Little Rock Culture Vulture

Cultural events, places and people in the Little Rock area

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LR 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.


LR Women Making History – Jeane Hamilton

Photo taken for SOIREE

Jeane Hamilton has nurtured the Arkansas Arts Center for over 60 years.  She was present at the genesis of it and has remained so.  In 2007, she was awarded the Arkansas Arts Council’s Lifetime Achievement Governor’s Arts Award.

Arriving in Little Rock a young wife in 1952, she immediately set about to become involved in her new community as she and her husband James set up a household.  In the mid-1950s, the Junior League of Little Rock tapped her to chair the initiative to create a new art museum for Little Rock.  The two decades old Museum of Fine Arts was threadbare through years of neglect and unfocused programming and collecting.

Hamilton, along with Junior League President Carrie Remmel Dickinson and Vice President Martha McHaney, approached Winthrop Rockefeller (then a relatively new resident) to lead the fundraising effort for the new museum.  He agreed on a few conditions: one was that a base amount had to be raised in Little Rock first, and second that the museum would be for the entire State of Arkansas and not just Little Rock.

Hamilton and her colleagues set about to raise the funds. They raised $645,000 at the same time Little Rock’s business climate was stymied by the aftereffects of the Central High crisis.

Now a lifetime honorary member of the Arkansas Arts Center Board, Hamilton has spent much of her life working on Arkansas Arts Center projects since that visit in 1959.  She has served on the Board, chaired committees, chaired special events, served hot dogs, helped kids paint and danced the night away at countless fundraisers.  She was on the committee which hired Townsend Wolfe as executive director and chief curator.  Jeane has led art tours for the Arts Center to a number of countries over the years.

When she is not at the Arts Center, she is often seen at the Rep, the Symphony or any number of other cultural institutions.  While she enjoys seeing old friends at these events, she also loves to see a room full of strangers – because that means that new people have become engaged in the cultural life of Little Rock.

Little Rock Look Back: Sen. William Marmaduke Kavanaugh

On March 3, 1866, William Marmaduke Kavanaugh was born in Alabama. He later moved with his family to Kentucky before coming to Little Rock as a newspaper reporter.

Kavanaugh served as editor and manager of the Arkansas Gazette before entering politics.  From 1896 until 1900, he served as Pulaski County Sheriff, which at the time also included the duties of tax collector.  From 1900 until 1904, he was County Judge of Pulaski County.  In that capacity he helped wrangle several cities, railroads and trolley lines to create a compromise which lead to the completion of the Third Street Viaduct which connected Little Rock with Pulaski Heights. It is still in use today.

After leaving his post as County Judge, he had a varied career in banking and business interests.

When Senator Jeff Davis died in early January 1913, he left the last few weeks of his term incomplete as well as the new term he was set to start in March 1913.  There was much interest in who would fill the remainder of Davis’ current term, because that person might be the frontrunner to also fill out the new term.  (This was at the time that the U.S. Senators were still selected by state legislatures.) Defeated Governor George Donaghey appointed J. N. Heiskell to fill out the term. But once the Arkansas General Assembly convened in mid-January, they overrode Donaghey’s appointment and replaced Heiskell with Kavanaugh.

Kavanaugh served in the Senate from January 29, 1913 until March 3, 1913.  He was succeeded by Joseph T. Robinson who had only recently taken office as Governor.  Speculation was that Kavanaugh would not want the full six year term, so that he was acceptable choice to all of the politicians jockeying for the full appointment.  From 1912 until 1915, he was an Arkansas member of the Democratic National Committee.

Another interest of Kavanaugh’s was baseball.  He served as president of the Southern Association minor league starting in 1903.  The baseball field in Little Rock situated at West End Park was named Kavanaugh Field in his honor.  It stood until the 1930s when it was replaced by what is now known as Quigley Stadium.  (In 1927, Little Rock High School had opened on the land which had been West End Park.)

Kavanaugh died on February 2, 1915 at the age of 48.  He is buried in Oakland Cemetery.

Prospect Road was renamed Kavanaugh Boulevard in his memory.

LR 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.

Following the untimely 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.  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.

Rock the Oscars: Ruby Dee

Future Oscar nominee Ruby Dee was in Little Rock in 1992 for the filming of the Disney Channel movie The Ernest Green Story. The film was produced by Carol Ann Abrams, whose son J. J. Abrams is now an in-demand director and producer.

That Dee and her husband Ossie Davis would appear in this movie was probably no surprise.  Throughout their acting careers, each had been active in the Civil Rights movement and used their status as celebrated actors to advance the cause.

The film starred Morris Chestnut as Green.  The real Ernest Green served as the narrator of the film.  Many local actors also appeared in the film.  The world premiere was held at Little Rock Central High School.  The first airing on the Disney Channel was on January 17, 1993.  The film was introduced by Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton, who would take the oath of office as President of the US three days later.

Dee was born in Ohio, but moved to New York as a child. After studying French and Spanish in college, she pursued acting as a way to continue her interest in languages.  In 1950, she starred in The Jackie Robinson Story, which brought her national recognition for her film roles.  She continued to alternate between film and theatre throughout her career.  While she often shared the stage with her husband, the two also pursued independent projects.

She received a Best Supporting Actress nomination for her role in Ridley Scott’s 2007 film American Gangster.   Dee continued working until a few months before her death in 2014.


Rock the Oscars: Charles Durning

In 1980, future two time Oscar nominee Charles Durning came to Little Rock to film the TV movie Crisis at Central High.  In the movie he played Jess Matthews, who was principal at Central High during the desegregation of the school.  Girls Vice Principal Elizabeth Huckaby had written a book about her experiences during that time which was published earlier in 1980.

The film, which aired on TV on February 4, 1981, also starred Joanne Woodward and Henderson Forsythe.  Several local actors also appeared in the movie.  While much of the interior scenes were shot in Dallas, there were exterior scenes shot at the Central High.  Other Little Rock locations were also used.

Durning was born on February 28, 1923.  Following World War II, he worked in a variety of professions, including as a ballroom dance instructor.  In the 1960s, he started appearing on TV, which led to his breakout role in the Oscar winning film The Sting.  Throughout the 1970s, he started appearing in supporting roles in major films.  After filming Crisis at Central High he received back-to-back Oscar nominations in the Supporting Actor category for Mel Brooks’ To Be or Not to Be and for The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas.

In the 1990s, he made visits to Arkansas in conjunction with his role in the TV series “Evening Shade.”  Durning died in 2012.

Rock the Oscars: Joanne Woodward

In 1980, Oscar winner Joanne Woodward came to Little Rock to film the TV movie Crisis at Central High.  In the movie she played Elizabeth Huckaby, who was vice principal for girls at Central High during the desegregation of the school.  Huckaby had written a book about her experiences which was published earlier in 1980.

The film, which aired on TV on February 4, 1981, also starred Charles Durning and Henderson Forsythe.  Several local actors also appeared in the movie.  While much of the interior scenes were shot in Dallas, there were exterior scenes shot at the Central High.  Other Little Rock locations were also used.

Woodward was born on February 27, 1930.  In the early 1950s, she split her time between theatre and TV, both based in New York City.  In only her third year of making motion pictures, she won the Best Actress Oscar for her role(s) in The Three Faces of Eve.  As she continued to make movies, she received three other Best Actress nominations over the decades.

In the past two decades, she has focused more on directing and producing theatre, with some voice work for films.  Her last motion picture onscreen role was in 1993’s Philadelphia, where she played Tom Hanks’ mother.