LR Movies Monday: THE STORY OF DR. WASSELL and MACARTHUR

With the Arkansas Cinema Society’s FILMLAND 2019 later this month (August 21 to 25), Mondays in August will feature movies with Little Rock connections.  Today’s films are both about World War II military heroes and both had their world premieres in Little Rock.

One was released during World War II and starred Gary Cooper as Dr. Corydon Wassell. The other was released in the 1970s and starred Gregory Peck as General Douglas MacArthur.

Dr. WassellBorn in Little Rock on July 4, 1884, Corydon McAlmont Wassell (called “Cory”) was born to Albert and Leona Wassell. A grandson of Little Rock Mayor John Wassell, he graduated from what is now UAMS in 1909. In 1911, he married Mary Irene Yarnell, with whom he would have four children.  In 1914, the couple volunteered to be Episcopal missionaries in China.  He served there until 1927. Following Mary’s death and his remarriage, he and new wife Madeline Edith Day Wassell returned to Arkansas in 1927.

Dr. Wassell resumed his medical practice. Given his experience with malaria in China, he proved to be an asset fighting malaria among Civilian Conservation Corps members in Arkansas. He was subsequently called to active duty in the Navy in 1936 and stationed in Key West.

After the outbreak of World War II, he was stationed in Indonesia. In early 1942, he refused to abandon his patients after the Japanese started invading Indonesia. Instead, he was able to evacuate a dozen severely wounded men over 150 miles to get to a ship. It took ten days for the ship to get to Australia, during which time it was attacked numerous times.  His official Navy Cross citation notes that he disregarded personal safety while caring for others.

He became an instant international hero. During the early days of the war, his heroism was one of the few bright spots.  President Roosevelt praised him in a fireside chat. James Hilton wrote of Dr. Wassell in a book which was then adapted by Cecil B. DeMille into the 1944 movie starring Cooper.  Originally Arkansan Alan Ladd was wanted to play Cooper’s sidekick, but Ladd was pressed into military service and unavailable.

From April 24 to 26, 1944, Cecil B. DeMille was in Little Rock for the world premiere screening of The Story of Dr. Wassell. Little Rock rolled out the red carpet (literally and figuratively) for DeMille and a contingency from Hollywood.  Dr. and Mrs. Wassell also returned to Little Rock for the festivities.  Unfortunately, Gary Cooper (who played Wassell in the film) was unable to attend due to illness.  His costar, Laraine Day, was making another film and could not attend either.    Those in attendance with DeMille (and Mrs. DeMille) included actresses Signe Hasso and Carol Thurston, and actor Melvin Francis.  The latter played himself; he had actually been one of the sailors saved by Dr. Wassell.

Sold-out screenings of the movie took place at the Capitol and Arkansas Theatres. On April 27, 1944, a regular run of the movie started at the Capitol Theatre.  It would be released nationally on July 4, 1944, which also happened to be Dr. Wassell’s birthday.

Thirty-three years after The Story of Dr. Wassell was released, MacArthur was brought to the screen by Universal Pictures.  It was their attempt to capitalize on the success of the movie Patton, including sharing some of the same members of the production team.

macarthur-gregory-peck-1977-everettTold entirely in flashback, it stars Gregory Peck as the fabled World War II general who was born in Little Rock. It focuses primarily on events in 1942 during the war, his dismissal by Truman in 1952, and his famous address to West Point in 1962.

Peck initially did not care for the subject or the script, but eventually stated that he grew to admire the challenges MacArthur faced.  Peck later called it one of his favorites roles, if not one of his favorite movies.

Producer Frank McCarthy, who worked on both Patton and MacArthur once said of Patton and MacArthur: “Both were complex men but General MacArthur was complex on a much broader scale. Patton had no ambition except to be a soldier and to command a field army. He was strictly command.”

Most of the film was shot on the backlot at the movie studio, which impacted the quality of the film.  The production budget simply would not allow for overseas location filming.

The film was released in July 1977.  One of the premieres was held in Little Rock. Peck attended a reception in the Arsenal Building where MacArthur was born. Now the home to the MacArthur Museum of Arkansas Military History, in 1977 the building still housed the Museum of Science and Natural History (now the Museum of Discovery).  Since MacArthur only spent a few hours in Little Rock as an adult, it is possible that Peck spent more time in the building than the General did.

The evening of August 5, 1977, started with an exclusive reception for 100 people with Gregory and Veronique Peck.  The movie itself was shown at the Cinema 150, where its general run would start on Saturday, August 6.  Following the film, a reception and silent auction brought people back to the museum.  Tickets ran $250 a person for all events, $100 a person for the film and post-show reception, and $25 for the movie.  It sold out.

Governor and Mrs. David Pryor escorted the Pecks into the theatre.  Former Governor (and World War II hero) Sid McMath introduced Mr. Peck to the crowd.  He extolled the virtues of Peck and MacArthur.  (It is interesting that he should admire MacArthur so much, since the General and President Truman had a well-publicized tiff, and McMath and Truman had enjoyed a warm relationship.)  Little Rock City Director Jim Dailey presented Peck with a Key to the City.

Advertisements

MacArthur Museum hosts Arkansas State Archives exhibit on Territorial Arkansas

Image may contain: 2 people, text

“Territorial Arkansas: The Wild Western Frontier” will open at the MacArthur Museum of Arkansas Military History August 1st, 2019.

The exhibit will have a month long run and will end on August 26th.

The traveling exhibit consists of 15 panels that explore the history of Arkansas Territory though the collections of the Arkansas State Archives and their branch archives, the Northeast Arkansas Regional Archives in Powhatan and the Southwest Arkansas Regional Archives in Washington.

126 Years of MacArthur Park in Little Rock

On July 4, 1893, Arsenal Park opened in Little Rock.  This was the City’s first municipal public park.  Though it predated the establishment of a formal Parks and Recreation Department by several decades, it is the oldest part of that department.

The land now known as MacArthur Park had originally served as a horse racetrack in the early days of Little Rock.  By 1836, the federal government purchased the land for construction of a military arsenal.  The flagship building, the Arsenal Tower building, is the only remaining structure from that time period.

The land served as a military outpost until 1892.  On April 23, 1892, a land swap took place where in the City of Little Rock was given the property with the stipulation that it would be “forever exclusively devoted to the uses and purposes of a public park.” (Never mind that the federal government took part of the land back for the construction of the Wilbur Mills Freeway.)  Congressman William L. Terry was active in negotiating the land swap. (His son David would also serve in Congress.)

In return for giving the City this land, the federal government took possession of land on the north side of the Arkansas River (then part of Little Rock) – that 1,000 acres became Fort Logan H. Roots.

The park officially opened on July 4, 1893, with the name Arsenal Park. Since it was the City’s first and only park at the time, residents started referring to it as City Park. In time, the designation Arsenal Park fell from use.  In fact, it is referred to as City Park exclusively and officially in City documents throughout the first 42 years of the 20th Century.

On March 9, 1942, Little Rock’s first public park was renamed by the Little Rock City Council.  By a vote of fourteen ayes, zero nays and four absent, the alderman approved Ordinance 6,388 which renamed the park in honor of General Douglas MacArthur.

In 1952, General MacArthur (contemplating a run for the GOP nomination for President) visited Little Rock in March.  Later that year, the eventual GOP nominee (and 34th US President) General Dwight Eisenhower visited the park.

Today, MacArthur Park is the anchor of the burgeoning MacPark district as well as the MacArthur Park Historic Distric.

CALS ONE OF 78 ORGANIZATIONS NATIONWIDE TO RECEIVE AN NEA BIG READ GRANT

Image result for nea big readThe Central Arkansas Library System (CALS) is a recipient of a $14,900 grant to host the NEA Big Read: CALS. An initiative of the National Endowment for the Arts in partnership with Arts Midwest, the NEA Big Read broadens our understanding of our world, our communities, and ourselves through the joy of sharing a good book.

CALS is one of 78 nonprofit organizations to receive an NEA Big Read grant to host a community reading. The NEA Big Read: CALS events will take place between March 16 and April 26, 2020.

“We are very excited to host Tim O’Brien and to explore his classic The Things They Carried throughout the library system and beyond,” said Mark Christ, CALS adult programming coordinator. “As an institution, we strive to improve literacy and encourage the exchange of ideas, social engagement, and cultural expression. We hope that additional partners will join with us before the NEA Big Read begins next March.”

The NEA Big Read showcases a diverse range of titles that reflect many different voices and perspectives, aiming to inspire conversation and discovery. The main feature of the initiative is a grants program, managed by Arts Midwest, which annually supports dynamic community reading programs, each designed around a single National Endowment for the Arts Big Read selection.

“It is inspiring to see both large and small communities across the nation come together around a book,” said National Endowment for the Arts Acting Chairman Mary Anne Carter. “We always look forward to the unique ways cities, towns, and organizations, like Central Arkansas Library System, explore these stories and encourage community participation in a wide variety of events.”

Planned events for the NEA Big Read: CALS include a lecture by Tim O’Brien, author of The Things They Carried; book clubs, readings and exhibits at CALS branch libraries; an Operation Song event at the MacArthur Museum of Arkansas Military History in Little Rock; a film and documentary series, panel discussions and dramatic readings at the CALS Ron Robinson Theater; readings and discussions of The Things They Carried by private book clubs in the area; Vietnam veteran oral history recordings by the Butler Center for Arkansas Studies staff in the CALS Bobby L. Roberts Library of Arkansas History & Art; performances by the Writeous Poets from Little Rock Central High School; special displays and discussions during the Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans event at the Jacksonville Museum of Military History, and other events.

Partners include the Arkansas Department of Veterans Affairs, Arkansas State Library, MacArthur Museum of Arkansas Military History, Little Rock Central High School, public radio station KUAR, the Jacksonville Museum of Military History, the Arkansas Educational Television Network, Central Arkansas Literacy Council, professors from Hendrix College, Arkansas State University and the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, and others.

Since 2006, the National Endowment for the Arts has funded more than 1,400 NEA Big Read programs, providing more than $20 million to organizations nationwide. In addition, Big Read activities have reached every Congressional district in the country. Over the past twelve years, grantees have leveraged more than $50 million in local funding to support their NEA Big Read programs. More than 5.7 million Americans have attended an NEA Big Read event, approximately 91,000 volunteers have participated at the local level, and 39,000 community organizations have partnered to make NEA Big Read activities possible. For more information about the NEA Big Read, please visit arts.gov/neabigread.

For more information about NEA Big Read: CALS, contact Mark Christ at (501) 918-3069 or mchrist@cals.org.

On Armed Forces Day, visit the MacArthur Museum of Arkansas Military History

Today is Armed Forces Day.

The third Saturday of May is designated each year as a day to celebrate the men and women who serve in the various branches of the United States armed forces.

On Saturday, May 19, 2001 (which was Armed Services Day that year), the City of Little Rock opened the MacArthur Museum of Arkansas Military History.  Tomorrow, the museum celebrates its 18th birthday.

Though the museum is only 18 years old, the building in which it is located, is 171 years old.  Last year, the building was closed for several months as it received a much needed refurbishment.

Today, the Museum’s exhibits include

  • Vietnam, America’s Conflict
  • Fiction and Fantasy
  • From Turbulence to Tranquility: The Little Rock Arsenal
  • Capital In Crisis: Little Rock and the Civil War
  • Alger Cadet Gun
  • Camden Expedition
  • David Owen Dodd Story
  • First Call: American Posters of World War I
  • The Sun Never Sets on the Mighty Jeep: The Jeep During World War II
  • Through the Camera’s Eye: The Allison Collection of World War II Photographs
  • Conflict and Crisis: The MacArthur-Truman Controversy
  • Duty, Honor and Country: General Douglas MacArthur
  • By the President in the Name of Congress: Arkansas’s Medal of Honor Recipients

Visitors to MacArthur Park today can also interact with the various outdoor memorials and monuments which pay tribute to various phases of Arkansas’ military history.

The Quapaw Quarter Association 55th Spring Tour of Homes is this weekend

Image may contain: tree, sky, house and outdoor

This weekend, Join the QQA for the 55th Spring Tour of Homes in MacArthur Park, Little Rock’s oldest historic district. Visit the Mills-Davis House and the Bracy-Manning House on sixth street, the Holtzman-Vinsonhaler house on 9th street, and others.

Tickets

Candlelight Tour, Dinner & Silent Auction ($150.00)
Mother’s Day Brunch ($60.00)

Dates & Times
May 11, 2019
Tour starts at 12:00 pm – 4:00 pm

Candlelight Tour, Dinner & Silent Auction starts 5:00 pm – 9:30 pm (located at the Arkansas Arts Center)

May 12, 2019
Mother’s Day Brunch 11:00 am — 1:00 pm (located at Curran Hall, 615 E. Capitol)
Tour 1:00 pm — 5:00 pm

Check-in Sites
Curran Hall, 615 E Capitol Ave, Little Rock, AR 72202.
MacArthur Park, outside the MacArthur Museum of Arkansas Military History, 503 E 9th St, Little Rock, AR 72202.
The Patrick Powers House, 1402 Commerce, Little Rock, AR 72202.