Rock the Oscars 2019: Dick Powell

Oscars nominations are announced today.  In the days leading up to the ceremony, this blog will look at Arkansas to the Academy Awards.

First up is Dick Powell.  Though not born in Little Rock, he grew up here and graduated from Little Rock High School when it was on Scott Street (now the East Side Lofts).  He started earning money as a singer in Little Rock churches and masonic lodges before transitioning to nightspots which eventually led to him touring the country with dance bands.

When Hollywood beckoned, he first appeared in light musicals as a singer and dancer.  One of his first non-musical roles was in the  all-star A Midsummer Night’s Dream which earned four Oscar nominations and won two.  He starred opposite future Oscar winners Jimmy Cagney and Olivia de Havilland.  Eventually, he transitioned into film noir roles including playing Phillip Marlowe in 1945’s Murder, My Sweet.  

In 1948, Powell hosted the Oscars ceremony. Gentlemen’s Agreement won Best Picture and two other Oscars that year.  (He was not the first Arkansan to host the Oscars.  In 1938, Van Buren native Bob Burns hosted the ceremony.)  In 1959, he and his then-wife June Allyson were two of the presenters at the Oscars.  That ceremony came in at one hour and 40 minutes in length. It was under-time so the presenters and winners took to the stage floor with dancing as a way to fill time before NBC cut away and aired a documentary on target-shooting.

Powell was one of the stars of 1952’s The Bad and the Beautiful.  The film won five Oscars but was not nominated for Best Picture.  It holds the record for the most wins by a film not nominated for Best Picture.

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Little Rock Look Back: In first day without 101st Airborne, LR Central plays final Thanksgiving game against NLR

Central dominating NLR in 1957

Central dominating NLR in 1957

The November 28, 1957, football game between Little Rock Central and North Little Rock had been poised to be memorable for a few years.

With the 1957 opening of Little Rock Hall High, the Tigers would switch their rivalry on Thanksgiving Day from a cross-river one to a cross-town one starting in 1958.  So the 1957 edition of Tigers vs. Wildcats was set to be historic as the end of a 24 year tradition.

(In its first year, Hall played smaller schools because its team was largely younger.  It would move up to top classification schools in the 1958 season.)

The events at Little Rock Central in September 1957 added a new layer of history to everything that school year.  The 101st Airborne was sent in by President Eisenhower in the evening of September 24 to ensure the Little Rock Nine were able to attend classes.  But President Eisenhower did not intend the Army to be there indefinitely.  On Wednesday, November 27, the soldiers left Little Rock. The National Guard was now charged with keeping the peace at Central.

The first day without the US Army was also Thanksgiving Day, and the final Bengals vs. Cats game.  The sports coverage of this game however belied all the drama off the field. News reports focused on Turkey Day as the final game between the longtime rivals and on the fact that it had a morning start time instead of the traditional afternoon start time.

In the end, the Tigers had the same result as they did in the first Turkey Day meeting: a win.  The Bengals scored 40 while the Cats only managed 7.

After 24 meetings on Thanksgiving Day, Little Rock had 19 wins, 4 losses, and one tie.  Seven times they shut out the Wildcats, and one time the northern team blanked them.  The fewest total points scored were 2 in the 1934 game, while the 1950 game produced a cumulative total of 71 points (LR 64, NLR 7).  The Tigers scored a total of 517 points over 24 games and gave up only 203.

Little Rock Look Back: Thanksgiving Day Football in 1918

100 years ago, the Little Rock High School Tigers football game on Thanksgiving was against a group of soldiers from Camp Pike.

The game took place on Thursday, November 28, 1918. The Great War had ended a little over a fortnight earlier, but the game had been scheduled while hostilities were still going.

The Tigers, who had never lost on Thanksgiving Day after starting a tradition of playing on the day in 1914, were for the first time the underdogs. The soldiers of the 13th Training Battalion were slightly older and much bigger – an average of 20 pounds bigger per player.

Going into the game, the Little Rock High School team was down a key player. Julian Adams was out with wrenched knee.  Another player John Ward was also absent (though the newspaper accounts do not indicate why).

Coach George H. Wittenberg was missing along the sidelines due to illness. He was not the first coach to be absent that season.  The regular coach, Earl Quigley, had been drafted and was stationed in South Carolina during the season.  Wittenberg, was a faculty member at the time. He had lettered for the football team when he had been a student a decade or so earlier. Later, as an architect, he would be one of the designers of the new Little Rock High School, now Central High School.

The game took place at Kavanaugh Field (a baseball field also used for football).  Though it is now the site of current Central’s storied Quigley Stadium, this was nearly a decade before the high school moved from Scott Street to Park Street.

The Camp Pike gridiron team dominated the game before a crowd of 1,000. The soldiers made three touchdowns in the first quarter, two in the second, one in the third, and one more to cap off the game in the fourth.

The closest the Tiger eleven got to scoring was in the second quarter when Hershell Riffel caught the ball at the 12 yard line and team captain and quarterback Alvin Bell advanced another six yards.  Camp Pike held them there.  Just before the game ended, Bell injured his knee and was taken out of the game.

Also that day, the University of Arkansas beat Kendall College (now the University of Tulsa) in Tulsa by a score of 23 to 6, West Tennessee Normal (now University of Memphis) defeated the Jonesboro Aggies (now Arkansas State Red Wolves) by a score of 37 to 0, and Hendrix College bested Henderson-Brown (now Henderson State University) by a score of 9 to 7.

Thanks to Brian Cox’s book Tiger Pride: 100 Years of Little Rock Central High Football for filling in some of the players names which were omitted in the newspaper coverage.

Little Rock Look Back: Little Rock Celebrates End of The Great War

Portion of a Pfeifer Brothers ad in November 11 1918 ARKANSAS DEMOCRAT

Portion of a Pfeifer Brothers ad in November 11 1918 ARKANSAS DEMOCRAT

When the residents of Little Rock awoke on Monday, November 11, 1918, they discovered that the Armistice had been signed.  A celebration of Peace broke out and continued on throughout the day.

The Arkansas Democrat (an afternoon paper) got the ball rolling when it issued a special edition at 2:27am that the treaty would be signed. In addition to being distributed around the City, copies were rushed to Arkansas Governor Charles Brough and Little Rock Mayor Charles Taylor.  Mayor Taylor declared he would issue a proclamation setting aside Saturday, November 16, as a day of celebration in the city.

Unwilling to wait that long, throngs of people filled the streets greeting each other with handshakes and hugs. From the wee hours of the morning through late at night, friends and strangers alike were treated as familiars as the celebratory love swept through the city.

Firecrackers, car horns, whistles, and church bells competed with each other and with the shouts of the citizenry in contributing to the din of celebration.  An impromptu parade formed at Third and Main around 9:00am and eventually stretched the length of Main Street’s business district.  Student forgot their studies and participated in the parade instead of going to the high school at Scott and 14th Street.  (While many businesses closed that day, the schools did not.  But one suspects that attendance was light.)

At 10am, there was five minutes of silence. Most men stopped and removed their hats while many women were seen offering silent prayers.  Then the Governor and Mayor addressed the crowds gathered at Capitol and Main Streets.

Two hundred recent arrivals from Puerto Rico who were in to Little Rock to work at a factory grabbed an American flag and joined in the parade once they were informed of the news. They joined a throng that cared not about race or ethnicity, class or status, faith background, gender, or occupation.

Three thousand employees of the Missouri Pacific Railroad marched in a parade led by a coffin with an effigy of Kaiser Wilhelm in it. Next came the railroad’s marching band, followed by row after row of railroad employees.  Interspersed were rail company trucks equipped with railroad bells which had been rung previously as part of war bond rallies. Now they were rung in tribute to peace and victory.

Around noon, the crowds moved back to sidewalks and side streets, turning Main Street and Capitol Street over to an automobile parade. Cars, trucks, and other vehicles were festooned with red, white, and blue bunting and packed with people.  Overhead throughout the day, airplanes performed acrobatic feats to the delight of crowds below.

Government offices closed early as did factories and most businesses.  About the only people working that day seemed to be the Little Rock police.  They reported no major incidents, although one officer did have to rescue his hat from being nearly trampled by a group of dancing women.  The only quibble seems to have come from various groups claiming to have been the first to start the celebration.

Rock the Oscars: Dick Powell

The Oscars are on March 4.  In the days leading up to them, the Little Rock Culture Vulture will look at Little Rock connections to the Academy Awards over the 90 ceremonies.

First up is Dick Powell.  Though not born in Little Rock, he grew up here and graduated from Little Rock High School when it was on Scott Street (now the East Side Lofts).  He started earning money as a singer in Little Rock churches and masonic lodges before transitioning to nightspots which eventually led to him touring the country with dance bands.

When Hollywood beckoned, he first appeared in light musicals as a singer and dancer.  One of his first non-musical roles was in the  all-star A Midsummer Night’s Dream which earned four Oscar nominations and won two.  He starred opposite future Oscar winners Jimmy Cagney and Olivia de Havilland.  Eventually, he transitioned into film noir roles including playing Phillip Marlowe in 1945’s Murder, My Sweet.  

In 1948, Powell hosted the Oscars ceremony. Gentlemen’s Agreement won Best Picture and two other Oscars that year.  (He was not the first Arkansan to host the Oscars.  In 1938, Van Buren native Bob Burns hosted the ceremony.)  In 1959, he and his then-wife June Allyson were two of the presenters at the Oscars.  That ceremony came in at one hour and 40 minutes in length. It was under-time so the presenters and winners took to the stage floor with dancing as a way to fill time before NBC cut away and aired a documentary on target-shooting.

Powell was one of the stars of 1952’s The Bad and the Beautiful.  The film won five Oscars but was not nominated for Best Picture.  It holds the record for the most wins by a film not nominated for Best Picture.

Central to Creativity – Ben Piazza

 

benpiazza book coverActor-director-playwright-author Ben Piazza was born on July 30, 1933, in Little Rock, and graduated from Little Rock High School in 1951 as valedictorian. He also had starred in the senior play that year (The Man Who Came to Dinner) and edited the literary magazine.

After graduating from Princeton, he moved to New York City to become an actor.  He made his Broadway debut in 1958 in Winesburg, Ohio.  In April 1959, he starred in Kataki and received a Theatre World Award for his performance.

As the 1960s dawned, Piazza joined a small cadre of actors who had achieved status on Broadway who then also returned to acting Off Broadway.  Colleen Dewhurst, George C. Scott, and James Earl Jones were others in this select group who helped establish Off Broadway as an entity in itself, instead of being just a farm team for Broadway.

In February 1963, he took over the role of Nick in the original run of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? on Broadway.  During the run of this show, Piazza’s novel The Exact and Very Strange Truth was published.  It is a fictionalized account of his growing up in Little Rock during the 1930s and 1940s.  The book is filled with references to Centennial Elementary, Westside Junior High, Central High School, Immanuel Baptist Church and various stores and shops in Little Rock during that era.

In August of 1967, his play The Sunday Agreement premiered at LaMaMa.  This was Piazza’s first playwright output to be professionally staged.  In March 1969, a double bill of his one-acts: Lime Green/Khaki Blue opened at the Provincetown Playhouse.  It

Throughout the 1960s and early 1970s, Piazza toured in many plays nationally and internationally. He also appeared in major regional theatres as an actor and a director.  As the 1970s progressed, he turned his focus to television and movies.

Piazza’s film debut had been in a 1959 Canadian film called The Dangerous Age. That same year, his Hollywood film debut came opposite Gary Cooper in The Hanging Tree.  Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, he appeared in a number of TV shows including Studio One, Kraft Theatre, Zane Grey Theatre, The Naked City and Dick Powell Theatre.

In the 1970s and 1980s, his appearances included I Never Promised You a Rose Garden, The Bad News Bears, The Blues Brothers, and Mask.  On TV, he appeared in Dallas, Dynasty, Saint Elsewhere, Barnaby Miller, Moonlighting and Family Ties. 

Piazza’s final big screen appearance was in the 1991 film Guilty by Suspicion.  He played studio head Darryl Zanuck in this Robert DeNiro-Annette Bening tale of Hollywood during the Red scare.

Ben Piazza died on September 7, 1991.  In 2016, a meeting room in the new Robinson Conference Center was named in his memory.

RobinsoNovember: Ben Piazza

benpiazza book coverAnother of the spaces in Robinson Center is named in memory of actor-director-playwright-author Ben Piazza.  He was born on July 30, 1933, in Little Rock, and graduated from Little Rock High School in 1951 as valedictorian. He also had starred in the senior play that year (The Man Who Came to Dinner) and edited the literary magazine.

After graduating from Princeton, he moved to New York City to become an actor.  He made his Broadway debut in 1958 in Winesburg, Ohio.  In April 1959, he starred in Kataki and received a Theatre World Award for his performance.

As the 1960s dawned, Piazza joined a small cadre of actors who had achieved status on Broadway who then also returned to acting Off Broadway.  Colleen Dewhurst, George C. Scott, and James Earl Jones were others in this select group who helped establish Off Broadway as an entity in itself, instead of being just a farm team for Broadway.

In February 1963, he took over the role of Nick in the original run of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? on Broadway.  During the run of this show, Piazza’s novel The Exact and Very Strange Truth was published.  It is a fictionalized account of his growing up in Little Rock during the 1930s and 1940s.  The book is filled with references to Centennial Elementary, Westside Junior High, Central High School, Immanuel Baptist Church and various stores and shops in Little Rock during that era.

In August of 1967, his play The Sunday Agreement premiered at LaMaMa.  This was Piazza’s first playwright output to be professionally staged.  In March 1969, a double bill of his one-acts: Lime Green/Khaki Blue opened at the Provincetown Playhouse.  It

Throughout the 1960s and early 1970s, Piazza toured in many plays nationally and internationally. He also appeared in major regional theatres as an actor and a director.  As the 1970s progressed, he turned his focus to television and movies.

Piazza’s film debut had been in a 1959 Canadian film called The Dangerous Age. That same year, his Hollywood film debut came opposite Gary Cooper in The Hanging Tree.  Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, he appeared in a number of TV shows including Studio One, Kraft Theatre, Zane Grey Theatre, The Naked City and Dick Powell Theatre.

In the 1970s and 1980s, his appearances included I Never Promised You a Rose Garden, The Bad News Bears, The Blues Brothers, and Mask.  On TV, he appeared in Dallas, Dynasty, Saint Elsewhere, Barnaby Miller, Moonlighting and Family Ties. 

Piazza’s final big screen appearance was in the 1991 film Guilty by Suspicion.  He played studio head Darryl Zanuck in this Robert DeNiro-Annette Bening tale of Hollywood during the Red scare.

Ben Piazza died on September 7, 1991.