The Return of the STAR WARS Day

Today, May the 4th, is Star Wars Day.

This year marks 42 years since the first (now subtitled Episode 4) movie opened!

The classic film first opened in fewer than 40 theatres nationwide on May 25, 1977.  It did not reach Little Rock until June 24, 1977.

Given its status as a sleeper hit, it is no surprise that it came into Little Rock largely unnoticed.  In that day, major films opening on a Friday would be heralded the previous Sunday with a substantial advertisement.  The first Star Wars ad ran on Thursday, June 23, 1977, the day before it opened.  By contrast, Herbie Goes to Monte Carlo, which would play at the same theatre, had a large ad on Sunday, June 19.

The day it opened, there was a fairly large ad which incorporated the familiar beefcake Luke, Leia in flowing gowns, and Darth Vader mask.  On the Sunday after it opened, there was a slightly smaller ad with the same artwork.  McCain Mall also ran a small add for both Star Wars and Herbie. It noted that Star Wars was a film that management “does not recommend for children.”

Three years later, The Empire Strikes Back opened nationwide on May 21, 1980. Opening a film on the same date was a newer phenomenon, due in part to the success of Star Wars.  For the opening weeks, The Empire Strikes Back played an exclusive showing at the UA Cinema 150.  It would eventually play at other theatres in Little Rock.

On the day The Empire Strikes Back opened, the Arkansas Gazette had four different stories about the movie in that day’s edition.  While the Arkansas Democrat did not have any stories that day (though they would in subsequent days), they did carry a story on David Letterman preparing to start his (what would turn out to be short-lived) morning TV show.

On May 25, 1983, The Return of the Jedi opened.  The cost to see The Return of the Jedi in Little Rock in 1983 was $5.00 for adults and $2.50 for children.  (That would be the equivalent of $12.37 today for an adult ticket.)

You cannot spell Pulitzer without LIT

The 2019 Pulitzer Prizes are announced later today.  Over the years, there have been several Pulitzer winners with connections to Little Rock.

In 1939,  Little Rock native John Gould Fletcher, a scion of a politically prominent family, won the Pulitzer Prize in Poetry for his work Selected Poems.  He appears to be the first Pulitzer Prize winner with Little Rock connections.

The 1950 Pulitzer Prize for Drama went to South Pacific. With a leading lady who is from Little Rock, this Richard Rodgers, Oscar Hammerstein II, and Joshua Logan musical explores race against the backdrop of World War II.  It is based on James Michener’s Tales of the South Pacific, which won the 1948 Pulitzer for Fiction. (Because it was a collection of interrelated short stories, the category was changed from Novel to Fiction from that year onward.)  But in the Michener book, Forbush is not from Little Rock.

The Arkansas Gazette made Pulitzer history in 1958 by winning both the Public Service and Editorial prizes in the same year. This was the first time that one organization had received both awards in the same year.  These were for the coverage of and response to the 1957 integration of Central High School by the Little Rock Nine.  J. N. Heiskell was the paper’s owner and editor, while Harry Ashmore led the editorial page.  Relman Morin of the Associated Press received the Pulitzer for National Reporting for his coverage of the events at Central.  Apparently Will Counts of the Arkansas Democrat was the jurors’ choice to receive the Pulitzer for Photography. But the Board opted to give the prize to another photographer.  Some speculate that the Pulitzer Board did not want to give four prizes in the same year for the same story.

Current Little Rock resident Paul Greenberg won the 1969 Pulitzer for Editorial Writing.  at the time, he worked for the Pine Bluff Commercial.   In 1986, he was a finalist in the same category.  Greenberg moved to Little Rock to join the staff of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette in 1992.  While no longer the Editorial Page Editor, Greenberg continues to write columns for the newspaper.

Former Little Rock resident Richard Ford received the 1996 Pulitzer for Fiction for his novel Independence Day.  As a young boy of eight, and for several years after, Ford spent much time at Little Rock’s Marion Hotel with his grandparents.  In making the presentation, the Pulitzer Board noted it was, “A visionary account of American life, Independence Day reveals a man and country with unflinching comedy and the specter of hope and even permanence…”

The Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 2001 went to David Auburn.  A 1987 graduate of Hall High School, Auburn was recognized for his play Proof.  The Pulitzer Board described Proof thus: “This poignant drama about love and reconciliation unfolds on the back porch of a house settled in a suburban university town, that is, like David Auburn’s writing, both simple and elegant.”  Auburn also served as a 2014 juror for the Pulitzer Prize for Drama.  While a student in Little Rock, Auburn participated in theatre at the Arkansas Arts Center.

Women Making History: Bernie Babcock

Julia Burnelle “Bernie” Smade Babcock was an author and museum founder.  When her husband died, leaving her with five children, she starting writing for money. She published several temperance novels and later wrote for the Arkansas Democrat.  She also published a magazine, wrote plays which were performed in New York, and authored a poetry anthology.

She later became recognized as an expert on Abraham Lincoln and wrote several books about him, as well as other historical figures.  For her writing skills, she became the first Arkansas woman to be included in Who’s Who in America.

In 1927, after professional curmudgeon H. L. Mencken wrote derisively of Arkansas, she decided to start a museum. The Museum of Natural History and Antiquities was first located in a Main Street storefront.  In 1929, she “gave the City of Little Rock a Christmas present” by giving the museum to the city.  It was relocated to the unfinished third floor of City Hall, with her as its employee. After being closed during part of the Great Depression, she relocated the museum to the Arsenal Building and reopened it as the Museum of Natural History.  She was involved in the efforts to rename City Park in honor of Douglas MacArthur (who had been born there) and welcomed him when he came to Little Rock in 1952.

Following her retirement in 1953, she moved to Petit Jean Mountain where she wrote and painted.

After more name changes and a relocation, her museum is now known as the Museum of Discovery and is an anchor in the River Market district.

Little Rock Look Back: SCOTUS decision in BATES v LITTLE ROCK case

On February 23, 1960, the U. S. Supreme Court handed down a decision in the case of Daisy BATES et al., Petitioners, v. CITY OF LITTLE ROCK et al.  This case had been argued before the Court in November 1959.

Daisy Bates of Little Rock and Birdie Williams of North Little Rock were the petitioners.  Each had been convicted of violating an identical ordinance of an Arkansas municipality by refusing a demand to furnish city officials with a list of the names of the members of a local branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. The question for decision was whether these convictions can stand under the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution.

The Little Rock ordinance (10,638) was passed on October 14, 1957. It charged that certain non-profits were actually functioning as businesses and using non-profit status to skirt the law. Therefore it required the non-profits to disclose their members and sources of dues.  North Little Rock passed an identical ordinance.

(Mayor Woodrow Mann was not present at the meeting of the LR Council when the ordinance was passed. But he signed all of the resolutions and ordinances approved that night.  Ordinance 10,638 was the only legislation that night which had also been signed by Acting Mayor Franklin Loy.  Mayor Mann crossed through Loy’s name and signed his own.)

Mrs. Bates and Mrs. Williams as keepers of the records for their respective chapters of the NAACP refused to comply with the law.  While they provided most of the information requested, they contended they did not have to provide the membership rosters and dues paid.

After refusing upon further demand to submit the names of the members of her organization, each was tried, convicted, and fined for a violation of the ordinance of her respective municipality. At the Bates trial evidence was offered to show that many former members of the local organization had declined to renew their membership because of the existence of the ordinance in question. Similar evidence was received in the Williams trial, as well as evidence that those who had been publicly identified in the community as members of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People had been subjected to harassment and threats of bodily harm.

Each woman was convicted in the court of Pulaski Circuit Court, First Division, William J. KirbyJudge. They were fined $25 a person.  On appeal the cases were consolidated in the Supreme Court of Arkansas in 1958. The convictions were upheld by five justices with George Rose Smith and J. Seaborn Holt dissenting.

Mrs. Bates and Mrs. Williams then appealed to the U. S. Supreme Court.  The pair’s legal team included Robert L. Carter and George Howard, Jr. (who would later become a federal judge).  Little Rock City Attorney Joseph Kemp argued the case for the City.  The arguments before the U. S. Supreme Court were heard on November 18, 1959.

The SCOTUS decision was written by Associate Justice Potter Stewart.  He was joined by Chief Justice Earl Warren and Associate Justices Felix Frankfurter, Tom C. Clark, John M. Harlan II, William J. Brennan and Charles E. Whittaker.  Justices Hugo Black and William O. Douglas wrote a concurring opinion.

The U. S. Supreme Court reversed the lower courts.

In sum, there is a complete failure in this record to show (1) that the organizations were engaged in any occupation for which a license would be required, even if the occupation were conducted for a profit; (2) that the cities have ever asserted a claim against the organizations for payment of an occupation license tax; (3) that the organizations have ever asserted exemption from a tax imposed by the municipalities, either because of their alleged nonprofit character or for any other reason.

We conclude that the municipalities have failed to demonstrate a controlling justification for the deterrence of free association which compulsory disclosure of the membership lists would cause. The petitioners cannot be punished for refusing to produce information which the municipalities could not constitutionally require. The judgments cannot stand.

In their concurring opinion, Justices Black and Douglas wrote that they felt the facts not only violated freedom of speech and assembly from the First Amendment, but also aspects of the Fourteenth Amendment. They wrote that the freedom of assembly (including freedom of association) was a principle to be applied “to all people under our Constitution irrespective of their race, color, politics, or religion. That is, for us, the essence of the present opinion of the Court.”

Neither the Gazette or Democrat carried any reaction from City leaders. There was a City Board meeting the evening of the decision. If it was mentioned, the minutes from the meeting do not reflect it.

Arkansas Attorney General Bruce Bennett, on the other hand, was very vocal in his outrage. The city laws were known as Bennett Laws because they had been drafted by him as ways to intimidate African Americans and others he viewed as agitators.

In 1960 Bennett was challenging Governor Orval Faubus for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination.  In reaction to the to the Supreme Court he vowed that, if elected Governor, he would “de-integrate” (a term he proudly took credit for coining) the state.

For his part, and not to be outdone by the AG, Faubus fretted that the Court’s decision meant that Communists would be able to give money to the NAACP.

Little Rock Look Back: First night of first TABRIZ

After over a decade of the Beaux Arts Bal (it was spelled the French way with only one “L”), a change was afoot in 1971. Because of the need to raise more money for the Arkansas Arts Center, the Fine Arts Club decided to replace their evening of dining and dancing with an auction event.

While there had undoubtedly been thrift sales and small-scale bidding on items to raise money in Little Rock, this effort would be the first large-scale endeavor to use an auction as part of a fundraiser.   In order to maximize the fundraising potential, it was decided this would be a two-night event. The first night (Friday, February 12) would be casual with a silent auction while the second (Saturday, February 13) would be formal.

There were two major reasons the Fine Arts Club needed to raise more money.  The National Endowment for the Arts had issued the Arts Center a challenge grant which required a $10,000 match. In addition, the Arkansas Arts Center was trying to build up an endowment for future purchases.  (This was less than three years after the facility had been faced with closing its doors.)

The name Tabriz was chosen because it was the name of a cultural city in the Mideast known for its marketplace.  The first edition had the tagline of “A Persian Market of All Things.”

The logo was designed by Jim Johnson of the firm then-known as Cranford/Johnson Associates. The decorations echoed the exotic theme employing palm trees, ferns, ceramic elephants, paisley fabric swaths, and turbans.

Among those working on the first Tabriz were Jane McGehee Wilson, Betty Mitchell, Betty Terry, Frances Cranford, Feetie Hurst, Tina Poe, Annette Connaway, Willie Oates, Phyllis Brandon, Jane Wolfe, and Mary Worthen.

Over 650 people attended the Friday night event. Admission of $5 provided sandwiches (conflicting newspaper accounts indicate either coldcut sandwiches or hot dogs) and beer.  Mixed drinks were an additional $1.

Newspaper coverage indicated that men wore “sports outfits,” suits without ties, or colorful parkas. It attracted men with “longhair and beards” and “conventional haircuts.” (Depending on who the writer was, “longhair” could have meant anything over one inch.)  The women that Friday favored maxi or midi skirts. There were no mini skirts on hand, but a Gazette reporter noted that some women were wearing hot pants which might make a mini skirt look long.

Music was provided by the trio of Tom, Jerry, and Barbara.

Because a Silent Auction was such a new thing, newspaper coverage pointed out that the rooms were actually quite full of sound as people chatted with each other both about bidding on the items and socializing in general.

To give people a preview of the auction items, the Arts Center galleries had been opened for viewing on the Sunday and Monday prior to the Friday and Saturday events.  An auction catalog was also available for pickup in advance of Friday.

Among the items up for bid were tennis and golf lessons, visits to beauty salons, credit at a pharmacy, a tour of the Municipal Courts building and lunch with city prisoners, a tour of the Little Rock Zoo, jewelry, artwork, tickets to Razorback games, a football jersey worn by Lance Alworth, a week in Las Vegas (one of only three items with a minimum bid), and a subscription to an answering service.

When all was said and done, the evening raised $9,500 for the Arkansas Arts Center.

Little Rock Look Back: Movie Ball sends LR Film Fans into Frenzy

Autograph seekers crowd around the actors at the Movie Ball (photo from Arkansas Gazette)

As final preparations were being made for the opening of the Joseph Taylor Robinson Municipal Auditorium in early 1940, a glamorous evening took place in Robinson’s lower level convention hall on February 1.

In conjunction with a meeting of film executives and movie theatre owners sponsored by Robb and Rowley Theaters (which later became the United Artists theatre chain), several Hollywood actors were in Little Rock and headlined a Movie Ball. While in Little Rock, Maureen O’Hara, Phyllis Brooks, Arleen Whelan, Tim Holt and Gene Autry had also made a variety of public appearances.

Mr. Autrey had to miss the ball because he had to return to Hollywood early to attend to business matters. Actress Ilona Massey had also been scheduled to attend the events but was unable due to illness.

The quartet who did appear at the Movie Ball caused quite a scene. Upon their entrance, so many of the attendees crowded around for autographs that the evening’s grand march could not take place (a newspaper headline in the Democrat innocently used the word “orgy” to describe the crowd). After two attempts, Little Rock Mayor J. V. Satterfield (who was escorting Miss O’Hara) and the other members of the Little Rock host delegation led the Hollywood foursome to their reserved table. For quite a while that evening, the table was besieged by autograph seekers.

Though it is unknown as to whether he sought an autograph, photos from the evening showed a very satisfied Mayor Satterfield with Miss O’Hara on his arm. Satterfield family lore joked that Mrs. Satterfield (who had stayed home that night to tend to a sick son) was not a fan of Miss O’Hara’s films after that evening.

The Movie Ball showed Little Rock citizens the value of Robinson Auditorium even before it had been officially dedicated. The film industry meetings had taken place at the Albert Pike Hotel which did not feature a ballroom large enough to host the ball. Without the auditorium’s availability for the gala, organizers might not have chosen Little Rock for the meeting.

With the auditorium’s convention hall not attached to any hotel, it opened up the chance for Little Rock to host more events. This had been one of the key arguments for an auditorium since Mayor W. E. Lenon’s first proposal back in 1904. Having a glamorous event this early in the auditorium’s life validated that contention. After having endured the challenges to open the building, it was a nice lagniappe for the auditorium’s proponents who were present.

The actor Tim Holt would again be connected to Little Rock. In September 1951, he tried to obtain a divorce in Arkansas and stated that he had been a resident of the state for at least six weeks. He also had someone else testify to that fact. In October 1951, the divorce was granted. Later Mr. Holt was charged with perjury and fined $200 for falsely representing his length of residence in Arkansas. Judicial sanctions for his legal team, which included a State Senator, were eventually reviewed by the Arkansas Supreme Court.