Little Rock Culture Vulture

Cultural events, places and people in the Little Rock area


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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.

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Remembering Betty Fowler

(Photo courtesy of Arkansas Jazz Heritage Foundation)

Arkansas entertainer icon Betty Fowler died Saturday, April 15, 2017.

The information below is adapted from her obituary.

Betty was born on September 17, 1925 in Wynne, Arkansas to the late Harry Willis Hunter and Elizabeth Sands Hunter. Her love for music began at age 9, when she started taking piano lessons. Betty began her illustrious career at age 18 after winning a talent contest, which gave her the push she needed to pursue her life’s passion. Betty graduated from Little Rock Jr. College in 1944. She spent most of her life in Little Rock as a popular musician and television entertainer.

Betty began her musical career on a statewide radio show. She moved on to become a television performer in the early 1950’s in Little Rock with what is now known as Channel 7. She was best known for her children’s TV show, “Betty’s Little Rascals”, which began in 1955.

She went on to co-host the “Little Rock Today Show” on Channel 4 with Bud Campbell, where she did live commercials, played the piano and interviewed celebrities who came to town, such as Liberace, Sammy Davis Jr., Bob Hope, Red Buttons and Robert Goulet.

Through the years, Betty maintained a vigorous schedule with her band, “The Betty Fowler Four”, which produced a record album of her music. She was also musical director for The Miss Arkansas Pageant (1960-84), Musical Director for Broadway musicals produced by the Community Theater, Musical Director for the Farkleberry Follies and The Gridiron.

For many years, Betty taught piano and had a recording studio in her home, where she gave voice coaching lessons and made accompany tapes for many aspiring performers.
Betty Fowler will forever be remembered and treasured for her lifetime love and devotion to the world of music, both in performing and in the teaching of music to others.


Little Rock Look Back: Actress Fay Templeton born on Christmas Day 1865

Fay_TempletonThough largely forgotten today, Little Rock native Fay Templeton was one of the leading stars of vaudeville and Broadway in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

She was born in Little Rock on Christmas Day in 1865.  Her parents were touring here with the Templeton Opera Company. Her father, John Templeton, was a well-known Southern theatre manager, comedian, and author. Her mother, Helen Alice Vane, starred with her husband.  The family of three left Little Rock a few weeks after Fay was born, once her mother was able to travel.

She made her stage debut at age three, and her New York vaudeville debut at eight. At fifteen, she married a co-star but separated after six weeks.  She made her legitimate New York stage debut at nineteen in a revival of Evangeline.

In the late 1880s and early 1890s, she spent most of her time in Europe, appearing on stage and touring shows.  By 1895, she was back on stage in New York.  She then starred in a series of shows first for the vaudeville team of Joe Weber and Lew Fields, later for George M. Cohan. She introduced the songs “So Long Mary” and “Mary Is a Grand Old Name” in the latter’s Forty-Five Minutes from Broadway.  Her work with Cohan is portrayed in the Oscar winning film Yankee Doodle Dandy and in the Tony winning musical George M!

She retired from the stage after marrying Pittsburgh businessman William Patterson. But by 1911, was once again touring with Weber and Fields.  She retired again in 1913, this time staying off stage until 1926. She then played the role of Buttercup in a revival of HMS Pinafore and would be known as the definitive Buttercup for the rest of the 1920s and into the 1930s.  When her husband died in 1932, she returned to the stage.  In 1933, she starred with Bob Hope in the Jerome Kern musical Roberta.

In 1936, she entered the Actors’ Fund Home in New Jersey, but later moved to San Francisco to live with a cousin.  She died there on October 3, 1939, and is buried in Valhalla, New York.

Templeton returned to Little Rock several times throughout her life as she was embarking on tours.


RobinsoNovember: Gail Davis

gail_davisGail Davis is another of the former Little Rock artists honored at Robinson Center.  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 Senior 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.

At just over five feet tall and under 100 pounds, Davis was a charming heroine on Annie Oakley who wore pigtails and stopped criminals by outsmarting them or shooting the guns out of their hands. She rode horses and did many of her own stunts. She was the first woman to star in a TV western. Many young women later said they were influenced by watching Gail Davis as Annie Oakley, a female character in a traditionally male role. In the show, Gail took care of her younger brother, Tagg, in the fictional town of Diablo and solved crimes with handsome deputy sheriff Lofty Craig.

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.


Little Rock Look Back: Actress Fay Templeton born in Little Rock on Christmas Day 1865

Fay Templeton.jpg

Though largely forgotten today, Little Rock native Fay Templeton was one of the leading stars of vaudeville and Broadway in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

She was born in Little Rock on Christmas Day in 1865.  Her parents were touring here with the Templeton Opera Company. Her father, John Templeton, was a well-known Southern theatre manager, comedian, and author. Her mother, Helen Alice Vane, starred with her husband.  The family of three left Little Rock a few weeks after Fay was born, once her mother was able to travel.

She made her stage debut at age three, and her New York vaudeville debut at eight. At fifteen, she married a co-star but separated after six weeks.  She made her legitimate New York stage debut at nineteen in a revival of Evangeline.

In the late 1880s and early 1890s, she spent most of her time in Europe, appearing on stage and touring shows.  By 1895, she was back on stage in New York.  She then starred in a series of shows first for the vaudeville team of Joe Weber and Lew Fields, later for George M. Cohan. She introduced the songs “So Long Mary” and “Mary Is a Grand Old Name” in the latter’s Forty-Five Minutes from Broadway.  Her work with Cohan is portrayed in the Oscar winning film Yankee Doodle Dandy and in the Tony winning musical George M!

She retired from the stage after marrying Pittsburgh businessman William Patterson. But by 1911, was once again touring with Weber and Fields.  She retired again in 1913, this time staying off stage until 1926. She then played the role of Buttercup in a revival of HMS Pinafore and would be known as the definitive Buttercup for the rest of the 1920s and into the 1930s.  When her husband died in 1932, she returned to the stage.  In 1933, she starred with Bob Hope in the Jerome Kern musical Roberta.

In 1936, she entered the Actors’ Fund Home in New Jersey, but later moved to San Francisco to live with a cousin.  She died there on October 3, 1939, and is buried in Valhalla, New York.

Templeton returned to Little Rock several times throughout her life as she was embarking on tours.