Arkansas Arts Center Goes to China – Sept. 1, 1975

TIna Poe, Raida Pfeifer and Jeane Hamilton at the Great Wall of China (photo from collection of Jeane Hamilton)

On September 1, 1975, a group from the Arkansas Arts Center left Little Rock for a study tour of China. This was the first non-governmental group from the United States who had been authorized to tour the People’s Republic of China.

Fred Poe, of Poe Travel, and Jeane Hamilton were the organizers of the trip.  It was part of the annual travel seminars the Arts Center  would take to locations throughout the world to learn more about art and culture.  It took many months of planning as wells as mounds and pounds of paperwork to get this trip underway.

Persons interested in the trip had to apply and be approved by the Chinese government in order to participate in the trip.   The Chinese government selected eighteen AAC members from submitted applications and the group visited Beijing, Shanghai, Changsha, Kweilin, and Guangzhou.

The AAC Traveling Seminar participants in front of Mao’s birthplace. (Photo from the Jeane Hamilton collection.)

Rock the Oscars 2019: Mercedes McCambridge

Mercedes McCambridge won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress for her film debut.  The film was All the King’s Men.  She played political operative Sadie Burke.  Seven years later, she received an additional Oscar nomination for her role in Giant with Elizabeth Taylor, James Dean, and Rock Hudson.

By the 1960s, she was spending most of her time on television.  In the early 1970s, she alternated between film, TV and stage.  She provided the voice of the demon in the multiple Oscar nominated film The Exorcist.

In the 1980s, she lived in Little Rock for a few years to be nearer to some family who lived here. Even after she moved away, she visited from time to time. During this period, she appeared at the Arkansas Repertory Theatre in ‘Night, Mother. She also continued to use Fred Poe of Poe Travel to make her travel arrangements.

Little Rock Look Back: Arkansas Arts Center study group heads to China

TIna Poe, Raida Pfeifer and Jeane Hamilton at the Great Wall of China (photo from collection of Jeane Hamilton)

On September 1, 1975, a group from the Arkansas Arts Center left Little Rock for a study tour of China. This was the first non-governmental group from the United States who had been authorized to tour the People’s Republic of China.

Fred Poe, of Poe Travel, and Jeane Hamilton were the organizers of the trip.  It was part of the annual travel seminars the Arts Center  would take to locations throughout the world to learn more about art and culture.  It took many months of planning as wells as mounds and pounds of paperwork to get this trip underway.

Persons interested in the trip had to apply and be approved by the Chinese government in order to participate in the trip.   The Chinese government selected eighteen AAC members from submitted applications and the group visited Beijing, Shanghai, Changsha, Kweilin, and Guangzhou.

The AAC Traveling Seminar participants in front of Mao’s birthplace. (Photo from the Jeane Hamilton collection.)

Pulitzers Play Little Rock: ‘NIGHT, MOTHER on Arkansas Rep stage with Oscar winner Mercedes McCambridge

MercedesIt is not often that an Oscar winner has appeared in a play on a Little Rock stage.  But in the spring of 1986, Mercedes McCambridge starred in Marsha Norman’s ‘night, Mother at Arkansas Repertory Theatre.

She had moved to Little Rock a few years prior to live full time to be close to family. From time to time, she and Cliff Baker (the Rep’s founder) would have conversations about potential projects. But it was not until 1986, that the stars aligned.  By this point, she had moved away from Little Rock, but was still back from time to time to visit family.  (In an interview with the Arkansas Gazette, she also praised Fred Poe and noted that he was her travel agent for her many excursions.)

Appearing on stage with McCambridge in Norman’s two-hander was Rep veteran Cathey Crowell Sawyer.

Though noted for her film work, McCambridge had appeared on Broadway several times including opposite Little Rock native Ben Piazza in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and receiving a Tony nomination for her work in the play The Love Suicide at Schofield Barracks.

Prior to appearing at the Rep, she had recently toured in the play Agnes of God.  She related to the Gazette that she had been approached to do that play prior to Broadway but did not feel the character she was to play was believable.  When the national tour came about, a conversation with playwright John Pielmeier changed her mind.

Her last Broadway appearance was in Neil Simon’s Pulitzer Prize winning Lost in Yonkers.

2018 marks the 100th anniversary of the first Pulitzer Prize for Drama being given. To pay tribute to 100 years of the Pulitzer for Drama, each day this month a different Little Rock production of a Pulitzer Prize winning play will be highlighted.  Many of these titles have been produced numerous times.  This look will veer from high school to national tours in an attempt to give a glimpse into Little Rock’s breadth and depth of theatrical history.

2015 In Memoriam – Fred Poe

1515 Poe

In these final days of 2015, we pause to look back at 15 who influenced Little Rock’s cultural scene who left us in 2015.

Fred Poe was a world traveler who spent his lifetime sharing his love of travel with others.

Poe’s first solo trip at age nine on the Rock Island’s “Doodlebug” from Little Rock to El Dorado, Poe visited 168 countries (a country being defined as one which issues its own postage stamps) include such arcane destinations as Tristan da Cunha, the Faroe Islands, Afghanistan’s Wakkan Corridor and Upland Togo. Poe Travel was the first American travel agency to arrange tourist travel to the Peoples’ Republic of China as that nation’s Cultural Revolution wound down with son Tony Poe led an early group of Americans to North Korea. He loved automobile trips and drove in each of the 50 states and every province and territory of Canada save Nunavut which he visited only by air.

After growing up in Little Rock, he graduated from Vanderbilt University where he wrote the college musical comedy. Upon graduation he moved to San Francisco becoming part of the Beatnik subculture and playing ragtime and jazz piano in clubs. Drafted, he served as a translator in Germany in the US Forces and did graduate work at Mainz University in Eastern European History. In 1961, he opened Poe Travel in Little Rock, likely the youngest travel agency owner in the US at the time.  The firm continues today.

Poe was active in the Civil Rights Struggle among other accomplishments having sat-in at the Memphis Airport Restaurant which resulted in its racial integration. He is a member of the ACLU, a former president of the Little Rock SKAL club made up of travel professionals and was a lifetime member of the Country Club of Little Rock. As a travel writer he enjoyed great success in local publications, published at Bicentennial Guide to the USA for the German speaking market and was frequently quoted in such publications as The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Travel and Leisure, and Conde Nast Traveler.  He was a serious scholar with a fine library on the subject of the Nazi Holocaust and a dedicated art collector with especially significant items from the Russian Avant Garde and 20th Century Austrian schools.

With Jeane Hamilton, he led Arkansas Arts Center patrons on many trips including to China, Egypt and Cuba.  Just weeks before he died, he was in the front row at the Clinton School as Jeane Hamilton and Skip Rutherford discussed her lifetime support of the Arts Center. Jeane often referred to Fred in to fact check when they discussing some of the travel seminars.