LR Movies Monday: THE STORY OF DR. WASSELL and MACARTHUR

With the Arkansas Cinema Society’s FILMLAND 2019 later this month (August 21 to 25), Mondays in August will feature movies with Little Rock connections.  Today’s films are both about World War II military heroes and both had their world premieres in Little Rock.

One was released during World War II and starred Gary Cooper as Dr. Corydon Wassell. The other was released in the 1970s and starred Gregory Peck as General Douglas MacArthur.

Dr. WassellBorn in Little Rock on July 4, 1884, Corydon McAlmont Wassell (called “Cory”) was born to Albert and Leona Wassell. A grandson of Little Rock Mayor John Wassell, he graduated from what is now UAMS in 1909. In 1911, he married Mary Irene Yarnell, with whom he would have four children.  In 1914, the couple volunteered to be Episcopal missionaries in China.  He served there until 1927. Following Mary’s death and his remarriage, he and new wife Madeline Edith Day Wassell returned to Arkansas in 1927.

Dr. Wassell resumed his medical practice. Given his experience with malaria in China, he proved to be an asset fighting malaria among Civilian Conservation Corps members in Arkansas. He was subsequently called to active duty in the Navy in 1936 and stationed in Key West.

After the outbreak of World War II, he was stationed in Indonesia. In early 1942, he refused to abandon his patients after the Japanese started invading Indonesia. Instead, he was able to evacuate a dozen severely wounded men over 150 miles to get to a ship. It took ten days for the ship to get to Australia, during which time it was attacked numerous times.  His official Navy Cross citation notes that he disregarded personal safety while caring for others.

He became an instant international hero. During the early days of the war, his heroism was one of the few bright spots.  President Roosevelt praised him in a fireside chat. James Hilton wrote of Dr. Wassell in a book which was then adapted by Cecil B. DeMille into the 1944 movie starring Cooper.  Originally Arkansan Alan Ladd was wanted to play Cooper’s sidekick, but Ladd was pressed into military service and unavailable.

From April 24 to 26, 1944, Cecil B. DeMille was in Little Rock for the world premiere screening of The Story of Dr. Wassell. Little Rock rolled out the red carpet (literally and figuratively) for DeMille and a contingency from Hollywood.  Dr. and Mrs. Wassell also returned to Little Rock for the festivities.  Unfortunately, Gary Cooper (who played Wassell in the film) was unable to attend due to illness.  His costar, Laraine Day, was making another film and could not attend either.    Those in attendance with DeMille (and Mrs. DeMille) included actresses Signe Hasso and Carol Thurston, and actor Melvin Francis.  The latter played himself; he had actually been one of the sailors saved by Dr. Wassell.

Sold-out screenings of the movie took place at the Capitol and Arkansas Theatres. On April 27, 1944, a regular run of the movie started at the Capitol Theatre.  It would be released nationally on July 4, 1944, which also happened to be Dr. Wassell’s birthday.

Thirty-three years after The Story of Dr. Wassell was released, MacArthur was brought to the screen by Universal Pictures.  It was their attempt to capitalize on the success of the movie Patton, including sharing some of the same members of the production team.

macarthur-gregory-peck-1977-everettTold entirely in flashback, it stars Gregory Peck as the fabled World War II general who was born in Little Rock. It focuses primarily on events in 1942 during the war, his dismissal by Truman in 1952, and his famous address to West Point in 1962.

Peck initially did not care for the subject or the script, but eventually stated that he grew to admire the challenges MacArthur faced.  Peck later called it one of his favorites roles, if not one of his favorite movies.

Producer Frank McCarthy, who worked on both Patton and MacArthur once said of Patton and MacArthur: “Both were complex men but General MacArthur was complex on a much broader scale. Patton had no ambition except to be a soldier and to command a field army. He was strictly command.”

Most of the film was shot on the backlot at the movie studio, which impacted the quality of the film.  The production budget simply would not allow for overseas location filming.

The film was released in July 1977.  One of the premieres was held in Little Rock. Peck attended a reception in the Arsenal Building where MacArthur was born. Now the home to the MacArthur Museum of Arkansas Military History, in 1977 the building still housed the Museum of Science and Natural History (now the Museum of Discovery).  Since MacArthur only spent a few hours in Little Rock as an adult, it is possible that Peck spent more time in the building than the General did.

The evening of August 5, 1977, started with an exclusive reception for 100 people with Gregory and Veronique Peck.  The movie itself was shown at the Cinema 150, where its general run would start on Saturday, August 6.  Following the film, a reception and silent auction brought people back to the museum.  Tickets ran $250 a person for all events, $100 a person for the film and post-show reception, and $25 for the movie.  It sold out.

Governor and Mrs. David Pryor escorted the Pecks into the theatre.  Former Governor (and World War II hero) Sid McMath introduced Mr. Peck to the crowd.  He extolled the virtues of Peck and MacArthur.  (It is interesting that he should admire MacArthur so much, since the General and President Truman had a well-publicized tiff, and McMath and Truman had enjoyed a warm relationship.)  Little Rock City Director Jim Dailey presented Peck with a Key to the City.

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Journalist Ernie Dumas discusses his new book tonight (6/10)

Veteran journalist and political observer Ernie Dumas will talk about his new memoir The Education of Ernie Dumas. He’ll sign copies of the book both before and after his talk, beginning at 5:30 p.m.

Dumas’s book traces the post-World War II evolution of Arkansas, beginning with the defeat of Governor Francis Cherry by Orval Faubus, the son of a hillbilly socialist, at the end of the Joseph McCarthy era, and leading up to Arkansas’s first president of the United States.

The book collects the mostly untold stories, often deeply personal, that reveal the struggles and tribulations of the state’s leaders—Cherry, Faubus, Winthrop Rockefeller, Dale Bumpers, David Pryor, John McClellan, J. William Fulbright, Bill Clinton, Jim Guy Tucker, and others.

Schedule of events:

  • Doors open at 5:00 p.m.
  • Book Signing: 5:30 p.m.
  • Talk: 6:00 p.m.

Co-sponsored by the Clinton School of Public Service and Political Animals Club.

Rockefeller & Pryor: The New Generation is focus of Clinton School program this evening

The next generation of two longtime Arkansas political families will be the focus of a Clinton School program this evening (March 29).

The program, starting at 6pm, will feature a conversation with Will Rockefeller and Adams Pryor moderated by Clinton School Dean Skip Rutherford.  It will be at Sturgis Hall.

Will Rockefeller works for Winrock Group Inc. in Little Rock and served on the staff of United States Senator John Boozman from 2011-2016.  He earned his B.A. in History from Rhodes College and an MBA from the University of Arkansas. He is currently pursuing a Master’s in Real Estate Development from Georgetown University. He is the son of the late Arkansas Lt. Gov Win Rockefeller and the grandson of the late Arkansas Governor Winthrop Rockefeller.

Adams Pryor graduated from the University of Arkansas and is currently a third-year law student at the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville. Following his law school graduation, he hopes to work for an international development NGO. He is the son of Arkansas Senator Mark Pryor and the grandson of Arkansas Governor and Senator David Pryor.

All Clinton School Speaker Series events are free and open to the public. Reserve your seats by emailing publicprograms@clintonschool.uasys.edu or by calling (501) 683-5239.

Women Making History: Anne Bartley

In 1976, Anne Bartley was sworn in as the first director of what was then known as the Department of Arkansas Natural and Cultural Heritage.  In that capacity, she was the first woman to serve in an Arkansas Governor’s cabinet.  She had encouraged Governor David Pryor to propose establishing the department and then had lobbied the Arkansas General Assembly to create it.  (Her oath of office was administered by the first woman on the Arkansas Supreme Court, Justice Elsijane Trimble Roy.)

Since 1968, Bartley had been involved in historic preservation, promotion of the arts, and civic engagement.   In 1979, Bartley was asked to establish a Washington Office for the state of Arkanas.  She later was involved in founding the Threshold Foundation (1981), the Funders’ Committee for Citizen Participation (1983), the Forum Institute for Voter Participation (1986), the Faith and Politics Institute (1991), Vote Now ’92 and ’94, America Coming Together (2004), Democracy Alliance (2004), America Votes (2005), and, currently, the Committee on States.

Some of the boards she has served on have been the New World Foundation, the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation, and the Rockefeller Family Fund. She is currently on the boards of the Bauman Family Foundation, Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors, America Votes, and on the Advisory Councils for Project New West and TAI SOPHIA.

Women Making History: Judge Elsijane Trimble Roy

Elsijane Trimble Roy was born the daughter of a judge. At an early age, she knew she wanted to be an attorney.  She would eventually become not only the third female to graduate from the University of Arkansas Law School, but the first female circuit court judge in Arkansas, the first female on the Arkansas Supreme Court, and the first female Federal judge from Arkansas.

She was also the first woman in the United States to follow her father as federal judge.  She presided in the same courtroom where her father had served for 20 years. She retired in 1999 after 21 years on the federal bench.

Judge Roy has received many awards and honors including being selected Woman of the Year by the Business and Professional Woman’s Club in 1969, Arkansas Democrat Woman of the Year in 1976, an honor that her mother also received, and Outstanding Appellate Judge of 1976-1977 by the Arkansas Trial Lawyers Association.

While she was on the Arkansas Supreme Court (to which she had been appointed by Governor David Pryor), she administered the oath of office to Anne Bartley to lead the Department of Arkansas Natural and Cultural Heritage.  Ms. Bartley became the first woman in an Arkansas Governor’s cabinet.  In 1977, President Jimmy Carter appointed her to the federal bench to succeed Judge Oren Harris.