A Pulitzer Preview – Prizing Mount Holly Cemetery

The Pulitzer Prizes are to be announced tomorrow (Monday, April 15).  This year marks the 102nd anniversary of the prizes, though not all of the current categories have been around since 1917.

Mount Holly Cemetery not only touts that it is the site of a whole host of elected officials, it is also the only place in Arkansas where two Pulitzer Prize recipients are buried.

The cemetery is open every day, but a special visit to these two prize winner gravesites can be made on Sunday, April 28, during the Mount Holly Cemetery Association’s annual “Restore in Perpetuity” fundraiser picnic.

In 1939, John Gould Fletcher became the first Southern poet to win the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry.  He was born into a prominent Little Rock family in 1886.  Fletcher was awarded the prize for his collection Selected Poems which was published by Farrar in 1938.  Two years earlier, he had been commissioned by the Arkansas Gazette to compose an epic poem about the history of Arkansas in conjunction with the state’s centennial.

Fletcher is buried next to his wife, author Charlie May Simon and his parents (his father was former Little Rock Mayor John Gould Fletcher).  Other relatives are buried nearby in the cemetery.

The other Pulitzer Prize winner buried in Mount Holly is J. N. Heiskell, the longtime editor of the Arkansas Gazette.  It was Heiskell, in fact, who asked Fletcher to compose the poem about Arkansas.  Heiskell served as editor of the Gazette from 1902 through 1972.  He died at the age of 100 in 1972.

Under his leadership, the Gazette earned two Pulitzer Prizes for its coverage of the 1957 desegregation of Little Rock Central High.  One was for Harry Ashmore’s editorial writing and the other was for Public Service.

Heiskell remained in charge of the Gazette until his death in 1972.  He is buried alongside his wife with other relatives nearby.  Also not too far from Mr. Heiskell are two of his nemeses, proving that death and cemeteries can be the great equalizer. In the early days of his Gazette stewardship, he often locked horns with Senator (and former Governor) Jeff Davis. Later in Mr. Heiskell’s career, he vehemently disagreed with Dr. Dale Alford, who had been elected to Congress on a segregationist platform.

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Little Rock Look Back: Broadway debut of Ben Piazza

Though he had been an understudy in the short-lived Too Late the Phalarope, Little Rock native Ben Piazza never went on in the production.  He made his Broadway debut in Kataki, which opened 56 years ago today at the Ambassador Theatre on April 9, 1959.

Piazza was the valedictorian of the Little Rock High School class of 1951. While there, he was recognized for his acting and writing abilities.  After being a Little Rock High School Tiger, he became a Princeton Tiger and graduated in 1955 before moving to New York City.

Written by Shimon Wincelberg, Kataki concerned an older Japanese pilot and a young American soldier stranded on an island at the end of World War II.  As was the case of many plays in the late 1950s, it had originally been a television play.  The title is the Japanese word for “enemy.”

Kataki starred Sessue Hayakawa and Piazza. Most of Hayakawa’s dialogue was in Japanese, so in some ways, Piazza acted in a two-character, one-person play – since he was the only one talking for most of the play.  The play was produced by Jay Garon and Bob Sokoler, with Richard Randall serving as associate producer.  David Amram provided the incidental music.  Peter Dohanos designed the island scenery.  Anne Graham provided the costume design, and Paul Morrison was the lighting designer.

The actors received high praise for their performances, but the play’s dramatic structure was criticized as being plodding and trite.  The play was directed by Alan Schneider, who would reunite with Piazza in the original production of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?  a few years later.  The play would run only 20 performances, but Piazza was recognized with a Theatre World Award for his portrayal of Alvin, the young soldier.

The play was revived in Los Angeles in 2010 to good reviews.

Little Rock Look Back: “Nine from Little Rock” wins an Oscar

On April 5, 1965, the Academy Award for Best Documentary, Short Subject went to the film “Nine from Little Rock.”

Narrated by Jefferson Thomas, Charles Guggenheim’s documentary looks at the nine African-American students who enrolled in Little Rock Central High School in 1957. Thomas, one of the students reflects on the state of race relations in the seven years that had elapsed (up to 1964).  The film also focuses on Ernest Green, Elizabeth Eckford and Thelma Mothershed.

Guggenheim both directed and co-wrote the film. The latter credit was shared with Shelby Storck, who also produced the film.   The film had been commissioned by George Stevens, Jr., for the United State Information Agency.

The Oscar that night was Guggenheim’s first of four.  His others would be for: 1968’s “Robert Kennedy Remembered” (Live Action Short), 1989’s “The Johnstown Flood” (Documentary Short) and 1994’s “A Time for Justice” (Documentary Short).  His son Davis Guggenheim won the Oscar for Documentary, Feature for An Inconvenient Truth.

The film was digitally restored by the Motion Picture Preservation Lab for the 50th anniversary of its win for Best Short Documentary at the 1965 Academy Awards.  It is available for purchase on DVD and can also be viewed in its entirety on YouTube

Little Rock Look Back: Werner C. Knoop

To Little Rock citizens under a certain age, the name Knoop means Knoop Park — a picturesque park tucked away in a pocket of Hillcrest.  There are, however, still many who remember Werner C. Knoop as a business and political leader who helped shape Little Rock as a modern city.

Knoop was born on March 30, 1902.

In 1946, Knoop joined with Olen A. Cates and P. W. Baldwin to form Baldwin Construction Company in Little Rock.  Knoop had previously founded Capital Steel Company and established his business reputation there.  From 1945 through 1951, he served on the Little Rock School Board.

Following a series of political scandals, efforts were undertaken for Little Rock to shift from Mayor-Council to City Manager form of government.  Even before the desegregation of Little Rock Central put the city in the eyes of the world, an election for new leaders had been set for November 1957.  Knoop was on a “Good Government” slate and was one of the members elected.

At the first meeting of the new City Board, Werner C. Knoop was chosen by his fellow directors to serve as Little Rock Mayor.  Knoop served as Mayor until December 1962.  For the first several months in office, Little Rock had no City Manager so Knoop oversaw the transition of City staff as the forms of government changed.

Though City Hall generally stayed out of school district matters, that did not mean that the public viewed the two entities separately.  In September 1959, the Baldwin Construction offices were bombed as part of a series of terrorist activities protesting the desegregated reopening of all Little Rock high schools.

Downtown LR as viewed from Knoop Park

Downtown LR as viewed from Knoop Park

After two terms on the City Board, Knoop decided against seeking a third term.  He concluded his elected public service on December 31, 1962.  Following his time on the City Board, Knoop did not retire from Civic Affairs.  In 1970, he served as Chairman of the Little Rock Chamber of Commerce.   The previous year he served as President of the Arkansas Chapter of Associated General Contractors.

Mayor Knoop died in July 1983.  He is buried at Roselawn Memorial Park next to his wife Faith Yingling Knoop, a renowned author.

In the 1930s, Knoop moved into an Art Moderne house on Ozark Point in Hillcrest.  It was adjacent to Little Rock Waterworks property which was developed around the same time.  Eventually much of the land was deeded to the City for creation of a park.  In 1989, it was named in tribute to long-time neighbor Knoop in honor of his lifetime of service to Little Rock.

Women Making History – Dr. Sybil Jordan Hampton

Dr. Sybil Jordan Hampton made history as the first African American student to attend each high school year at and graduate from Little Rock Central High School.  But her impact on history exceeds that and extends into classrooms throughout Arkansas.

After a career which took her from elementary classrooms to corporate boardrooms, Dr. Hampton returned to Little Rock in 1996 to become the President of the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation.  In that capacity, she oversaw many opportunities to broaden the ways the arts and humanities were used in classrooms and outside of classrooms.  Dr. Hampton led the WRF until her retirement in 2006.  Through her vision and leadership, many tens of thousands of dollars of support went to cultural institutions and organizations during her decade at the helm.

In the mid-2000s, following the unexpected death of the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra’s executive director, Dr. Hampton served as acting executive director of the ASO while a national search could be conducted.  She had long been a supporter of the ASO and other cultural institutions as a patron.

During the Central High Integration 60th Anniversary, Dr. Hampton served as emcee of the Commemoration Ceremony.  A few months later, she received one of the LRCH Tiger Foundation’s first Award of Excellence. She has also been honored by inclusion in the Arkansas Civil Rights Heritage Trail and the Arkansas Black Hall of Fame.

She continues to be involved with Little Rock’s cultural life through her involvement in the Mount Holly Cemetery Association. She is a tireless advocate for this living museum of Little Rock’s past.

Last year, she was was interviewed by The HistoryMakers.  Recently, she was featured at Robinson Center when the public radio program “The Moth” recorded a show there.  L

 

Women Making History – Nancy Rousseau

Though not a graduate of Little Rock Central High School, Nancy Rousseau is a Central High Tiger through and through.

She has been principal of Little Rock Central High School since the summer of 2002. Born in New York, she graduated high school in Tenafly, New Jersey.  After attending Ohio University, she graduated from Adelphi University with a degree in English education.  Her first job was teaching in Port Washington, NY, where she won the “New Teacher of the Year” award.  After teaching in Midwest City, Oklahoma, she arrived in Little Rock in 1976.

From 1976 until 1986, she taught English at Pulaski Academy.  After receiving her master’s degree in educational administration from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, she was hired by the Little Rock School District as an Assistant Principal at Central High School.  From 1991 until 1998, she served in that capacity. During that time, she worked on the planning for the 40th anniversary of the integration of Central High by the Little Rock Nine.

In 1998, she became principal of Pulaski Heights Junior High School.  She led the school’s transition from a junior high to a middle school.  When the position of Central High School principal became open in 2002, she applied for the job.

Since returning to Central as its principal, Mrs. Rousseau has been a very visible champion of the school, its students, faculty and alumni.  She served as co-chair for the Central High Integration 50th Anniversary Commission.  During her tenure, the school’s physical plant has been upgrade and much of the historic façade and interior has been restored.  A Central High Alumni Association and a Tiger Foundation have been formed.  Through their effort, the arts, academics and athletics have been enhanced.

Mrs. Rousseau also participated in the planning for the 60th anniversary of the school’s integration.  She is one of a very few who worked on the 40th, 50th and 60th anniversaries.

#5WomenArtists – Betty Dortch Russell McMath

Through their social media campaign #5WomenArtists, the National Museum of Women in the Arts (NMWA) asks, “Can you name five women artists?

In response to that, this month five artists with Little Rock connections will be highlighted throughout March.  Up next is Betty Dortch Russell McMathThe Arkansas Governor’s Arts Awards were presented today.  In 2004, she was a recipient of one of the awards.

Born in 1920, she grew up just outside of Little Rock near Scott. After graduating from Little Rock Central High School, she attended Hendrix College. Beginning in the late 1930s, she studied art with such well-known artsits as Adrian Brewer, Louis Freund and Elsie Freud.

Her first commission was a portrait. While she also has painted numerous landscapes and scenes from Arkansas life, it is probably for her portraits she is best known. Among those she has painted are five Arkansas governors: Daniel Webster Jones, Sid McMath, Orval Faubus, Winthrop Rockefeller, and acting governor Bob Riley. Her painting of Rockefeller is the only official portrait of an Arkansas governor (to date) to have an outdoor setting. She has also painted many notable Arkansas women (including a 1986 exhibit for the Arkansas sesquicentennial).

In the 1960s, she and Marge Holman were commissioned to paint a mural on the flood wall in North Little Rock. Around the same time, she repeatedly took top honors at the Arkansas Festival of the Arts (which had been founded by Adolphine Fletcher Terry).

A longtime teacher at the Arkansas Arts Center, she was also active in numerous artistic and civic organizations.

For over 40 years, she was married to Henry Wellington “Rusty” Russell, who she met when he was stationed in Little Rock during World War II.  Several years after his death, she and Sid McMath married and were married until his death.