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.

Little Rock Look Back: Election Day 1966

The Britts, Rockefellers and Hammerschmidts

Fifty years ago today was Election Day 1966. It was a seismic election for Arkansas. Winthrop Rockefeller was chosen as Arkansas’ 37th Governor, defeating Jim Johnson. (An earlier version of this incorrectly listed Jim’s wife, Virginia.  She would run for the Democratic primary in 1968, losing to Marion Crank.) In addition, Maurice “Footsie” Britt was elected Lieutenant Governor, Joe Purcell was chosen as Attorney General, and John Paul Hammerschmidt & David Pryor were both new faces in the Arkansas congressional delegation.

Rockefeller, Britt, and Hammerschmidt made waves as the first Republicans to hold those offices since Reconstruction.  But perhaps more importantly, when joined by Pryor and Purcell, the five represented a new face and outlook on Arkansas politics. They were progressive and centrist. They saw a different role for government in social and moral questions.

This election set the stage for Arkansas of the 1970s and 1980s. It was a repudiation of the overtly racist Faubus-era political old guard.  It was certainly not the end, however. In the 1968, 1970 and 1972 elections, Faubus and his cronies would try to reassert themselves in statewide races and would continue to see allies win local races.

But it would be the 1966 election which marked a turning point in Arkansas politics.