Television

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Entries - Entry Category: Television

Amazing Adventures of My Dog Sheppy, The

In a 1958 effort to promote economic development and tourism in Stone County, a group of local investors under the leadership of Harold M. Sherman filmed a thirty-minute television pilot titled, “The Amazing Adventures of My Dog Sheppy.” A poor script, inept casting, amateurish acting, and the on-camera killing of a bobcat combined to produce a show that could not be pitched to the national networks. The film is significant, however, for documenting Stone County before the Ozark Folk Center or Blanchard Springs Caverns opened to the public. The television pilot was the brainchild of Harold Sherman. This Michigan native was the author of more than sixty books, a motivational speaker, and a Hollywood script writer. In 1958, television shows …

Arkansas Educational Television Network (AETN)

aka: AETN
The Arkansas Educational Television Network (AETN), an agency of the State of Arkansas, is a non-commercial network designed to serve the people of Arkansas. It is affiliated with the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS). AETN’s mission includes offering lifelong learning opportunities to all Arkansans, supplying instructional programs to Arkansas schools, providing programming and services to improve and enhance the lives of Arkansas citizens, and illuminating the culture and heritage of Arkansas and the world. AETN began on June 4, 1954, with the creation of the Arkansas Educational Television Association. This citizens’ group was interested in a non-commercial alternative to the growing commercial television enterprise. In 1961, after several years of lobbying and discussions, the Arkansas General Assembly passed Act 198 to …

Babcock, Lucille (Lucy)

Lucille (Lucy) Babcock was a noted actress in theater and television who established the first community theater in Little Rock (Pulaski County). She also fostered the literary organizations her grandmother, writer Bernie Babcock, founded. Lucy Babcock was born Lucille Thornburg on September 30, 1921, to Frances Babcock Thornburg and John Thornburg. She had one sibling. While she was still an infant, her father deserted the family. Her grandmother had purchased Broadview, a wooded acreage that overlooked Little Rock, and the family moved into her barn-cum-house. At school, she was often in trouble for defending the underdog, recalling, “No one ever told me fighting was wrong.” Her circumstances and the area where she lived branded her as “white trash.” She attended …

Batson, Luenell

aka: Luenell
aka: Luenell Campbell
Luenell, who goes by only her first name professionally, is a comedian and a film and television actress known for her appearances in such movies as Borat: Cultural Learning of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan (2006) and Hotel Transylvania (2012). She was inducted into the Arkansas Black Hall of Fame in 2015. Luenell was born Luenell Batson on March 12, 1959, in Tollette (Howard County), a historically black community. Her father was murdered while her mother was pregnant with her. As her mother already had seven other children, she was adopted by family members out of state, becoming Luenell Campbell and moving to California. She attended school in the community of Castro Valley in the San Francisco …

Bell, Lasker (Las)

Lasker Bell Sr., founder of the Las Bell Variety Show television and radio program, hosted the show from 1967 to 1985, ushering in a shift in entertainment options in southern Arkansas and the Arkansas-Louisiana-Mississippi region. Bell also made contributions in public affairs in Arkansas, holding civil appointments under Governors Dale Bumpers, David Pryor, and Bill Clinton. Las Bell was born in Homer, Louisiana, on May 21, 1928. He was the son of Union Bell and Bethena Randolph. Bell was raised by Frank and Irene Brooks, his maternal grandparents. Early in his life, Bell worked as a sharecropper alongside his grandparents. Bell only attended school through the eighth grade and, in 1944, relocated to Camden (Ouachita County) to find employment. He …

Bennett, Fran

Fran Bennett is an actress who has worked in theater, television, and films. She appeared on stage across the nation and in Europe, and she has played roles on television from the 1960s onward in such hit shows as Guiding Light, Star Trek: The Next Generation, and Scandal. Bennett was inducted into the Arkansas Black Hall of Fame in 2005. Fran Bennett was born on August 14, 1937, in Malvern (Hot Spring County). Bennett earned a BS and an MA from the University of Wisconsin at Madison and went on to earn credit toward a PhD there before leaving the program. She studied voice under Kristin Linklater, a Scottish actress who relocated to the United States in 1963 to work …

Besser, Matthew Gregory (Matt)

Matthew Gregory Besser is an Arkansan comedian, actor, writer, director, and teacher best known as a founding member of the sketch-comedy group the Upright Citizens Brigade (UCB). In his comedy, Besser draws upon his background as the child of a Jewish father and a Presbyterian mother from a fundamentalist family, exploring what this means for someone growing up in Arkansas. Matt Besser was born on September 22, 1967, in Little Rock (Pulaski County) to Sanford Michael Besser of Little Rock, who was an investment banker, and Diane Patricia Pettit Besser of Harrison (Boone County), a homemaker and volunteer in the Little Rock arts community. Besser is a first cousin twice removed of comic actor Joe Besser, who was a member …

Bonner, Frank

aka: Frank Woodrow Boers Jr.
Best known for his role of sales manager Herb Tarlek on the television sitcom WKRP in Cincinnati, which began in 1978, Frank Bonner is an actor and television director. He has also appeared in such popular shows as Saved by the Bell: The New Class, Just the Ten of Us, Murder, She Wrote, and Night Court. Frank Bonner was born Frank Woodrow Boers Jr. on February 28, 1942, in Little Rock (Pulaski County) to Frank Woodrow Boers, a saxophone player, and Grace Dobbins Boers, who had a singing career in the 1930s and 1940s. He has a sister, a brother, and a step-brother. He grew up Catholic, attending St. Edward’s and Our Lady of Good Counsel schools, before his family moved …

Brickell, Beth

Beth Brickell is an actor, producer, and writer with many stage and screen credits, and is especially known for her leading role on the television series Gentle Ben. She has also engaged in film production and investigative journalism, the latter relating to the 1957 disappearance of Maud Crawford. Beth Brickell was born on November 13, 1936, in Brinkley (Monroe County) and was raised in Pine Bluff (Jefferson County) and Camden (Ouachita County). She graduated from Camden High School in 1954, and then attended Arkansas State Teachers College (today’s University of Central Arkansas) in Conway (Faulkner County) and the University of Arkansas (UA) in Fayetteville (Washington County), where she majored in history and political science. After graduating with a bachelor’s degree …

Britt, Terri Utley Amos

Terri Britt, who was Terri Utley at the time, was named Miss Arkansas USA in 1982, going on to win the title of 1982’s Miss USA and compete in the Miss Universe pageant, in which she was a finalist. She remains the only Miss USA to come from Arkansas. When Elizabeth Ward, who was Miss Arkansas, was named Miss America in 1982, it became the only time both Miss America and Miss Universe titleholders were from the same state in the same year. After a career in the entertainment industry, Britt went on to become a successful motivational speaker and author. Terri Lea Utley was born on January 1, 1961. In her hometown of Cabot (Lonoke County), she was involved …

Brooks, John Doyle

John Doyle Brooks was a stuntman and actor whose career included appearances in some of the most renowned television shows of the 1950s and 1960s, including The Adventures of Rin Tin Tin and Naked City, as well as several movies and commercials. Doyle Brooks was born on December 10, 1923, in Bethesda (Independence County) to John Henry Brooks and Deliah Ann Queary Brooks. Brooks developed an interest in show business at an early age, especially in the cowboy/western genre. On his parents’ farm in Bethesda, he learned to ride, rope, break horses, and shoot, becoming an expert marksman and sharpshooter. In 1942, he married Bernice Sheffield of Batesville (Independence County), who shared his interest in the entertainment industry. Together, they …

Bumpass, Rodger

Rodger Bumpass is an actor and voice performer who was born in Little Rock (Pulaski County) and attended Arkansas State University (ASU) in Jonesboro (Craighead County). Along with numerous television and film roles, he has achieved fame as the voice of the character Squidward in the popular SpongeBob SquarePants film and TV series. Rodger Bumpass was born on November 20, 1951, in Little Rock to Carroll C. Bumpass and Virginia Cathey Bumpass, owners of Bumpass Cleaners and Dyers in Little Rock. He had two siblings, Leonard and Cathey (the latter of whom died at birth), and attended Little Rock Central High School, where he obtained his first experience in theater, primarily in the area of comedy. In high school, he …

Crisis at Central High

The book Crisis at Central High, based on the events surrounding the 1957 desegregation of Central High School in Little Rock (Pulaski County), was a memoir written by school administrator Elizabeth Huckaby (1905–1999) and published in 1980. A prestigious television movie based on the book, also titled Crisis at Central High, was filmed at Central and starred Academy Award–winning actress Joanne Woodward. For her portrayal of Huckaby in the 1981 film, Woodward was nominated for both an Emmy and a Golden Globe Award. In September 1957, nine African-American students attempted to attend the all-white Central High. After they were prevented from entering by members of the state’s National Guard, the U.S. Army’s 101st Airborne Division was ordered by President Dwight …

Davis, Gail

aka: Betty Jeanne Grayson
Gail Davis was an Arkansas-born actress who starred as the legendary sharpshooter in the groundbreaking TV Western series Annie Oakley, which ran from 1954 through 1956. She appeared in thirty-two feature films, was guest on a number of TV shows, received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, was inducted into the National Cowgirl Hall of Fame, and was a role model for young women. Gail Davis was born Betty Jeanne Grayson on October 5, 1925. Her mother was a homemaker and her father, W. B. Grayson, was a physician in McGehee (Desha County), which did not have a hospital, so her birth took place in Little Rock (Pulaski County). When her father became the state health officer, the …

Duggar Family

aka: 19 and Counting [Television Show]
aka: Counting On [Television Show]
The Duggars are an Arkansas family who became famous on the TLC network show 19 Kids and Counting. The family is known for its strict adherence to the Baptist faith and conservative values, which include restrictions against any birth control methods. However, the Duggars have been criticized by those who believe that such large families are not healthy for children and those who oppose their anti-contraceptive activism. On May 22, 2015, TLC announced that they were pulling all episodes of 19 Kids and Counting after Josh Duggar, the eldest child of Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar, admitted publicly that he had engaged in acts of child molestation as a teenager; the show was officially cancelled later that year. However, certain of the …

Ernest Green Story, The

The Ernest Green Story is a made-for-television movie that premiered on cable TV’s Disney Channel in 1993. It tells the true story of Ernest Gideon Green (1941–), who was one of a group of African-American students (dubbed the Little Rock Nine) who were the first black students to attend Central High School in Little Rock (Pulaski County). The movie details the violence and victories of Green’s senior year in 1957–58. In May 1958, Green became the first black student to graduate from Central. The promotional poster for the film read: “1958. Because of his courage, Central High School will never be the same.” The film runs for 101 minutes and was developed by executive producer Carol Ann Abrams. Much of …

Evans, Dale

aka: Frances Octavia Smith
Dale Evans was an actress, author, and songwriter who was raised in Osceola (Mississippi County), where she attended school for the first time and met her first husband. She rose to fame as America’s “Queen of the West” (sometimes called “Queen of the Cowgirls”) alongside her fourth husband, Roy Rogers (“King of the Cowboys”). She starred in movies, television shows, and evangelical Christian programs. Evans wrote twenty-eight inspirational books and composed many songs, including the popular song of faith, “The Bible Tells Me So,” as well as the iconic American standard, “Happy Trails.” Dale Evans was born in her grandparents’ home at Uvalde, Texas, though her family lived in Italy, Texas. Her father, Walter Smith, was a middle-class farmer who …

Evening Shade

Evening Shade was a television situation comedy series about a contemporary Arkansas town. It was shown on CBS from 1990 to 1994 and was produced by Arkansan Harry Thomason and his wife, Linda Bloodworth-Thomason. Taking place in the rural town of Evening Shade (Sharp County), it was the first network television series set in Arkansas. The show, which starred Burt Reynolds, was filmed partially in Arkansas and represented the state in a positive manner. When seeking suggestions about a location and title for the show, it is said that the winning idea came from the Thomasons’ friend Hillary Clinton. Created by Bloodworth-Thomason, who is from Missouri, the program was produced by Mozark Productions, of which she and her husband were …

Flippen, Jay C.

Jay C. Flippen was a versatile entertainer whose career spanned more than six decades and multiple show business genres, from minstrelsy to motion pictures. Flippen became an iconic Hollywood character actor during the 1950s and 1960s. Long before that, he had established himself as a popular stage and radio performer whom Milton Berle eulogized as “one of the greatest standup comedians I ever saw.” J. C. Flippen was born in Little Rock (Pulaski County) on March 6, 1899. He may have been named for his father, whose name was either Jay Charles or John Constantine. However, Flippen reminisced that his parents could not decide on a name and took to calling him by the initials “J. C.” His mother was Emma …

Froug, William (Bill)

Emmy Award–winning Bill Froug was a writer, producer, author, educator, and television executive whose career in radio and television had a significant impact upon the entertainment industry. Film critic Roger Ebert once said of Froug, “He is not merely as sharp as a tack; he is the standard by which they sharpen tacks.” William (Bill) Froug was born in Brooklyn, New York, on May 26, 1922. He was raised by adoptive parents Rita and Bill Froug in Little Rock (Pulaski County), residing first in Hillcrest and later in the Quapaw Quarter. Froug attended Rightsell Elementary School, East Side Jr. High, and Little Rock Senior High School (now Central High). Summer breaks were often filled with Arkansas Travelers baseball games and …

Ghostley, Alice Margaret

Alice Ghostley was a film, stage, and television actress who was often described as looking “sweetly befuddled.” She most often played comedic roles, though she won Broadway’s Tony Award as best featured actress for her serious portrayal in the 1964 drama The Sign in Sidney Brustein’s Window. Ghostley’s distinctive face and quavering voice became known to millions for her comedic performance as a good witch/housekeeper in the television sitcom Bewitched in the 1960s and 1970s. From 1986 to 1993, she won new fans for her performance as eccentric family friend Bernice Clifton in the television series Designing Women, created by Arkansan Harry Thomason and his wife, Linda Bloodworth-Thomason. Alice Margaret Ghostley was born in Eve, Missouri, on August 14, 1923, …

Goff, “Tuffy”

aka: Findley Norris Goff
Findley Norris Goff and his partner, Chet Lauck, created Lum and Abner, a radio program based on the people of Pine Ridge (Montgomery County). It was one of the longest running and most popular programs ever on radio, heard daily across the country from 1931 to 1955 and broadcast on Armed Forces Radio during World War II. The Pine Ridge partners also successfully transferred their Lum and Abner characters to movies. Norris Goff was born on May 30, 1906, to Rome and Dora Goff in Cove (Polk County). The family moved to Mena (Polk County) by 1911, where Rome Goff expanded his wholesale general merchandise warehouse business that served stores in several surrounding counties. Another prominent Mena family was the …

Gracen, Elizabeth Ward

aka: Grace Elizabeth Ward
Grace Elizabeth Ward was the 1981 Miss Arkansas and 1982 Miss America. When she began her acting career in 1987, she changed her name to “Elizabeth Ward Gracen,” because another Elizabeth Ward was already in the Screen Actors Guild. In 1992, she became the first former Miss America to appear on the cover of Playboy magazine and in a nude pictorial feature. Grace Elizabeth Ward was born on April 3, 1961, in Ozark (Franklin County) to Jimmy and Patricia Ward. Ward’s father was a supervisor at various poultry factories. Her mother was a registered nurse. She has a younger brother, Van Thomas Ward, and younger sister, Mary Margaret Ward. Ward graduated from Russellville High School in Russellville (Pope County) in …

Graham, Fred

Journalist Fred Graham was the dean of television news Supreme Court reporting in the 1970s and into the 1980s. Building upon his tenure as the U.S. Supreme Court reporter for the New York Times, and as law correspondent for CBS News, Graham pioneered television coverage of the nation’s highest court. Later, he became involved in the launch of cable television’s Court TV, where he continued to report and offer analysis of the American legal system and legal issues in the United States. Fred Graham was born in Little Rock (Pulaski County) on October 6, 1931, to Otis and Lois Graham. His family included an older sister and two younger brothers. He received his early education in Texarkana (Miller County) before …

Greer, Stuart

Stuart Greer is a popular character actor from El Dorado (Union County) with more than forty film and television credits to his name. His career began in 1994; in 2016, he suffered a stroke at the age of fifty-six. His first role was in a single episode of the British miniseries Crocodile Shoes; in 2016, he played the character Roman in AMC’s hit horror series The Walking Dead. Greer’s notable movies include I Know What You Did Last Summer (1997), The Reaping (2007) with Hillary Swank, Homefront (2013) with Jason Statham, and American Ultra (2015). Stuart Greer was born on December 2, 1959, in El Dorado, and he lived there until he was eight years old. Greer graduated from Benton …

Hamilton, George Stevens

George Stevens Hamilton is an American film, stage, and television actor widely known for his dashing good looks, jet-setting image, and trademark tan. Hamilton has extensive film and television credits spanning nearly six decades. Born on August 12, 1939, in Memphis, Tennessee, and raised in Blytheville (Mississippi County), George Hamilton is the son of touring bandleader George William “Spike” Hamilton and Southern socialite Ann Stevens of Blytheville. Hamilton’s early years were spent in Blytheville, where his mother’s parents also resided. In addition to an older brother from his mother’s previous marriage, Hamilton also had a younger brother. According to his memoir, the boys lived an idyllic life in small-town Blytheville and enjoyed a close relationship with their grandparents. In 1944, …

Handy, Delores

Delores Handy became an award-winning African-American journalist, reporter, and news anchor. In a career spanning over four decades, Handy won four Emmy awards for her television work in Washington DC and Boston, Massachusetts. She was inducted into the Arkansas Black Hall of Fame in 2009. Delores Handy was born in Little Rock (Pulaski County) on April 7, 1947, to the Reverend George G. Handy Sr. and his first wife. She is the oldest of fourteen children—nine girls and five boys. George Handy Sr. pastored a Baptist church in North Little Rock (Pulaski County). Handy attended Horace Mann High School, with her interests including flag football and track and field. She graduated in 1965 and began college in the fall at …

Harper, Tess

aka: Tessie Jean Washam
A Golden Globe and Academy Award nominee, Tess Harper has become a consummate actress known for portraying Southern women of grace and dignity. She is best known for roles in Tender Mercies and Silkwood. Tess Harper was born Tessie Jean Washam on August 15, 1950, in Mammoth Spring (Fulton County). She attended Arkansas State University–Beebe (ASU–Beebe), where she performed in several plays, as well as Southwest Missouri State University (now Missouri State University) in Springfield, where she graduated with a degree in education. She married Ken Harper in 1971; the couple divorced in 1976. In the late 1960s, Harper began acting in theater productions and made appearances in theme parks, dinner theater, children’s theater, and commercials. Her first feature film …

Hartman, Ena

Ena Hartman is an unsung trailblazer of Hollywood whose smaller roles in 1960s media productions helped create a path for African Americans in film and television. African-American actresses working in the 1970s benefited from the trail Hartman helped blaze. Ena Hartman was born on April 1, 1935, in Moscow (Jefferson County). The daughter of sharecroppers, she was raised by her grandparents. At age thirteen, she moved to Buffalo, New York, to live with her mother. She dropped out of high school to open a restaurant, handling the duties of cook and waitress as she tried to earn money to go to New York City to become a model. She was discovered by a photographer in the lobby of a modeling …

Holt, Georgia

aka: Jackie Jean Crouch
Actress and singer Georgia Holt had small parts in the movies and on television, but she is best known as the mother of pop superstar Cher and actress Georganne LaPiere, as well as being the grandmother of musician Elijah Blue Allman and LGBT rights advocate Chaz Bono. Georgia Holt was born Jackie Jean Crouch on June 9, 1926, in Kensett (White County). She was born in poverty; her father, the teenage Roy Malloy Crouch, was a baker, and her mother, Lynda Inez Gulley, was reportedly thirteen years old at the time she gave birth. Crouch would later have a younger brother, Mickey. Her father taught her how to sing and play guitar during her early childhood. After her parents separated, …

Humbard, Alpha Rex Emmanuel

Alpha Rex Emmanuel Humbard was a traveling evangelist from Arkansas who became a well-known gospel singer, pastor, and pioneer in Christian television. Born on August 13, 1919, in Little Rock (Pulaski County), Rex Humbard was one of six children of Pentecostal evangelists Alpha and Martha (Childers) Humbard. In the summer of 1932, young Humbard watched a Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus tent fill with crowds in Hot Springs (Garland County). Although he would not attend such “worldly” diversions, he decided that he wanted to attract crowds like that to share the gospel. At age thirteen, he began broadcasting on KTHS radio in Hot Springs by singing gospel songs and inviting listeners to come hear his father preach at …

Johnson, Kenneth Culver (Kenny)

Kenneth (Kenny) Culver Johnson Jr. is a television writer, producer, and director. He is the creator of numerous Emmy-winning projects includingThe Bionic Woman, The Incredible Hulk, the original miniseries V, and Alien Nation. Kenny Johnson was born on October 26, 1942, in Pine Bluff (Jefferson County) to Kenneth Culver Johnson Sr. and Helene Maye Brown Johnson. His father was an electrical engineer in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers who helped build the Pine Bluff Arsenal. Johnson and his family left Pine Bluff after his father was transferred to the Pentagon near the end of World War II, and he was raised in Washington DC. His parents divorced in 1946, and his father moved to Little Rock (Pulaski County). Johnson …

KATV Tower

The KATV tower was a 2,000-foot-tall (609.6 meters) television antenna that stood just north of Redfield (Jefferson County), about one-quarter mile east of Interstate 530. Before its collapse in 2008, the tower ranked among the tallest manmade structures in the world and stood as a prominent local landmark, marking the approximate halfway point for drivers traveling between Little Rock (Pulaski County) and Pine Bluff (Jefferson County). Upon its completion on May 1, 1967, the KATV tower was the third-tallest manmade structure in the world, surpassed only by the KVLY-TV and KXJB-TV television masts in North Dakota. By 2008, it shared the rank of fifth-tallest manmade structure in the world, as it was the first of many other 2,000-foot-tall masts that …

Lester, Ketty

Ketty Lester is a singer and actress best known for her chart-topping single “Love Letters,” as well as her appearance in the cult classic film Blacula (1972). Lester was a regular on the daytime drama Days of Our Lives and was especially known for her long-running role on the TV series Little House on the Prairie. Ketty Lester was born Revoyda Frierson in Hope (Hempstead County) on August 16, 1934. She was one of fifteen children born to a farm family. Her interest and talent for music led to her singing at church and in school choirs. She won a scholarship to San Francisco City College in California, where she studied music. In San Francisco, she began singing professionally at …

May, Ralphie

Ralphie D. May was a stand-up comedian famous for his topical humor combined with hip-hop slang and Southern comedy, as well as his numerous appearances on reality and talk shows. May appeared in such films as For da Love of Money and was the only white standup comedian featured on The Big Black Comedy Show, Vol. 4 DVD in 2005. Ralphie May was born on February 1, 1972, in Chattanooga, Tennessee, and was raised in Clarksville (Johnson County). He grew up listening to veteran comedians Richard Pryor, Eddie Murphy, and Sam Kinison. May had wanted to be a comedian since age nine when he first saw Johnny Carson hosting The Tonight Show and thought that Carson was truly bombing his …

Murphy, Benjamin Edward (Ben)

Ben Murphy is an actor and tennis star who is perhaps best known for his leading role in the popular 1970s television series Alias Smith and Jones, although he is also known for starring roles in a number of other TV series, including The Name of the Game, Griff, Gemini Man, and Berrenger’s. He played a major character in the landmark TV mini-series The Winds of War and appeared in feature films including The Graduate (1967), Yours, Mine & Ours (1968), The Thousand Plane Raid (1969), To Protect and Serve (2001), and The Uniform Motion of Folly (2006). He is also a highly regarded tennis player on the United States Tennis Association (USTA) singles and doubles circuit. Benjamin Edward (Ben) …

Paradise Lost

Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills (1996) is a documentary filmed for HBO (but later released into theaters) by Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky dealing with the 1994 trials of three teenagers charged with murdering and mutilating three eight-year-old boys in 1993. The defendants became known as the West Memphis Three because the murders happened in West Memphis (Crittenden County). The directors spent ten months interviewing those involved with the case. The documentary brought to light inadequacies in the local judicial system and led many to believe that the defendants had been wrongly accused and prosecuted. The film won a Primetime Emmy and was followed by two sequels: Paradise Lost 2: Revelations (2000) and Paradise Lost 3: …

Pittman, Montgomery

Montgomery Pittman was a television writer, director, and actor noted for writing the movie Come Next Spring set in a fictional version of Cushman (Independence County) in the 1920s. Other credits include writing and directing episodes of The Twilight Zone, Maverick, and 77 Sunset Strip. According to his California death certificate, Social Security records, and other official documents, Montgomery Cherlez Pittman was born in Louisiana on March 1, 1917; however, his World War II draft card gives his date of birth as March 1, 1920, and place of birth as specifically New Orleans. His parents’ names are often given as John Griffin Pittman and Mary Belle Thompson, but he is not listed as a member of their household in the …

Purcell, Lee

Emmy Award–nominated actress, producer, writer, and director Lee Purcell has starred in numerous films, television shows, and stage productions. At the beginning of her career, she was mentored by legendary movie star Steve McQueen, who said he chose her from about 500 actresses because she “seemed to jump right out of the screen.” Lee Purcell was born Lee Jeune Williams at the Cherrypoint Marine Corps Air Station in North Carolina on June 15, 1947. Her father, Major Frank D. Williams Jr., was a highly decorated Marine Corps pilot who was killed while on active duty when she was a child. She was placed into the care of various relatives until her mother, Lee McKnight Williams, married again, this time to …

Rogers, Betty Blake

Betty Blake Rogers was the wife of Will Rogers, one of the most beloved entertainers of the twentieth century. In addition to her roles as wife and mother, she managed the family’s finances, a job made difficult by Will’s enormous success and generous nature. She was a partner in his career, encouraging him to start on the lecture circuit and helping him choose film scripts. Betty Blake was born on September 9, 1879, at Silver Springs, later called Monte Ne (Benton County), to James Wyeth Blake, a miller, and Amelia Crowder Blake. Her father died when she was young, and the family moved a few miles north to Rogers (Benton County). Betty was seventh in a family of nine, and …

Shead, Henry Wallace, Sr.

aka: Henry Shed
Henry Wallace Shead Sr. (a.k.a. Henry Shed) was a pianist, vocalist, composer, recording artist, actor, choral director, and teacher. He grew up playing and singing in his father’s church, and by the time he had finished college, he had developed the singing and piano-playing styles for which he became famous. He was inducted into the Arkansas Black Hall of Fame in 2006 and the Arkansas Jazz Hall of Fame in 2018. Henry Wallace Shead was born in Fordyce (Dallas County) on March 31, 1941, the third of five children born to the Reverend Henry Arthur Shead and Willie Labehel Reed Shead. He was raised in Little Rock (Pulaski County) and was introduced to the piano at the age of six …

Simple Life, The

The Simple Life is a reality television series broadcast on the Fox network depicting two wealthy young socialites, Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie, as they struggle with everyday tasks, including manual labor and low-paying jobs such as doing farm work, serving meals in fast-food restaurants, and working as camp counselors. The first season of The Simple Life (2003–2004) was set in Altus (Franklin County), a small town in the Ozark Mountains known for its vineyards. Fox executives wanted to return to the heyday of the sitcom, when such low-concept shows as Green Acres originally aired. The idea for the show involved doing Green Acres as a reality show. Hilton was chosen because of her popularity with young people. Richie was …

Smith, P. Allen

P. Allen Smith is an award-winning designer, a nationally known gardening/lifestyle expert, and the host of two public television programs, P. Allen Smith’s Garden Home and P. Allen Smith’s Garden to Table, as well as the syndicated show P. Allen Smith Gardens. He appears frequently as a guest on such programs as the CBS Early Show and the Today show on NBC, and on the Weather Channel, sharing design and gardening tips with viewers. He is a contributor for a number of national publications such as Elle Décor, House Beautiful, Southern Accents, Southern Living, and Woman’s Day, and is the author of several bestselling books. Paul Allen Smith Jr., the oldest of four children, was born on March 12, 1960, …

Stephens, Steve

aka: Stephen Owen Stephens
Stephen Owen Stephens is a well-known television and communications pioneer, most famous for Steve’s Show, a popular television program in the 1960s. He remained a communications specialist well into his retirement. Steve Stephens was born on April 22, 1930, as Rufus James Stephens to Owen and Allie Mae Stephens, owners of a restaurant service station in Newport (Jackson County). Later his parents opened a furniture store in the same town, which they successfully operated for more than twenty years. Stephens attended Castle Heights Military Academy and later graduated from Newport High School in 1948. Following graduation, he attended the University of Arkansas until the fall of 1950 when, “looking for adventure,” he joined the U.S. Marine Corps. Attaining the rank …

Stickney, Phyllis Yvonne

Phyllis Yvonne Stickney is an actress, comedian, poet, playwright, producer, and motivational speaker best known for her television and film roles in the late 1980s and 1990s. Noted in the twenty-fifth anniversary issue of Essence magazine as one of 200 African-American women who have changed the world, she was inducted into the Arkansas Black Hall of Fame in 1998. Phyllis Stickney was born in Little Rock (Pulaski County) to Belle and Felix Stickney Jr. She has publicly been vague about her age, and no available sources offer the year of her birth. Her father was an executive with the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA), and the family moved frequently. She has two siblings, one of whom, Timothy, is also an …

Stouffer, Marty

Martin Luther Stouffer Jr. is a documentary filmmaker best known for his Wild America PBS television series involving endangered wildlife. Whereas many previous wildlife documentarians focused on filming in exotic locales in other countries, Stouffer primarily filmed in American locations in order to raise awareness of the plight of these animals. Marty Stouffer was born on September 5, 1948, near Fort Smith (Sebastian County) and grew up there with his parents, Martin Sr. and Agnes, two brothers, and a sister. Stouffer Sr. owned Arkansas Rebuilders Supply, which supplied auto parts for rebuilders. According to Stouffer, his parents encouraged him to explore the natural world; the woods and wild areas near his home awoke a love of nature in him, and …

Sullivan, Orean Lencola

Orean Lencola Sullivan of Morrilton (Conway County) broke many color barriers in Arkansas and became a nationally known public figure. She won four scholarship pageants from 1977 to 1980 and was the first African American to win those pageants. She was Miss Morrilton in 1977, Miss University of Central Arkansas in 1978, Miss White River in 1979, and Miss Arkansas in 1980. In September 1980, Sullivan competed in the Miss America Pageant and won the preliminary swimsuit competition. Overall, she was the fourth runner-up in the national pageant, the highest placement achieved by an African-American contestant up to that time. Lencola Sullivan was born on October 29, 1957, to Richard and Macie Sullivan of Morrilton. She was the oldest of …

Takei, George Hosato

George Hosato Takei gained international fame as Lieutenant Sulu in the original Star Trek television series and six movies. When he was a boy, he and his family were held in the War Relocation Authority Camp in Rohwer (Desha County). George Takei was born on April 20, 1937, in Los Angeles, California. His father, Takekuma Norman Takei, immigrated to the United States from Japan at age thirteen, graduated from Hills Business College in San Francisco, and owned a cleaning shop in the Wilshire corridor of Los Angeles. His mother, Fumiko Emily Nakamura Takei, was a native U.S. citizen who was educated in Japan. In 1942, after the outbreak of World War II, President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066, …

Thomas, John Orval

John Orval Thomas was a teacher, mentor, and role model for many television and film industry professionals in Arkansas. He worked as a sound engineer on major motion pictures, produced political campaign commercials, and had a variety of jobs in the television industry. Orval Thomas Jr. was born in Slocomb (Saline County) on November 25, 1919, to John Quincy Thomas Sr., who was a traveling preacher, and Eliza Eldridge Thomas. When Thomas was four, his parents started taking him on various “speaking engagements” of the revival circuit, where they would play one-reel silent movies in between his father’s sermons. When he was fourteen, Thomas took a job at a photography studio, the Deluxe Studio in Hot Springs (Garland County). There, …

Tom Sawyer, Detective

Tom Sawyer, Detective, a novella written by Mark Twain and published in 1896, was a parody of mystery stories, especially the Sherlock Holmes tales of Arthur Conan Doyle, which began to appear in 1887. Set in Arkansas, the novel was adapted into a movie in 1938. In the mid-1890s, Mark Twain, near bankruptcy after unwise investments, returned to his popular characters Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn to revive his fortunes. He wrote Tom Sawyer Abroad (1894), a parody of the travel adventures of Jules Verne, and began a novel to be titled Tom Sawyer among the Indians, which was never completed. Tom Sawyer, Detective (1896) had an unusual origin. While visiting Europe in late 1894, Twain had been told the …