Wednesday, August 5, 2020

A Quick Visit to Arab

East and south of Huntsville you can find several small Alabama towns with "exotic" names: Arab, Egypt, Joppa and to the east of Scottsboro there's even a Hollywood. On a trip last year winding through that part of the state my younger brother Richard and I visited Owens Cross Roads, Scottsboro and ended up going through Arab. 

I've written about West Station Antiques and Gibson's Books in Owen's Cross Roads and Scottsboro in two posts here and here. In this posting I'm discussing Arab. Perhaps one day we'll visit Egypt and Hollywood. 

So why is the town named Arab? Stephen Tuttle Thompson settled in the area around 1840. By the late 1850's a community known as Thompson's Village had developed around his farm. In 1882 Thompson applied to the U.S. government for a post office; one of the possible names he submitted was "Arad", the middle name of his son. The story goes that a postal official interpreted that as "Arab". And here we are. 

This truly was a quick visit, so I'm not doing justice to the town here with just a few photos and a bit of history. One thing we missed was the Historic Village near the city park. This complex of ten buildings recreates life in the area from the 1880's until the 1940's using authentic furnishings and decor. You can read about the origin and development here. A Veterans' Memorial is located at the entrance of that city park. 

The population of the town was just over 8000 in the 2010 U.S. Census. Yet despite its small size Arab can claim several notable people. Liles Burke is a native and a U.S. judge for the northern district of Alabama. Vernon Derrick was a musician who lived most of his life in Arab; he died in 2008. He played mandolin and fiddle with the Stanley Brothers, Jimmy Martin's bluegrass band and Hank Williams, Jr.'s Bama Band. Jill King is a country music singer born in Arab; she released her first album in 2003. Another country music singer, Wayne Mills, was also an Arab native who was murdered in Nashville in 2013. He had released five studio and two live albums. Baseball pitcher Jack Lively was born in Joppa, but settled in Arab after his athletic career ended. 

One of the most famous people associated with Arab is Fred Nall Hollis, who was born in Troy but graduated from high school in Arab after his family moved there. "Nall" as he is known professionally has since become an internationally renowned artist. He studied in France and under Salvador Dali and works in many media, including mosaics, sculpture, drawing, porcelain and carpets. He has traveled and lived widely, but in 2005 returned to Alabama where he built a studio in Fairhope.

More comments are below.

Businesses along a portion of Main Street [Alabama 69]

This photo and one below are the view as we drove into town on Main Street.

Tuttle Thompson Park is located downtown.

Looking back toward downtown from the pocket park

Our Uncle John and Aunt Myrna Shores, mom's older brother and his wife, are buried in Brookwood Cemetery and Memorial Gardens.

Uncle John and Aunt Myrna in the mid-to-late 1990's 

Arabian Motel in Arab, 1940

From the Wade Hall Collection at Troy University Libraries
via Alabama Dept of Archives and History 

Hotel Thompson in Arab, 1940

From the Wade Hall Collection at Troy University Libraries
via Alabama Dept of Archives and History 

Dickson's Truck in Arab, 1940

From the Wade Hall Collection at Troy University Libraries
via Alabama Dept of Archives and History 

Arab is one of several Alabama towns included  in James W. Loewen's Sundown Towns: A Hidden Dimension of American Racism [2018]. Historically the term "sundown town" indicated a place to be vacated by blacks before dark. Today's broader definition indicates a neighborhood, town or county with planned discrimination against blacks, Jews and/or others. You can read more about Loewen's Alabama towns here

Sunday, August 2, 2020

Alabama History and Culture News: August 2 edition

Here's the latest batch of links to just-published Alabama history and culture articles. Most of these articles are from newspapers, with others from magazines and TV and radio station websites. Enjoy!

Women of History: Oakville Indian Mounds to host exhibit celebrating the pioneering women of ...
... education, history, food, politics and the arts. Connected to north Alabama in some way, each woman contributed to the advancement of the area.

A tradition lives on at Alabama's oldest restaurant
BESSEMER, Ala. In 1989, Jimmy Koikos, the longtime co-owner of Bessemer's historic Bright Star restaurant, began an annual tradition that has become ...

Tom Ward's book on the history of The Grove due out in September
The Grove is the crown jewel of the campus and has captivated people from all over the country, including Alabama native and author Tom Ward, ...

Troupe performs distanced reading of Groves alumnus' civil rights tale
Barebones scheduled free performances of “Alabama Story,” written by ... controversial children's picture book that inspired his play "Alabama Story.

Scientists search for rare mussel on Alabama's upper Tallapoosa River
"This continues the history of cooperation with the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service," ...

Atmore native releases new book on Creek Indians
Lou offers timeless material that helps the reader truly navigate the historicalgenealogical and biographical base of the Alabama Creek Indians.”.

Miles College Football coach Reginald Ruffin Inducted into University North Alabama's Hall of Fame
Courtesy of University of North Alabama Athletics ... second player in UNA football history to be a three-time All-American, along with former teammate ...

Inside the famous shark's mouth at Souvenir City in Gulf Shores
The business has an interesting history that started when Josie Weaver Weir ... by the giant conch shell on the eastern-facing side along Alabama 59.

First Black to attend Auburn gets master's degree more than 50 years later
“They told me to write a history of Alabama State. I had graduated from there, but I was not really interested in writing about it. “But I did all the research ...

Auburn legend Ronnie Brown to enter Alabama Sports Hall of Fame
There haven't been many backfields in college football history that measured up to Auburn's in 2004. Tigers quarterback Jason Campbell had not one ...

She was 13 when a beaten John Lewis arrived at her Alabama family's home, seeking refuge
He helped dedicate a historical marker in front of the home in 2006 and spoke about how courageous the family was to open the door. It was the first ...

At 88, he is a historical rarity — the living son of a slave
He's been chased on a dark road by white supremacists in Alabama as a foot soldier in the fight for civil rights. Smith was there when a young ...

Friday, July 31, 2020

Alabama Book Covers: Truman Capote

When the roll is called up yonder [or wherever] of best-known writers with Alabama connections, Truman Capote will be very near the front of the line along with his good friend Harper Lee. In this post I pick up one of my intermittent series on this blog devoted to covers of books by state writers. That series has included editions of Forrest Gump and books by T.S. Stribling

Capote's works have been published in many different editions and languages, so I make no attempt at completeness here. In fact, this selection is just a random batch with some comments; first editions of his major works are included.

Many of Capote's novels and stories have received film and television adaptations; I may have to do a future item on posters and DVD covers. 

Capote began writing his first novel in the mid-1940's, but never finished it. Around 1950 while he was living in Brooklyn he finally gave up and tossed the manuscript. The papers were saved from the trash by another party and finally published in 2005. 

Capote's first published novel, which appeared in 1948, was partly autobiographical and spent nine weeks on the New York Times best seller list. His ride aboard the fame machine had begun. 

Capote's first collection of short stories was published in 1949. 

The Grass Harp was published in 1951; the novel is based on Capote's time in Monroeville. The following year Capote adapted it for a Broadway play, which was not successful. 

This Signet paperback edition appeared in 1953.

In 1954 Capote collaborated with Harold Arlen on a Broadway musical based on a short story of Capote's. The production was not a success. In 1968 Random House published this hardback version in conjunction with the Off-Broadway revival. The story is set in Haiti in the midst of a battle for market share between two brothels.

First published in 1958; as far as I can determine this paperback appeared the following year. 

This 1965 book is the one that shot Capote into the stratosphere of fame. Controversy surrounded publication of this "non-fiction novel" about some brutal Kansas murders and continues to this day. 

This unfinished novel was finally published in 1986. Capote had signed the original contract in January 1966, but various other projects, increasing fame and an increasingly dissolute lifestyle kept him from finishing it before he died. He did publish excerpts in Esquire that so enraged his high society friends in New York that he was ostracized from their company. 

Alice Vincent's recent essay "Answered Prayers: The Mysterious Manuscript that Devastated Truman Capote" can be read here

This collection of twenty stories was published in 2004. 

Published in 2015, this collection has fourteen stories Capote wrote as a teenager that had never been published before. They were discovered in the archives of the New York Public Library in 2013. 

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Gail Patrick Jackson's Final Fade-Out

On May 22 1966, the final episode of the classic TV series Perry Mason aired on CBS. "The Case of the Final Fade-Out" was the 271st episode overall and the 30th of that ninth and last season. I recently re-watched the episode, which is probably one of the best series finales in dramatic television history. Of course, there's also an Alabama connection. Let's investigate....

In August 2015 I posted an item on actress Gail Patrick, born in Birmingham as Margaret Lavelle Fitzpatrick on June 20, 1911. After graduating from Woodlawn High School and Howard College, she headed to Hollywood. You can read about that change and her acting career at the blog post and Wikipedia page linked above. She appeared in more than 60 films between 1932 and 1948, including classics like My Man Godfrey [1936] and My Favorite Wife [1940]. I recently saw that latter film, which is delightful, even if Irene Dunn does get husband Cary Grant back in the end. Patrick is outstanding as the other wife.

Patrick had a second career as producer of the Perry Mason TV series that ran 1957-1966. Let me quote myself to explain how that happened:

"In 1947 Patrick married Cornwell Jackson, who just happened to be the literary agent for Earle Stanley Gardner. Gardner was a prolific author best known for his series of Perry Mason novels. Jackson secured the film rights to those novels, and through his company Paisano Productions Patrick became producer of the very successful Perry Mason television series. Gardner had disliked a series of film adaptations done in the 1930's, and wanted no more appearances by his character outside his novels. Apparently Patrick talked him into changing his mind."

"The Case of the Final Fade-Out" is a self-referential episode unusual for its day and still fun to watch. The murder takes place on the set of a popular TV series; the victim is the insufferable male star, who's made enemies of everyone. The first half  unfolds mostly on the set as police question other actors in the cast and various crew members. Those crew workers and others seen in the background of shots were actually Perry Mason workers. As noted below, even Executive Producer Patrick, one of her fellow producers and her husband appear in a bar scene. 

In addition to the series regulars, the main cast has several film and television veterans. Jackie Coogan began his career as a child in a 1921 Charlie Chaplin film; he later played Uncle Fester in the The Addams Family TV series in the 1960's. English actress Estelle Winwood performed on stage in London before moving to the U.S.; she made numerous film and television appearances until she was 100 years old. She was also a long time friend of Alabama native Tallulah Bankhead. Denver Pyle played first a suspect then a victim in this episode, the last of five appearances he made on the series. He was a prolific film and tv actor perhaps best remembered as patriarch of the Darling family in The Andy Griffith Show. Dick Clark took time out from his duties on American Bandstand to perform in a rare dramatic role. 

Erle Stanley Gardner's Perry Mason character has cut a wide swath through American popular culture. The first novel The Case of the Velvet Claws appeared in 1933; the eightieth was published in 1969. Two more appeared after Gardner's death. Many of the novels were serialized in a popular magazine of the day, the Saturday Evening Post. Gardner was a very prolific author and published much before he created Mason and other novels in between the Mason ones. He also published non-fiction and worked a legal career in there somewhere. When Gardner died in 1970, he was the best-selling American author. 

Mason quickly jumped to other media. In the 1930's Warner Brothers released six films featuring the character, with three different actors in the role. A weekday radio series on CBS ran from 1943 through 1955. Four different actors played Mason. CBS wanted to create a show for daytime television and retool the character for the soap opera audience, but Gardner refused. Instead, CBS used that potential show's writers and staff to create The Edge of Night, which ran for thirty years on television. CBS gave Gardner a show more to his liking which ran 1957-1966.

In 1958 Patrick attempted to bring a second Gardner property to television based on the Bertha Cool and Donald Lam novels. A pilot episode was produced and broadcast, but did not proceed  to series. In 1969 she and Jackson divorced, but the two and Gardner's daughter remained partners in their production company. Jackson later proposed a Perry Mason series revival, and Patrick was the only holdout. She was given a credit of executive consultant on The New Perry Mason but had nothing else to do with it The program, starring Monte Markham in the title role, did not please either critics or audience and only fifteen episodes were made for the 1973-74 series.  

The character returned to success in the 1980's. A television film series began in 1985; thirty films were made by 1995. Burr starred in the first 26. In the final four, Paul Sorvino in one and Hal Holbrook in the final three played lawyer friends of Mason's. Barbara Hale returned as Della Street and her son, William Katt, played Paul Drake, Jr., in the first nine films. 

In 2015 a publishing arm of the American Bar Association began returning the Mason novels to print. On June 21, 2020, the first episode of a new Perry Mason miniseries premiered on HBO. Set before the first novel, Mason is not yet a lawyer and is eking out a living as a sleazy private eye working for an attorney whose secretary is named Della Street. The series is gorgeously filmed, and I'm enjoying Matthew Rhys' performance as the down-and-out Mason. We're learning a lot of the character's back story, including service in World War I. 

Who knows what the future holds for Perry Mason. But one thing's for sure--a woman from Alabama played a major role in creating the most iconic non-print expression of Gardner's character. 

A Patrick glamour shot

Source: Travalanche blog

Patrick in a modest little dress in the film Mississippi [1935] which also starred a couple of guys named Bing Crosby and W.C. Fields. 

Source: Wikipedia

Patrick in Gallant Sons [1940]

Source: Wikipedia

William Hopper and Patrick in a Paramount Pictures publicity photo July 1936. Hopper would take the role of private detective Paul Drake in the Perry Mason series Patrick produced. 

Source: Wikipedia

Cary Grant and Gail Patrick in My Favorite Wife [1940]

Jackie Coogan [1914-1984]

Estelle Winwood [1883-1984]

Denver Pyle  [1920-1997]

Dick Clark [1929-2012]

Producer Art Seid & Patrick are seen quickly in the bar scene. That's Patrick's husband Corney Jackson in the background as the bartender. Anne Nelson, a CBS executive, and Lester Salkow, Raymond Burr's agent, also appear in this scene. 

In the late 1940's Patrick had purchased a gated estate in Los Angles with almost seven acres. The mansion, constructed in 1911, was used in some Mason episodes. 

Source: Jim Davidson's Pinterest board

District Attorney Hamilton Burger, played by William Talman, makes a point to the judge, played by the author of the Perry Mason novels, Erle Stanley Gardner

Another shot of Gardner as the judge

And so "The Case of the Final Fade-Out" and the series itself reaches the end. Here we see the main characters together one final time. William Talman played District Attorney Hamilton Burger, Richard Anderson as police Lt. Steve Drumm, Raymond Burr as Mason, William Hopper as private detective Paul Drake and Barbara Hale as secretary Della Street. All but Anderson had been with the series since the first episode. 

Source: Pinterest

In the final shot Mason is talking to Drake and Street about their next case. The source for this image is a blog post from 2014 that discusses this final episode and notes that exteriors were shot at the Chaplin Studios in Hollywood. 

Patrick, Erle Stanley Gardner and columnist Norma Lee Browning on the set of the final episode, April 1966

Source: Wikipedia

Jackson as Executive Producer

Source: Pinterest

March 1958

Source: Pinterest

This pattern was apparently one of several promoting actresses that ran in newspapers; see a few more at the source below. 

Source: Pinterest