Little Rock Culture Vulture

Cultural events, places and people in the Little Rock area


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Rock the Oscars: Oscar nominated actor and past Clinton School speaker John Lithgow

On February 18, 2008, two time Oscar nominee John Lithgow appeared in Little Rock before a packed house at the Statehouse Convention Center.  Sponsored by the Clinton School for Public Service speaker series, he spoke about the importance of the arts.  He also read from his children’s stories to the kids in attendance who he brought up to the front.

Actor, author and singer John Lithgow has appeared in more than 30 films, been nominated for two Oscars and had roles in numerous television shows. Perhaps his most celebrated work came as the loopy character of the alien High Commander, Dick Solomon, on the hit NBC comedy series “3rd Rock from the Sun.” As an author, Lithgow has written seven New York Times best-selling children’s picture books, including “The Remarkable Farkle McBride,” “Marsupial Sue,” “Micawber,” and “I’m a Manatee.” A graduate of Harvard University, Lithgow helped to establish “Arts First,” a weeklong festival on campus dedicated to the arts, and the “Arts Medal,” given annually to a Harvard graduate for outstanding achievement in the arts.

As a New York Times best-selling author of children’s, Lithgow says he writes in order to educate children “without them knowing it” and labels himself “the perfect man for the job.” Lithgow calls for successful people who achieve their ambitious goals to ask, “What else can I do here?” and “How can I use my success to make things happen?”

His 2008 appearance can be viewed here.

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Rock the Oscars: Hal Holbrook

(Photo by Joseph Harris for the AP)

Oscar nominated actor Hal Holbrook’s visits to Little Rock have been fairly regular over the decades.  In the 1980s and 1990s, he came several times in conjunction with the TV shows “Designing Women” and “Evening Shade.”  He also made an appearance at Wildwood in his one man play Mark Twain Tonight.

His first visit to Little Rock was in the mid-1950s.  He was just out of college and on a national tour of schools and small towns performing scenes from Shakespeare opposite his then-wife.  In a lengthy essay reflecting on his early career, Holbrook speaks fondly of his visit to Little Rock and of the grandiose stage and auditorium at Little Rock Central High School.


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Rock the Oscars: Robinson Center Music Hall

Over the years, Robinson Center Music Hall has played host to numerous Oscar winners and Oscar nominees.

Stage actors Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne made only one movie, but each were Oscar nominated for their performances in The Guardsman.  Over the years, they made several appearances in Little Rock in plays.  Their first visits were to the Little Rock High School auditorium. Once Robinson opened, they appeared on that stage.

Two time Oscar winner Helen Hayes appeared on stage at Robinson.  At the time, she was only a single Oscar winner (Best Actress for The Sin of Madelon Claudet).  Later she would pick up her second statuette for Supporting Actress in Airport.

Four time winner Katharine Hepburn graced the stage of Robinson in the 1940s.  Her first Oscar was for Morning Glory.  By the time she appeared at Robinson she had that award.  Later she would pick up Oscars for The Lion in Winter, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner and On Golden Pond.

Charles Boyer never won an Oscar in a competitive category (though he was nominated).  He did however win an Honorary Oscar in the 1940s for his promotiono of French culture during World War II.  He appeared on stage at Robinson in the early 1950s as part of the tour of Don Juan in Hell (written by Oscar winner George Bernard Shaw — yes Shaw won an Oscar for the screenplay of Pygmalion.)

Multiple Oscar nominee, and special Oscar recipient, Mickey Rooney appeared on stage at Robinson in 1986 in the national tour of Sugar Babies.


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Little Rock Look Back: Opening of Robinson Auditorium

robinson-auditorium-by-scott-carterOn February 16, 1940, after three years of planning and construction including several delays due to lack of funding, the Joseph Taylor Robinson Memorial Auditorium officially opened. It was a cold, rainy night, but those in attendance did not care.  (The concept of a municipal auditorium for Little Rock had first been raised in 1904, so this evening was truly a long time in the works.)

Searchlights painting arcs in the sky greeted attendees. They were borrowed from the Arkansas National Guard. Newspaper accounts noted that only a few of the men who attended were in tuxedos, most were simply in suits. The work to get the building opened had been so harried, that it was discovered there was not an Arkansas flag to fly in front of the building. Mayor Satterfield found one at the last minute courtesy of the Arkansas Department of the Spanish War Veterans.

The weather delayed arrivals, so the program started fifteen minutes late. Following a performance of Sibelius’ Finlandia by the fledgling Arkansas State Symphony Orchestra, Mayor J. V. Satterfield, Ewilda Robinson (the Senator’s widow), Emily Miller (the Senator’s sister-in-law and a member of the Auditorium Commission) and D. Hodson Lewis of the Chamber of Commerce participated in a brief ribbon cutting ceremony. Mrs Robinson cut the ribbon on her second attempt (once again proving that nothing connected with getting the building open was easy).

The ceremony was originally set to be outside of the building but was moved indoors due to the inclement weather. The ribbon cutting took place on the stage with the ribbon stretched out in front of the curtain. The opening remarks were broadcast on radio station KGHI.

Mr. Lewis, Mrs. Miller and Mayor Satterfield look on as Mrs. Robinson cuts the ribbon

Mr. Lewis, Mrs. Miller and Mayor Satterfield look on as Mrs. Robinson cuts the ribbon


Though he had previously discussed how he had voted against the auditorium in 1937 before entering public life, the mayor’s remarks that evening were appropriately gracious, statesmanlike and a testament to the effort he had invested to get it open upon becoming mayor. “We hope you have a very pleasant evening and hope further that it will be the first in a long series which you will enjoy in this, your auditorium.”

Tickets for the event, advertised as being tax exempt, were at four different pricing levels: $2.50, $2.00, $1.50 and $1.00.

The estimated attendance was 1700. Following the ribbon cutting, the main performance took place. The headliner for the grand opening was the San Francisco Opera Ballet accompanied by the new Arkansas State Symphony Orchestra (not related to the current Arkansas Symphony Orchestra). The featured soloist with the ballet was Zoe Dell Lantis who was billed as “The Most Photographed Miss at the San Francisco World’s Fair.”

Auditorium Commission chairman E. E. Beaumont, a local banker, noted that while event planners knew the evening of ballet and classical music would not appeal to everyone, it was intended to show the wide range of offerings that would be suitable in the new space.  Earlier in the week, children’s theatre performances had been offered to school groups through the auspices of the Junior League of Little Rock.

At the same time that the gala was going on upstairs in the music hall, a high school basketball double-header was taking place in the downstairs convention hall. North Little Rock lost to Beebe in the first game, while the Little Rock High School Tigers upset Pine Bluff in the marquee game.


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Rock the Oscars: Sam Waterston

On February 15, 2008, Oscar nominated actor Sam Waterston appeared at the Clinton Presidential Center in a Kumpuris Distinguished Lecture Series program sponsored by the Clinton School for Public Service and the Clinton Foundation.

Waterston was joined by the nation’s leading authority on Abraham Lincoln, Harold Holzer in presenting “Lincoln Seen and Heard,” featuring excerpts from Lincoln’s speeches, photographs of the late president and historical commentary.

He received a Best Actor Oscar nomination for 1984’s The Killing Fields.  He has also appeared in the Oscar winning The Great Gatsby and the Oscar nominated Heaven’s Gate, Interiors, Crimes & Misdemeanors, and Nixon.  On stage, Waterston was nominated for a Tony Award and received the Drama League Award for his performance in a revival of Abe Lincoln in Illinois.

 


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Rock the Oscars: James Earl Jones

Actor James Earl Jones has made several appearances in Central Arkansas over the years.  He has appeared at Robinson Center with the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra.  On February 12, 1999, he narrated Aaron Copland’s “Lincoln Portrait” and Alexander Miller’s “Let Freedom Ring” with the Symphony in a concert at Robinson Center.  (It was the 190th birthday for Lincoln.)

Born in Mississippi, he spent most of his childhood in Michigan.  After service in the Army during the Korean War, he moved to New York to study theatre.  In the late 1950s he started alternating between Broadway (where he often played a servant) and Off Broadway (where he played leading roles).  His first film appearance was in Dr. Strangelove….  From the 1960s onward he has alternated between stage, film and TV.  In the 1980s, he added voice work to his repertoire.

In 1969 and in 1987, he won Tony Awards for Actor in a Play (The Great White Hope and Fences, respectively).  His other Tony nominations have been for revivals of On Golden Pond and The Best Man.  He was nominated for an Oscar in 1970 for reprising The Great White Hope on film.  He received two Emmy Awards in 1991 – the only actor to ever win two in the same year.

In 2008, he won the Screen Actors Guild Lifetime Achievement Award, and in 2011 he was given an Honorary Oscar.  In 2002, he was a Kennedy Center Honors recipient.

He is probably best loved for his work as the voice of Darth Vader in many of the Star Wars films as well as his voicework in The Lion King.


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2018 Grants announced by National Endowment for the Arts; includes 4 Little Rock groups

Four Little Rock organizations were announced today as recipients of grants from the National Endowment for the Arts.  They are: Arkansas Repertory Theatre, Arkansas Symphony Orchestra, Chamber Music Society of Little Rock, and the Oxford American magazine.

Each year, more than 4,500 communities large and small throughout the United States benefit from National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) grants to nonprofits. For the NEA’s first of two major grant announcements of fiscal year 2018, more than $25 million in grants across all artistic disciplines will be awarded to nonprofit organizations in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico. These grants are for specific projects and range from performances and exhibitions, to healing arts and arts education programs, to festivals and artist residencies.

“It is energizing to see the impact that the arts are making throughout the United States. These NEA-supported projects are good examples of how the arts build stronger and more vibrant communities, improve well-being, prepare our children to succeed, and increase the quality of our lives,” said NEA Chairman Jane Chu. “At the National Endowment for the Arts, we believe that all people should have access to the joy, opportunities, and connections the arts bring.”

 

Arkansas Repertory Theatre Company
$10,000 Little Rock, AR
Art Works — Theater
To support a production of “The Call” by Tanya Barfield.

 

Arkansas Symphony Orchestra Society, Inc.
$12,500 Little Rock, AR
Art Works — Music
To support the Canvas Festival, which will combine visual arts and the performance of live symphonic music.

 

Chamber Music Society of Little Rock
$10,000 Little Rock, AR
Challenge America
To support a series of chamber music performances and related educational programming.

 

Oxford American Literary Project

$25,000 Little Rock, AR
Art Works — Literature
To support the publication and promotion of “The Oxford American” magazine.