Robert Addison (Bob) Ginnaven (1937–2008)

Robert Addison Ginnaven Jr. was a movie and television actor who was also a leading advertising executive in Little Rock (Pulaski County). As an actor, he is best known for roles in the movies Steel Magnolias (1989) and White Lightning (1973), as well as appearing several times on the hit television series Dallas between 1981 and 1987.

Bob Ginnaven was born in Memphis, Tennessee, at one minute after midnight on January 1, 1937, and was officially named the first baby born in Memphis that year. He was the only child of Pauline Madison Boals Ginnaven, who was a medical secretary, and Robert Addison Ginnaven Sr., who worked for the Wonder Bread baking corporation in Memphis.

After graduating from Southside High School in Memphis, Bob attended Memphis State University (which later became the University of Memphis), where he worked toward a degree in English/theatre, which he received in 1960. While at Memphis State, he tried out for a college production at the suggestion of a classmate. After that theatrical experience, he later said he was “hooked for life.”

From Memphis State, Ginnaven moved to New York City for a year, where he studied under famed acting coach Lee Strasberg. He returned to Memphis in 1961 but soon moved to Little Rock. There, he worked at television station KATV-Channel 7, Little Rock’s ABC affiliate, as a local weatherman and talk show host from 1961 to 1966.

Ginnaven left KATV to embark on a career in the advertising industry, which became his lifelong vocation. He was a creative writer for Faulkner & Associates Advertising in 1966 and 1967 before becoming creative director and a principal partner of the Leavitt, Ginnaven and Dietz Agency from 1967 to 1972.

From 1972 through 1992, he was creative director and a principal at the Mangan Rains Ginnaven Holcomb Agency, leaving to become creative director and principal at Ginnaven Patterson Associates from 1992 to 1999. While in the advertising business, along with Arkansas-based ads, Ginnaven created national commercials for Radio Shack and Shell Oil. After he retired from his full-time advertising career, he continued doing consulting work as well as voice-overs.

He was an active part of the creative team that produced the Farkleberry Follies, a political spoof presented onstage in Little Rock for a limited run. Sponsored by the Arkansas chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists, the popular musical/variety show satirized public figures. For three decades, it ran every other year during the state’s biennial legislative term.

Ginnaven juggled feature film and TV roles along with his advertising career. His movie credits include 1972’s Encounter with the Unknown, 1973’s So Sad about Gloria, and 1977’s The Day It Came to Earth, all three of which were created by Harry Thomason. In 1992, Ginnaven appeared in his final movie, One False Move, a thriller co-written by Billy Bob Thornton.

A sampling of Ginnaven’s films in chronological order includes the following: White Lightning, The Great Lester Boggs, The Trial of Lee Harvey Oswald, Crisis at Central High, The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, Greater Than Gold, Adam, Time Bomb, Right to Kill?, Under Siege, End of the Line, Three for the Road, Pass the Ammo, Stay Tuned for Murder, and 1989’s hit movie Steel Magnolias with Sally Field, Dolly Parton, and Julia Roberts, in which Ginnaven played Mayor Van Meter.

Between 1981 and 1987, Ginnaven appeared periodically on the hit television series Dallas, taking on various roles. In 1992, he was featured on another television series, Dangerous Curves, as Matthew Carlson.

Ginnaven is often singled out for his memorable scene with Academy Award nominee Ned Beatty in the 1973 film White Lightning. In the role of Harvey, Ginnaven shares the screen with Beatty as Sheriff J. C. Connors. According to Ginnaven’s family, a few years later, Beatty was passing through Arkansas and stopped by the Ginnaven home for a visit on a weekend when the family was having a yard sale. Beatty joined in to help with the sale, to the delight of local customers.

Ginnaven’s professional affiliations included his membership in the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA) as well as the Screen Actors Guild.

He was active in Little Rock institutions and organizations such as the Arkansas Arts Center, Arkansas Repertory Theatre, Little Rock Film Commission, Pulaski County Council on Aging, and the advisory board of the Television and Radio Department at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock (UA Little Rock).

Ginnaven died in Little Rock on February 17, 2008. He was survived by his wife, Jeanne Tyler Ginnaven, as well as three sons and one daughter.

For additional information:
“Actor, Ad Man Bob Ginnaven Dies at 71.” Arkansas Business, February 18, 2008. https://www.arkansasbusiness.com/print/article/43382  (accessed March 3, 2022).

Obituary of Robert “Bob” Addison Ginnaven, Jr. Ruebel Funeral Home. https://ruebelfuneralhome.com/obits/preview.php?id=378&p=478&search (accessed March 3, 2022).

“Robert Ginnaven.” Internet Movie Database. https://www.imdb.com/name/nm0320064/  (accessed March 3, 2022).

Nancy Hendricks
Garland County Historical Society

Last Updated: 03/03/2022