31 Days of Arkansas Rep: 2017’s SISTER ACT

Based on the 1990s film of the same name, Sister Act marked Cliff Fannin Baker’s final directing assignment at Arkansas Rep.

No one knew it at the time, which is just as well. It was a joyous uplifting experience which was what Cliff would have wanted people to have for his final Rep show.

The show was selected by Bob Hupp to be part of the transition season after his departure. Baker had previously indicated interest in directing the show if Hupp ever programmed it for the Rep.

So from January 24, 2017 through March 5, 2017, Baker’s production filled the Rep.  It had originally been set to end on February 26 but was extended a week.

The cast was led by Soara-Joye Ross with Tracy Bidleman, Erica Lutstig, Susan J. Jacks, Jennie Boone, Patrick Clanton, Monte J. Howell, Cornelius Davis, Ton Castellanos, and Darryl Winslow. Little Rock favorites in the cast included Vivian Norman, Kathryn Pryor, Jay Clark, Monica Robinson, Kelley Ponder, Erica Martinez Warner, Zachary Meyers, and Taylor Quick. KATV’s Alyson Courtney made a cameo as a 1970s TV reporter.

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A Sculptural Father’s Day

Today is Father’s Day.   Little Rock has at least five sculptures which reflect the theme of the day.

In Riverfront Park, Jane DeDecker’s THE TIES THAT BIND shows a father helping his son tie his shoes.  It was installed in tribute to longtime Little Rock KATV executive Dale Nicholson.  He had been an active supporter of Sculpture at the River Market.  It is placed near another sculpture by Jane DeDecker, which Nicholson had selected as a memorial to his wife.

Not far from THE TIES THAT BIND is Kevin Kresse’s BREAKING THE CYCLE.  Installed in 2013, it shows a son pushing his father in a wheelbarrow.  At the time of the dedication, Kresse commented the piece is meant to show a father and son who have decided to “switch things up” for a new perspective on life.  Kresse and his son were the models for the piece.

One of the first sculptures placed in Riverfront Park in 2004 was DeDecker’s ANGLERS. It shows a grandfather and granddaughter going off to fish.  This sculpture is located near the Witt Stephens Jr. Central Arkansas Nature Center.

The sculpture was dedicated in November 2004 a few days before the opening of the Clinton Presidential Center.  it was selected, in part, because it paid tribute to the natural habitat of the area.  Since the sculpture was installed, not only has the Nature Center opened, but the Bill Clark Presidential Park Wetlands were created.

Near the Marriott Hotel, in the Vogel Schwartz Sculpture Garden, is C. T. Whitehouse’s HUDSON’S VOYAGE.  This sculpture is a tribute to his father.

Located near the Arkansas River, it reflects not only the boats and barges which travel by it daily, but is also symbolic of Whitehouse’s father’s service in the Navy and the possibilities that opened up for him.

Lastly, Tim Cherry’s RABBIT REACH is located near the Museum of Discovery.  The sculpture is a gift from Whitlow Wyatt and the Carey Cox Wyatt Charitable Foundation. It was given in memory of George Wyatt and Frank Kumpuris.  Those two gentlemen were the fathers of Whitlow Wyatt and Dean & Drew Kumpuris.

Little Rock Look Back: Sermons, TV Shows Dominate Final Day of 1959 Recall Campaign

A rainy Sunday afternoon did not stop STOP canvassers on May 24, 1959.

Sunday, May 24, 1959, was election eve for the Recall Campaign.  As such, the election figured into some Sunday morning sermons.  Reverend M. L. Moser Jr. spoke from the pulpit of his church and described the issue of segregation as Biblical. As many had before him, and would after him, he used the story of Noah’s three sons as a way to justify segregation of the races.

(Supposedly one of the sons was the father of the white race, one the father of the African American race, and one the father of the Asian race.  In this narrative, no explanation is given for other variations such as Native Americans and other indigenous people or persons from the sub-continent of India.  Also excluded is the likely race of everyone in the story – those who live in the Middle East.)

At Trinity Episcopal Cathedral, Dean Charles A. Higgins prayed for the schools but did not tell his parishioners how to vote.  Rev. Aubrey G. Walton at First Methodist Church spoke about the schools needing to be free from politics and pressure groups.  (Though Rev. Walton did later appear that evening on a STOP sponsored TV show.)

Embattled School Board president Ed McKinley refused requests from the media and others to divulge his plans for the future of the Little Rock School District.  Earlier he had stated he had an idea on how the schools could be reopened and segregated, but still remain in compliance with the courts.  Across the river, segregationists were planning a rally in North Little Rock to head off any plans for future integration on the north side.  Congressman Alford had already agreed to speak at this rally.

In paid time on TV, Governor Faubus spoke at length in a criticism of the Arkansas Gazette. He called the fired teachers pawns in a larger game.  He noted in his remarks that he did not expect to sway any votes by this point.

Not to be outdone, STOP was on all three TV stations. Sometimes the program was aired on more than one station simultaneously.  In an appearance sponsored by STOP, William S. Mitchell noted that May 24 was coincidentally Children’s Day.  He noted that never before in Little Rock history had so many people volunteered for a cause as those who had worked on STOP and with STOP.  The Women’s Emergency Committee, PTA Council, labor unions, and numerous other organizations had come together to raise money, knock on doors, and otherwise get the word out.

Finally, it was all over but the voting.  Nineteen days of outrage, exasperation, and hyperbole was coming to an end.  When dawn broke, it would be election day.

Mother’s Day Sculpture: PATTY CAKE by Jane DeDecker

Happy Mother’s Day!

This sculpture is Jane DeDecker’s PATTY CAKE which is located in Riverfront Park. It was donated by the late Dale Nicholson in memory of his wife, Pat.

LR Women Making History – Betty Fowler

Photo courtesy of the Arkansas Jazz Heritage Foundation

The word “Entertainer” seemed to have been invented for Betty Fowler.

Born in Wynne, her love for music began at age 9, when she started taking piano lessons. Betty began her illustrious career at age 18 after winning a talent contest, which gave her the push she needed to pursue her life’s passion. Betty graduated from Little Rock Jr. College in 1944. She spent most of her life in Little Rock as a popular musician and television entertainer.

Betty began her musical career on a statewide radio show. She moved on to become a television performer in the early 1950’s in Little Rock with what is now known as Channel 7. She was best known for her children’s TV show, “Betty’s Little Rascals”, which began in 1955.

She went on to co-host the “Little Rock Today Show” on Channel 4 with Bud Campbell, where she did live commercials, played the piano and interviewed celebrities who came to town, such as Liberace, Sammy Davis Jr., Bob Hope, Red Buttons and Robert Goulet.

Through the years, Betty maintained a vigorous schedule with her band, “The Betty Fowler Four”, which produced a record album of her music. She was also musical director for The Miss Arkansas Pageant (1960-84), Musical Director for Broadway musicals produced by the Community Theater, Musical Director for the Farkleberry Follies and The Gridiron.

For many years, Betty taught piano and had a recording studio in her home, where she gave voice coaching lessons and made accompany tapes for many aspiring performers.  Betty Fowler will forever be remembered and treasured for her lifetime love and devotion to the world of music, both in performing and in the teaching of music to others.

Little Rock Look Back: Farewell to the Hotel Marion and the Grady Manning Hotel

Manning Implosion.JPGOn February 17, 1980, a cold and clear Sunday morning, over seven decades of Arkansas history came tumbling down as the Hotel Marion and Grady Manning Hotel were imploded.  Thousands of people watched from places in downtown Little Rock and along the Arkansas River.  Many more were able to watch from live coverage carried on KATV, KARK and KTHV.  Those that missed it were able to see the replays multiple times on the news.

It was the first large-scale implosion in Little Rock’s history.  (It was likely the first implosion, but there could have been a small one that is not known.)  The two hotels were torn down to make way for the construction of the Excelsior Hotel and the Statehouse Convention Center.

The Hotel Marion, named after the builder Herman Kahn for his wife, opened in 1907. For four years it was Arkansas’ tallest structure.  It was the largest and grandest hotel in the City. For decades it would be the host to many dignitaries, conventions, and gala celebrations.

The Grady Manning Hotel was originally known as the Hotel Ben McGhee when it opened in 1930.   Manning was the head of the company which owned both the Marion and Ben McGhee properties.  Upon his untimely death by drowning in September 1939, the property was subsequently renamed in his memory.

The Manning Hotel, though taller, was never as grand a hotel as the Marion.  It was more of a mid-range property in pricing.

By the 1970s, both hotels were suffering from neglect and disinterest.  Changes in the lodging industry combined with a decline in downtown Little Rock had left both facilities with little business.

When Little Rock civic and government leaders decided to construct a larger convention center downtown with an adjacent hotel, it was decided that neither of these facilities could be properly renovated to be part of the project.  Instead, the land on which they stood (and the space in between) would be prime for the new hotel and center.

So, on the cold Sunday morning, the explosives were detonated, and the buildings came down.   Sunday morning was chosen because it would have the least impact on traffic flows since it would cause numerous streets to be closed for safety reasons.  The blast was delayed due to a rumor that someone might be in one of the buildings.  After checking both sites and finding them empty, the charges were set off.

And the Marion and Grady Manning became as much a memory as the long gone people who had once populated them.

The University of Arkansas’ Pryor Center for Oral and Visual History has a video of the implosion.

Central to Creativity – Deborah Mathis

Deborah Mathis has deep Arkansas roots.  She grew up in Little Rock the daughter of Rev. Lloyd Myers, a Baptist minister, and Rachel A. Myers Jones, a teacher.

Her journalistic pursuits began as early as junior high school, when she became the first black editor of West Side Junior High’s school newspaper. In 1970 she became the first black and first female editor of Central High School’s Tiger student newspaper. From the early 70′s through the early 90′s, Mathis was busy establishing herself as a journalist and broadcaster. She served in various positions ” reporter, editor, columnist and anchor ” at statewide media outlets including the Arkansas DemocratArkansas Gazette, KARK-Channel 4, KTH V-Channel 11, and KATV-Channel 7 From Arkansas, Mathis career took her to briefly to Jackson, Mississippi before she landed in Washington, D.C., where she was a White House Correspondent for Gannett News Service from 1993-2000.

Since 1992, Mathis has been a syndicated columnist, appearing in more than 100 U.S. publications and periodicals. She is also a contributor to such outlets as USA Today and BlackAmericaWeb.com and a frequent commentator on political and public affairs talk shows such as PBS’s Frontline, CNNs Inside Politics NPR’s All Things Considered America’s Black Forum and Oprah, to name a few. She also field-produced, wrote and narrated two nationally aired documentaries: “Edukashun: The Cost of Failure” (1982) and “Return of the Little Rock Nine” (1987).

Mathis is the author of Yet A Stranger Why Black Americans Still Don’t Feel at Home, Sole Sisters: The Joy and Pains of Single Black Women and What God Can Do: How Faith Changes Lives for the Better.  She has also been an assistant professor at Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism (Washington office).  In 2003, she was inducted into the Arkansas Black Hall of Fame.