Legacy of a Modeling Agency

The recent passing of Melissa Stevens, heir to the Patricia Stevens Modeling School and Career College, has given us cause to take a look through one of the most extraordinary collections in LaBudde’s holdings: the Patricia Stevens Collection. This collection, which Melissa donated in November 2011, contains the company records, advertisements, photographs, and other ephemera. There are hundreds of items in over fifty boxes and together they offer a complete account of the history of the company.

1973 photo of Flo Stevens (bottom right) and her three daughters (clockwise from bottom left) Patricia Jr, Sheila, and Melissa.

Melissa’s mother, Florence Czarnecki Stevens became “Patricia Stevens” only after her 1946 marriage to a young Chicago entrepreneur named James Stevens. Before he met Flo, he had already named his training school, a business designed to help women navigate the postwar work world. Flo – or Mrs. Stevens as she was often addressed – grew the school into a franchised operation with 55 branches. Its headquarters were in Kansas City, on Country Club Plaza. (Longtime KC residents may recall the Stevens-sponsored annual Easter parade that ran up until 1995). A full account of the Stevens’ family and their company could occupy an entire book. Melissa Stevens took over the company after her mother’s death, and up until her own recent passing was working to revive the company. In a 2012 interview with The Pitch, she said “All I really need…is a runway, a makeup table, a mirror — and me.”

Secene from 1973 Easter Parade

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One of the items Melissa Stevens donated was a large scrapbook filled with letters of appreciation written to her mother Flo. Among the letters are many from former students and employees. Flo Stevens appears to have had a special relationship with many of her graduates and employees. One student said that Flo was “the woman who changed my life.” Another wished “I could explain how much I think of you. You have been like a big sister to me and you have my deepest respect.” Still another told Flo that “my heart had adopted you as a second mother.” Other students wrote about how the Stevens school could help them with self-esteem issues or help them conquer their fears. Some of her graduates went on to pursue careers in acting or fashion, or interior design. Reading their letters, they all give some credit to Florence Stevens for their success.

The most poignant letter in the collection is from one of Stevens’ employees. She [find her name] writes to Flo about a 14 year old girl – Marilyn – who wanted to be a model and was attending classes against her parents’ wishes. Her parents believed that any kind of modeling would “lower [Marilyn’s] morals” and corrupt her. The letter explains that Marilyn might not be destined for a modeling career, but that she at least deserved the chance to follow her dreams, even if she was still young.  

Notes from students and local womens groups

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Notes of appreciation from students and local organizations

There is, I think, a contradiction buried at the heart of the Stevens collection. On one hand, the modeling school may seem anachronistic by today’s standards. Expectations for women were undoubtedly different in the 1960s and 70s than they are now. On the other hand, based on these letters Stevens’ modeling, etiquette and career-related courses do seem to have changed young women’s lives for the better. Women in the 1960s and 70s were starting to make social gains that still haven’t been fully realized. The Stevens school embodies both of those: recognizing that even though women were still expected to behave in certain ways, there were also new opportunities opening up for them, and they would need appropriate education and training in order to succeed. In short, Stevens tried to provide both of those. Perhaps then there is more to the modeling school than meets the eye. Projecting our modern ideas backwards even a couple generations isn’t always wise. As antiquated, unhealthy, and even incorrect as instruction about posture, diet, personal care and etiquette may have been, it’s clear at least some of Stevens’ students found what they learned empowering and that they credited her with helping them improve their lives.   

 

Where the Magic Started

The lion king? A young Walt Disney sitting atop one of the lion statues in Swope park.

(Written by Helena Collins-Gravitt)

In the summer of 1923, with nothing but an idea and an unfinished project called “Alice’s Wonderland,” Walt Disney left his bankrupt studio in Kansas City and traveled to Los Angeles. Walt Disney has been a household name for decades. His studio revolutionized the world of animation. It’s possible he is the most significant person in the history of American film making. But how did the father of animation get his start? The story of Walt Disney begins in Kansas City, Missouri from 1911 to 1923. In 1920 Disney worked at Kansas City Film Ad Company, but his creative ideas clashed with that of the company’s owner. So, Disney and his co-worker Fred Harman created their own company and named it Laugh-O-Gram Studios after their first short films, “Newman’s Laugh-O-Grams”, sold to Newman Theater. This is where he came up with the idea that has been synonymous with Disney ever since: “modernized fairytales done in animation.”

The LaBudde Special Collections is home to several photographs from the early life of Walt Disney and the history of Laugh-o-Gram studios. These photos can be found in the Baron Missakian collection. Missakian was a well know photographer in Kansas City during the 1920s. He photographed many famous personalities, one of whom was Walt Disney. But why did Missakian have so many photos of Disney and the processes at Laugh-O-Gram studios? The reason behind this is that Disney’s studio and Missakian’s photography office were right across the hall from one another and they were close friends. In fact, Missakian ended up marrying Disney’s personal secretary. The set of photos includes a young photo of Disney, many photos from various projects, and even a photo of him at Kansas City Film Ad company.

The story of Disney’s first studio is a rough one, as most stories begin. After some time at the Kansas City Film Ad Company, Disney found that he did not like the cut-out animation style. He preferred classical hand drawn animation, but he could not convince the owner of the company to change styles. So, on May 22, 1923 Disney, along with co-worker Fred Harman, founded Laugh-o-Gram studios at 1127 East 31st Street in Kansas City. Here Disney started working on his animated films. His first twelve films were commissioned by the Newman Theater.

The Newman Theater, owned by Frank Newman where Disney’s early cartoons were shown. (Courtesy, Missouri Valley Special Collections)

His next big project was creating six films for Tennessee-based Pictorial Clubs. This was a big project and Disney was going to be paid eleven thousand dollars for these films when he delivered them. The six films were, “Little Red Riding Hood”, “The Four Musicians of Bremen,” “Jack and the Beanstalk,” “Goldie Locks and the Three Bears,” “Puss in Boots,” and “Cinderella” (1922). Sadly, only months after the contract was signed and the studio began working on these films, Pictorial went bankrupt and Disney was never paid. After all the time and money spent on these films, Disney moved on to find new work because the studio was in desperate need of funds. This led to Disney taking on a project for a local dentist named Thomas B. McCrum.  From this job, the film “Tommy Tucker’s Tooth” was born, and Disney received five hundred dollars. Then instead of using that money to pay off his many debts, Disney started working on his newest idea. A live-action/animation entitled “Alice’s Wonderland”, which would star Virginia Davis, a young local actress. But this work only made the studio’s financial issues worse and after finishing the raw edits for the film the studio filed for bankruptcy in July 1923. As fast as he could Disney bought a ticket to Hollywood, armed with only his ideas and an unfinished reel of “Alice’s Wonderland”. The name is no coincidence: this was the first of a run of Disney-made “Alice” stories, a run that continues to this day. 

The other incredible thing about Laugh-O-Gram studios is that Disney is only one of the animation greats that emerged from it. Hugh Harman (brother of Fred Harman) and Rudolf Ising (a Kansas City native) were animators who worked for Laugh-O-Gram. As a duo they later founded the animation divisions of Warner Brothers and MGM. Another Laugh-O-Gram alum, Fritz Freling, is the man responsible for creating Bugs Bunny, Porky Pig, Tweety Bird, Sylvester the Cat, and Yosemite Sam. It’s almost impossible to overstate: the Disney family tree that is Hollywood animated film making can all be traced back to Laugh-O-Gram studios. It is an incredible piece of Kansas City history, and there is a movement underway to preserve it. In 2015 the Thank You Walt Disney Foundation began renovations on the site, and put together a plan for an on-site learning experience. Until then, the photos in LaBudde Special Collections offer a window into one of the most pivotal moments the history of American film making.

Sources

“Baron Missakian Collection”, MS 24, LaBudde Special Collections, University of Missouri-Kansas City.

Timothy S. Susanin, Walt Before Mickey: Disney’s Early Years, 1919-1928. (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2011).

Ride the West Wind

On May 26, 1934, a brand new train covered 1,015 miles from Denver to Chicago in 13 hours and 5 minutes, setting records for speed and time. A fine specimen of art deco styling, rendered in gleaming stainless steel, it was the first of a generation of revolutionary new streamlined trains built for the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy railroad. These trains were known as “Zephyrs,” after Zephyrus, the Greek god of the West Wind. For the next three decades, Zephyrs from Chicago and Kansas City crisscrossed the western US. Their service spanned a time of transition in American transportation; it began in the depths of the Depression and ended with the expansion of air travel and interstates during the 1960s.

John E. Lynn was a General Passenger Agent for the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad (CB&Q) office located in Kansas City during the era of the Zephyr trains. The J.E. Lynn collection in LaBudde Special Collections contains many of the Zephyr-related items Lynn collected during his life. This post showcases some of those items, and explains how the Zephyr trains represent one of the high water marks of American railroading during the 20th century.

Zephyrs were built by the Budd Manufacturing Company of Philadelphia, PA. They utilized a unibody design that reduced the number of components in the drive system and saved weight. Stainless steel sheetmetal as thin as 0.012 inch was formed into boxes and rectangles to create a strong skeleton that was lighter than traditional components like wooden braces or thick steel bars and plates. The roof was made of stainless steel just 0.022 inches thick, corrugated to give it rigidity. As a result, three of Budd’s “Zephyr” cars weighed the same as one contemporary Pullman coach car. The Pioneer Zephyr was powered by General Motors’ latest diesel-electric powerplant: a 660 horsepower diesel engine that drove an electric generator. GM upgraded later engines to produce about 1000 horsepower. Architect John Harbeson designed the train’s exterior to be both beautiful and functional. Stainless steel meant paint was unnecessary, and besides, who would want to hide that shine? Wind tunnel testing at MIT revealed the Zephyr had over 40% less drag compared to older designs. CB&Q hired the head of the University of Pennsylvania’s architecture department to design the ultra-modern interiors. Each compartment had heating and air conditioning – good luck finding that in a 1930s car or plane. All the innovation by Budd, GM, and CB&Q resulted in new flagship trains that were thoroughly modern in appearance and function.

From 1934 until about 1960, the Zephyrs were the way to travel in comfort, speed, safety and style. They were the 1940s equivalent of flying first class. Other railroads imitated the CB&Q’s design, but the Zephyrs in particular became cultural icons, like jetliners and cars would in later years. The film Silver Streak (1934) was inspired by the train’s inaugural speed run. The film told the story of a heroic train designer whose revolutionary design helped stop a polio epidemic at a dam construction site by bringing iron lungs from Chicago to Denver (the same route, but opposite direction of the real-life run). In 1949 Hank Williams released the song “California Zephyr” as a tribute to the train of the same name.

Several Zephyrs offered service to Kansas City. After its speed run, the first train was renamed the Pioneer Zephyr and entered regular service between Omaha and Kansas City. In 1939 The General Pershing Zephyr (the ninth one built by Budd for CB&Q) began offering service between Kansas City and St. Louis. From 1953 to 1968, two Zephyr routes ran between Chicago and Kansas City. The daytime route was known as the Kansas City Zephyr while the nighttime route was called the American Royal Zephyr. The average journey time between Kansas City and Chicago was just under nine hours, with no need to stop for dinner.

Historical hindsight shows us that Zephyrs were a finale of the golden age of American railroads. Even though ridership never regained its 1910s-1920s peak, Zephyrs were a shining technological and cultural triumph that emerged during the darkness of the Depression. They were the pinnacle of railroad engineering: faster, more comfortable, and more efficient than any train before them. They were also superior to cars and planes in key ways. Finally, they were a “halo technology” – they did not carry most of the people most of the time, but they did it faster and with more style than anything else on wheels. Zephyrs symbolized convenience, glamor, freedom, excitement, and modernity, all wrapped in brilliant stainless steel.

 

Sources

J.E. Lynn Railroad Memorabilia Collection, MS32. LaBudde Special Collections, University of Missouri, Kansas City

Harold Cobb, “The Burlington Zephyr Stainless Steel Train.” Advanced Materials and Processes, 2009: 24-28.

Steve Glischinski, “Zephyrs and Diesels.” Encyclopedia of North American Railroads, edited by William D. Middleton, George Smerk, and Roberta L. Diehl, 221-222. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2007.

Tales from the Archives: The untimely death of KMBC producer, Fran Heyser

In October 2012, the Marr Sound Archives completed an 18-month National Endowment for the Humanities grant to catalog and preserve the nearly 3,000 broadcast recordings in the Arthur B. Church KMBC Radio Collection. I served as the project cataloger, managed three students, and coordinated with sound archives staff on the preservation and digital reformatting of the recordings. When asked to write a special feature article for the Music Library Association Newsletter, an informal publication of MLA, I pondered what I should focus on. First, I thought it might be sensible to highlight some unique items in the collection or maybe talk a little about the project, but then I realized that I don’t normally make any sense, and when I do, it puts everyone to sleep. Instead, I decided to focus on a series of anecdotes recounting the unusual discoveries and amusing happenings in the course of working with this collection.

This is the first in a series of Tales from the Archives.

The untimely death of KMBC producer, Fran Heyser

Clipping of report on Heyser's murder

Clipping of report on Heyser’s murder. In other important news, the local stamp club is meeting!

Just over two years ago, I found myself driving by the Pickwick Hotel at 10th and McGee Streets in downtown Kansas City. I wish I could say that I did this to satiate some intellectual curiosity to see the building in which former president Harry S. Truman wrote his autobiographical Pickwick Papers; or that I did it to fulfill a romantic notion that I should see that place which once housed the penthouse headquarters of radio station KMBC, the station whose collection I had been cataloging for the past several months. It was for neither of those reasons I ventured out on that inconspicuous evening.

The truth is hard to admit. In the midst of working with the Arthur B. Church KMBC Radio Collection, I had run across KMBC program producer and sometimes announcer, Fran Heyser, and as any good cataloger is wont to do, I set about establishing his name in the LC/NACO Name Authority File (basically, a huge registry of names). When I discovered in horror that he had been beaten to death with a metal table lamp at the Pickwick, I had the irresistible urge to investigate. I recently learned that this abandoned hotel is slated for redevelopment as apartments for “young urbanites.” Imagine them moving in with their reclaimed wood coffee tables and vegan faux leather couches (Hey, wait. I have these things…), having no idea their new apartment could be haunted by the ghost of Fran Heyser. I would totally watch that episode of Paranormal Witness on SyFy.

KMBC producer, Fran Heyser

KMBC producer, Fran Heyser

What didn’t occur to me when writing this short anecdote was that the living relatives of Fran might see the article and contact me. All praise the glory of the Interwebs! [which also terrifies me] So when I received an email from the niece of Fran Heyser who had been directed to my article by her cousin, I have to admit to being a bit nervous to open the email. After all, I had told the story of her uncle’s murder in such a casual and darkly humorous way (debate on whether any of the three readers found it humorous). But much to my relief, she had contacted me to inquire about additional information concerning her uncle, who she had only known through the stories that her grandmother and mother had shared. When I sent her a digital copy of his autographed photograph (shown here) and links to every audio recording that we had involving her uncle in some way, she expressed gratitude and even excitement, as she immediately recognized her uncle in the photograph. It was a relief that in my rare act of public service (it’s best that I’m kept behind heavy wooden doors) and in our Archives’ effort to preserve and provide access to the unique and valuable materials we hold, we had managed to provide family members a renewed interest and connection to the artifacts documenting the activities of a relative whose death was truly tragic.

Find out more about the Church-KMBC collection.

Contributed by Sandy Rodriguez, Special Collections Metadata Librarian

Evie Quarles and Her Muse

KIC ImageAfter 35 years of designing greeting cards, Evie Quarles finally decided to pursue her innate yearning to become a professional photographer. In the Fall of 1997 her son Josh persuaded her to put down her paintbrush, pick up a camera and enroll in a photography class at Penn Valley Community College. What Evie would choose to photograph was not to be of the usual common nature, but rather a phenomenon ingrained into her spirit at a very early age, referred to as the Blues. Growing up in West Tennessee, she would accompany her father to joints to service Juke Boxes on weekends or in the summertime. It was in the black joints she would discover her call to the Blues. In her words, “the call would come as a whisper”, because “race’ music was not played on the radio in those days. Parents did not want their teenagers to be influenced by the Devil’s music.

A few months into her photography class she was wandering around 39th and Main iMillage Gilbertn Kansas City, looking for visual material for her final exam. She heard music coming from the open door of the Grand Emporium, a local Juke Joint. She wandered in and quickly became immersed in the music of Millage Gilbert’s Blues. When the band took a break she introduced herself to Millage and asked if she could photograph his next set. He approved her request,, and so here her new journey began.  Quarles soon contacted the proprietor Roger Naber to obtain permission to photograph local & national acts, to which he agreed. For the next seven years the Grand Emporium would become her “Muse”. GE

In May of 2013, Ms. Quarles bestowed upon the LaBudde Special Collections a generous selection of photographs from her vast collection. The black & white images create a compelling depiction of Quarles’ love and passion for the epic American art form known as the Blues.

Teresa Wilson Gipson

L. Perry Cookingham Collection: A Salute to Our Veterans of the Armed Forces

0554Known as Armistice Day or Veteran’s Day, November 11th  signifies the demise of World War I when Allied Forces signed an Armistice Agreement with Germany in 1918.  Recognizing their sacrifice and duty to country, we continue to honor our Veterans on this historical date each year.

Perry Cookingham, former City Manager of Kansas City, Missouri was called to duty and served in World War I. Per his request, he and several buddies from his hometown of Danville, Illinois were assigned to Company B of the 310th Signal Battalion, which was located at the front for a period of 5 months prior to this world changing event. Following are excerpts from a diary penned by Cookingham and titled: A Few Little Incidents of the War and My Travels with the “Army of Occupation”. Depicted are personal accounts of Cookingham and his fellow soldiers leading up to the Armistice. Obviously it was ever business as usual for our courageous warriors as Cookingham notes on his October 23rd entry. Not only did he have KP Duty (Kitchen Police) on his birthday but they were also shelled by the enemy. Happy Birthday!

_____________________________________________________________

SEPT 28 – Attack of appendicitis
Off eight days.

Oct 15 – Came down with
cold. Could not talk
for four days.

Oct 21 – Well again.
Moved to Monsard.
Living on public sq.
Real homelike. Shelled.

Oct 22 Worked

Oct 23 – Birthday. K.P.
Shelled

Oct. 24 to Nov. 4. Worked
on permanent lines.
Shelled every night
with 9” babies. Co. C
man wounded. Dirt
flying everywhere.
Hit by a few. Thot [sic]
it was a big shell
bursting on my head.

Nov. 5 – Moved to hills
back of Buxerelles [sic].
Nice house. Thanks to
the boche.

NOV. 5 – 11 Worked
on permanent line
near St. Benoit. Shelled
every day. Tore for the
dugouts. Working
½ mile from line!

NOV – 11 – “Finis la Guerre”
Firing ceased. Worked
under the heavy barrage
of last six hours. No
one hurt. Sure lucky.
Went up to see the
boche come over.
Talked to several. Some
sight.cookingham

NOV. 11 – 17 Worked on lines
and waited for orders.
Transferred to occupation
army.

November 11, 1918 would not be the conclusion of all war-related activity. There would
still be an aftermath of responsibilities and Cookingham and others were to remain on active duty through February of 1919 according to General Orders No, 38.-A, by General John J. Pershing, Commander in Chief

In Memory of Patricia Huyett and Her Intrepid Life’s Journey

 KIC ImageThe Patricia Huyett Collection was gifted to the LaBudde Special Collections in April, 2011 by Patricia Huyett. Ms Huyett, a former Alumnus and Professor of the University of Missouri, Kansas City was a Renaissance woman in the truest sense of the word, and this collection reflects those broad identities. Among the jewels of this collection are her personal journals, which range in emotion from whimsical to compelling. As she documents the experience of a young girl’s journey into womanhood, she freely expresses her most intimate thoughts; fears and the hopes of who she is and what she wished to achieve on a daily basis and ultimately in life. As one peruses the hundreds of pages of text throughout the collection, they are transported into a unique experience and provided an inkling of what life can hold when creativity and passion show no boundaries. Huyett pens her life’s lessons and cosmic imagination into the form of poetry, short stories, novellas, and even songwriting. Also included in this collection is a series of correspondence, the bulk of which is personal, along with college papers; teaching materials; graphics and photographs.  Ms Huyett shares her inner most senses and reveals what motivates her means to an end. As a writer, she is articulate, with a sharp wit and an infinite compassion for her fellow being. The journals are a glaring testament to the historic significance of personal histories and the fading practice of putting pen to paper in the form of diaries, letters, etc. The latter will serve to deny future generations the historical bounty we now take for granted. Sadly, the emotions and interactions of impending ancestors are vanishing into the age of digital eventuality.

KIC Image

Teresa Wilson Gipson, Library Information Specialist II, LaBudde Special Collections

Legendary dancer featured in a new exhibit

Pearl PrimusDancer, choreographer, educator, and anthropologist Pearl Primus is featured in a new Ground Floor exhibit at MNL. “’The Returned Spirit’: Pearl Primus in Africa” features photographs of this amazing mid-20th century dance dynamo during her second trip to the West African nation of Liberia. Her visits to Africa were transformative for her professionally and personally, and the images really capture both her energetic dance style as well as her anthropological curiosity. The pictures in the exhibit are from a 1952 scrapbook in the Leon Jordan Collection; both Jordan and Primus were in Liberia at the same time for the second inauguration of the country’s president.  To get a sense of Primus’ phenomenal athletic stage presence, check out this video.

This exhibit is timed to coincide with some upcoming Library programs:

Many thanks to Scott Gipson, LSC Library Information Specialist II, for photo reproduction services and to Conservatory Student Assistant Anthony Rodgers for spontaneous installation assistance.

Enjoy the new exhibit!

Stuart Hinds, Director of Special Collections, UMKC Libraries

Web exhibit receives a makeover

Musicians Protective Union Local No 627 bannerWhile technically not a new exhibit, the Local No. 627/Mutual Musician’s Foundation online exhibit has been so masterfully reworked that it really is, indeed, a completely new site. Take a few minutes and check it out for yourself!