Friday, November 16, 2018

Movies with Alabama Connections: Balboa

As I continue my wanderings through the twists and turns of state history on this blog, I'm always alert for mentions of Alabama in the movies or television shows. I came across another one recently in an obscure 1983 film called Balboa. I've never seen it, or even remember seeing it listed for viewing anywhere while channel surfing. But lo and behold there's a character named "Alabama Dern" in this thing, and he's played by none other than Chuck Connors of The Rifleman fame. 

Also staring are Tony Curtis and Carol LynleyThe film's other cast includes Cassandra Peterson, better known to her fans as Elvira, Mistress of the Dark; Sonny Bono and veteran character actor Henry Jones. The film was written and directed by James Polakof.

This movie presents a few conundrums. The IMDB entry is under "Balboa" but one of the DVD covers shown here says "Rich and Powerful." I can find no such film under that name. The plot summary there is simply "Millionaire gets involved in a real estate scam." This version runs 91 minutes, but the entry claims it was originally a mini-series, and nude scenes were added to the video release. It's listed as an independent film released in the U.S on July 19, 1983 The website of the Tony Curtis Estate includes the film as "Balboa" but gives the year as 1986.

I suspect the film is one of many made in recent decades without major studio backing that may have gotten some sort of tape and/or DVD release but even so have essentially disappeared. Not everything is on Netflix, or Amazon Prime, or Hulu, or....

A bit more information follows below. And there's also another interesting connection Chuck Connors has with Alabama...

IMDB image

Image from the Amazon listing, which has this description:

"Welcome to Newport Beach where the exotic sun-drenched waterfront is the setting for intrigue, loyalty, betrayal and million dollar business deals. Wealth and power foster either the best of friends or the worst of enemies -- and some will do anything to get what they want."

I'm going to have to seek out this movie just to find out how a character named "Alabama" fits into it.

Not sure what this image is, perhaps a poster?

Connors played first base for the Mobile Bears in 1947, hitting .255 with 15 home runs. At that time the team played at Hartwell Field

"The 1947 Southern Association Baseball League champions the Mobile Bears. Chuck Connors, of Rifleman fame, played on the team. Top row from left: Cliff Dapper, Frank Luga, Chuck Connors, Paul Minner, "Doe" Kelly, Jack Maupin, George "Shotgun" Shuba, and Pershing Mandarf. Left to right in the middle row are Joe Powers, Stan Wasiak, Homer Matney, "Red" Rollins, manager Al Todd, Hal Younghans, and Pat McGlathen. On the bottom row from the left are Johnny Sosh, John Hall, Cal Abrams, batboy Donnie Wagner, Ray Boles, Roy Whitaker, and Bill Hart."

Source: Alabama Mosaic 

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

A Visit to Nikki's West

On a recent Saturday Dianne and I visited Cullman to check out the Alabama Gourd Show. This event is one of two sponsored by the Alabama Gourd Society; the other is held in Clanton in March. Dianne has been wanting to combine her beading/jewelry work with gourds for some time, so she was able to pick up some beginner's tools and hints from various exhibitors. The craftsmanship and imagination on display at this show are pretty impressive. You can get a few hints below.

On the way back to Pelham we decided to have an early dinner at Nikki's West, the legendary "steak and seafood" place on Finely Avenue in Birmingham. You can read more about them at their website and this article from 2013. 

If you've never eaten at Nikki's, get there ASAP! You can go through the buffet line, which is all we've ever done, or order from the menu. Either way it's bound to be good. 

I ordered the divine liver and onions and enjoyed it very much. Our son Amos declares this one to be "literally my favorite meal in the world".

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Harmony Graveyard in Helena

Dianne and I recently drove through Helena and stopped at the Harmony Graveyard. We seem to do that in our family--stop at old cemeteries and take a look around, even if we have no ancestors there. We're interested in history--all sorts of history. Next to the Graveyard is Harmony Cemetery for African-Americans, which we did not visit. 

As noted in the historic marker's text, the cemetery is on the site of the first church built in what is now Helena. The cemetery dates to 1836 and contains the graves of many notables, including physicians, ministers, and public officials such as the town's first mayor. 

Four victims of at least 20 killed in a train wreck on December 27 1897, are buried in the cemetery--including a mother and two daughters. A rail had apparently been removed by robbers from the track on the Cahaba River bridge, and the train plunged 110 feet into the river. 

The graves of some casualties from the 1926 Mossboro mine explosion that killed 27 and the May 5, 1933 tornado can also be found here. That storm killed 20 people in Bibb and Shelby counties and pretty much destroyed Helena. You can read more about it here.   

Additional comments are below some of the photographs.

In the background here you can see the lake in Joe Tucker Park, which also includes a walking trail. 

In the photo above and the one below Woodmen of the World grave markers can be seen. WoodmenLife is a fraternal non-profit that offers insurance to its members. An early benefit to members was a gravestone in the shape of a tree stump. The company had to abandon the program by the late 1920's because it became too expensive. However, these markers can be found in cemeteries across the U.S. They will also have the Woodmen logo. 

The one above is unusual, at least in my experience, in that it is more of a log section than a stump. I've most often seen the type on the left and right below, a tall or taller standing stump.

Helena Cumberland Presbyterian Church is next to the cemetery and has had that name since 1978. Presbyterian, Methodist and Baptist churches were all destroyed in the 1933 tornado. 

Friday, November 2, 2018

Movies with Alabama Connections: Some Came Running

Some Came Running was the third film actor and singer Dean Martin made after the breakup of his highly successful act with Jerry Lewis. Released in 1958, the film was based on the massive novel by James Jones published that same year. The book's hardcover first edition ran to 1266 pages.

Jones had won the National Book Award in 1952 for his first published novel, the classic World War II tale From Here to Eternity, which was also adapted into a major film in 1953. Some Came Running was Jones second novel to appear in print.

The film was directed by Vincent Minnelli, who made many Hollywood classics including The Bad and the Beautiful and Tea and Sympathy. In addition to Martin, the film starred Frank Sinatra, Shirley MacLaine and Martha Hyer. Sinatra approved a change in casting from Tony Randall to Martin, and this one became their first film together. 

Sinatra plays Dave Hirsh, an Army veteran returning to his Parkman, Indiana hometown after 16 years away. In addition to his military stint, Hirsh wrote and published two unsuccessful novels. He arrives in Parkman from Chicago with Ginny Moorehead [MacLaine], who was also on the bus fleeing an abusive boyfriend. Back at home, Hirsh renews his conflicts with his older brother and sister-in-law and meets a single schoolteacher, Gwen [Hyer] who along with her father admires Dave's books. Touring the Parkman bars, he also meets a gambler, Bama Dillert [Martin].

Dave and Bama move in together and the story twists and turns through the movie's well over two hour running time. The ending of the novel was changed significantly for the film, but I won't spoil either one. The movie is well worth seeing; I've watched it several times and always enjoy it. I haven't read the novel or the abridged edition of only 1048 pages which is currently in print.

In the movie "Bama" is identified as a southerner, but I don't remember if any further details of his background are given. Perhaps the novel gives the origins of what I presume is a nickname. Maybe one day I'll read it.

Jones based his novel on his experiences returning to his home town of Robinson, Illinois, after World War II. Much of Some Came Running was filmed on location in Madison, Indiana. The movie, released in Metrocolor and CinemaScope, was nominated for five Academy Awards and earned double its budget at the box office.  

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Birmingham Photo of the Day (66): Lakeview Trolley

Today the Lakeview district is a concentration of restaurants and entertainment venues on Birmingham's Southside near UAB. But in the late nineteenth century Lakeview was one of the Magic City's "streetcar suburbs" and developed around Lakeview Park. The 43 acres were home to a large pavilion, a baseball stadium, hotel, a theater, a lake and other amenities. The first football game between Alabama and Auburn was played there in February 1893. 

The image below is a "black and white photograph of the Highland Avenue streetcar near the pavilion at Lakeview Park" according to the cited source below. In his book Yesteray's Birmngham [1975, page 44] Malcolm C. McMillan dates this picture of the electric trolley as 1895. He notes that seven years earlier, before the trolley, Richard Hawes had murdered his wife and two young daughters and dumped the bodies of the wife and one daughter in this lake and the other daughter in East Lake.

In 1903 the Birmingham Country Club was built on the Lakeview Park site. Today the course is known as the Highland Park Golf Course.

Source: Birmingham Public Library Digital Collections

The Lake at Lakeview Park ca. late 1880's

Source: Birmingham Public Library Digital Collections

Friday, October 26, 2018

Alabama Author: William E. Vance

According to his entry at Find-A-Grave linked below, William Elbert Vance was born on June 21, 1911, in a place in Jefferson County, Alabama named Virginia. Other sources use the name Virginia City. That probably refers to the company town at the Virginia Mines, a coal operation that opened early in the 20th century in what is now the Hueytown area. 

Mary K. Roberts' in her book Hueytown [Images of America Series, Arcadia Publishing 2010] includes a photo of the Virginia City Mines superintendent's home built in 1902 [page 53] and one of Virginia Mines Elementary School [page 94]. The original mine opened in 1899, and the mining operation ceased after World War II. The community remained intact and was added to the Alabama Register of Historic Places.

For more information, see Pat Cargile, "Virginia Mines Community" in The Heritage of Jefferson County, Alabama [2002, page 71].

My mother and one of her older sisters were born in two other now-gone  Jefferson County mining towns, Powhatan and Praco. You can read about them here

Vance's obituary below has other details of his life; so far I've discovered little else. He graduated from Marion Military Institute in Perry County and did further work at the University of California-Berkeley and University of Utah. He eventually settled in Seattle which is where he died in May 1, 1986. His body was returned to Alabama for burial as noted below. 

Vance wrote more than 40 novels and numerous short stories under his own name and the pseudonym George Cassidy. Most were westerns; he did write several stories published in detective magazines. I've included a few novel covers and a list of the stories included in the FictionMags Index.  

"Big Medicine", a short story by Vance appeared in this pulp magazine Western Novel and Short Stories in October 1956.

I have this paperback, but have yet to read it. The book was originally published in 1967; this edition appeared in March 1986. 

Source: Birmingham News May 28, 1986

Vance is buried in Valley Creek Cemetery in Hueytown. 

Source: Find-A-Grave

Short stories by Vance under his own name & Cassidy pseudonym
Source: the Fictionmags Index

VANCE, WILLIAM E. (1911-1986); see pseudonym George Cassidy; (about) (chron.)

* The Bandit and the Lady, (nv) Exciting Western Jan 1952
    Exciting Western (UK) Oct 1952
* The Big Hand, (ss) 2-Gun Western May 1957
* Big Medicine, (ss) Western Novel and Short Stories Oct 1956
* Brothers at Law, (ss) Thrilling Western May 1952
* Bullwhip, (ss) Western Novels and Short Stories Feb 1953
* Bunch Quitter, (nv) .44 Western Magazine Mar 1952
* Clean Getaway, (ss) Manhunt Oct 1954
   Giant Manhunt #5 1955 (var.1)
   The Phantom Suspense-Mystery Magazine v1 #4 195?
* The Collaborator, (ss) Hunted Detective Story Magazine Feb 1955
* Dangerous Game, (ss) The Pursuit Detective Story Magazine Mar 1954
     Verdict (UK) Aug 1954
     Pursuit—The Phantom Mystery Magazine Mar 1955
* Death on the Sweetwater, (ss) Zane Grey Western Magazine Mar 1970
* Deep Trouble, (ss) The Pursuit Detective Story Magazine Mar 1955
* Drifter’s Gal, (ss) Star Western Apr 1954
* Everything’s Crooked, (ss) Popular Detective Jan 1953
     Popular Detective (UK) #12 195?
* Good Night, Mr. Holmes, (ss) The Saint Detective Magazine Nov 1956
     The Saint Detective Magazine (Australia) Nov 1957
     The Saint Detective Magazine (UK) Jan 1958
* Greater Crime, (vi) Western Short Stories Jun 1954
* Gun the Man Down!, (nv) Dime Western Magazine Jan 1954
* Gun-Meeting at Sundown, (nv) 10 Story Western Magazine Feb 1953
* Heritage of Hate, (ss) Big-Book Western Magazine Aug 1954
* The Home Place, (ss) Western Short Stories Jun 1957
* The Hoods, (ss) Malcolm’s Mar 1954
* Job for a Tophand, (ss) Western Short Stories Mar 1957
* A Job to Do, (ss) 2-Gun Western Aug 1955
* Judge, Jury, and Hangman, (ss) 2-Gun Western May 1954
* Killer’s Town, (ss) Western Rangers Stories Dec 1953
* The Lawless Lover, (ss)
   Western Magazine (UK) #8 195?
* Legacy of Hate, (ss)
   10 Story Western Magazine (Canada) Aug 1951
* The Long Chance, (nv) Best Western Dec 1954
* Look Over Your Shoulder, (na) Best Western Sep 1955
* Louie’s Mad Ride, (ss) Best Western Mar 1955
* Lust or Honor, (ss) Manhunt Dec 1966/Jan ’67
* Mad Enough to Kill, (ss) Menace Jan 1955
* Man Running, (ss) Ranch Romances Jan 1959
* The Missing Piece, (ss) American Agent Aug 1957
* Mr. Harband’s Girls, (ss) Mike Shayne Mystery Magazine Mar 1964
   Mike Shayne Mystery Magazine (UK) Aug 1964
* Murderer’s Manual, (na) Terror Detective Story Magazine Dec 1956
* Never Love an Outlaw!, (ss) Star Western Dec 1952
* No Man’s Guns, (nv) Big-Book Western Magazine Jan 1953
* Occupational Hazard, (nv) The Pursuit Detective Story Magazine Nov 1953
   Verdict (UK) Jun/Jul 1954
   Pursuit—The Phantom Mystery Magazine Apr 1955
   Tough Stories Magazine Feb 1956
* Pirate on Horseback, (nv) 5 Western Novels Magazine Dec 1952
* The Rawhide Rannyhan!, (nv) 10 Story Western Magazine Oct 1952
* The Red Mare, (ss) Giant Western Dec 1952
* The Road Agent, (na) Complete Western Book Magazine Mar 1955
* Routine Pick-Up, (ss) Mike Shayne Mystery Magazine (Australia) Nov/Dec 1957
  Mike Shayne Mystery Magazine (UK) Mar 1958
* Run Copper Run, (ss) The Pursuit Detective Story Magazine Nov 1954
   Pursuit—The Phantom Mystery Magazine Jun 1955
* Savage, (nv) Western Novels and Short Stories Mar 1954
* A Slight Case of Murder, (nv) Fifteen Detective Stories Sep 1954
  Detective Tales (UK) Aug 1955
* The Straight and Narrow, (nv) Best Western Jun 1956
* These Guns Are My Law!, (nv) Dime Western Magazine Jul 1954
* Tip Off, (ss) The Pursuit Detective Story Magazine Jul 1954
   Pursuit—The Phantom Mystery Magazine May 1955
* Too Much Woman, (nv) Trapped Detective Story Magazine Feb 1957
* Tough-Luck Pilot, (ss) Adventure Dec 1953
* Two Guns Two Faces, (nv) Best Western Sep 1956
* Two-Bit Hero, (ss) .44 Western Magazine Nov 1952
   Adam (Australia) Oct 1963
* What Am I Doing?, (ss) Manhunt Sep 1953
   Giant Manhunt #2 1953 (var.1)
   Manhunt (UK) May 1954
   Manhunt Detective Story Magazine (Australia) Jun 1954
   Bloodhound Detective Story Magazine Nov 1961
* Wild Bunch Law Hits Town, (nv) Dime Western Magazine May 1953
* Without Orders, (ss) Tales of the Sea Spr 1953
* [unknown story], (ss) 10 Story Western Magazine Aug 1951

CASSIDY, GEORGE; pseudonym of William E. Vance, (1911-1986) (chron.)

* Cleanup Man, (ss) Menace Jan 1955
* Death Rides This Road, (nv) 10 Story Western Magazine Jun 1954
* The Murdered Mistress, (ss) Hunted Detective Story Magazine Feb 1955
* Time to Cry, (ss) The Pursuit Detective Story Magazine Jul 1954
   Pursuit—The Phantom Mystery Magazine May 1955

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Alabama Brenau College in Eufaula

Given their extreme proliferation in recent decades, we might think of branch campuses of colleges and universities as a relatively modern phenomenon. Yet we can find one example in Eufaula, Alabama, circa 1905. Let's investigate.

Brenau College was founded in 1878 in Gainesville, Georgia, as an institution for the education of women. Today Brenau University remains a private institution, but men are admitted to many programs. In addition to the main campus which includes a preparatory academy for grades 9 through 12, Brenau has several satellite campus in Georgia, one in Jacksonville, Florida, and online offerings.

On one of their web site's pages, we find this paragraph: 

"Having branch campuses for Brenau in locales outside of Gainesville has always seemed to make sense from a “business” perspective. And, it has been part of the culture of the instruction for most of its 135 years. Sometime around 1905 Brenau opened “Alabama Brenau” on the campus of a failed women’s college, the Union Female College, in Eufaula, Alabama. The location never thrived and ceased operations after a few years. Brenau’s modern expansion efforts, however, would be far more successful."

The "failed" Union Female College had opened in 1854 and as noted below was advertising for students in southern newspapers as late as 1893. Except for the few other tidbits below, I've been unable to find much about this educational institution. No doubt research in Eufaula newspapers of the time would produce more information. 

Often known as academies, seminaries, or colleges, women's educational institutions were usually founded to prepare the daughters of the wealthy and middle class for household management or teaching before marriage, one of the few occupations widely approved for women in the nineteenth century. Alabama had its share of these institutions; one, Judson College, continues to operate. The University of Montevallo began as a girls' industrial school, but like many it eventually admitted men. The Union Female College in Eufaula followed the pattern of most--years, perhaps decades, of operation but eventual closure.

I have located three postcards printed during the time of "Alabama Brenau's" operation. They are included below, along with more information about the school it replaced. The postcards certainly make Alabama Brenau appear to be successful! 

Source: Wade Hall Postcard Collection, Troy University Library Special Collections via Alabama Mosaic

Source: Wade Hall Postcard Collection, Troy University Library Special Collections via Alabama Mosaic

Source: Wade Hall Postcard Collection, Troy University Library Special Collections via Alabama Mosaic

"The children of planters and wealthy townsfolk frequently had private tutors or attended private academies that offered instruction in languagesmathematics, and the artsOne such academy was the Union Female College in EufaulaAlabama. This carved sculpturecalled "Minerva" in honor of the Roman goddess of wisdomadorned the college building from its opening in 1854 until 1920when it was known as Alabama Brenau."

Does this mean that Alabama Brenau operated until 1920? 

Source: J.A.B. Besson History of Eufaula [1875, p. 29]

"The Female College is most beautifully located on a high hill overlooking the city, and is a very tasteful building, costing $10,000."

Source: J.A.B. Besson, History of Eufaula [1875, p. 21]


1893 ad for Union Female College in Eufaula, AL; from The Durham (NC) Daily Globe, September 12, 1893, p. 3. 
Source: Library of America, Chronicling America

According to this web site, the "delicate" fence that once surrounded Union Female College is now located at East Fairview Cemetery in Eufaula, a Jewish cemetery.