Rock the Oscars 2019: Elia Kazan

William H. Alden/Evening Standard, via Getty Image

Oscar winning director Elia Kazan married his second wife, actress Barbara Loden, in his son’s house on Alpine Court in Little Rock in 1967.  Chris Kazan was, by that time, a copy editor for the Arkansas Gazette.  He was also a Pulaski County Justice of the Peace and performed his father’s ceremony.  (At the time, the Pulaski County Quorum Court had so many justices of the peace-467-that it was the world’s largest legislative body.)

Elia Kazan’s first wife had died in 1963. He and Loden had known each other for several years before the wedding.  Kazan visited Little Rock frequently in the 1960s visiting his son.  While here, he would go to War Memorial Park to play tennis.

Kazan won two Oscars for directing: Gentlemen’s Agreement and On the Waterfront.  He was also nominated for helming A Streetcar Named Desire, East of Eden, and America America.  On the latter film he was also nominated for producing the film and for being a screenwriter.  All together, his films won 21 Oscars and received an additional 37 nominations.

In 1999, Kazan received an Honorary Oscar in tribute to his career.  Because he had “named names” before the House Un-American Activities Committee thereby abetting in the blacklisting of people suspected of being Communists, this recognition was not without controversy.  Approximately 250 people picketed that ceremony, and some in attendance did not applaud when he came out.  Earlier in the ceremony, comedian Robin Williams made light of the controversy by opining “Let Lainie Sing” a joking reference to the singer and actress Lainie Kazan (no relation).

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Rock the Oscars 2019: Opening of the Clinton Presidential Center

Probably the largest gathering of Oscar winners and Oscar nominees in Little Rock’s history took place in November 2004.

Though some Oscar winners and nominees had been present for the Clinton election night parties in 1992 and 1996, the opening of the Clinton Presidential Center brought luminaries from Hollywood en masse.

Among those present were Oscar winning actors Barbara Streisand, Robin Williams, and (of course) Arkansan Mary Steenburgen.  Future Oscar winner Morgan Freeman was also in attendance. Among the Oscar nominees who were present were Bono and The Edge (who performed at the ceremony) and Alfre Woodard.

Senator John Glenn, who had been featured as a character in the Oscar winning film The Right Stuff was also present for the festivities.  Former Vice President Al Gore did not actually win an Oscar for An Inconvenient Truth (the documentary awards go to the director), but was closely identified with this Oscar winning documentary.

There were plenty of rumors about other Oscar winners and nominees in town, though they were not true.

Little Rock Look Back: The 2004 opening of the Clinton Presidential Center

wjc library openingIt has been fourteen years since the Clinton Presidential Center opened on a wet, cold Thursday.

The days leading up to it had been glorious.  And while the weather may have literally dampened spirits a bit, it was still an important day for Little Rock and Arkansas.

The events leading up to the opening included a concert by Aretha Franklin with the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra and an appearance by Senator John Glenn at the Museum of Discovery.  Events were hosted by the Arkansas Arts Center, Arkansas Repertory Theatre, Historic Arkansas Museum, and Old State House Museum.  There were scores of receptions and parties as Hollywood, New York, and DC descended on Little Rock.

November 18 dawned rainy and cool.  As the day continued on the precipitation continued while the temperature did not warm up.  Years of planning for a grand opening ceremony came down to this.  But at the appointed time, festivities began.

On the site of an abandoned warehouse district and unofficial dump which had previously been a train station, many leaders of the free world were gathered.  They rubbed shoulders with thousands of Arkansans from probably every county in the state.

It had been seven years and eleven days since Bill Clinton had announced the site of his presidential library.  It had been five years since artifacts and articles started arriving from Washington DC in Little Rock.  There had been lawsuits, threats of lawsuits, the threat of a Counter-Clinton Library, and countless meetings.

After speeches from Presidents Carter, Bush 41 and Bush 43, remarks from President Clinton and then-Senator Clinton (who was made even wetter by water pouring off an ill-placed umbrella), and even a musical performance by Bono and The Edge, Chelsea Clinton turned over the ceremonial key from the Clinton Foundation to the National Archives to officially open the Clinton Presidential Center.

In his capacity leading the Clinton Foundation, Skip Rutherford oversaw the planning for the Clinton Library and the grand opening festivities.  He, along with the foundation’s Executive Director Stephanie S. Streett, oversaw a phalanx of volunteers and staff to anticipate every detail.  The 1,000 days countdown sign that had been on the construction site (the brainchild of Tyler Denton) finally reached 0.

Isabelle Rodriguez, Shannon Butler, Mariah Hatta, Jordan Johnson, Lucas Hargraves, Ben Beaumont, Denver Peacock — among others — had been putting in twelve plus hour days for months on end to get ready for the opening.  City Manager Bruce T. Moore led a team of City officials who had assisted on the planning and execution of the site preparation and making sure Little Rock was ready to welcome the world.  Moore and City Director Dean Kumpuris had been appointed by Little Rock Mayor Jim Dailey to lead Little Rock’s efforts to land the library.  After Clinton’s announcement of the site, Dailey, Kumpuris and Moore continued to work together to ensure the library would be successful.

Among those present were Oscar winning actors Barbara Streisand, Robin Williams, and (of course) Arkansan Mary Steenburgen.  Future Oscar winner Morgan Freeman was also in attendance. Among the Oscar nominees who were present were Bono and The Edge (who performed at the ceremony) and Alfre Woodard.  It was the first public appearance by Senator John Kerry after his loss earlier in the month to President George W. Bush. Scores of Senators and members of Congress as well as countless Clinton Administration staffers were also in attendance.

While the weather on November 18, 2004, may have been a disappointment, the people who were gathered knew they were witnesses to history.  And fourteen years later, is a day people still talk about.

 

 

Rock the Oscars: Elia Kazan

William H. Alden/Evening Standard, via Getty Image

Oscar winning director Elia Kazan married his second wife, actress Barbara Loden, in his son’s house on Alpine Court in Little Rock in 1967.  Chris Kazan was, by that time, a copy editor for the Arkansas Gazette.  He was also a Pulaski County Justice of the Peace and performed his father’s ceremony.  (At the time, the Pulaski County Quorum Court had so many justices of the peace-467-that it was the world’s largest legislative body.)

Elia Kazan’s first wife had died in 1963. He and Loden had known each other for several years before the wedding.  Kazan visited Little Rock frequently in the 1960s visiting his son.  While here, he would go to War Memorial Park to play tennis.

Kazan won two Oscars for directing: Gentlemen’s Agreement and On the Waterfront.  He was also nominated for helming A Streetcar Named Desire, East of Eden, and America America.  On the latter film he was also nominated for producing the film and for being a screenwriter.  All together, his films won 21 Oscars and received an additional 37 nominations.

In 1999, Kazan received an Honorary Oscar in tribute to his career.  Because he had “named names” before the House Un-American Activities Committee thereby abetting in the blacklisting of people suspected of being Communists, this recognition was not without controversy.  Approximately 250 people picketed that ceremony, and some in attendance did not applaud when he came out.  Earlier in the ceremony, comedian Robin Williams made light of the controversy by opining “Let Lainie Sing” a joking reference to the singer and actress Lainie Kazan (no relation).

Rock the Oscars: Opening of the Clinton Presidential Center

Probably the largest gathering of Oscar winners and Oscar nominees in Little Rock’s history took place in November 2004.

Though some Oscar winners and nominees had been present for the Clinton election night parties in 1992 and 1996, the opening of the Clinton Presidential Center brought luminaries from Hollywood en masse.

Among those present were Oscar winning actors Barbara Streisand, Robin Williams, and (of course) Arkansan Mary Steenburgen.  Future Oscar winner Morgan Freeman was also in attendance. Among the Oscar nominees who were present were Bono and The Edge (who performed at the ceremony) and Alfre Woodard.

Senator John Glenn, who had been featured as a character in the Oscar winning film The Right Stuff was also present for the festivities.  Former Vice President Al Gore did not actually win an Oscar for An Inconvenient Truth (the documentary awards go to the director), but was closely identified with this Oscar winning documentary.

There were plenty of rumors about other Oscar winners and nominees in town, though they were not true.

 

Arkansas Heritage Month – Public Art comes to Little Rock with Henry Moore’s LARGE STANDING FIGURE: KNIFE EDGE

HenryMooreIt was 1978, Bill Clinton was making his first run for Governor, Dallas and Robin Williams both made their TV debuts, disco was dominating the music scene, and Little Rock received its first major piece of public art.

Arguably Little Rock’s most famous piece of public art is Henry Moore’s 1961 creation Large Standing Figure: Knife Edge, which is known locally as “The Henry Moore Sculpture.”

The original model was created in 1961; this sculpture was cast in 1976 and purchased in June 1978 by the Little Rock Metrocentre Improvement District.

The purchase price was $185,000 — a princely sum at the time but now a bargain for a Henry Moore sculpture. (Adjusted for inflation, that amount would be the equivalent of $705,000 today.)

A committee consisting of Townsend Wolfe (then the director and chief curator of the Arkansas Arts Center), James Dyke and Dr. Virginia Rembert traveled to England to meet with Moore about the sculpture.

It was originally placed on Main Street when the street had been bricked over as part of the Metrocentre Mall pedestrian mall plan. As portions of the street became unbricked and reopened to vehicular traffic, it was moved to the intersection of Capitol and Main. Finally, when the last segment was reopened to vehicular traffic, it was put at its current location of the southeast corner of Capitol and Louisiana. Because it was purchased by the Improvement District, it must stay within the boundaries of the district.

There is currently discussion about the Metrocentre Improvement District disbanding and the sculpture being relocated elsewhere in the City.

A replica of the sculpture is featured in the 1980s classic The Breakfast Club.

Back to School Cinema: DEAD POET’S SOCIETY

Dead_poets_societyWith students returning to school, this week the Culture Vulture will feature seven favorite films about the high school experience.  Up first is 1989’s Dead Poets Society.

While it can be a bit melodramatic, Peter Weir’s movie (from Tom Schulman’s script) captures not only the generational split between students and their teachers & parents, but also the seismic shifts that were happening in the US in the late 1950s. The movie takes place just prior to the JFK-Nixon election time.  It sets the stage for the dichotomy of feelings those candidates represented.

When it first came out, it had a tremendous influence on me.  I appreciated the references to history and literature, the Ralph Lauren designed clothing, the tremendous use of plaid in set decoration and the breathtaking scenery.  The actors playing the students were my age, though playing slightly younger (I was in college, they were playing prep school seniors).  Though I confess, I was not much of a Walt Whitman fan, and still am not.

Robin Williams is stellar as a combination Mr. Chips and Pied Piper who bucks the system at Welton Academy. Though the part was not written for him, he made it his own. It showcased not only his comic talents but also his ability to show pathos.  Even when he is hamming it up for his students, Williams shows a bit of restraint – he keeps his character grounded in 1959.

The actors playing the students had great chemistry – they functioned as a complete unit. They have gone on to varied levels of success.  Robert Sean Leonard has won a Tony and alternated between stage and TV with a few films.  Ethan Hawke was, for a while, a leading actor of his generation and has received Oscar nominations for acting and writing. Josh Charles has worked fairly steadily, especially on TV in shows like “SportsNight” and “The Good Wife.”  James Waterston has also kept busy in various acting roles.  Gale Hansen, who was so magnetic in this film, has disappeared from acting.  Allelon Ruggiero and Dylan Kussman, too, have had only a few credits.

The movie also proved to be a breakout for Kurtwood Smith. He followed up this hellish dad with a kinder version in “That 70’s Show.”  Norman Lloyd, who played the headmaster, celebrated his 100th birthday in November 2014.  He still takes a few acting roles and attends events.  (When I first watched it, I would never have predicted that 25 years later Williams would be dead and Lloyd would be turning 100.)  Several other character actors pop up as faculty members and parents.  (One of my favorites, John Cunningham, plays Ethan Hawke’s father.)

This being a movie that came out in the summer, I was was pleased when it received four Oscar nominations: Best Picture, Actor (Williams), Director (Weir) and Original Screenplay (Schulman).  On Oscar night, Schulman walked home with the trophy.

The ending of the film gives me goosebumps each time – even though I know it is coming.  There are so many other moments I enjoy – the kicking of the ball while reciting inspirational quotes accompanied by Beethoven is certainly another.  And I can still recite Puck’s final speech in A Midsummer Night’s Dream because I learned it from this movie.

I was fortunate to have teachers to inspire me at all levels of schooling.  Though none asked me to stand on desks, I was challenged, cajoled and even on a few times chastised.  And I am the better for it.