Little Rock Culture Vulture

Cultural events, places and people in the Little Rock area


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Little Rock Look Back: STAR WARS opens in Little Rock

As a third grade boy, I remember devouring the novelized version of Star Wars in 1977. I read everything I could about the movie. I owned the two disc London Symphony Orchestra soundtrack on LP.

I was a few months late to Star Wars figures, but Christmas of 1977 and birthday of 1978 did feature them as gifts. (I promptly lost my Sandcrawler weapon at my grandparents’ house on Christmas day.)

In those early days, I was excited by the idea of NINE Star Wars movies. Then, I gave up hope when George Lucas abandoned them after Return of the Jedi. When the prequels were announced during my adulthood, I was excited. Only to be disappointed by the actual movies (though admittedly they did get better by episode 3).

Then in 2015, the day my eighth grade self dreamed of, is here! What happens AFTER Return of the Jedi.  I saw The Force Awakens and flashed back to those early days. (Cynics might say it was because so much of Episode 7 was a retread of Episode 4.)  And today (after sneak peaks last night), The Last Jedi opens.

In honor of Star Wars: The Last Jedi opening day, here is a flash back to the Arkansas Gazette ad in June 1977 when the first film hit Little Rock (a full month after it first opened in New York).

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.

While Star Wars would seem like the perfect movie for the great UA Cinema 150, it did not play there. The film playing at the 150 was A Bridge Too Far, which was, at least an action movie. Star Wars did not even open at a UA theatre. It opened at the ABC Cinema 1 & 2 (located at Markham and John Barrow) and at the McCain Mall Cinema. (The ABC Cinema location is now home to discount cellphone and discount clothing businesses; a cinema has returned to McCain Mall but in a different location.)

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.”

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Little Rock Look Back: First meeting of Central and Hall in football

lrchs-lrhhsHall High opened its doors and started playing football in 1957. As a new school with a largely younger student body, it only played smaller schools that initial season.  The first Hall vs. Central game was set for Thanksgiving 1958 (November 27).

During the 1958-1959 school year, Little Rock’s high schools were closed for the ill-conceived, ill-advised reason to keep them from being integrated schools.  Though classes were not in session, football teams practiced and played.  The Arkansas Gazette noted that most of those games that season drew only 1,000 spectators, which was down from the usual 5,000 to 8,000 a game.

With the future of Little Rock’s high schools in doubt, there was some hand wringing about whether the 1958 Thanksgiving Day game would be not only the first meeting between Hall and Central, but perhaps also the last.

In only its second year of playing, Hall was undefeated and poised to win the state championship heading into the Thanksgiving game.  Central surprised the Warriors by winning 7-0 before a crowd of 5,000, which cost Hall the undefeated season and the championship (El Dorado became state champs).  This game set the tone for the high stakes of the rest of the series.


Little Rock Look Back: Adolphine Fletcher Terry

Photos from the collection of the Butler Center

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.


Little Rock Look Back: J. N. Heiskell

At the age of 87, J. N. Heiskell in 1960.

John Netherland (J. N.) Heiskell served as editor of the Arkansas Gazette for more than seventy years.  He was usually called “Mr. Heiskell” by all, but a very few confidantes felt confident to call him “Ned.”

Mr. Heiskell is the person most responsible for Robinson Center Music Hall being located at the corner of Markham and Broadway.  As Chair of the Planning Commission and editor of the Arkansas Gazette he had twin bully pulpits to promote this location when those on the City Council (who actually had the final say) were looking at other locations.  He felt the location would help create a cluster of public buildings with its proximity to the county courthouse and to City Hall.  Mr. Heiskell finally succeeded in winning over the mayor and aldermen to his viewpoint.

He was born on November 2, 1872, in Rogersville, Tennessee, to Carrick White Heiskell and Eliza Ayre Netherland Heiskell. He entered the University of Tennessee at Knoxville before his eighteenth birthday and graduated in three years at the head of his class on June 7, 1893.

His early journalism career included jobs with newspapers in Knoxville and Memphis and with the Associated Press in Chicago and Louisville. On June 17, 1902, Heiskell’s family bought controlling interest in the Arkansas Gazette. Heiskell became the editor, and his brother, Fred, became managing editor.

Governor George Donaghey appointed Heiskell to succeed Jeff Davis in the United States Senate after Davis’s death in office. Heiskell served from January 6, 1913, until January 29, 1913, when a successor was chosen by the Arkansas General Assembly.  His tenure is the shortest in the U. S. Senate history.  His first speech on the Senate floor was his farewell.  He was also only the second US Senator to live to be 100.

On June 28, 1910, Heiskell married Wilhelmina Mann, daughter of the nationally prominent architect, George R. Mann. The couple had four children: Elizabeth, Louise, John N. Jr., and Carrick.

In 1907, he joined a successful effort to build the city’s first public library. He served on the library board from that year until his death and was issued the first library card.  He also served on the City’s Planning Commission for decades.  In 1912, he was instrumental in bringing John Nolen to Little Rock to devise a park plan.

In the paper and in his own personal opinions, he crusaded on a variety of progressive causes.  Perhaps the most famous was the Gazette’s stance in the 1957 Central High desegregation crisis.  It was for this effort that the paper received two Pulitzer Prizes.

Although Heiskell stopped going to the office at age ninety-nine, he continued to take an active interest in the newspaper. He began by having a copy of the newspaper delivered to his home by messenger as soon as it came off the press each night. Eventually, he switched to having his secretary call him daily at his home and read the entire newspaper to him. He operated on the premise that “anyone who runs a newspaper needs to know what’s in it, even to the classified ads.”

A few weeks after turning 100, Heiskell died of congestive heart failure brought on by arteriosclerosis on December 28, 1972. He is buried in Little Rock’s Mount Holly Cemetery.  Interestingly, he is buried in the same cemetery as two of his most notable adversaries: Governor Jeff Davis, and segregationist Congressman Dale Alford.

Mr. Heiskell donated his vast papers to UALR. They are part of the Arkansas Studies Institute collection. These papers give insight into not only his career as a journalist, but also his political and civic affairs.  Thankfully he saved much of his paperwork. Without it, much insight into Little Rock in the 20th Century would be lost.


Little Rock Look Back: More Tricks than Treats on Halloween Streets

A recent romp through an ARKANSAS GAZETTE gave insight into Halloween in Little Rock in the middle of the 20th Century.

Apparently by late afternoon on Halloween 1950, downtown Little Rock was filled with kids and teens in costumes. Much of the focus seemed to be on tricks as many of these revelers were utilizing water guns to soak people, throwing enough talcum powder to create an aroma downtown, shooting off firecrackers, and soaping store windows. Several industrious store owners had coated there windows with glycerine so that soap would not mark them.

The mayhem was enough to cause even more problems to traffic at rush hour. Police officers were helpless as they were directing traffic.  One city bus filled with passengers was attacked by a phalanx of waterguns, until the windows were all closed.

GAZETTE writer noted that two teen boys were dressed rather convincingly as girls. One was described as “rather pretty.” It was not until the teen let out an expletive (which the paper reported as “g— d—–”) that the reporter was certain it was a male.

Not everyone was focused on tricks.  Merchants in the Heights neighborhood created a block party with a carnival. It was deemed to be so successful that it would become an annual event.


Central to Creativity – Deborah Mathis

Deborah Mathis has deep Arkansas roots.  She grew up in Little Rock the daughter of Rev. Lloyd Myers, a Baptist minister, and Rachel A. Myers Jones, a teacher.

Her journalistic pursuits began as early as junior high school, when she became the first black editor of West Side Junior High’s school newspaper. In 1970 she became the first black and first female editor of Central High School’s Tiger student newspaper. From the early 70′s through the early 90′s, Mathis was busy establishing herself as a journalist and broadcaster. She served in various positions ” reporter, editor, columnist and anchor ” at statewide media outlets including the Arkansas DemocratArkansas Gazette, KARK-Channel 4, KTH V-Channel 11, and KATV-Channel 7 From Arkansas, Mathis career took her to briefly to Jackson, Mississippi before she landed in Washington, D.C., where she was a White House Correspondent for Gannett News Service from 1993-2000.

Since 1992, Mathis has been a syndicated columnist, appearing in more than 100 U.S. publications and periodicals. She is also a contributor to such outlets as USA Today and BlackAmericaWeb.com and a frequent commentator on political and public affairs talk shows such as PBS’s Frontline, CNNs Inside Politics NPR’s All Things Considered America’s Black Forum and Oprah, to name a few. She also field-produced, wrote and narrated two nationally aired documentaries: “Edukashun: The Cost of Failure” (1982) and “Return of the Little Rock Nine” (1987).

Mathis is the author of Yet A Stranger Why Black Americans Still Don’t Feel at Home, Sole Sisters: The Joy and Pains of Single Black Women and What God Can Do: How Faith Changes Lives for the Better.  She has also been an assistant professor at Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism (Washington office).  In 2003, she was inducted into the Arkansas Black Hall of Fame.


Little Rock Look Back: Plans approved for new City Hall…finally

City Hall circa 1908

After a judge ruled in August 1906 that the City of Little Rock could not build a new City Hall and Auditorium complex, it looked like Little Rock would be stuck with its existing inadequate building.

However on September 10 it became obvious that much work had been taking place behind the scenes after that ruling.  On that day, the Board of Public Affairs (a City body charged with overseeing municipal government construction projects and comprised of the mayor and two citizens approved by the City Council) voted to ask the aldermen to cancel plans and rescind legislation for the city hall, jail and auditorium complex.  The Board of Public Affairs then offered up a new plan for a city hall and jail building.  Because no auditorium was involved, these plans would not be in violation of the Chancery Court.

That same evening the City Council followed suit and revoked the plans for the original project.  The aldermen then voted to proceed with building a new city hall and jail without the auditorium.  There was only one dissenting vote; Alderman Jonathan Tuohey voted no.  He explained his negative vote was not a lack of support for the project, but he was not comfortable with the way it was rushed through.

Mayor Warren E. Lenon told the Gazette, “The Chancery Court has enjoined us from erecting an auditorium and the Board of Public Affairs has consequently rescinded all resolutions and orders pertaining to that structure.” He noted that there would “be no appeal from the injunction granted by Chancellor Hart, because there is nothing to appeal.”

The coverage of the actions of the City Council that night was in keeping with the manner in which the two daily newspapers had covered the lawsuit and the trial.  The Gazette headline cried “City Hall Ordinance Railroaded Through” while the staid Democrat merely stated “New $175,000 City Hall Provided by City Council.”  The tone of theGazette’s article matched the headline while the Democrat’s story was more straightforward.

Architect Charles Thompson adjusted his plan for the new City Hall by removing the auditorium wing.  With the revised Th0mpson plan and the approval of the City Council, Little Rock was at last on its way to a new City Hall.  This was over two years after Mayor Lenon had first broached the subject.

Originally slated to open in 1907, the building officially opened in April 1908.