Little Rock Culture Vulture

Cultural events, places and people in the Little Rock area


Little Rock Look Back: Warren E. Lenon

OMayor Lenonn October 8, 1867 in Panora, Iowa, future Little Rock Mayor Warren E. Lenon was born.  He was one of eleven children of John D. and Margaret M. Long Lenon.

Lenon came to Little Rock in 1888 after finishing his schooling in Iowa.  He helped set up an abstract company shortly after his arrival.  In 1902 he organized the Peoples Savings Bank.  Among his other business interests were the City Realty Company, the Factory Land Company, the Mountain Park Land Company, and the Pulaski Heights Land Company.

From 1895 to 1903, he was a Little Rock alderman, and in 1903, he was elected Mayor of the city. A progressive Mayor, he championed the construction of a new City Hall which opened in 1908.  At the first meeting of the City Council in that building, Mayor Lenon tendered his resignation.  His duties in his various business interests were taking up too much of his time.

Mayor Lenon had been a champion for the establishment of a municipal auditorium. He had wanted to include one in the new City Hall complex. But a court deemed it not permissible under Arkansas finance laws at the time.  He also worked to help establish the first Carnegie Library in Little Rock which opened in 1912.

Mayor Lenon continued to serve in a variety of public capacities after leaving office.  In the 1920s, he briefly chaired a public facilities board for an auditorium district. It appeared he would see his dream fulfilled of a municipal auditorium.  Unfortunately the Arkansas Supreme Court declared the enabling legislation invalid.

In 1889, he married Clara M. Mercer.  The couple had three children, two of whom survived him.  A son W. E. Lenon Jr., and a daughter Vivian Mercer Lenon Brewer.  Together with Adolphine Fletcher Terry (also a daughter of a LR Mayor), Mrs. Brewer was a leader of the Women’s Emergency Committee.

Mayor Lenon died June 25, 1946 and is buried at Roselawn Cemetery.  Lenon Drive just off University Avenue is named after Mayor Lenon.

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Central to Creativity – Eliza Borne

Eliza Borné was named Editor of Oxford American magazine in October 2015.  She had been the Managing Editor of the magazine, prior to that appointment.  Under her leadership, the magazine has won the 2016 Ellie – National Magazine Award in General Excellence.

A Little Rock native and graduate of Central High School, she wrote Children’s Theatre reviews for the Arkansas Times while in high school.  While a student at Wellesley College, she interned for OA.  After graduation, she was an associate editor at BookPage.  In February 2013, she joined the OA as an editor.  When he was in Little Rock earlier this year, author Harrison Scott Key praised Borné’s skills as an editor.  At that appearance, he also lauded her skills as an interviewer. She has also used these skills serving as a moderator for the Arkansas Literary Festival.

While her talents as a writer and editor have been honed through hard work, she is also carrying on a family tradition in promoting Little Rock’s cultural life. A great-grandmother, Adolphine Fletcher Terry, was a member of the Little Rock Public Library Board (a forerunner of CALS) for decades.  Much could be written about what various ancestors have done to help Little Rock, but Borné is not one to rely on the family name as she forges her own career.  Instead, she uses her skills and love of Little Rock to promote good writing, good music, and good living.

Since 2016, Eliza has served on Little Rock’s Arts+Culture Commission.


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Central to Creativity – Nancy Rousseau

Though not a graduate of Little Rock Central High School, Nancy Rousseau is a Central High Tiger through and through.

She has been principal of Little Rock Central High School since the summer of 2002. Born in New York, she graduated high school in Tenafly, New Jersey.  After attending Ohio University, she graduated from Adelphi University with a degree in English education.  Her first job was teaching in Port Washington, NY, where she won the “New Teacher of the Year” award.  After teaching in Midwest City, Oklahoma, she arrived in Little Rock in 1976.

From 1976 until 1986, she taught English at Pulaski Academy.  After receiving her master’s degree in educational administration from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, she was hired by the Little Rock School District as an Assistant Principal at Central High School.  From 1991 until 1998, she served in that capacity. During that time, she worked on the planning for the 40th anniversary of the integration of Central High by the Little Rock Nine.

In 1998, she became principal of Pulaski Heights Junior High School.  She led the school’s transition from a junior high to a middle school.  When the position of Central High School principal became open in 2002, she applied for the job.

Since returning to Central as its principal, Mrs. Rousseau has been a very visible champion of the school, its students, faculty and alumni.  She served as co-chair for the Central High Integration 50th Anniversary Commission.  During her tenure, the school’s physical plant has been upgrade and much of the historic façade and interior has been restored.  A Central High Alumni Association and a Tiger Foundation have been formed.  Through their effort, the arts, academics and athletics have been enhanced.

Mrs. Rousseau also participated in the planning for the 60th anniversary of the school’s integration.  She is one of a very few who worked on the 40th, 50th and 60th anniversaries.


Central to Creativity – Dr. Sybil Jordan Hampton

Dr. Sybil Jordan Hampton made history as the first African American student to attend each high school year at and graduate from Little Rock Central High School.  But her impact on history exceeds that and extends into classrooms throughout Arkansas.

After a career which took her from elementary classrooms to corporate boardrooms, Dr. Hampton returned to Little Rock in 1996 to become the Executive Director of the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation.  In that capacity, she oversaw many opportunities to broaden the ways the arts and humanities were used in classrooms and outside of classrooms.  Dr. Hampton led the WRF until her retirement in 2006.  Through her vision and leadership, many tens of thousands of dollars of support went to cultural institutions and organizations during her decade at the helm.

Following the untimely death of the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra’s executive director, Dr. Hampton served as acting executive director of the ASO while a national search could be conducted.  She had long been a supporter of the ASO and other cultural institutions as a patron.

During the Central High Integration 60th Anniversary, Dr. Hampton served as emcee of the Commemoration Ceremony.  She continues to be involved with Little Rock’s cultural life through her involvement in the Mount Holly Cemetery Association. She is a tireless advocate for this living museum of Little Rock’s past.


Little Rock Look Back: Elizabeth Eckford

After 60 years, the most dramatic images of the 1957 crisis at Little Rock Central High School remain those of 15-year-old Elizabeth Eckford, being taunted as she walked through a hate-filled mob, on her way to school.  Today, Ms. Eckford recalls how difficult it was for her parents, Oscar and Birdie, to allow her to continue the struggle to integrate the Little Rock schools.

Born on October 4, 1941, she grew up in Little Rock.  Because all of the city’s high schools closed her senior year, Ms. Eckford moved to St Louis, where she obtained her GED. She attended Knox College in Illinois, and received her BA in History from Central State University in Wilberforce, Ohio.  While in college, Ms. Eckford became one of the first African Americans to work in a local St. Louis bank, in a non-janitorial position, and later she worked as a substitute teacher, in Little Rock public schools.

Ms. Eckford, a veteran of the U.S. Army, has also worked as a substitute teacher in Little Rock public schools, test administrator, unemployment interviewer, waitress, welfare worker, and military reporter.  Along with her fellow Little Rock Nine members, she is a recipient of the NAACP’s Spingarn Medal and the prestigious Congressional Gold Medal.  Together with one of her former tormenters, Ms. Eckford also received a Humanitarian award, presented by the National Conference for Community and Justice (NCCJ), following their meeting 34 years after an apology.  The award recognizes forgiveness and atonement.  They talked to students for two years, and, together, attended a 12-week racial healing course.

Ms. Eckford has started to walk through the painful past in sharing some of her story.  She has said that true reconciliation can occur if we honestly look back on our shared history. She believes that the lessons learned from Little Rock Central High School must continue to be shared with new generations, reminding audiences that “the dead can be buried, but not the past.”  Ms. Eckford continues her interest in education by sharing her story with school groups, and challenges students to be active participants in confronting justice, rather than being passive observers.

Ms. Eckford lives in Little Rock, and is a probation officer for the First Division Circuit Court of Pulaski County.


Central to Creativity – Will Trice

Trice at Tonys

Trice at the 2014 Tony Awards

Tony winning producer Will Trice used his theatrical performing and producing skills while a student at Little Rock Central High School.

In less than a decade on Broadway, Trice has taken home three Tony Awards and earned eight Tony nominations.

He has earned Tony nominations for producing the plays All The Way* and Wolf Hall; play revivals The Best Man, The Glass Menagerie, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf*, and You Can’t Take It With You; and the musical revivals Porgy and Bess* and Fiddler on the Roof.  (An * indicates a Tony win.)

He has worked with playwrights Gore Vidal and Edward Albee in their final Broadway ventures; actors Al Pacino, James Earl Jones, Angela Lansbury, Audra McDonald, Matthew Broderick, Elisabeth Moss, Bryan Cranston, Tracy Letts, Carrie Coon, Elizabeth Ashley, Rose Byrne, Jason Biggs, Marisa Tomei, Bobby Cannavale, Richard Schiff, John C. McGinley, Toni Collette, Michael C. Hall, Cherry Jones and Patti LuPone.

As a producer at Jeffrey Richards Associates, he has also produced national tours and productions in London.


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Central to Creativity – Gail Davis

gail_davisGail Davis is best known as TV’s Annie Oakley.  She was born Betty Jeanne Grayson on October 5, 1925. Her mother was a homemaker and her father, W. B. Grayson, was a physician in McGehee (Desha County), which did not have a hospital, so her birth took place in Little Rock (Pulaski County).

When her father became the state health officer, the family moved from McGehee to Little Rock, where Grayson attended Little Rock High School. Grayson rode horses and was a tomboy growing up. Grayson also held various beauty titles in high school and college, and she sang and danced in local shows from the time she was eight.

While studying dramatics at the University of Texas in Austin, she married Robert Davis in 1945, with whom she had a daughter, Terrie (the couple divorced in 1952). After World War II, they moved to Hollywood, where she worked as a hatcheck girl until being discovered by an agent who obtained an MGM screen test for her. She was signed to a contract, with her first appearance in 1947’s The Romance of Rosy Ridge, starring Van Johnson.

She worked steadily in movies, including fourteen films with Gene Autry in the late 1940s and early 1950s. He was impressed with her, changed her name to Gail Davis, and cast her as the star of the Annie Oakley TV show, which he produced. The show ran for eighty-one episodes from 1954 through 1956.

After her TV series ended, she appeared as Annie Oakley in the 1959 film Alias Jesse James starring Bob Hope. In that film, she appears in an uncredited role along with such other stars, also uncredited, as Gary Cooper, Bing Crosby, Roy Rogers, James Garner (as Bret Maverick), and Fess Parker (as Davy Crockett).

Her television appearances include guest roles on The Lone Ranger, The Gene Autry Show, The Cisco Kid, and Death Valley Days, as well as a 1961 episode of the Andy Griffith Show (Episode 37, “The Perfect Female”), her final appearance as a performer and in which she demonstrated her trademark sharpshooting.

Gail toured with Gene Autry’s Wild West show and made appearances as herself on TV programs such as Wide, Wide World: “The Western” (1958) with fellow Arkansan Ben Piazza. For her work in television, she was awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, located at 6385 Hollywood Boulevard, and in 2004, she was inducted posthumously into the National Cowgirl Hall of Fame.

Gail Davis died of cancer in Los Angeles on March 15, 1997, and is buried in Hollywood’s Forest Lawn cemetery.  In 2007, she was posthumously inducted into the Arkansas Entertainer’s Hall of Fame.  In 2016, a room was named in her memory at the newly renovated Robinson Center.