasting connection of her to a building in which she spent so many hours as an arts patron.

Smith was a Little Rock philanthropist and founder of the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra. She lived to be 100, but ensured that her legacy would continue.  In her lifetime, she donated more than $2.5 million to organizations in the music and medical fields.  Since her death, the Stella Boyle Smith Trust has donated more than $5 million.  One of its most recent gifts was the sculpture In the Wings which graces the front of Robinson Center.

She was born in Farmington, Mo., into a large, musically inclined family, which moved to Arkansas when she was two. She began singing at the age of three and graduated from high school at 14. In 1922, she moved to Little Rock with her first husband, Dandridge Perry Compton, who died in 1935. Her second husband, George Smith, held various business interests and extensive farms in Woodruff and Arkansas counties, which allowed them to engage in philanthropy. Mr. Smith died in 1946.

In 1923, Smith’s love for music inspired her to start The Musical Group in her living room of her residence at 102 Ridgeway Drive in Little Rock, where she lived until she died. Through several iterations, the group eventually became the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra in 1966. Her initial objective was to establish the symphony as an educational tool for children, and, in 1968, she helped establish the Youth Orchestra. In 1972, the symphony board of directors named her an honorary life member. Smith established a trust fund for the symphony’s permanent endowment in 1985. A loyal friend of music and the symphony, she attended nearly every performance and most rehearsals.

Smith was also a pianist. In 1988, she gave UALR a grand piano as well as an endowed trust of $500,000. When she purchased the grand piano for UALR, a Steinway, she later on the same day purchased a Steinway for herself.  She remains the only individual to purchase two Steinway grand pianos in the same day. UALR renamed its concert hall the Stella Boyle Smith Concert Hall as a tribute to her. That year the university also gave her an honorary doctor of humane letters degree. Interest from the trust provides scholarships each year for music students studying string instruments, piano or voice.  After she died, her personal Steinway was given to UALR.  The music faculty and students now lovingly refer to the two pianos as Stella and George (after her and her husband).

Smith enabled many students around the state to attend college through the more than 200 scholarships that she financed.

Other organizations that have benefited from her generosity include Arkansas Arts Center and Historic Arkansas Museum as well as the University of Arkansas.

LR Women Making History – Charlie May Simon

Charlie May Simon is known today for being the eponym of a children’s literature award. But during her lifetime she was a prolific author for children and for adults.

Born in South Arkansas, she was raised in Memphis and then resided in Chicago and Paris. With her then-husband (who would serve as illustrator for her books even after they divorced) she moved to Perry County in the 1930s. She returned to writing, with Robin on the Mountain being published in 1934.  In 1936, she married longtime friend and Arkansas poet John Gould Fletcher. The couple resided in Little Rock.

Following his 1950 death, Simon continued to live in Little Rock, though she traveled all over the world. Her books for children and adults covered a variety of topics and themes.

In 1971, the Arkansas Department of Education named its annual Children’s Literature Award the Charlie May Simon Award.

After her death in 1977, she was buried next to her husband in Mount Holly Cemetery.


LR Women Making History – Adolphine Fletcher Terry

Adolphine Fletcher Terry was born on November 3, 1882 to former Little Rock Mayor John Gould Fletcher and his wife Adolphine Krause Fletcher.

Raised in Little Rock, in 1889 she moved into the Albert Pike House on East 7th Street, when her aunt transferred the title to her father. That house would be her primary residence the rest of her life.  Her sister Mary Fletcher Drennan never lived in Arkansas as an adult after marriage. Her brother John Gould Fletcher spent much of his adulthood in Europe before returning to Little Rock and establishing his own house, Johnswood.

At age 15, Adolphine attended Vassar. She later credited that experience as broadening her views on many issues.  After graduating at age 19, she returned to Little Rock.  Her parents both died prior to her 1910 wedding to David D. Terry, which took place at what was then known as the Pike-Fletcher House (and today is known as the Pike-Fletcher-Terry House).

She is perhaps best known today for establishing the Women’s Emergency Committee in 1958 and for her subsequent deeding of the family house to the City for use by the Arkansas Arts Center.  But her entire life was based on civic engagement.

She was instrumental in establishing the first juvenile court system in Arkansas and helped form the first school improvement association in the state. She was long an advocate for libraries, serving 40 years on the Little Rock public library board.  Through her leadership, the library opened its doors to African Americans in the early 1950s. Today a branch of the Central Arkansas Library System (the successor the Little Rock public library) is named after her.  Another branch is named after her Pulitzer Prize winning brother.

Adolphine formed the Little Rock chapter of the American Association of University Women, the Pulaski County tuberculosis association and the Community Chest.

In 1958, when the Little Rock public high schools were closed instead of allowing them to be desegregated again, she called Harry Ashmore the editor of the Gazette and exclaimed, “the men have failed us…it’s time to call out the women.”  With this, she formed the Women’s Emergency Committee to Open Our Schools. This group played a major role in getting the four high schools open the following year.

From 1933 to 1942, David Terry served in the U.S. Congress. During that time, Adolphine alternated her time between Washington DC and Little Rock. But she spent much time in Little Rock raising her five children.

After her husband’s death in 1963, she continued to remain active in civic affairs. In the 1960’s, she and her sister deeded the Pike-Fletcher-Terry House to the City of Little Rock for use by the Arkansas Arts Center upon both their deaths.  Following Adolphine Fletcher Terry’s death in 1976, Mary turned over the title to the City.

Adolphine Fletcher Terry is buried in Mount Holly Cemetery alongside her husband. Three of her children are also buried in that plot.  Her parents and brother are buried in a nearby plot.

Her granddaughters and their families carry on Adolphine Fletcher Terry’s commitment to making Little Rock better.


Rock the Oscars: TRUE GRIT, Part 2

In 2010, the Coen Brothers released a new version of Charles Portis’ True Grit.  (As a reminder, Portis had roots in Central Arkansas and was once a writer for the Arkansas Gazette.)

Co-written and co-directed by Ethan and Joel Coen, it starred Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon, Hailee Steinfeld, Josh Brolin, Barry Pepper, Domhnall Gleeson and Elizabeth Marvel.  Unlike the original film, which was filmed in Colorado, this film was actually filmed partially in Arkansas, where  several scenes takes place.  Filming also took place in Texas.  Many Arkansas actors appeared in the film, but at the risk of omitting some, there will not be an attempt to name them.

The film received ten Oscar nominations: Best Picture, Adapted Screenplay, Directing, Leading Actor (Bridges), Supporting Actress (Steinfeld), Cinematography, Costume Design, Sound Mixing, Sound Editing, and Art Direction.  Sadly, the film went home empty handed.




Rock the Oscars, TRUE GRIT – Part 1

Fifty years ago, former Arkansas Gazette reporter Charles Portis wrote a novel entitled True Grit.  It is more than a work of literature, it is a work of art.  In April 2018, the Oxford American will be celebrating the 50th anniversary of the publication of the novel with a series of events.

In 1969, the movie was made into a movie starring John Wayne and Arkansan Glen Campbell.  Kim Darby, Robert Duvall, Dennis Hopper, Jeff Corey and Strother Martin are also in the cast.  The movie was directed by Henry Hathaway, produced by Hal B. Wallis, and written by Marguerite Roberts.  Wilford Brimley and Jay Silverheels are uncredited actors in the movie.

Though set in Arkansas and Oklahoma, the movie was filmed in Colorado.  Elvis Presley was the first choice for the part Campbell would play. But when his manager demanded top billing (over Wayne), he was bypassed and the part went to Campbell.

The movie was nominated for two Oscars: Wayne for Best Actor and composer Elmer Bernstein and lyricist Don Black for the song “True Grit.”  The latter had been sung by Campbell in the movie.

Wayne won the Oscar that night, his only win.  He would reprise the character of Rooster Cogburn in the eponymously named sequel in 1975. This film, in which he co-starred with Katharine Hepburn, was his penultimate film.

In 1970, Campbell teamed up with Kim Darby again in a film written by Roberts based on a Portis book. This time it was Norwood.  It also starred Joe Namath, Carol Lynley, Meredith MacRae, and Dom DeLuise.  It did not repeat the success of the earlier Portis based movie.


Rock the Oscars: Roy Reed

It is possible that journalist extraordinaire Roy Reed appears in archival footage of the Oscar winning documentary “Nine from Little Rock” (Documentary, Short-1964) and Oscar nominated Eyes on the Prize: Bridge to Freedom 1965 (Documentary, Feature-1988).  First for the Arkansas Gazette and then for The New York Times, Reed was an eyewitness to history being made.  What is not in doubt is that he is a character in the Oscar winning film Selma.  In that movie, he was played by actor John Lavelle.

Roy Reed was born on February 14, 1930, in Hot Springs and grew up in Garland County. After attending Ouachita Baptist College and the University of Missouri (from which he would receive a Bachelor’s and a Master’s in Journalism), Reed worked for a newspaper in Joplin and served in the US Army.  In 1956, he returned to Arkansas to work for the Arkansas Gazette.

While he did not specifically cover the integration of Little Rock Central High in 1957, he was part of the paper’s coverage of civil rights. He later was assigned to cover the Faubus administration.  In 1965, he was hired by The New York Times and covered the South. He covered the historic Freedom March to the state Capitol in Montgomery in March 1965.  After spending 1965 and 1966 in the South, he was assigned to the Times’ Washington DC bureau.  In 1969, he moved to New Orleans to open a Southern bureau for the paper.  He remained in the Crescent City until 1976, when he was transferred to the London bureau.

After retiring in 1978, he moved to Northwest Arkansas and taught journalism at the University of Arkansas until 1995.  Reed continued to write essays and books including Faubus: The Life and Times of an American Prodigal (1997),  Looking Back at the Arkansas Gazette: An Oral History (2009) and Beware of Limbo Dancers: A Correspondent’s Adventures with the New York Times (2012).  Reed died in December 2017.