51 years since first full-length, locally produced THE NUTCRACKER was presented in Little Rock at Robinson Auditorium

In December 1968:

  • the final stretch of Interstate 40 between Little Rock and Memphis was completed. (Little did anyone know that milestone merely meant work would change from construction to non-stop reconstruction.)
  • Talks were underway about merging private Little Rock University with the University of Arkansas system (which would be finalized in the summer of 1969).
  • On the TV on December 19, “The Little Drummer Boy” TV special was being shown for the first time.  Also, Arkansan Glen Campbell was one of the guest stars on Bob Hope’s Christmas TV special.

For those who did not sit at home watching TV, at Robinson Auditorium on December 19 and 20, 1968, the nascent Little Rock Civic Ballet (a forerunner to today’s Ballet Arkansas) presented its first production of THE NUTCRACKER.

Under the direction and choreography of D. Cater Cranford, this production featured 135 performers, a fifty piece orchestra under the direction of Vasilios Priakos, and the largest number of stagehands in Robinson Auditorium’s history.  The production cost $25,000 to mount.  That would be the equivalent of just over $184,775 in 2019.

A large portion of the money went to renting sets from Dallas for the production. The costumes were designed and sewn by Cranford.  He also appeared as Drosselmeyer in the production.  His wife Lorraine, assisted with the choreography and also appeared on stage.

Though most of the dancers were local, the leading roles were danced by Bill Martin-Viscont, Nathalie Krassovak, Linda DiBona, Margo Dean and Carl Tressler.  Some of the dancers who had rehearsed for the production were unable to participate due to several cast members coming down with flu in the days immediately prior to the production.

The production sold out both public performances as well as the daytime matinee for school children.  The dress rehearsal on December 18 was opened up for children with disabilities to attend.

Though The Nutcracker has not been presented in Little Rock every year since 1968, it has certainly been on stage most of the years since then.  The overwhelming response to this production set the stage for it to become a much-loved holiday tradition in the city.

50 Years ago – World Premiere of TRUE GRIT takes place in Little Rock at Cinema 150

Glen Campbell speaks with Larry McAdams of KATV at the opening of TRUE GRIT.

On June 12, 1969, the world premiere of the film TRUE GRIT took place at the Cinema 150.

Actor/singer (and Arkansas native) Glen Campbell was in attendance at the event, but another Arkansan connected to the movie – author Charles Portis, did not attend.

Portis’ objection was that the film was being used as a fundraiser for the Democratic Party of Arkansas, and he was a supporter of Governor Winthrop Rockefeller, a Republican. Portis described himself as a Rockefeller Democrat.  The next night, in Hot Springs, Portis hosted what was billed as the “Author’s Premiere.”

While Portis may have been absent (and there is no way that GOP stalwart John Wayne would have considered coming to the premiere), the Cinema 150 was sold-out.  Press accounts noted that attendees ranged from Senator J. William Fulbright and Rep. Bill Alexander to former office holders Orval Faubus and Bruce Bennett (who presumably took a break that evening from trying to prove who was the more ardent segregationist).

Quite a few in attendance also had their eye on 1970’s Democratic primaries including Attorney General Joe Purcell and Secretary of State Kelly Bryant.  No mention was made in the media if Charleston, Arkansas, attorney Dale Bumpers was in attendance.

The film was cheered by those in attendance, although some did comment about the presence of snow-capped mountains in the film that was set in Arkansas and Oklahoma. But that was a minor quibble. (The film was shot in Colorado.)

Following the premiere, the party continued under a big circus tent, set up that evening in the parking lot of the shopping center at the southwest corner of Asher and University (now the home to Murry’s Dinner Playhouse).

The Pryor Center for Arkansas Studies has compiled a video clip from the opening.  It can be viewed here.

Rock the Oscars 2019: TRUE GRIT (both versions)

In 1969, Arkansan Charles Portis’ novel True Grit was made into a movie starring John Wayne and Arkansan Glen Campbell.  Kim Darby, Robert Duvall, Dennis Hopper, Jeff Corey and Strother Martin are also in the cast.

The movie was directed by Henry Hathaway, produced by Hal B. Wallis, and written by Marguerite Roberts.  Wilford Brimley and Jay Silverheels are uncredited actors in the movie.

Though set in Arkansas and Oklahoma, the movie was filmed in Colorado.  Elvis Presley was the first choice for the part Campbell would play. But when his manager demanded top billing (over Wayne), he was bypassed and the part went to Campbell.

The movie was nominated for two Oscars: Wayne for Best Actor and composer Elmer Bernstein and lyricist Don Black for the song “True Grit.”  The latter had been sung by Campbell in the movie.

Wayne won the Oscar that night, his only win.  He would reprise the character of Rooster Cogburn in the eponymously named sequel in 1975. This film, in which he co-starred with Katharine Hepburn, was his penultimate film.

In 1970, Campbell teamed up with Kim Darby again in a film written by Roberts based on a Portis book. This time it was Norwood.  It also starred Joe Namath, Carol Lynley, Meredith MacRae, and Dom DeLuise.  It did not repeat the success of the earlier Portis based movie.

In 2010, the Coen Brothers released a new version of Charles Portis’ True Grit.  Co-written and co-directed by Ethan and Joel Coen, it starred Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon, Hailee Steinfeld, Josh Brolin, Barry Pepper, Domhnall Gleeson and Elizabeth Marvel.  Unlike the original film, which was filmed in Colorado, this film was actually filmed partially in Arkansas, where  several scenes takes place.  Filming also took place in Texas.  Many Arkansas actors appeared in the film, but at the risk of omitting some, there will not be an attempt to name them.

The film received ten Oscar nominations: Best Picture, Adapted Screenplay, Directing, Leading Actor (Bridges), Supporting Actress (Steinfeld), Cinematography, Costume Design, Sound Mixing, Sound Editing, and Art Direction.  Sadly, the film went home empty handed.

Little Rock Look Back: 1968 THE NUTCRACKER is largest production to date at Robinson

In December 1968, the final stretch of Interstate 40 between Little Rock and Memphis was completed. (Little did anyone know that milestone merely meant work would change from construction to non-stop reconstruction.)  Talks were underway about merging private Little Rock University with the University of Arkansas system.  On the TV on December 19, “The Little Drummer Boy” TV special was being shown for the first time.  Also, Arkansan Glen Campbell was one of the guest stars on Bob Hope’s Christmas TV special.

For those who did not sit at home watching TV, at Robinson Auditorium on December 19 and 20, 1968, the nascent Little Rock Civic Ballet (a forerunner to today’s Ballet Arkansas) presented its first production of THE NUTCRACKER. (There appears to be some debate as to whether this was the first complete production of this ballet in Little Rock.)

Under the direction and choreography of D. Cater Cranford, this production featured 135 performers, a fifty piece orchestra under the direction of Vasilios Priakos, and the largest number of stagehands in Robinson Auditorium’s history.  The production cost $25,000 to mount.  That would be the equivalent of just over $181,000 in 2018.

A large portion of the money went to renting sets from Dallas for the production.  The costumes were designed and sewn by Cranford.  He also appeared as Drosselmeyer in the production.  His wife Lorraine, assisted with the choreography and also appeared on stage.

Though most of the dancers were local, the leading roles were danced by Bill Martin-Viscont, Nathalie Krassovak, Linda DiBona, Margo Dean and Carl Tressler.  Some of the dancers who had rehearsed for the production were unable to participate due to several cast members coming down with flu in the days immediately prior to the production.

The production sold out both public performances as well as the daytime matinee for school children.  The dress rehearsal on December 18 was opened up for children with disabilities to attend.

Though The Nutcracker has not been presented in Little Rock every year since 1968, the overwhelming response to this production set the stage for it to become a much-loved holiday tradition in the city.

 

Rock the Oscars, TRUE GRIT – Part 1

Fifty years ago, former Arkansas Gazette reporter Charles Portis wrote a novel entitled True Grit.  It is more than a work of literature, it is a work of art.  In April 2018, the Oxford American will be celebrating the 50th anniversary of the publication of the novel with a series of events.

In 1969, the movie was made into a movie starring John Wayne and Arkansan Glen Campbell.  Kim Darby, Robert Duvall, Dennis Hopper, Jeff Corey and Strother Martin are also in the cast.  The movie was directed by Henry Hathaway, produced by Hal B. Wallis, and written by Marguerite Roberts.  Wilford Brimley and Jay Silverheels are uncredited actors in the movie.

Though set in Arkansas and Oklahoma, the movie was filmed in Colorado.  Elvis Presley was the first choice for the part Campbell would play. But when his manager demanded top billing (over Wayne), he was bypassed and the part went to Campbell.

The movie was nominated for two Oscars: Wayne for Best Actor and composer Elmer Bernstein and lyricist Don Black for the song “True Grit.”  The latter had been sung by Campbell in the movie.

Wayne won the Oscar that night, his only win.  He would reprise the character of Rooster Cogburn in the eponymously named sequel in 1975. This film, in which he co-starred with Katharine Hepburn, was his penultimate film.

In 1970, Campbell teamed up with Kim Darby again in a film written by Roberts based on a Portis book. This time it was Norwood.  It also starred Joe Namath, Carol Lynley, Meredith MacRae, and Dom DeLuise.  It did not repeat the success of the earlier Portis based movie.

And the Arkansan Grammy Winners Were

grammy-2014Last night was pretty good for Arkansas-related Grammy winners.

The documentary Glen Campbell, I’ll Be Me spawned winners in two different categories.  The Band Perry is won for Best Country Duo/Group Performance for their take on Campbell’s hit “Gentle on My Mind” from the film’s soundtrack.  Campbell himself won his first Grammy since 1968 for co-writing (with Julian Raymond) the song “I’m Not Gonna Miss You” in the Best Country Song category.  The song is also nominated for the Oscars later this month.

Former Arkansan Smokie Norful won his second career Grammy.  He was lauded last night for “No Greater Love” in the Best Gospel Performance/Song category.

Though not an Arkansan, Roseanne Cash comes from Arkansas stock and has been an active supporter of efforts to establish a museum in Dyess, Arkansas in honor of her father Johnny Cash. She is went three for three Grammy Awards last night.  Cash is making room on her mantelpiece for trophies for: Best American Roots Performance (“A Feather’s Not a Bird”), Best American Roots Song (“A Feather’s Not a Bird”), and Best Americana Album (The River & The Thread).