Flashback : Dallas

A Miscellany: History, Ads, Pop Culture

Category: Entertainment

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:

texas-big-state_santa-fe-film_jones-film_fair-park_esplanade

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.

sfot_guys-and-dolls_music-hall_1951_john-dominis_life-mag_sm

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Copyright © 2020 Paula Bosse. All Rights Reserved.

African-American Businesses and Notable Dallasites — 1930

mme-pratt-muisc-teacher_dallas-negro-directory_1930_portal_det“Madame Pratt” in her music studio

by Paula Bosse

I’ve recently posted lots of photos of black schools and black churches which appeared in the Official Directory: Dallas Negro Churches, Schools and Other Activities; Civic, Business, Fraternal, Social, Etc., an absolutely fantastic historical document (which is scanned in its entirety on the Portal to Texas History site here) — now I thought I’d post some of the businesses and people featured in the directory.

First is the woman seen above, Ella Rice Pratt (1893-1966) who was known professionally as “Madame Pratt” and seems to have taught an extremely wide range of musical instruments. According to this 1930 ad, she was “The only woman of her race in Texas who performs successfully upon two instruments at the same time.”  (Most images are larger when clicked.)

mme-pratt-muisc-teacher_dallas-negro-directory_1930_portal1930

Her 1966 obituaries (one of which is here ) list a string of accomplishments, including having studied music at the New England Conservatory in Boston, toured as a concert pianist, trained a 30-piece touring orchestra, and opened what was described as “the first music studio in Dallas where Negro musicians could receive training on all instruments” (Dallas Morning News, Oct. 3, 1966). Not only was she a notable Dallasite, so were members of her family: her father, Charles A. Rice was a principal at Booker T. Washington High School (and is the namesake of Charles Rice Elementary School), her mother, Sally Rice, was the first supervisor of Griggs Park, and her husband, T. W. Pratt was a long-time principal in Dallas schools (at the time of this directory he was the principal of the Pacific Avenue School (he might be seen in this photo which also appeared in the 1930 Negro Directory). The Pratts lived at 3612 Thomas Ave., near Washington, where Madame Pratt also had her studio. (Her headstone in Lincoln Memorial Park has musical notes engraved on it.)

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Speaking of music, R. T. Ashford was a prominent businessman (he was one of the founders of the Dallas Negro Chamber of Commerce) who owned R. T. Ashford’s Music Shop, a popular record store at 408 N. Central (at Swiss), just north of Deep Ellum. Before this 1930 directory was issued, Ashford had called his shop “Black Swan Music”(I’m not sure whether this was an “homage” to the Black Swan record label or some sort of partnership). Ashford’s store was apparently very popular and Ashford himself seems to have been taken seriously by record labels whenever he would recommend local talent (he appears to have figured prominently in Blind Lemon Jefferson’s recording career). Ashford moved from Central Avenue to Hall Street in 1931, but he was a Deep Ellum music and business fixture for many, many years. I think the location of Ashford’s record shop (if not the actual store) can be seen in this photo from 1919 (on the street-level floor of the Thorburn Broom & Brush building). (Fun fact, perhaps only to me: Ashford’s Music Shop was next door to a business proprietor named “Simpson.”)

ashfords-music-shop_dallas-negro-directory_1930_portal1930

ashford_dallas-express_122223Dallas Express, Dec. 1922

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Another entrepreneur was Thad Self, whose main business seems to have been a grocery/general merchandise store on Routh Street south of Colby. He also owned a transfer company, a hotel/boarding house, a barber shop, a cafe, and at least one other general store. Most of his companies were located in buildings on the neighboring lots at 2113 Routh and 2115 Routh, one or both of which he appears to have purchased in 1913 for $100 (about $2,600 in today’s prices). He built a large three-story building on Routh in 1913 (which, according to this 1921 Sanborn map) was built over the Dallas Branch of the Trinity which snaked through downtown and the State-Thomas area — that  basement was probably pretty damp.

thad-else_dallas-negro-directory_1930_portal1930

thad-else_dallas-express_120619_HOTELDallas Express, Dec. 6, 1919

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Speaking of hotels, one of the most prominent hotels in the era when blacks were not allowed to stay in “white” hotels by law was the Powell Hotel at 3115 State Street (between Ellis and Hugo), owned by D. H. Powell and his wife Susie. In May, 1929 Powell was issued a permit to tear down a frame house at 3115 State, and he built his 40-room hotel on the property soon after. The Powell Hotel was where almost every notable African-American visitor to the city stayed. By the late 1940s, Powell had built something of a hotel empire in Dallas with several locations. (I will have to write more about him in a future post!) I like this very early ad, from the 1930 directory, describing it as the “Powel Hotel & Pleasure Dome.” The photo shows a pleasant-looking place, but you and I and Kubla Khan and Coleridge would probably agree it’s no Xanadu.

powell-hotel_dallas-negro-directory_1930_portal1930

powell-hotel_legacies_spring-2007Dallas Public Library, via Legacies, Spring, 2007

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Speaking of “resting places”… another essential element in any community is the funeral home. One of Dallas’ most prominent undertaking firms for black Dallas was the E. J. Crawford Funeral Home at 804 Good (now N. Good-Latimer, between Live Oak and Bryan), founded by Mr. Crawford in 1909. “The last word in funeralizing.”

crawford-funeral-home_dallas-negro-directory_1930_portal1930

crawford_e-j_dallas-express_020422Dallas Express, Feb. 4, 1922

Another prominent funeral home/ambulance service was Black & Clark, founded originally around 1914 by S. C. Black; in 1927 he was joined by his nephew C. J. Clark. For years they were located in Oak Cliff, at 1109 E. Tenth St., west of what is now South R. L. Thornton, near Cliff Avenue. This funeral home is still in business, and there was recently a profile of the Dallas institution on Channel 5 News (watch it here).

black-and-clark-undertakers_dallas-negro-directory_1930_portal1930

black-and-clark_archives_1802-n-washington1802 N. Washington (woozy screenshot of photo in Ch. 5 news story)

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This is Genevieve T. Starks, a woman with a lot of extra-curricular activities! I love this photo.

genevieve-starks_dallas-negro-directory_1930_portal1930

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The G Clef Club was organized around 1921 by Lincolnia Hayes Morgan, music supervisor for Dallas’ (black) public schools. A blurb about the group appeared in The Crisis, the official publication of the N.A.A.C.P.: “The objects of the club are to assist worthy music students and to raise the music standard of the community” (June, 1921).

g-clef-club_dallas-negro-directory_1930_portal1930

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A popular singing group was the Belt Sacred Quartette (comprised of J. J. Mollis, J. Poindexter, F. W. Grant, and N. Tisdale) — listen to their recording of “I Have Another Building” below.

belt-sacred-quartette_dallas-negro-directory_1930_portal1930

belt-sacred-quartette_blackwell-OK-journal-tribune_072332Blackwell (OK) Journal-Tribune, July 23, 1932

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The Davis Bible Singers (C. Davis, I. H. Burrell, R. Smith, and O. B. Walker) seem to have been pretty popular, having appeared on KRLD, WFAA, and WRR radio. They even recorded for Columbia Records (listen to their great recording of “Daniel Saw the Stone” below).

davis-bible-singers_dallas-negro-directory_1930_portal1930

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One of the most important doctors in Dallas in the 1920s and ’30s was Dr. Lee Gresham (L. G.) Pinkston (1883-1961), who opened the Pinkston Clinic at 3305 Thomas Avenue, between Hall and Central, in 1928 or 1929 (it made its first appearance in the 1929 city directory). In 1954, Pinkston — physician, surgeon, and civic leader — was one of the first five black doctors allowed to practice in a “white” Dallas hospital (St. Paul’s Hospital) — before that, the only hospital in Dallas where black doctors could practice was the Pinkston Clinic, which had 15 beds (32 beds were allotted for black patients at St. Paul’s in 1954). (See a photo of the five doctors here, Dr. Pinkston is seated.) A new West Dallas school — Pinkston High School — was named in Dr. Pinkston’s honor and opened in 1964, three years after his death. 

pinkston-clinic_dallas-negro-directory_1930_portal1930

pinkston-clinic_DHSDallas Historical Society

Below, a portrait of Dr. Pinkston with the artist, Calvin Littlejohn (whom I’d known only as a photographer previously), destined to hang in the new school.

pinkston-l-g_portrait_calvin-littlejohn_pittsburgh-PA-courier_112864Pittsburgh (PA) Courier, Nov. 28, 1964

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Sources & Notes

All 1930 images are from Official Directory: Dallas Negro Churches, Schools and Other Activities; Civic, Business, Fraternal, Social, Etc. compiled by James H. Smith, 1930; from the Tarrant County Black Historical and Genealogical Society, via the Portal to Texas History. This fantastic resource is scanned in its entirety here.

See the two other Flashback Dallas posts which also use this wonderful directory as a source:

mme-pratt-muisc-teacher_dallas-negro-directory_1930_portal_det_sm

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Copyright © 2020 Paula Bosse. All Rights Reserved.

Bel-Vick’s Anchor: The Angelus Arcade and The Arcadia Theatre — 1920s

arcadia-theater_exhibitors-herald-world_060730The 2000 block of Greenville Avenue, 1930… (click for larger image)

by Paula Bosse

I’ve written about the Arcadia Theatre before (here and here), but until I discovered the above photo from 1930, I’d never really thought about what had been on that site previously (the northwest corner of Greenville Avenue and Sears Street, now the home of a Trader Joe’s). There’s a lot going on in that photo, not the least of which is the fabulous Arcadia “tree” sign/marquee, made of sculpted concrete.

Greenville Avenue in the 1920s had a small business district with buildings clustered between Ross Avenue and Belmont, an area which many now call “Lowest Greenville” (the stretch of Greenville a little farther north which is now generally refered to as “Lower Greenville” was being developed but was not really an area of note yet — and “Upper Greenville” — which I don’t really hear people say anymore — was a rural highway which passed through small communities and was mostly surrounded by a lot of open farmland).

A look at city directories of the early 1920s suggests that business owners were trying to establish “Belmont” as the name of the area between Ross and Belmont, and many used the word in their business name (“The Belmont Pharmacy,” for instance). But things began to change in 1922 as development picked up, and “Belmont” suddenly became “Belmont-Vickery” (in a nod to the Vickery Place neighborhood), and then that very quickly became “Bel-Vick” or “Belvick” (a couple of rebel business owners went with “Belvic” but that didn’t seem to catch on). In the 1927 directory there were eight Belvick businesses, almost all of which were in the 1800 and 1900 blocks of Greenville, the blocks seen in the photo below (you can see the Arcadia “tree” in the distance on the left).

greenville-avenue_1930
Greenville Avenue, 1930 (Dallas Public Library)

belvick_1927-directory
1927 Dallas directory

At least one business came up with a cutesy “Belvick” logo:

belvick-plumbing-logo_1908-greenville_1928-directory_ad-det
Belvick Plumbing logo, 1928

(One of these businesses, Belvick Electric Co., ended up on Garland Road, owned by the family of “King of the Hill” writer and producer Jim Dauterive, a name which should be familiar to all “King of the Hill” fans; I wrote about that tidbit of hyper-trivia at the end of this post.)

There was even a small theater at 1804½ Greenville Ave. for a year or two, pre-dating the Arcadia by five years. The Belmont Theatre opened in Sept. 1922, but when it changed ownership a few months later it became, you guessed it, the Belvick Theatre. I hope patrons didn’t get too attached, because it was out of  business by the time the 1924 directory was published. Here’s what that building looked like in 2012 (sadly, it no longer looks anything like this) — the theater was, I believe, in the right half of the building.

belvick-theater_google_2012
Google Street View, 2012

In 1923, a Greenville Avenue developer, Albert J. Klein, built a large building called the Angelus Arcade in the 2000 block of Greenville, at Sears Street. Here are a couple of woefully fuzzy classified ads for the under-construction “Greenville Market Place” and a list of the types of “first-class” businesses wanted to occupy the new arcade (click for larger-but-still-hard-to-read images).

angelus-arcade_070423
July, 1923

angelus-arcade_112823Nov., 1923

The arcade had several tenants and served as something of a public meeting place for the neighborhood — politicians frequently appeared in front of the large building to give speeches or talk to crowds in impromptu town-hall-like meetings. Like the use of “Belvick,” the name “Angelus” showed up in many of the less-than-imaginitively-named (first-class) businesses:

angelus-arcade_greenville-ave_1927-directory1927 Dallas directory

In 1927 Klein made a deal with the Dean Theatre company to build a new movie theater on the same premises as the Angelus — there would be additions and modifications made to the building, but it would still be home to several other businesses — there’d just be a movie theater inside. It would continue to be an “arcade.” Even though one newspaper article attempted to tie the name “Arcadia” to the new theater’s Italian garden motif which suggested a pastoral harmony with Nature, it seems more likely that people were already calling the building “the arcade,” and “Arcadia” was the next logical step.

The Arcadia Theatre opened on Nov. 4, 1927 with the Mary Astor movie “The Sunset Derby.” A newspaper report noted that “in spite of its remote location” the crowd-size was healthy. Patrons could even pop next door for a chicken dinner if so inclined.

arcadia-theater_exhibitors-herald-world_060928_front1928

One of the unusual things about the theater was the seating. The backs of the chairs were in a variety of colors (desert sand, cafe au lait, light blue, orchid, green, and “Chinese red”) which were placed in a randomly pattern throughout the auditorium. I think the operators probably thought this design-breakthrough was quirky and cutting edge, but it just looks a little odd. The Dallas Morning News described this feature as being reminiscent of a fun carnival; the Arcadia publicity person wrote that “the effect is as startling as it is pleasing.” …I’ll give you “startling.”

arcadia-theater_exhibitors-herald-world_060928_toward-screen1928

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Below are a few more images of the Arcadia Theatre through the years.

First, just an odd little postcard from 1934 which found its way into SMU’s archive — a drawing of that cool tree!

arcadia-sign_postcard_1934_cook-collection_degolyer-library_SMUvia George W. Cook Collection, DeGolyer Library, SMU

arcadia-marquee_1941_ad-det1941

The Deco years, and a painfully pruned tree, in the daytime, and at night:

arcadia-theater_ca-1941_DHS1941, via Dallas Historical Society

arcadia-theater_mcafee_degolyer_SMUvia DeGolyer Library, SMU

arcadia-theater_mid

There were a few fires over the years — here’s one from November, 1958.

arcadia_fire_nov-1958_portalDallas Firefighters Museum, via the Portal to Texas History

Eventually its days as a second-run suburban theater dwindled, and it became a live-music venue for a while in the 1980s, as seen in this absolutely fabulous photo from 1985 (Joan Jett played the Arcadia on June 13, 1985) taken by Dan Allen, owner of super-cool clothing boutique Assassins.

arcadia-theatre_june-1985_daniel-m-allen-photo_FB©Daniel M. Allen 2014, via Facebook

It also showed Spanish-language films for a few years.

arcadia_spanish-language-theater_dayvia American Classic Images

arcadia_spanish-language-theater_nightvia American Classic Images

But, ultimately, a fire ended it all, on June 21, 2006: 120 firefighters responded to a six-alarm blaze caused by a fire that originated in a restaurant — all the businesses in the block were destroyed.

arcadia_on-fire_2006via Cinema Treasures

Bel-Vick hasn’t been the same since. RIP, Angelus/Arcadia.

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Sources & Notes

Top photo from Exhibitors Herald World, June 7, 1930.

The 1930 view of Lowest Greenville, looking north from Alta, is from the Frank Rogers Collection, Dallas Public Library; titled “[Lower Greenville Avenue],” the call number is PA84-9/49.

The two photos from 1928 are from Exhibitors Herald World, June 9, 1928. To see the full 4-page article on the still-new Arcadia (with many photos of the interior) as well as a 2-page article from April 12, 1930 about how the Angelus Arcade building had been renovated to accommodate a theater — complete with floor plan — see a PDF here.

More on the Arcadia Theater — including additional photos of the ever-changing facade — can be found in these Flashback Dallas posts:

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I don’t usually post photos with watermarks, but I found these two really interesting photos of Greenville looking south from Sears, one from 1927 with buildings I’ve never seen, and one from 1930 with brand new buildings replacing those unfamiliar ones. Here’s the first, from 1927, which shows an unusual building with arches and a church (?!), Riggs Memorial Presbyterian Church, at the northeast corner of Greenville and Oram. (I used to have a little bookstore — Chelsea Books — at 1925 Greenville, in the space occupied by Criswell Furniture in this photo.)

greenville-ave_south-from-sears_frank-rogers_1927_DPL
1927, Dallas Public Library, call number PA78-2/1047

chelsea-books_dallas_1925-greenville-avenue

And then, just three short years later… bye-bye, weird building and church. The buildings seen in the 1930 photo below are still standing (except for the gas station at the southwest corner at Sears). I love that this street has been immediately recognizable for decades, even though there has been some unfortunate architectural revision going on in ol’ Bel-Vick in recent years.

greenville-ave_south-from-sears_bud-biggs-collection_1930_DPL
1930, Dallas Public Library, call number PA84-9/48 

And here’s a detail from a 1931 Fairchild Aerial photo showing the Angelus/Arcadia at the center left (you can see the tree sign).

arcadia_fairchild-aerial_1931_detail_DPL
Dallas Public Library, call number
PA83-32/16 

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Copyright © 2020 Paula Bosse. All Rights Reserved.

“Political Paranoia” and the North Dallas Democratic Women’s Club, feat. Future Governor Ann Richards

political-paranoia-2_1964_jones-collection_SMU_cast

by Paula Bosse

Ann Richards drove my carpool. She and my mother swapped out driving kids to the First Unitarian Church Cooperative Preschool on Preston and Normandy in University Park. I’m not sure anyone in either family was an actual member of the church, but that preschool was one of the only co-ops in Dallas (it might have been the first), and it was a magnet for the more progressive parents in the city. The Unitarian Church was also a major gathering place in the 1960s and 1970s for those involved in women’s issues, liberal activism, and Democratic politics, including my mother and the future governor of Texas, Ann Richards. I remember hearing about Ann (she was always referred to as just “Ann”) throughout my entire childhood. My parents weren’t close friends with the slightly older Richardses, but my mother was a keen admirer of Ann and my father described her as “the funniest woman I’ve ever known.” I remember their home on Lovers Lane which always seemed to be crammed full of kids.

When Ann Richards lived in Dallas she was a self-described “housewife,” who, when she wasn’t busy raising her four children, was volunteering for Democratic candidates and causes. She was an active member of the North Dallas Democratic Women’s Club, a group which, in 1963, gained instant attention for the fundraiser show they wrote and performed called “Political Paranoia,” a satirical revue of politics, complete with sharp satire, broad comedy, song parodies, and ridiculous wigs and costumes. The show was such a huge success that follow-up standing-room-only shows were performed in 1964, 1965, 1966, and 1968. The shows were written and directed by Carolyn Choate, Ruthe Winegarten, and Ann Richards, and the cast consisted of the members of the NDDW. Ann’s portrayal of LBJ seems to have made lasting impressions on those who saw it.

I have recently begun working on a project for the G. William Jones Film and Video Archive at SMU, and a reel of 16mm black-and-white film — with sound! — was discovered in the vault recently with no identifying information. Nothing. Nobody knows where it came from or how it ended up at SMU. But there it was: a lightly edited filmed document of the second installment of “Political Paranoia,” presented by the North Dallas Democratic Women in the auditorium of Hillcrest High School on May 16, 1964. I was sure Ann Richards would be in there somewhere — and she was! I was pretty excited by this “discovery” because this show has become something of a legendary touchstone in local Democratic politics. As far as I know, there is no other film footage of any of these shows. Not only that, this may well be the earliest footage of Ann Richards, the woman who would go on to become the governor of Texas (1991-1995) and one of the most celebrated women in politics and Texas culture. This is an amazing heretofore unknown historical document.

The show is full of smart sarcasm and “hey-kids-let’s-put-on-a-show” enthusiasm. The humor is more amusing than cutting, and these Democratic women were certainly not afraid of making fun of members of their own party. A lot of the hot topics of the day addressed in this show are lost to the mists of time, but that doesn’t take away from its entertainment value. This was a time when women had very little voice, impact, or power in politics, and the women here have firmly taken control of the reins and perform with an exuberance that crackles. 

The 34-minute film — complete with odd jumps and abrupt cuts — has been uploaded by SMU in its entirety here:

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Here are a bunch of screenshots. I don’t know who all of the performers are — I would love feedback and corrections from the public. At the bottom is a list of names of women who were involved with the NDDW, but as they were invariably identified as “Mrs. Husband’s Name,” I have no idea what most of their first names are! I am especially interested in identifying Ruthe Winegarten, one of the prime movers behind these shows (and also a Texas and women’s historian of note).

First, 30-year-old Ann Richards (or as she was identified in newspaper accounts, “Mrs. David Richards”) appearing as Gordon McLendon, Dallas media magnate, owner of KLIF, and one-time wannabe politician — “The Old Scotchman.” That voice is unmistakable.

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And here she is as LBJ:

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Carolyn Choate, one of the writers and directors of “Political Paranoia,” wrote the music and performed many of the song parodies (she was also a contributor to the annual Dallas Press Club Gridiron Show).

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I was really interested to see Betty McKool, Ann’s longtime friend with whom she issued a famous series of annual jokey Christmas cards (which I wrote about in the post “The Legendary Christmas Cards of Ann Richards and Betty McKool”) — and here she is as Nelson Rockefeller at the 1964 Republican National Convention in what I thought was a really great, incredibly confident performance.

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I’m not sure who the blonde with the glasses and ruffled shirt is, but she gives a spirited performance as Barry Goldwater at the Republican Convention. (Mrs. Ray Pearce portrayed Goldwater in the first “Political Paranoia,” so perhaps this is her revisiting the role.)

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My preschool teacher (and, I believe, the founder of the Unitarian co-op school), Millie Seltzer, is seen below as Lady Bird Johnson. (There’s also a photo of her and Ann as Lady Bird and Lyndon from 1965’s “Political Paranoia III,” which is posted on the blog of Millie’s daughter’s here.)

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Speaking of Lady Bird, here’s Lyndon and Ralph Yarborough (I’m not sure who these women are, but “Lyndon” might be Mary Vogel).

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Possibly Mary Vogel again as “Mrs. GOP.”

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An unknown performer singing about John Connally.

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More unknown performers in “I Dreamed I Dedicated a Federal Center in 1994….”

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…dedicated by Republican congressman Bruce Alger.

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Again, possibly Betty McKool in the straw hat in the center (with someone else playing her husband, Mike McKool).

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The cast, with leggy Joyce Schiff at the microphone (and Ann Richards behind her to the left, holding the cowboy hat).

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“Political Paranoia II”
May 16, 1964
Hillcrest High School auditorium

“Poop and patter from the Pedernales to the Potomac…”
“The most talked-about show from Euless to Balch Springs…”

$1.50 for Democrats
$7.67 for independents
$25.00 for Republicans

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Below is a list of women who were members of the North Dallas Democratic Women who were known to have participated in the 1963 and/or 1964 productions of “Political Paranoia,” either on stage or behind the scenes. If you recognize any of these women in the SMU film footage, please make note of a time-marker and let me know where you see them and I will update the info.

Written and directed by:
Mrs. Alvin Winegarten (RUTHE WINEGARTEN)
Mrs. David Richards (ANN RICHARDS)
Mrs. Jim Choate (CAROLYN CHOATE)

Mrs. Mike McKool (BETTY McKOOL)
Mrs. Holbrook Seltzer (MILLIE SELTZER)
Mrs. Harry Weisbrod (BEA WEISBROD)
Mrs. Herbert Schiff Jr. (JOYCE SCHIFF)
Mrs. Philip Vogel (MARY VOGEL)
Mrs. Frederick Sparks (MERLENE SPARKS)
Mrs. Sam Whitten (VIRGINIA WHITTEN)
Mrs. Harry Hoffman
Mrs. Thomas L. Ford
Mrs. Harold Polunsky
Mrs. Kenneth Parker
Mrs. Charles Webster
Mrs. J. T. Mullenix
Mrs. Forrest West
Mrs. C. A. Hurst
Mrs. Jack Cohan
Mrs. Donald Fielding
Mrs. Don Kise
Mrs. Stanley Kaufman
Mrs. Richard Sandow
Mrs. Irwin Kaim
Mrs. James Taylor
Mrs. Ray Pearce
Mrs. Daniel Rosenthal
Mrs. Oscar M. Wilson Jr.
Mrs. Earl Granberry
Mrs. Jerome Meltzer 

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Sources & Notes

Screenshots are from “Political Paranoia II,” a filmed chronicle of the 1964 political revue written and performed by the North Dallas Democratic Women’s Club at Hillcrest High School on May 16, 1964; the origins of the film are unknown, but this copy is held by the G. William Jones Film and Video Archive, Hamon Library, Southern Methodist University. All thanks to Jeremy Spracklen and Scott Martin of the Jones Archive. The direct YouTube link is here.

Thanks also to Margaret Werry and Jean Ball for their help in identifying participants and for taking the time to share their memories of Dallas’ political past.

A good account of Ann Richards’ time in Dallas can be found in her autobiography, Straight from the Heart, My Life in Politics & Other Places (Simon & Schuster, 1989).

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Copyright © 2019 Paula Bosse. All Rights Reserved.

 

Buried Alive at the Fair Park Midway — 1946

sfot_scotty-scott_buried-alive_coffin_cook-colln_degolyer-library_SMU_1946Welcome to my casket!

by Paula Bosse

In May, 1946 a new Fair Park midway opened with new rides and new attractions to entice entertainment-seekers to Fair Park at a time of the year when the State Fair of Texas wasn’t in session. On opening day a beauty queen was chosen, a new 17-inch telescope was introduced, and a man was buried alive.

That man was C. S. “Scotty” Scott, seen above lounging in a comfy-looking casket in pajamas and robe, looking happy, propping up the lid. On May 11, 1946, Scotty Scott was buried six feet below the midway where he vowed to remain until the last day of the fair — Oct. 20th. That’s five and a half months.

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Countless ads appeared over the weeks offering $500 (the equivalent of about $6,500 in today’s money) to anyone who might stop by his Fair Park lair and find him not there.

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The exact set-up is not fully clear, but, basically, he was buried in a coffin in a very small space, with a ventilation pipe. One report said that visitors were able to see him through a glass partition — another said that people were peeking at him and talking to him via an eight-inch vent pipe. However they were observing him, they weren’t doing it for free — if you wanted to get a look at Scotty doing whatever it was he was doing down there, you had to fork over 25 or 30 cents. All this being-watched and chit-chatting probably helped distract Scotty from the fact that he was buried alive! (I’m getting claustrophobic just typing this.)

Scotty’s tomb was equipped with air conditioning, a radio, a telephone, and an electric razor (which seems unnecessary, but, again, it probably helped pass the time…). (He might have kept up with his shaving, but he let his hair grow, a fact which apparently had the hoi polloi debating about whether Scotty was a man or a woman.) He was able to indulge in the occasional sponge bath and “exercise himself with a vibrator machine.” There was mention somewhere of a feeding tube.

If the thought of being buried alive gives you the willies, Scotty was not completely immune himself. One report mentioned this was probably the last time he would perform this stunt because he was reaching his “breaking point” and “He has to fight himself continuously to keep from being irritable and cross” (Dallas Morning News, Oct. 13, 1946). Luckily, claustrophobia did not seem to be too much of a problem for him as he had been doing this kind of endurance stunt for several years and kept coming back for more — he had, somehow, managed to remain buried in San Francisco for eight months!

Though he considered his main vocation to be a daredevil race driver, he had stumbled into this weird, but lucrative, line of work in 1935 when he had seen a similar stunt being performed in California, and a friend bet him $1,000 he couldn’t do it for 30 days. He won the bet. By the time of this 1946 Dallas stunt, he had been buried alive a LOT — he estimated that he had spent a total of more than four and a half years (!) buried alive.

According to Scotty, the worst part of the buried-alive-thing was the un-burying:

“From past experience the most painful part of the ordeal will come when they dig me up. My circulation will be so bad that my body will turn purple and I will be unable to sit or stand for any length of time. My whole body will feel like a leg or arm that has gone to sleep.” (DMN, Oct. 13, 1946)

Scotty Scott spent 162 days buried alive in Dallas — he even celebrated his 28th birthday underneath Fair Park. He was buried on May 11 and was disinterred on the final day of the fair, Oct. 20. Crowds gathered as men with jack-hammers cracked open the cement-covered tomb. As the coffin was lifted up a woman fainted. He was transported by ambulance to a hospital, and the next day he was interviewed on a national radio program.

Why on earth would anyone do this? More than 75,000 people had paid to take a look at Scotty Scott lying underground. The total amount of money people paid for this creepy privilege works out to almost $300,000 in today’s money. That’s why.

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Sources & Notes

Photo is from the George W. Cook Dallas/Texas Image Collection, DeGolyer Library, SMU Libraries, Southern Methodist University; more info can be found here.

Try not to think about being buried alive. TRY!

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Copyright © 2019 Paula Bosse. All Rights Reserved.

“Texas Excitement” — Six Flags Over Texas by Rail

six-flags-over-texas_three-rides_postcard_ken-collierCount ’em…

by Paula Bosse

There’s a lot going on in this postcard! The description, from the back of the card:

TEXAS EXCITEMENT
Three of the most popular rides at SIX FLAGS Over Texas are shown in action. At top is the Runaway Mine Train which annually carries more than 2½ million riders. At center an authentic 1898 steam engine carries passengers over a narrow gauge track which encircles the huge theme park. And, in the foreground is the SIX FLAGS Mini Mine Train, designed for the younger set.

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Sources & Notes

This 1970s-era postcard is from Ken Collier’s fantastic Six Flags Over Texas site, here.

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Copyright © 2019 Paula Bosse. All Rights Reserved.

“I’m No Angel” Packing Them In at The Majestic — 1933

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by Paula Bosse

Mae West was hot in 1933. Dallas moviegoers lined up on Elm Street to see her in “I’m No Angel” at the Majestic Theater. On a Monday afternoon!

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via IMDb

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Sources & Notes

Photo from the Spotlight on North Texas collection, UNT Media Library, Portal to Texas History; more info can be found here.

(Check out the brick paving on Elm Street!)

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Copyright © 2019 Paula Bosse. All Rights Reserved.

 

Super-Cool Roger Miller in Dallas — 1960s

roger-miller_venetian-room_oct-1969_wfaa_jones-film_SMURoger Miller on the Venetian Room stage, October, 1969

by Paula Bosse

Who doesn’t love Roger Miller? He was always one of the most effortlessly “cool” entertainers, celebrated as much for his songwriting and singing as he was for his humor and storytelling.

Roger Miller was born in Fort Worth in 1936 but spent most of his childhood in Oklahoma following the death of his father. He launched an entertainment career after a stint in the U.S. Army came to an end. (See an extensive timeline at Wikipedia, here.)

After years of struggling, he finally hit the big-time in 1964 with the hit “Dang Me” and, a few months later, with his biggest hit, the classic “King of the Road.” He won a huge number of Grammys (11 in 1964 and 1965 alone) and was a bona fide star who had incredible crossover appeal for fans of both country music and traditional popular music.

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When he came to Dallas in October, 1969 it was for a 3-week run at the Fairmont Hotel’s swanky Venetian Room, and he apparently packed them in every night. Below is a snippet of an interview with WFAA-Channel 8 News in which Roger answers the burning question of whether he was “serious” when he wrote his hit novelty song “You Can’t Rollerskate In a Buffalo Herd” (listen to the song here). His quipped response (which cracked up the Jerry Gray Orchestra behind him) probably didn’t make it to the local airwaves in 1969:

 

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(As an interesting sidelight, in an interview with Philip Wuntch of The Dallas Morning News (Oct. 19, 1969), Miller said that he and his wife had been in Texas for a few days prior to his Venetian Room engagement looking at houses in both Dallas (his mother was then residing in Fort Worth) and San Antonio (his wife’s hometown). Nothing apparently came of this, but it certainly would have been nice to have been able to claim Roger Miller as a Dallas resident!)

He was in town a couple of years earlier, in 1967, and sat down for a Channel 8 interview which was a bit more sedate — it took place in the American Airlines “Celebrity Room” at Love Field as he was passing through Dallas on his way to San Antonio with his wife and young son, Dean Miller:

 

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On this trip, newspapers reported that he was shuttled about in private Lear Jets and Rolls Royces — a big change from his early days when he picked cotton, hitchhiked, slept in cars, and stole milk off front porches.

Roger Miller died in 1992 at the age of 56 from complications of lung cancer.

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Below are a few ads from Roger Miller’s DFW appearances. He played large venues like the Big D Jamboree in Dallas and Panther Hall and Northside Coliseum in Fort Worth, but he also played a lot of little clubs as he worked his way up to becoming a major recording artist and television personality.

miller-roger_FWST_041259_rosas-western-clubRosa’s Western Club, Fort Worth with Donny Young (aka Johnny Paycheck), April 12, 1959

miller-roger_060863_hi-ho-western-club_grand-prairieHi-Ho Western Club, Grand Prairie, TX, June 8, 1963

miller-roger_FWST_081364_panther-hallPanther Hall, Aug. 13, 1964

miller-roger_101669_fairmont-hotelVenetian Room, Dallas, Oct. 16, 1969

miller-roger_101769_fairmont-hotel_smash-recordsSmash Records ad, Oct. 17, 1969

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Sources & Notes

Film footage of Roger Miller in Dallas (on YouTube here and here) is from the WFAA Collection, G. William Jones Collection, Hamon Arts Library, Southern Methodist University.

The official Roger Miller website is here.

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Copyright © 2019 Paula Bosse. All Rights Reserved.

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