Flashback : Dallas

A Miscellany: History, Ads, Pop Culture

Category: Entertainment

Dusty Hill, 1949-2021

zz-top_dusty-hill_woodrow-wilson_1965-yrbkDusty Hill on bass, Richard Harris on drums, 1965

by Paula Bosse

Dusty Hill, the legendary bassist of the legendary ZZ Top, died today. Born Joe Michael Hill in Dallas, Dusty lived in East Dallas and attended Woodrow Wilson High School. He dropped out before graduating and pursued a career as a musician, a decision which seems to have worked out pretty well for him. 

Above is a photo from the 1965 Woodrow yearbook when Dusty would have been 15 years old. The caption reads “The disappointment of the Bryan Adams loss was lessened by the lively music of Richard Harris and Dusty Hill.”

At the time of these photos, Dusty and Richard were playing around town in a band called The Dead Beats, a trio which also included Dusty’s older brother, Rocky Hill, who is seen below in a photo from the same yearbook, with the caption “At the homecoming dance, Rocky Hill and his date prove their skill at a modern dance called ‘The Dog.” Dusty, Rocky, and Richard would go on to form the band American Blues.

rocky-hill_woodrow-wilson_1965-yrbkRocky Hill, 1965

Dusty played cello in the Woodrow orchestra, so I went looking through the yearbook to see if I could find him. I think I might have — could this be him in an awkwardly cropped photo?

zz-top_dusty-hill_woodrow-wilson_1965-yrbk-celloYoung man with cello, 1965

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RIP, Dusty. Thanks for the great music.

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UPDATE: Thanks to reader Steve Roe who sent me an Oct. 29, 1964 clipping of “Dallas After Dark” (the Tony Zoppi column in The Dallas Morning News devoted to the city’s nightclub scene) which mentioned all three of the Woodrow boys seen above in photos which were taken at the time they were playing around town with their band The Dead Beats:

There’s a swinging new group in town billed as The Dead Beats, and they’ll be appearing through Sunday at the Jungle Dream on North Henderson. Rocky Hill plays lead guitar and Dusty Hill is the bassist. Little Richard Harris is a torrid drummer. The trio recently returned from Nashville and appeared at Louanns. The youngsters say they are America’s answer to The Beatles. How about that?  (Dallas Morning News, Oct. 29, 1964)

How about that?! Talented and apparently aggressively confident teenagers! (Jungle Dream was located at 1823 N. Henderson, just north of Ross — a couple of doors from the old Louie’s — managed by Pat Carpenter.) 

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Sources & Notes

Photos from the 1965 edition of The Crusader, the yearbook of Woodrow Wilson High School.

Obit from The Dallas Morning News is here.

Obit from Rolling Stone is here.

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Copyright © 2021 Paula Bosse. All Rights Reserved.

Snider Plaza & The Varsity Theater — 1920s

varsity-theater_1929_galloway_1600The Varsity Theater, Snider Plaza, 1929

by Paula Bosse

Snider Plaza, the University Park shopping center near the SMU campus, was formally opened on June 2, 1927 when its centerpiece fountain was switched on as a crowd of thousands watched. The buildings weren’t completed yet, but it was a sure sign to everyone that a large project was underway in an area of town which was not yet fully developed.

It was announced in December, 1926 that a 30-acre tract at the northwest corner of Hillcrest and Daniel had been purchased by Wichita Falls businessman Charles W. Snider (he had recently funded Snider Hall, the women’s dormitory at SMU) and University Park mayor J. Fred Smith from Miss Fannie B. Daniel, whose family had owned the land since 1851. The purchase price was $82,500 (which would be the equivalent of about $1.25 million in today’s money) (…let that sink in for a moment…). Snider Plaza, along with SMU, was both the heart of University Park and an impetus for real estate development around it.

Here’s an ad from October, 1927 from the University Park Development Co. (click to see larger images) — lots were going for $1,890 ($30.000 today):

university-park-develpment-co_ad_100927_a

university-park-develpment-co_ad_100927_bOct., 1929 — Hurry!

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Below are a couple of VERY early photos of Snider Plaza.

First off, the fountain. It was illuminated at night with rotating colored lights. The view is to the northwest.

snider-plaza-fountain_1927_galloway_dpl_1200

And that was about it. A fountain, paved streets and sidewalks, and lots of streetlights. In the photo below you can see the fountain in the distance. And the office of Ralph Porter, the man who was the driving force behind Snider Plaza (see his photo in the ad above). There is still a Ralph Porter Co. real estate business — and, appropriately, it’s still located in Snider Plaza.

snider-plaza_galloway_dpl_1200

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The Varsity Theater wasn’t built until 1929, even though a movie theater was always in the plans. I’m not sure what happened, but in 1928 it was announced that a new theater was going to be built as part of a 7-story building. The theater and retail shops were to occupy the first floor, offices would occupy the second floor, and furnished apartments would fill the top five floors (there would also be a parking garage in the basement). That’s all so weird to imagine. First off, apartments?! Secondly, that would have been the tallest building in the Park Cities! Buildings weren’t that tall in most of “suburban” Dallas in the 1920s. Also, the architecture is pretty bland, and very unlike the rest of the shopping area.

snider-plaza_varsity-apartments_1928Architect’s conception, 1928

The stripped-down plans ended up doing away with the basement and everything but the ground floor for the theater and retail shops. And I’m so glad! I love the photo at the top, from 1929. What a beautiful, beautiful building! The architect of the building was Wyatt C. Hedrick of Fort Worth. The buildings of Snider Plaza were meant to be of uniform design. Like this. (If only they all still looked like that!) (Another photo I posted recently showing that uniform style is here.)

The Varsity opened on Oct. 3, 1929 with “In Old Arizona” (the first talkie to be filmed outdoors). It became the Fine Arts in January, 1957. A reader, Malcom Thomson — who was a very youthful theater manager during the early days of the FIne Arts (I think he was an SMU student at the time) — sent me the great photo below from February, 1960.

fine-arts-theater_snider-plaza_malcolm-thomson_feb-3-1960Feb. 3, 1960 (courtesy Malcolm Thomson)

At some point — it’s so incredibly hard to believe that it seems like an urban legend — the Fine Arts Theater became an “adult” theater. Yes, Virginia, X-rated movies were screened regularly in the Park Cities. Oh dear.

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The theater is long-gone, as is almost all of Snider Plaza’s original “look.” But it’s still a cool, quirky place, and it’s always interesting to explore (never quite as interesting as M. E. Moses was to me as a child, but so few places are). And as long as Kuby’s is still around to fulfill my Reuben and warm-potato-salad needs, I’m pretty happy.

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A couple of quirky tidbits about the very early years:

  • SMU students were responsible in large part for operating the theater, because, of course, it offered them the opportunity to “obtain practical experience in show business.”
  • Also, the streets of the plaza were cleaned by “an automatic street-washing machine.” I’m not sure what that would have entailed, but I would guess that SMU students were glad to be let off the street-cleaning life-experience hook on that one.

And, on a personal note, several decades later, my father owned the very short-lived Plaza Book Store, which was located in the retail space just to the right of the theater (where, just a few short years earlier, he had worked as an usher — i.e. “obtained practical experience in show business” — while attending SMU).

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Sources & Notes

The two photos of Snider Plaza from 1927 and the top photo of the Varsity Theater from 1929 were found in the absolutely fantastic book The Park Cities: A Photohistory by Diane Galloway. The first two are from the collection of the Dallas Public Library. Ms. Galloway’s credit for the photo of the theater reads, “Photo by Frank Rogers/Courtesy of Jerrry Washam/Ralph Porter Company.” I believe all three photos are by Frank Rogers.

1960 photo of the Fine Arts Theater is used courtesy of Malcolm J. Thomson (thanks, Malcolm!).

varsity-theater_1929_galloway_sm

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Copyright © 2021 Paula Bosse. All Rights Reserved.

Texas Rasslin’ at the Sportatorium — 1959

sportatorium_wrestling_mclemore_radio-annual-television-yrbk_1959Heroes and villains, hillbillies and rasslers… (1959)

by Paula Bosse

Ed McLemore and the Sportatorium. It’s hard to imagine one without the other. McLemore owned the Sportatorium (at Cadiz and Industrial) and was a successful promoter of both professional wrestling and up-and-coming hillbilly and rock ‘n’ roll musicians. The wrestlers and the musicians all performed centerstage in the Sportatorium ring (on different nights, but I’m sure McLemore must have at least day-dreamed about having some sort of offbeat tag-team bout featuring all of his clients in the ring at the same time). The Sportatorium was very, very popular, with crowds showing up for both wrestling matches and the legendary Big D Jamboree music shows, as well as boxing matches and a variety of other events.

This 1959 ad mentions a few of the musicians McLemore managed at the time, the biggest of whom was Sonny James (read about Sonny James’ years in Dallas in the Flashback Dallas post “Sonny James: The ‘Shindig Heartbreaker'”). Also listed were Johnny Carroll, the Belew Twins, Rozena Eads, Eddy McDuff, and Bill Dane.

The ad appears to be urging people to head to the Sportatorium because it’s got way more going on than boring old television!

“TEXAS RASSLIN”

Have you noticed the swing is to “Texas Rasslin”

No Murders!! No Guns!! No Quizzes!!

We do have heroes and villains in terrific fast action!

New Lighting — New Angles — New Dimensions — First Runs & Reruns

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mclemore_radio-annual-and-television-yrbk_1959_bio1959

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Sources & Notes

Ad and bio of Ed McLemore from the 1959 Radio Annual Television Yearbook.

Check out some vintage wrestling footage from the Sportatorium in 1960 here.

Check out vintage footage of the Big D Jamboree here.

More on the Sportatorium can be found in various Flashback Dallas posts here.

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Copyright © 2021 Paula Bosse. All Rights Reserved.

Showtime on Elm Street

theater-row_night_majestic-melba-tower-palace_portalLit up like Broadway… (click for larger image)

by Paula Bosse

Who doesn’t love nighttime photos of Dallas’ Theater Row, generating enough electricity to be seen from space. The Majestic, the Melba, the Palace. And a buck a night at the Majestic Hotel across the street, the window shades of which could not possibly have been enough to block out the blinding, strobing neon. This is a similar view to the fabulous photo from 1942 by Arthur Rothstein seen here. This is absolutely the period of Dallas’ history I wish I could have experienced first-hand.

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Sources & Notes

Photo titled “[Businesses on theatre row at night]” is from the Spotlight on North Texas Collection, UNT Media Library, UNT Libraries — more information can be found on the Portal to Texas History site here.

theater-row_night_majestic-melba-tower-palace_portal_sm

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Copyright © 2021 Paula Bosse. All Rights Reserved.

The Majestic Theatre’s Centenary

majestic-theatre_tsha_1920sThe Majestic Theatre, 1925 Elm Street

by Paula Bosse

The Majestic Theatre opened on Elm Street 100 years ago this week. We’re lucky to still have such a beautiful building, one which we came close to losing in the late ’60s/early ’70s when so many other “old” buildings were being demolished in downtown Dallas.

The Majestic opened at 1925 Elm on April 11, 1921. The promotional blitz was pretty intense: for months the local papers were full of every little tidbit about the building and the grand opening. A pilot was even hired to drop leaflets and float balloons over 25 North Texas towns in order to reach those farther afield who might be outside the Big City theater loop. 

There was a lot of bragging that the showplace theater cost over $2 million, a huge amount of money at the time. That would be about $30 million in today’s money, and there is no way that beautiful, beautiful theater and its luxurious decor could be built today for a mere $30 million.

Like I said, we’re lucky to have it. Happy 100th, Majestic!

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Here it is under construction in 1920:

majestic_under-constructioin_100120_cinema-treasuresvia Cinema Treasures

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Just read this (click to see a larger image):

majestic-theatre_dmn_040321_grand-openingDallas Morning News, April 3, 1921

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At night, just down from the Melba (originally the Hope):

majestic-theatre_night_cinema-treasuresvia Cinema Treasures

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And it still looks beautiful in the 21st century:

majestic-theatre_LOC_carol-highsmith_20142014, photo by Carol M. Highsmith, Library of Congress

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majestic-theatre_2009_wikipedia2009, via Wikipedia

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theater_majestic_052522_where-its-cool“Where it’s really cool” (1922)

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Sources & Notes

More about the history of the Majestic Theatre can be found at Cinema Treasures.

The official theater website is here — check out the upcoming shows!

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Copyright © 2021 Paula Bosse. All Rights Reserved.

Art Landry Is At The Palace — 1927

palace-theatre_u-s-coffee_frank-rogers_1927_DPLMarquees, schmarquees… (Dallas Public Library)

by Paula Bosse

Great photo of the Palace Theatre on Elm and Ervay in November or December of 1927 (“My Best Girl” starring Mary Pickford opened at the end of November and ran for a week or two into the middle of December). The movie seems like a bit of an afterthought, though — I mean… ART LANDRY IS IN TOWN, and his giant 78 disc replica promotional sign is crowding out others on the marquee. The touring jazz-band leader (who insisted he did NOT play jazz music — “I became a bandmaster when jazz was jax. In those days noise was the objective. […] The day of jazz is gone….” ) was nestled here in Big D for the holiday season and was apparently well-received. (See another photo of the Palace from about this same time here.)

palace_art-landry_111327Nov. 13, 1927

palace_pickford_my-bes-girl_112727Nov. 27, 1927

You know how when you get a new car you suddenly start seeing that same model everywhere? I’m like that with the U.S. Coffee & Tea Co. — seen right next door to the theater. (See it here, peeping around the Wilson Building in a squattier incarnation.)

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Sources & Notes

Photo titled “[Palace Theatre, Art Landry exclusive Victor Artist]” — by Frank Rogers — is from the Ted C. Steinberg Collection, Dallas History and Archives Division, Dallas Public Library, call number PA2018-03-14 (the library has the date this photo was taken as Dec. 27, 1927, but “My Best Girl” was long-gone by then — it was probably taken on Nov. 27, the day after “My Best Girl” opened).

Quote from Art Landry about not being a jazz-band leader is from an interview with him in The Dallas Morning News (“Jazz Is Thing of the Past Says Palace’s New ‘Jazz Band’ Leader Who Specializes in Modern Music” — DMN, Nov. 12, 1927). I can’t find any other instances of early jazz music referred to as “jax” music. Can anyone point me to another reference?

palace-theatre_u-s-coffee_frank-rogers_1927_DPL_sm

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Copyright © 2021 Paula Bosse. All Rights Reserved.

Awaiting the “Victory Fair” of 1946…

sfot_victory-fair_ebay_1946

by Paula Bosse

Many of us are missing the State Fair of Texas, canceled this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The last time the fair was canceled was during World War II. Here is an ad from 1945, assuring everyone that the State Fair would be back in 1946.

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Dallas Texas Victory Fair in ’46

Since the day we turned the entire facilities of our grounds and buildings into a base for military operations, officials and management of the STATE FAIR OF TEXAS have been dreaming and planning for the time when more than a million people would again throng the nation’s greatest annual exposition. Now those long-made plans are becoming realities that will focus the eyes of North and South America on Texas in 1946!

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Sources & Notes

Ad found on eBay (originally published in the “Billboard Cavalcade of Fairs,” Dec. 1, 1945).

More Flashback Dallas posts on the State Fair of Texas can be found here.

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Copyright © 2020 Paula Bosse. All Rights Reserved.

Oak Cliff’s Star Theatre — 1945-1959

star-theatre_troy-sherrod-hist-dallas-theatres_DPLShow Hill, with the Star Theatre at right

by Paula Bosse

This is one of those photographs I could stare at all day long. It shows a shopping area in East Oak Cliff at the intersection of E. Eighth Street and N. Moore Street — this part of Oak Cliff was originally settled as a freedman’s town, and this photo shows an area between the Tenth Street Historic District and The Bottoms (or The Bottom) neighborhood (see a great map, here).

When these buildings were built in 1945 by I. B. Clark, it was an exclusively African-American part of Dallas. The anchor of this strip (which occupied what was described as both the 300 block of N. Moore and the 1400 block of E. Eighth) was the Star Theatre, which was, according to Mr. Clark, the only movie house for black customers in Oak Cliff.

star-theatre_boxoffice_042845
Boxoffice, April 28, 1945

star-theatre_oak-cliff_negro-directory-1947-48_adDallas Negro Directory, 1947-48

I. B. Clark was a white businessman who lived on a ranch in Cedar Hill; he had owned the Southern Fireworks Company before the war and had frequently battled with Dallas lawmakers about the constitutionality of banning the selling and shooting of fireworks within the city limits.

In the undated photo above, businesses in the retail strip are the Top-O-Hill Food Mart, the Ebony Cafe (Pit Bar-B-Q), the Easy-Wash laundromat, the second location of the Cochran Street Record Shop, the Star Theatre, and hotel apartments.

This hub of businesses was popular with neighborhood residents, who referred to this area as “Show Hill” (for the picture show). I stumbled across a really wonderful 2018 oral history of Margaret Benson, who, in 1944, moved with her family to Dallas and attended N. W. Harllee Elementary School and both Lincoln High School and Madison High School. She describes these shops and says that whenever black entertainers such as Dinah Washington or Sister Rosetta Tharpe came to town, they frequently stayed in the apartments above these businesses, as hotel accommodations for African Americans were few and far between. (I loved the entire recording of Mrs. Benson reminiscing about living for most of her life in this area of Oak Cliff — the part where she specifically talks about “Show Hill” is at the 8:25 mark in the recording at the link above.)

According to Dallas movie theater historian Troy Sherrod, the Star closed in 1959. Over time the area eventually declined and the remaining businesses closed. The strip, which was looking pretty down-at-its-heels in the 1990s, was demolished around 2000. The photo below shows the once-vibrant strip in its later days. (Three more photos, from 1999, can be found here — the addition of more apartments (the “Ebony Hotel Annex”) can be seen in the third one.)

star-theatre_mark-doty_lost-dallas
via Lost Dallas by Mark Doty

Here is what “Show Hill” vacant lot looks like today on Google Street View:

star-theatre_google-street-view-nov-2019Google Street View, 2019

star-theatre_bing-mapsBing Maps

star-theatre_cinematreasures_advia Cinema Treasures

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Sources & Notes

Top photo showing the Star Theatre is from the excellent book by D. Troy Sherrod, Historic Dallas Theatres (Arcadia Publishing, 2014); the photo is from the collection of the Dallas Public Library.

Second photo showing the dilapidated buildings is from another excellent book, Lost Dallas by Mark Doty (Arcadia Publishing, 2012).

The ad for the Star Theatre appeared in the Dallas, Texas Negro City Directory, 1947-1948 (many thanks to Pat Lawrence). The address for the theater was listed in various places as both 300 N. Moore and as 1401 E. Eighth.

If you have access to the archives of the Dallas Morning News, I encourage you to read “Inner-City Secret — The Bottoms Residents Say They Are Forgotten” by Bill Minutaglio (DMN, Aug. 28, 1994).

Also worth a read is Texas Tribune article “Dallas Neighborhood Established by Freed Slaves Fights to Keep Its History Alive” by Miguel Perez of KERA News.

More on the Tenth Street Historic District can be found on the City of Dallas website here.

Check out photos of a pop-up market on Show Hill in 2014 here.

Also, of related interest is the Flashback Dallas post “Movie Houses Serving Black Dallas — 1919-1922.”

Thank you to reader Jerry Richburg for contacting me with a question about this old strip shopping area — he remembered attending church services in one of the buildings and asked if I knew more about what had been there and if I might have a photo. Thanks, Jerry! You led me down the path to discovering a little pocket of Dallas history I was completely unaware of!

star-theatre_troy-sherrod-hist-dallas-theatres_DPL_sm

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Copyright © 2020 Paula Bosse. All Rights Reserved.

Dallas — From “Texas, The Big State” (1952)

texas-big-state_santa-fe-film_jones-film_triple-underpassBehold…

by Paula Bosse

It’s always fun to see Dallas on film — and it’s even better when it’s a Technicolor film. Below are a few screenshots from “Texas — The Big State,” a 1952 travelogue produced by Santa Fe Railroad as a promotional film. It’s very enthusiastic. …Very. Dallas’ Norma-Desmond moment lasts only about three and a half minutes, but visits to downtown, Chance Vought, SMU, Fair Park, a Cotton Bowl game, and the State Fair of Texas manage to get crammed in, surrounded by a warm bath of dynamic adjectives.

Above, a scenic view of the triple underpass and the approach to downtown Dallas from the west. Nice foliage.

Below, a birds-eye view from the south (the same shot as the one by Eisenstaedt in the ’40s seen here, only a decade later — even the Falstaff Beer billboard is still there).

texas-big-state_santa-fe-film_jones-film_SMU_skyline

The well-dressed mean streets of Big D:

texas-big-state_santa-fe-film_jones-film_SMU_crosswalk

A woman walking on water at the Esplanade in Fair Park:

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Rolloplane, cotton candy, etc., at the State Fair of Texas:

texas-big-state_santa-fe-film_jones-film_fair-park_midway

And, lastly, a fun fact I bet no one alive on this planet knows (or remembers): in 1952 Dallas was the second largest manufacturer of WASH DRESSES in the country. Probably the world. What a random piece of information for the Chamber of Commerce to have given to the Santa Fe people to include in a fluffy little film like this. Forget Neiman’s — we were number two in wash dresses! Number TWO!! (“Wash dresses”? Apparently they were house dresses made from washable fabrics. Like what Lucy Ricardo used to wear around the house when she didn’t have to don a hat and gloves to go pick up Ricky’s tux at the dry cleaners. Like the one seen in this “wash frocks” ad from 1950.) And here you go, two of the women who pushed us to runner-up wash-dress greatness:

texas-big-state_santa-fe-film_jones-film_wash-dresses

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The 24-minute film — which premiered in Austin on May 28, 1952 and was included for months afterward as a “featurette” on double bills across the country — can be seen in its entirety on the SMU Jones Film YouTube channel. The Dallas bit starts at 9:43, followed by the Fort Worth bit at 13:19. I understand there are other cities, too.

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Sources & Notes

All images are screenshots from the 16mm film posted on YouTube by the G. William Jones Film Archive, Hamon Library, Southern Methodist University.

Special thanks to Erik Swanson for bringing this to my attention.

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Copyright © 2020 Paula Bosse. All Rights Reserved.

“Guys and Dolls” at the State Fair Music Hall — 1951

sfot_guys-and-dolls_music-hall_1951_john-dominis_life-mag
Wearing the *dress* boots… (photo: John Dominis, © Time, Inc.)

by Paula Bosse

This is the most Texans-going-to-the-theater photo I’ve ever seen.

And this is the most Texans-selling-minks ad I’ve ever seen:

neiman-marcus_ad_guys-and-dolls_oct-1951

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Sources and Notes

Photo by John Dominis, taken in October, 1951 on assignment for Life magazine, ©Time, Inc.; more info is here.

Neiman-Marcus ad is also from October, 1951.

“Take Back Your Mink” is a song from “Guys and Dolls” (hear it here), the musical that played during the 1951 State Fair of Texas, starring Pamela Britton, Allan Jones, Jeanne Ball, and Slapsie  Maxie Rosenbloom.

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Copyright © 2020 Paula Bosse. All Rights Reserved.

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