Woodrow Mann, Little Rock’s 53rd Mayor, born on Nov. 13, 1916

Future Little Rock Mayor Woodrow Wilson Mann was born on November 13, 1916, in Little Rock.  His tenure at Little Rock mayor was tumultuous from both things of his doing as well as events that catapulted him onto the international scene.

In 1955, he ran as the Democratic nominee for Mayor of Little Rock and defeated two term incumbent Pratt C. Remmel, a Republican.  He took office in January 1956 and immediately set about to make a lot of changes.  In addition to revitalizing the City’s bus system, and removing some color barriers at City Hall, he oversaw the dismantling of the copper dome on top of Little Rock City Hall (as opposed to the repair of the dome championed by Mayor Remmel).

Mayor Mann was caught up in a grand jury investigation into purchasing practices at City Hall as well as within the City government in North Little Rock.  Partially in response to this, Little Rock voters approved a new form of government in late 1956.  Mayor Mann opposed the switch to the City Manager form and refused to set the election for the new officials but was ultimately compelled to do so.

He was also Mayor during the 1957 integration of Little Rock Central High School.  He sought to keep the peace and to broker a deal between President Dwight Eisenhower and Governor Orval Faubus.  His powers within the city were, no doubt, hampered because of his lame duck status as Mayor.  In November 1957 following the election of the new City Board of Directors, he chaired his last City Council meeting and left office.

In January of 1958, a series of articles written by Mayor Mann detailed his perspective on the events at Central High. These were carried by newspapers throughout the US.

Because of ill will toward him due to the Central High crisis (he was criticized by both sides) and grand jury investigation, Mayor Mann felt it would be difficult to maintain his insurance business in Little Rock. He moved to Texas in 1959 and remained there the rest of his life.  He died in Houston on August 6, 2002.

An entry about Mayor Mann in the Encyclopedia of Arkansas History and Culture can be found here.

Ike and Orval meet face to face on September 14, 1957

On September 14, 1957, in an attempt to end the stalemate in Arkansas, President Dwight D. Eisenhower met with Arkansas Governor Orval Faubus.  The meeting was brokered by Rep. Brooks Hays, whose district included Little Rock.

The meeting took place in Newport, Rhode Island, where the President was vacationing.  After exchanging pleasantries, the President and Governor adjourned to the Presidents office where they met privately for about twenty minutes.  During that conversation, Faubus proclaimed to the President that he was a law abiding citizen and discussed his own World War II service.

President Eisenhower suggested to Faubus that as a law abiding citizen, he should change the National Guard’s orders so that they protected the Little Rock Nine, not kept them from the building.  He reminded Faubus that the Justice Department was prepared to issue a injunction against him and that the governor would undoubtedly lose in court.

Following their conversation, Congressman Hays and U.S. Attorney General Herbert Brownell Jr.  joined the two in a larger office and continued conversations for approximately another 100 minutes.

When the meeting was over, the President felt like Faubus had agreed to refocus the mission of the National Guard and allow the Little Rock Nine to enter.  The President’s statement to the press thanked Faubus for his cooperation.  Upon returning to Little Rock, Faubus issued his own statement which did not address the President’s statement directly.  He did not even mention the National Guard or the students.

Apparently, President Eisenhower felt betrayed by the Governor’s actions.

The stage was set for these two to continue their face off.

50 Years ago – World Premiere of TRUE GRIT takes place in Little Rock at Cinema 150

Glen Campbell speaks with Larry McAdams of KATV at the opening of TRUE GRIT.

On June 12, 1969, the world premiere of the film TRUE GRIT took place at the Cinema 150.

Actor/singer (and Arkansas native) Glen Campbell was in attendance at the event, but another Arkansan connected to the movie – author Charles Portis, did not attend.

Portis’ objection was that the film was being used as a fundraiser for the Democratic Party of Arkansas, and he was a supporter of Governor Winthrop Rockefeller, a Republican. Portis described himself as a Rockefeller Democrat.  The next night, in Hot Springs, Portis hosted what was billed as the “Author’s Premiere.”

While Portis may have been absent (and there is no way that GOP stalwart John Wayne would have considered coming to the premiere), the Cinema 150 was sold-out.  Press accounts noted that attendees ranged from Senator J. William Fulbright and Rep. Bill Alexander to former office holders Orval Faubus and Bruce Bennett (who presumably took a break that evening from trying to prove who was the more ardent segregationist).

Quite a few in attendance also had their eye on 1970’s Democratic primaries including Attorney General Joe Purcell and Secretary of State Kelly Bryant.  No mention was made in the media if Charleston, Arkansas, attorney Dale Bumpers was in attendance.

The film was cheered by those in attendance, although some did comment about the presence of snow-capped mountains in the film that was set in Arkansas and Oklahoma. But that was a minor quibble. (The film was shot in Colorado.)

Following the premiere, the party continued under a big circus tent, set up that evening in the parking lot of the shopping center at the southwest corner of Asher and University (now the home to Murry’s Dinner Playhouse).

The Pryor Center for Arkansas Studies has compiled a video clip from the opening.  It can be viewed here.