In 1980, future two time Oscar nominee Charles Durning came to Little Rock to film the TV movie Crisis at Central High. In the movie he played Jess Matthews, who was principal at Central High during the desegregation of the school. Girls Vice Principal Elizabeth Huckaby had written a book about her experiences during that time which was published earlier in 1980.
The film, which aired on TV on February 4, 1981, also starred Joanne Woodward and Henderson Forsythe. Several local actors also appeared in the movie. While much of the interior scenes were shot in Dallas, there were exterior scenes shot at the Central High. Other Little Rock locations were also used.
Durning was born on February 28, 1923. Following World War II, he worked in a variety of professions, including as a ballroom dance instructor. In the 1960s, he started appearing on TV, which led to his breakout role in the Oscar winning film The Sting. Throughout the 1970s, he started appearing in supporting roles in major films. After filming Crisis at Central High he received back-to-back Oscar nominations in the Supporting Actor category for Mel Brooks’ To Be or Not to Be and for The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas.
In the 1990s, he made visits to Arkansas in conjunction with his role in the TV series “Evening Shade.” Durning died in 2012.