Rock the Oscars 2019: Arkansan and Oscar Host Bob Burns

Bob Burns was a well-known national radio and film personality during the 1930s and 1940s. He was known such as “The Arkansas Traveler” and “The Arkansas Philosopher” because he wove tales of life in the Arkansas hills with his musical performances.

On March 10, 1938, he hosted the tenth Oscar ceremony, becoming the first Arkansan to do so.  At that ceremony the big winner was The Life of Emile Zola. The first version of A Star Is Born became the first color motion picture nominated for Best Picture. It was also the first time the Irving Thalberg Award was presented.  At the time, Burns had made a few movies and was ruling the airwaves as a popular radio star.  Since the Oscars were broadcast on the radio, he was an appropriate choice to host the awards.

He earned his nickname, “Bazooka,” from an instrument he invented and named as a young man in a plumbing shop.  The instrument, which was a simple device made of spare gas fittings and a whiskey funnel, eventually lent its name to the World War II anti-tank weapon due to its similar looks and Burns’ popularity among the troops who employed it in combat.

Burns was born in Arkansas (there are conflicting sources as to where) and grew up in Van Buren. As a youth, he started playing in bands. Among the instruments he played was his Bazooka invention. Eventually he came to the attention of a radio program in California. His originally non-paying assignment as a radio comic eventually led to appearances on Paul Whiteman’s coast-to-coast radio program and regular appearances on Rudy Vallee’s shows.

He eventually starred on NBC’s Kraft Music Hall radio program with Bing Crosby while also making more movies. From 1941 to 1947 he starred in his own radio show – The Arkansas Traveler which eventually became The Bob Burns Show.  During the same time period, he wrote a column for Esquire and syndicated newspaper column.

He was feted several times when he returned to Arkansas in the 1930s and 1940s.  In 1956, Burns died of cancer and is buried in California.

Rock the Oscars 2019: Dick Powell

Oscars nominations are announced today.  In the days leading up to the ceremony, this blog will look at Arkansas to the Academy Awards.

First up is Dick Powell.  Though not born in Little Rock, he grew up here and graduated from Little Rock High School when it was on Scott Street (now the East Side Lofts).  He started earning money as a singer in Little Rock churches and masonic lodges before transitioning to nightspots which eventually led to him touring the country with dance bands.

When Hollywood beckoned, he first appeared in light musicals as a singer and dancer.  One of his first non-musical roles was in the  all-star A Midsummer Night’s Dream which earned four Oscar nominations and won two.  He starred opposite future Oscar winners Jimmy Cagney and Olivia de Havilland.  Eventually, he transitioned into film noir roles including playing Phillip Marlowe in 1945’s Murder, My Sweet.  

In 1948, Powell hosted the Oscars ceremony. Gentlemen’s Agreement won Best Picture and two other Oscars that year.  (He was not the first Arkansan to host the Oscars.  In 1938, Van Buren native Bob Burns hosted the ceremony.)  In 1959, he and his then-wife June Allyson were two of the presenters at the Oscars.  That ceremony came in at one hour and 40 minutes in length. It was under-time so the presenters and winners took to the stage floor with dancing as a way to fill time before NBC cut away and aired a documentary on target-shooting.

Powell was one of the stars of 1952’s The Bad and the Beautiful.  The film won five Oscars but was not nominated for Best Picture.  It holds the record for the most wins by a film not nominated for Best Picture.

Rock the Oscars: Dick Powell

The Oscars are on March 4.  In the days leading up to them, the Little Rock Culture Vulture will look at Little Rock connections to the Academy Awards over the 90 ceremonies.

First up is Dick Powell.  Though not born in Little Rock, he grew up here and graduated from Little Rock High School when it was on Scott Street (now the East Side Lofts).  He started earning money as a singer in Little Rock churches and masonic lodges before transitioning to nightspots which eventually led to him touring the country with dance bands.

When Hollywood beckoned, he first appeared in light musicals as a singer and dancer.  One of his first non-musical roles was in the  all-star A Midsummer Night’s Dream which earned four Oscar nominations and won two.  He starred opposite future Oscar winners Jimmy Cagney and Olivia de Havilland.  Eventually, he transitioned into film noir roles including playing Phillip Marlowe in 1945’s Murder, My Sweet.  

In 1948, Powell hosted the Oscars ceremony. Gentlemen’s Agreement won Best Picture and two other Oscars that year.  (He was not the first Arkansan to host the Oscars.  In 1938, Van Buren native Bob Burns hosted the ceremony.)  In 1959, he and his then-wife June Allyson were two of the presenters at the Oscars.  That ceremony came in at one hour and 40 minutes in length. It was under-time so the presenters and winners took to the stage floor with dancing as a way to fill time before NBC cut away and aired a documentary on target-shooting.

Powell was one of the stars of 1952’s The Bad and the Beautiful.  The film won five Oscars but was not nominated for Best Picture.  It holds the record for the most wins by a film not nominated for Best Picture.