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.

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Journalist Ernie Dumas discusses his new book tonight (6/10)

Veteran journalist and political observer Ernie Dumas will talk about his new memoir The Education of Ernie Dumas. He’ll sign copies of the book both before and after his talk, beginning at 5:30 p.m.

Dumas’s book traces the post-World War II evolution of Arkansas, beginning with the defeat of Governor Francis Cherry by Orval Faubus, the son of a hillbilly socialist, at the end of the Joseph McCarthy era, and leading up to Arkansas’s first president of the United States.

The book collects the mostly untold stories, often deeply personal, that reveal the struggles and tribulations of the state’s leaders—Cherry, Faubus, Winthrop Rockefeller, Dale Bumpers, David Pryor, John McClellan, J. William Fulbright, Bill Clinton, Jim Guy Tucker, and others.

Schedule of events:

  • Doors open at 5:00 p.m.
  • Book Signing: 5:30 p.m.
  • Talk: 6:00 p.m.

Co-sponsored by the Clinton School of Public Service and Political Animals Club.

Little Rock Look Back: Final Saturday in May 1959 Recall Election Campaign

May 23, 1959, was a Saturday. It was also two days before the School Board recall election.  With it being a Saturday, it was the last full day for door knocking as supporters for all sides were busy trying to get out the vote.

Both sides were confident of victory.  Before a crowd of 1,000 in MacArthur Park, segregationists Rep. Dale Alford and Mississippi congressman John Bell Williams berated Harry Ashmore and the Arkansas Gazette.

STOP chair Dr. Drew Agar and campaign chair William Mitchell predicted it would be the largest turnout in Little Rock school election history.  They also stated that Gov. Faubus’ TV appearance criticizing STOP had actually pushed people over to their side.

Echoing Agar and Mitchell, the Pulaski County Election Commission predicted 30,000 of the district’s 42,000 registered voters would cast ballots.  The previous record of 27,000 had been cast in September 1958 when voters decided to keep the high schools closed.  By contrast, 14,300 voted in the December 1958 election which had selected the six school board members now on the ballot for recall.  On May 22, the final day of absentee ballot voting, 205 absentee votes had been cast bringing it to a total of 455 absentee ballots.

William S. Mitchell, who in addition to being a renowned attorney, apparently had a wicked sense of humor.  He used CROSS’s name against them in ads (placed throughout the newspaper) which urged voters to “Cross” out the names of the three candidates being backed by CROSS.

Little Rock Look Back: Dan Sprick

Future Little Rock Mayor Dan T. Sprick was born on May 19, 1902.  He served three terms on the Little Rock City Council (from 1935 to 1941).  In 1945, he was elected Mayor of Little Rock and served one term. During his tenure on the City Council, he was the sole vote against locating Robinson Auditorium at Markham and Broadway.  He had favored another location.

He was not alone, however, in being held in contempt of court and spending part of the day in jail.  On Monday, December 4, a dozen of Little Rock’s aldermen (which included Sprick) reported to the county jail to serve sentences for contempt of court. The previous Monday, the twelve council members had voted against an ordinance which had been ordered by the judge in an improvement district matter. The other aldermen had either voted in the affirmative or had been absent. Because the twelve had refused to change their votes since that meeting, the judge ordered them jailed.  After the aldermen changed their votes later in the day, they were freed.

His tenure as Mayor was relatively quiet. He took office the same month that World War II ended. While in office, the Sprick administration was marked by growth in the city budget and in city positions. As a part of that growth, there were many more new purchases taking place which had prompted extra scrutiny of the City’s purchasing procedures. A thorough investigation toward the end of his tenure found no malfeasance or misfeasance, it did note that the city needed to do a better job of anticipating cash flow. Much of the City’s focus during the Sprick tenure was on growth and keeping up infrastructure needs.

Sprick later served for ten years in the Arkansas State Senate (from 1961 to 1970).  During his tenure in the Senate, Sprick was closely aligned with Gov. Orval Faubus.  When the Little Rock high schools had been closed a year to ensure segregation, Sprick had served on the board of a private school set up by some of the leaders of the segregation movement.

His time in the Senate was also marked by controversy.  He was one of three Senators to opposed Muhammad Ali’s speaking at the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville.  After an Arkansas Gazette editorial lambasted him, Sprick sued the paper for libel. The Gazette settled with him out of court because his health was poor.

One of the landmark pieces of legislation he guided through the Arkansas General Assembly allowed cities to collect advertising and promotion taxes.  The 1972 and 1973 upgrades to Robinson Center were funded by this tax (as have some subsequent upgrades). So the building he voted against while on the LR City Council benefited from legislation he championed while in the General Assembly.

Sprick died in January 1972.

#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.