Texas White House at LBJ Ranch closed for now

The National Park Service announced Friday that it will close the “Texas White House,” once the ranch home of President Lyndon Baines Johnson and his family in Stonewall, as well as the adjacent Pool House, until further notice because of health and safety concerns arising from water leakage in various places in the main house.

The Texas White House and pool at the LBJ Ranch in Stonewall, taken in 2012. Rodolfo Gonzalez/Austin American-Statesman

For decades, these were the most private zones of the ranch, parts of the LBJ National Historical Park that, until 2012, were reserved for the Johnson family and not generally open to the public.

 RELATED: Exploring the inside of the Texas White House

The Park Service said they will remain closed until the service can confirm that the two buildings do not pose safety concerns.

“We don’t actually know what the problem is,” said Susanne McDonald, the national park superintendent. “We are going into an investigative stage to figure out what is happening. We are focusing on weaknesses in the structure that might be causing water intrusion. We have a few areas that have caused us problems, but we haven’t been able to figure out the exact location where the water is coming in. It could be absolutely nothing, but I don’t want to take a risk with our employees or our visitors.”

The modest buildings, preserved in 1960s styles, look less like the headquarters of the world’s most powerful person and more like a relaxing retreat where your beloved country relatives live. That is, until one notices the three attached televisions ready to broadcast the three big networks of the time.

Interiors of Texas White House were first seen by the public in 2012, preserved in their 1960s styles. Rodolfo Gonzalez/Austin American-Statesman

“They just weren’t showy people,” former Superintendent Russ Whitlock said when the buildings were opened to the public in 2012. “The ranch and the ranch house take the Johnsons off the pedestal of president and first lady and make them into people we can relate to.”

In his recent book, “LBJ’s 1968: Power, Politics and the Presidency in America’s Year of Upheaval,” Ken Longley, the newly named director of the LBJ Presidential Library, describes how the ranch served as a safety valve for the  sometimes volcanic LBJ, especially during his traumatic final year in office. Repeatedly during 1968, the president retreated to the ranch, took a swim, then a ate a snack on TV trays, or a tooled around the Hill Country with family or friends to relax.

All other park facilities remain open to the public. These include the Johnson settlement, President Johnson’s boyhood home, and the park visitor center in Johnson City. The LBJ Ranch driving tour is not affected, and the LBJ Ranch hangar visitor center is open as normal.

UPDATE: The quote from Superintendent McDonald was added after this was first posted.

The height of camp, ‘Valley of the Dolls,’ returns to Austin

Just 21 years ago, we wrote the following ode to one of our favorite movies, “Valley of the Dolls, when it appeared at the Paramount Theatre. Ten or so years later, we added commentary when a special showing for Stephen Moser played the original Alamo Drafthouse Cinema on Colorado Street.

On June 21, “V.O.D.” returns again, this time for a LGBTQ benefit at the Austin Film Society Cinema in the Linc. Don’t miss the 6 p.m. cocktail party or the 7:30 p.m. screening. You want a stiff drink before you see it. Benefits the Kind ClinicTickets here.


Rereading the 1997 article, it’s especially interesting to see what people thought were camp in 1967, when the show-biz movie came out, and what was considered camp in 1997 (see below). Do not fail to take the quiz at the end.

This ran in the American-Statesman in 1997:

Oscar Wilde. Joan Crawford. “The Wizard of Oz.”

Camp, that stylized, comic view of culture inspired by capricious fashion, nevertheless has fostered some indestructible icons. The range of campy relics runs from great art, such as Wilde’s comedies of language and manners, to great kitsch, like the Las Vegas groaner ``Showgirls.”

In 1967, the famously bad movie “Valley of the Dolls,” based on Jacqueline Susann‘s torrid best seller, earned instant camp status.

It has not gone away.

Thirty years later, k.d. lang has recorded the theme to “Valley of the Dolls,” the Los Angeles County Museum is showing “V.O.D.” as a cultural artifact and The New York Times reports surging interest in Susann, including parties and pageants devoted to the trash author.

Susann’s backstage saga about four women whose “appetite for life was greater than their capacity for living” was extravagant, artificial, mannered — elements related to the difficult-to-define camp sensibility.

“Camp taste turns its back on the good-bad axis of ordinary aesthetic judgment,” wrote Susan Sontag in her 1964 essay, “Notes on Camp.” “It doesn’t argue that the good is bad, or the bad is good. In clothing and interior decor, camp is when you are pushing the sensibility to the absurd.”

Not all camp revives outdated fashions, as in the current trend of adapting old corporate logos and advertising. The movie and book of “Valley of the Dolls,” for instance, joined the ready-made camp parade of the ’60s that included the TV series “Batman,” singer Nancy Sinatra and the fashions of Carnaby Street. (“Batman” was campy in a premeditated way; the other two were transformed in a flash.)

The movie of “V.O.D’ coyly depicts abuse of sex and drugs in show business. It was massacred by the critics and destroyed several acting careers, but it also spawned thousands of midnight showings for lovers of celluloid trash.

The film’s producers did not intend it that way.

Classy Andre Previn and his then-wife, Dory, composed the songs for “Valley of the Dolls,” John Williams scored them and pop singer Dionne Warwick — now experiencing a mini revival because of “My Best Friend’s Wedding” — recorded the omnipresent theme song. Serious, if in this case melodramatic actors, Patty Duke and Susan Hayward played key “V.O.D.” characters based on the trials and temperaments of Judy Garland and Ethel Merman.

Meant for greatness, it became pure camp, as Sontag defined it. “The pure examples of camp are unintentional; they are dead-serious,” she wrote.

Lovers of the movie have fanned the flame for years.

“For all those millions who thought they might go into show business, `V.O.D’ was the inside track on what it was really like,” said Austin Musical Theatre director Scott Thompson, who plans to see the movieat the Paramount. “As campy as it is, some of it rings true. Really nasty bitches who will throw you out of the show if you are too good. Major stars get through performances on whatever substances are available at the moment.”

Just as lines from the later pure-camp movie “Showgirls” have entered the popular vocabulary, sentences from “Valley of the Dolls” are mimicked for emphasis at theatrical parties:

“You’ve got to climb Mount Everest to reach the Valley of the Dolls.” (Delivered with mock calm.)

“So you come crawling back to Broadway … well Broadway doesn’t go for booze and pills.” (Mouth twisted into a Brooklyn accent.)

“Neeeelyyyy O’haaaaraaaa!!!!” (Screamed at top volume.)

Why would people quote regularly from a bad movie?

Perhaps because camp expressions add color to the ordinary, Sontag suggested. Campiness answers a cultural need to simulate and critique mainstream culture, simultaneously.

As Sontag put it, “(Camp) is the farthest extension, in sensibility, of the metaphor of life as theater.”

CAMP ’67 vs. CAMP ’97

1.Tiffany lamps vs. vinyl lamps from the ’70s

  1. “Batman” (TV series) vs. “AbFab”
  2. Novels of Ronald Firbank vs. Novels of Jackie Collins
  3. Hollywood art deco diners vs. Kon Tiki interiors
  4. Aubrey Beardsley drawings vs. Pat Nagel prints
  5. “Swan Lake”vs. “Riverdance”
  6. Bellini’s operas vs. sitcom spin-offs like “Phyllis”
  7. women’s clothing from the ’20s vs. women’s clothing from the ’70s
  8. Nancy Sinatra vs. RuPaul (but few other drag queens)
  9. old Flash Gordon comics vs. people dressed as corporate mascots
  10. “Queen for a Day” vs. “Talk Soup”
  11. hot Dr Pepper with lemon vs. Tab or Fresca
  12. “To Sir With Love” vs. “Grease” (the movie)
  13. “VALLEY OF THE DOLLS’ vs. “VALLEY OF THE DOLLS”

Valley of the Dolls Trivia Quiz

“You’ve got to climb _____ to reach the Valley of the Dolls”

a) every mountain

b) Sharon Tate

c) Mount Everest

What does Neely (Patty Duke) take to survive the training/rehearsal montage?

a) the A train

b) hot Dr Pepper with lemon

c) lots of “dolls,” i.e., amphetamines and barbiturates

Whose career was not ruined by — or soon after — the making of “V.O.D.?”

a) Patty Duke (OK, so 20 years later, she rebounded)

b) Sharon Tate (Manson’s gang murdered the beauty)

c) Barbara Parkins (frankly, she never had a career)

Which future Academy Award winner appears in a “V.O.D” bit part?

a) Ben Kingsley as the pool cleaner

b) George C. Scott as a drug pusher in drag

c) Richard Dreyfuss as a stagehand at Neely’s disastrous “comeback”

This is onstage while Helen (Susan Hayward) sings “I’ll Plant My Own Tree.”

a) a stately oak

b) a throbbing acorn

c) a giant, plastic mobile that defies the laws of physics

Demure Ann, played by Barbara Parkins, becomes _____.

a) “the It Girl”

b) “That Girl”

c) “the Gillian Girl,” patterned after “the Breck Girl”

Where do we hear a maudlin performance of “Come Live With Me,” one of several camp classics composed by Dory and Andre Previn for this film?

a) a women’s restroom, crooned to Helen’s flushed wig

b) on the beach, with surf rushing through Ann’s hair

c) a sanitarium that serves both a mortally ill singer and Neely in rehab

What does Jennifer (Sharon Tate) do to please her mother?

a)  bust exercises

b) send homethe profits from her French “art” films

c) both a and b

What sound effect is heard when Neely, in a climactic alley scene, screeches “Neeeelyyyy O’haaaaraaaa!!!!”?

a) Munchkins giggling

b) the sound of two hands clapping

c) church bells

What do critics call the “V.O.D.” for the ’90s?

a) “Jacqueline Susann’s Valley of the Dolls” (1981 television movie)

b) any USA Channel made-for-cable movie

c) “Showgirls” (“I’m a dancer!”)

(The answer to all the above questions is “C.”)

 

 

 

Best Texas books: ‘The Cedar Choppers’ by Ken Roberts

The best Texas book I’ve read of late was “The Cedar Choppers: Life on the Edge of Nothing” by Ken Roberts (Texas A&M Press). It doubles as one of the most instructive books about Austin’s history and culture.

Roberts, a former professor at Southwestern University in Georgetown, knows something about deep research. For this story about the people who once honeycombed the hills west and north of Austin, he talked to survivors and descendants. He scoured the internet for additional material and used Ancestry.com for more than just constructing family trees. He also consulted dozens of newspaper articles and books for historical context.

RELATED: Shooting heard “all over South Austin.”

Roberts grew up in Tarrytown and first encountered hard Hill Country boys on the low bridge over the Colorado River at Red Bud Trail just below Tom Miller Dam. That fraught meeting must have stuck with him. He later read feature stories and columns about “cedar choppers” — as the fiercely independent hill folk were called, not always kindly — by Mark Lisheron and John Kelso in the American-Statesman.

Roberts confirms that these mostly Scots-Irish clans, who arrived as early as the 1850s, migrated down through the Appalachian and the Ozark mountains. They grew small plots of corn for cornmeal that didn’t need milling, for corn whiskey distilled in the hollows, and to feed their roaming livestock. They hunted game and cut native ashe juniper (cedar) for use as fence posts and charcoal. Cedar remained their main cash crop for buying what they could not carve out the hills.

(You catch glimpses of this life in John Graves‘ “Goodbye to a River” and “Hard Scrabble.” And, as riparian expert Kevin Anderson reminds us, in Roy Bedichek‘s “Adventures of a Texas Naturalist.”)

In fact, during some periods, they thrived and fared better than those who tended cotton as tenant farmers on the prairies to the east. Old-growth cedar found in cool, deep canyons rose tall and straight. The red hearts were especially resistant to insects and rot. Hill Country cedar was shipped by rail all over the Southwest and towns such as Cedar Park supported multiple cedar yards, especially in the years after World War II.

The hill folk rarely took part in city activities. Some resisted the Confederate forces, others joined them.

Before Austin spread west and the life of the cedar choppers declined, the clans intermarried and helped each other out. Some also resorted to quick-tempered violence. Roberts does not stint on the crime reporting (see link above).

After reading Roberts’ book, I took a little trip to the Eanes History Center, which happened to throw an open house that weekend (it doesn’t post regular public hours). I learned much more among the old structures where the tiny, unincorporated town hosted a school that grew into the Eanes school district, long before the surrounding land became neighborhoods such as West Lake Hills, Rollingwood, Barton Creek, Rob Roy, Cuernavaca, etc.

I plan to interview Roberts later this summer. We’re not done with this subject by any means.

Austin learns a lot from Larry Wright, Evan Smith and Amy Mills

The Library was the place to be. Not the Central Public Library. But the blue-and-red rectangular meeting room at Hotel Van Zandt.

It was the location for a Toast of the Town salon to support the Neal Kocurek Scholarship Fund for health sciences careers, operated by the St. David’s Foundation. Thirty of so lucky souls were treated to an enlightening public talk between journalist and author Lawrence “Larry” Wright and journalist and Texas Tribune CEO Evan Smith.

Evan Smith and Larry Wright at Hotel Van Zandt for Toast of the Town. Contributed by Matthew Fuller/St. David’s Foundation

The two had met soon after Smith moved to town in the 1992 to join the staff of Texas Monthly. He was assigned to edit Wright’s piece on the chemical castration of sexual offenders. Wright was for it.

Smith went on to lead Texas Monthly and now the Texas Tribune, while also interviewing top minds on “Texas Monthly Talks” and then “Overheard with Evan Smith” on public television.

My nominee for best reporter in Texas, Wright has been a staff writer for The New Yorker since he left Texas Monthly in the early 1990s. His books include the Pulitzer Prize-winning “The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11” as well as “The Terror Years: From Al-Qaeda to the Islamic State,” “Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood and the Prism of Belief” and “Thirteen Days in September: Carter, Begin and Sadat at Camp David.”

If those accomplishments were not enough, he writes plays and screenplays, appears on stage, and basks in the glow of the lauded TV adaptation of “The Looming Tower” now streaming on the Hulu channel.

RELATED: Toast of the Town one of the classiest acts around.

Can you see why I dropped everything for this benefit dinner? Smith devoted his early questions to terrorism and world affairs. Wright believes, for instance, we are ignoring the proliferation of Al-Qaeda and Islamic State beyond their Middle Eastern origins while we are distracted by other crises. He continues to state that the intervention into Iraq was the single worst foreign policy decision in American history.

Smith then moved on to main subject for the evening, Wright’s recent book, “God Save Texas: A Journey into the Soul of the Lone Star State,” parts of which appeared in The New Yorker. On that field in inquiry, both sharp minds need no urging.

Wright’s editor at The New Yorker had asked him to explain Texas, a big task. He did not rely on the standard reports about the recent changes in the state; he spent a year observing the Texas Legislature. After all, Texas could tell us more about the future of the country, especially if its voters participated in elevated numbers.

He came away from his research with with a volume full of conclusions and an urge to run for governor. Wright thinks that the primary jobs of state government are education and infrastructure. Those needs tended to be ignored while state leaders spent an inordinate amount of time and energy on bathroom rules and sanctuary cities. He lays heavy blame on traditional business advocate Gov. Greg Abbott, who sided late in the session with radio personality Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick against outgoing Speaker of the House Joe Straus, who held together state government against all odds.

Wright has much more to say about state and national politics and culture, but as they say, buy and read the book.

Emancipet Luncheon

One speaker in town who could give Smith or Wright a run for their money is Amy Mills, CEO of Emancipet, an Austin nonprofit that provides free or low-cost spay, neutering and veterinary care at seven clinics in four cities.

Melissa Levine and Mary Herr Tally at Emancipet Luncheon at Hyatt Regency Austin. Michael Barnes/American-Statesman

The early part of its annual luncheon, which has moved gracefully from the Four Seasons Hotel Austin to the larger banquet hall at the Hyatt Regency Austin, was spent on the tasty vegan fare, video stories of clients and statistics shared by eager board members.

The room grew hushed when Mills rose to the stage. After all, she can so cogently and quickly explain a rapidly expanding and sustainable nonprofit, she would likely trounce every other participant at Philanthropitch.

RELATED: What caused all the excitement at nonprofit pitch fest.

That fast-action pitch session from nonprofit leaders was an early-week Austin highlight. (I can’t tell you how many ambitious Austin nonprofits are exporting their great ideas around the world. Just a few decades ago, they didn’t look beyond the Austin city limits.)

Some statistics appeared in the printed program. In 2017, the group provided

• 71,539 preventative care visits

• 33,300 free or low cost spay/neuter surgeries

• 622 heartworm treatments

• 177 special surgery procedures

• $883,930 in free services to Houston-area families affected by Hurricane Harvey.

Mills expanded on the last number. With animal welfare partners, they focused, not on lost pets, but on vet care for families hit hard by the storm. They announced that their clinical services would remain absolutely free for 90 days. As workers arrived the first morning, more than 100 people were in line. Some had never visited a vet before. They saw a total of 6,641 animals.

RELATED: Amy Mills takes Emancipet mission national.

Also in 2017, Emancipet opened its largest clinic ever in Northeast Austin and its first in Philadelphia. It responded to rising vet care costs by seeing 93,576 pets. Just as importantly, they trained 28 vets to take their business model to other markets. They can’t do it all themselves.

Mills saved the most dramatic news for last. Hurricane Maria scattered pets all over Puerto Rico, who then rapidly multiplied. Emacipet with 23 other groups is headed there to spay/neuter 20,000 of them. They will then leave their surgical tools and other equipment there for vets they will train to keep up the work.

Hard to beat Mills. Hard to beat Emancipet.

Best Austin coffee shops near Airport Boulevard

Airport Boulevard is fast changing into a cultural magnet. Austin Community College anchors a remake of Highland Mall and numerous new hot spots pop up on the boulevard. Yet some of the nearby coffee shops not far away are among Austin’s oldest and most revered.

Quack’s 43rd Street Bakery. 411 E. 43rd St. 512-453-3399. quacksbakery.com. 6:30 a.m.-11 p.m. Mon.-Fri., 7 a.m.-11 p.m. Sat., 7:30 a.m.-11 p.m. Sun. Shared onsite parking, plus plenty of street parking on wide East 43rd Street. Decaf, teas, chai. Wifi. Quiet atmosphere most of the day.

Quack’s Bakery offers a lot. Michael Barnes/American-Statesman

No Austin coffeehouse trails a longer or more storied pedigree than Quack’s. Born as Captain Quackenbush’s Intergalactic Dessert Company and Espresso Cafe on the Drag — at a time during the 1980s when such places were extremely rare in Austin — this Hyde Park scratch bakery and beverage staple fits into an intimate retail node that includes complementary post-hippe outfits such as Mother’s Cafe, Hyde Park Cafe, Dolce Vita, Julio’s Cafe, Fresh Plus, Antonelli’s Cheese House and Asti Trattoria. Two interior rooms are almost always full. Any time the weather is fine, customers gather around small tables under an awning outside, or they might take advantage of communal lawn furniture just down the sidewalk. The bakery selections, along with deli items, are almost overwhelming in number and almost always satisfying. And while the city has nurtured a much more serious coffee culture in since the ’80s, Quack’s still makes a darn good cup from locally roasted beans.

Flightpath Coffeehouse since 1992. Contributed by Flightpathcoffeehouse.com

Flightpath Coffeehouse. 5011 Duval St. 512-458-4472. flightpathcoffeehouse.com. 7 a.m.-11 p.m. Mon.-Fri., 8 a.m.-11 p.m. Sat.-Sun. Very little onsite parking, restricted street parking. Decaf, teas, chai. Strong wifi. Plenty of niches for quiet time.

Let’s remind relative newcomers to Austin that, until 1999, this location stood directly in the deafening flightpath for planes descending into the old Mueller Airport, now the new urbanist Mueller development. It might not be as old as nearby Quack’s, but anything in our city that has thrived since 1992 is almost antiquarian. The place has grown enormously in what feels like a narrow, old residential structure on the edge of the Hyde Park area. A covered patio and spacious backroom handle the overflow from the front parlor and central food-and-drink service area. Flightpath has gotten serious about snacks, too, including a wall of ready-to-go treats. A lot of laptoppers land here, but it’s not so quiet that a friendly meeting is out of place. Although University of Texas students still wander this far north, today’s crowd seems a little older and more settled.

Contributed

Kick Butt Coffee. 5775 Airport Blvd. 512-454-5425. kickbuttcoffee.com. 6 a.m.-10 p.m. Mon.-Wed., 6 a.m.-9 p.m. Thurs.,  6 a.m.-2 a.m., Fri., 7 a.m.-2 a.m. Sat., 8 a.m.-10 p.m. Sun.* Plenty of surface parking on site. Some of the music is live. Decaf, teas, chai. Some quiet spots in this big space.

We’ve always liked owner Thomas Gohring and his ambitions to create a singular community around coffee, booze, entertainment and, yes, martial arts. Gohring brings to the game a flair for showmanship, an element almost absent from any other coffee shop in town. He has expanded the size of his original location on Airport Boulevard while retracting his attempts to go global. A small stage, backed by his signature graphics, takes pride of place, but the long coffee bar attests to the original impulse to serve rigorously prepared espresso drinks along with food, beer and wine. As the ACC Highland project, as well as the Linc and other area redevelopments fire up, expect Kick Butt to thrive and retain its inimitable character. *The place opens and closes at odd times; we rounded up or down.

MORE COFFEE SHOPS: Near Lavaca Street.

MORE COFFEE SHOPS: Near South Congress Avenue.

MORE COFFEE SHOPS: Near South First Street.

MORE COFFEE SHOPS: Near South Lamar Boulevard.

MORE COFFEE SHOPS: Near Burnet Road.

MORE COFFEE SHOPS: Near North Lamar Boulevard.

MORE COFFEE SHOPS: Near Congress Avenue.

MORE COFFEE SHOPS: Near North Austin.

MORE COFFEE SHOPS: Near Central East Austin.

MORE COFFEE SHOPS: Near Southeast Austin.

MORE COFFEE SHOPS: Near Northwest Austin.

Grasping Manos de Cristo and Ballet Austin

The invocation at the Manos de Cristo gala snuck up on me.

My mind wandered a bit — in a good way — during a biblical reading from Luke. Then it closed with a punch: “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”

Carlos and Sara Galindo at Manos de Cristo 30th Anniversary Gala. Michael Barnes/American-Statesman

I caught my breath. I’ve attended hundreds of not thousands of nonprofit benefits in Austin. This line from Luke could be included in almost any charity invocation. Because that’s what these nonprofits are doing, day in, day out, year after year. And our gratitude should be boundless.

The 30th anniversary Manos benefit got off to a chilly start because of the capricious April weather. The 90 minutes of cocktail reception took place in the windy, open-sided lobby of ACL Live. The women in short cocktail dresses and off-the-shoulder gowns went begging for wraps. This was one Texas night when a vintage fur piece came in handy.

The next hour was taken up by dinner inside the theater. Fortuitously, I ended up at a table between Denise Jones, who spent most of her life in Fort Worth, and Justin Calloway, who grew up in the Corpus Christi area. Stories about those two Texas cities easily filled up 60 merry minutes.

Gala leaders expertly handled the celebratory program. We were reminded of the humble beginnings of Manos at El Buen Pastor Presbyterian Church in the Cesar Chavez neighborhood. Then as now, the group provides certain basic services — food, clothing and lessons — but Manos is best known for its amazing affordable dental program. It now runs a much larger second clinic on Harmon Avenue.

Expansion there, including a real parking lot, was made possible in part by two Lutherans, cheerful philanthropist Dick Rathgeber and his equally buoyant coreligionist Earl Maxwell, CEO of the St. David’s Foundation. Good works are good works, after all.

RELATED:  Col. and Mrs. Dick Rathgeber and the Big Reveal.

What good fortune then to discover that Victoria Pineda is back in the auction game! Always fast, fun, witty and sweet, Pineda raced through the early part of the auction in a way that made everyone in the room feel like a full participant. Such a rare gift.

Ballet Austin

Just a few more words on “Exit Wounds,” Stephen Mills‘ unforgettable three-part Ballet Austin concert at the Long Center.

The final movement from “Truth Rescued by Time,” part of Stephen Mills’ “Exit Wounds” from Ballet Austin. Contributed by Anne Marie Bloodgood

READ: Ballet Austin aims for the heart with “Exit Wounds.”

• Seventy-five minutes without an intermission was exactly right for these dark yet somehow encouraging dances. Any break would have broken the spell.

• Even if already partially seen in rehearsals, all three pieces opened up magnificently after relevant costumes, scenery and lighting were added. We might attend primarily for the undiluted dance, but every other element plays a crucial part.

• The introductory videos with voiceovers about the personal experiences that informed the dances were beautiful and informative. They also made one think how the pieces might live on without these frames.

• Maybe because it has had the longest time to gestate, but “Four Mortal Men,” set to a Debussy string quartet, seems to me the most portable and durable of the trio. Revisiting the subjects of AIDS, art and companionship in 1980s New York, Mills’ entangling choreography rarely looked so indispensable. And kudos to the four dancers for their heartbreaking interpretations.

• We squirmed in our seats during a short dance set to the famous 1982 White House press conference, as laughing correspondents joked with the Press Secretary Larry Speakes about the “gay plague” and why the President Ronald Reagan blithely ignored it. Mills himself performed in a fury downstage, but the historical audio record was almost too much to take even 36 years later.

• The third movement in “Truth Rescued by Time,” performed by the entire company, was an unqualified triumph. It really could stand alone. Everything that makes Mills’ work so timely yet timeless was reflected in the 22 artists who did not lose their individuality while performing as a living, symbolic organism.

Best Texas books: Lead off with this John Graves literary memoir

These new Texas books — plus one minor classic — reminds us how much is worth reading about our state in early 2018.

“Myself and Strangers: A Memoir of Apprenticeship.” John Graves. University of Texas Press.

One could effortlessly make the argument that John Graves is among the finest authors Texas ever produced. Yet few readers venture beyond his masterpiece, “Goodbye to a River.” This literary memoir, first published in 2004 and spliced with excerpts from Graves’ journal from the 1950s, explains a lot about how he became who he became. A son of Fort Worth, he was educated in a gentlemanly manner at Rice Institute in Houston. He served in the Pacific Theater during World War II before earning his master’s degree from Columbia University in New York. He came away from that experience with a lingering antipathy toward Ivy League types and wanted to plunge instead into the peripatetic life of an expat writer, much like dozens of other American authors before and after the war. This memoir covers mostly his time in Spain and the Canary Islands and records his drinking bouts, love affairs, manly friendships, jagged interactions with other expats, as well as fishing, hunting and sailing trips. Sound like Hemingway? The great man is always in the background of this book and Graves even spots his putative role model a couple times in Spain. The Graves attitude and style is already well developed in the journal entries, although, as he points out, his return to Texas gave him his subject.

“All Over the Map: True Heroes of Texas Music.” Michael Corcoran. University of North Texas Press.

Advice: Read this book with your favorite music streaming device at hand. You’ll want to listen to every artist described by Corcoran, formerly of the American-Statesman and other publications, in this revised version of his 2005 book about key Texas artists. You learn new things about some of them, such as Willie Nelson, Buddy Holly and Stevie Ray Vaughan. Others are musical pioneers who might sound familiar, but Corcoran, an historian as much as a journalist, has tracked down exactly what you need to know. The backstories about what he could or could not discover are as compelling as his authoritative takes on the 42 artists’ histories and musical contributions. Corcoran has chosen fantastic images for this UNT Press edition, and he doesn’t waste a word. As he did during his Statesman years, he can make other writers wish they’d produced this work. The book will wait at eye-level on my Texas  reference shelves for as long as they are standing.

“Hometown Texas.” Photographs by Peter Brown. Stories by Joe Holley. Trinity University Press.

Like Corcoran, Holley has written for major newspapers and magazines. Also like Corcoran, he writes in a tight, precise and yet sometimes expansive manner. To tell the truth, Holley and and I cover a good stretch of the same waterfront, but it is worth it to read about some familiar Texas subjects because he is such an amiable storyteller. Other pieces, especially those with personal meaning for Holley, were completely new to me. Peter Brown’s photographs of small-town or rural Texas open wide and put the subject matter front and center. Nothing tricky here. His instincts and training lead him to the right image time and again. At times, though, one wishes the images raised by Holley were duplicated by Brown. But that’s another book. I know I will keep dipping into this collection of compelling Texas stories that doubles as a handsome picture book.

“The Broken Spoke: Austin’s Legendary Honky-Tonk.” Donna Marie Miller. Texas A&M Press.

Donna Marie Miller’s ace in the hole is her generous access to James and Annetta White, who have run Austin’s legendary Broken Spoke honky-tonk since 1964. It’s clear that Miller warmly admires the White family and cherishes their stories. Her delight is infectious. She sketches out the early years — White grew up not far from our South Austin house! — then records how every family member pitched in when the Broken Spoke opened. One might wish for a little more on the background of the country music and dance styles that flourished at the honky-tonk, but Miller more than makes up for that with accounts of the legends of music that played there and the very localized culture that thrived on the east side of South Lamar Boulevard. Put this on the shelf next to Eddie Wilson’s knock-out 2017 “Armadillo World Headquarters.” Then look up Corcoran’s digital “Austin Clubland.”

ALSO READ: The definitive history of Austin’s Armadillo World Headquarters.

“Thursday Night Lights: The Story of Black High School Football in Texas.” Michael Hurd. University of Texas Press.

Another journalist who has become a historian is Michael Hurd, a former sportswriter for the American-Statesman and other publications. He’s seen a lot. And he understands the connections between sports, especially football, and other, often riven cultural expressions of our state. Until the (white) University Interscholastic League and the (black) Prairie View Interscholastic League merged in 1967, teams from segregated high schools in the same towns or cities played in the same stadiums. African-Americans took the field on Thursdays, Anglos on Fridays. Hurd is especially good on his hometown of Houston, which supported multiple black high schools with blazing rivalries. Now director of Prairie View A&M University’s Institute for the Preservation of History and Culture, Hurd soaks up stories from small towns and big cities. He provides accounts of state championship games in his appendices and, crucially, he reminds us that integration also meant the loss of pride and identity for those who attended black high schools that had excelled at academics and athletics. Even the darkened image of players on the dusk jacket affirms that this is a chapter of our state’s history that must come to light.

MORE TEXAS BOOKS WE LOVE: Late 2017.

MORE TEXAS BOOKS WE LOVE: Fall 2017.

MORE TEXAS BOOKS WE LOVE: Summer 2017.

MORE TEXAS BOOKS WE LOVE: Spring 2017.

MORE TEXAS BOOKS WE LOVE: Fall 2016.

Five things to know about the Texas Film Awards

Preposterously charming Armie Hammer and Timothée Chalamet — greeted by squeals of joy on the red carpet — were the big draws at the split-screen 2018 Texas Film Awards. Yet there was so much more to observe and savor before, during and after the inevitable celebrity highlights.

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Honorees Armie Hammer poses with presenter Timothée Chalamet on the red carpet for the 2018 Texas Film Awards  held at the AFS Cinema. Suzanne Cordeiro/ For American-Statesman

A-LIST PHOTOS: Texas Film Awards red carpet on March 8.

1. A moveable feast. In the past staged primarily at the Austin Film Society‘s hulking studios on the north side of the Mueller development, this year’s incarnation of the group’s most dazzling benefit was held in at least six locations. A welcome reception was held at a private home on Thursday. An honoree lunch and panel sponsored by Variety magazine took place Friday at the sparkling new Fairmont Austin Hotel, as was a VIP dinner for 100 or so guests later in the day. A red carpet and cocktail reception followed early in the evening inside a tent and in the lobby of the relatively new AFS Cinema at The Linc. Guests were split into two theaters, one for in-person action, the other for televised treats, for the Awards Ceremony. Then we all strolled to the cinema’s event room, decorated like a pop-up nightclub, for the After Party. Although not corralled into a traditional sit-down dinner during the ceremony, we were well-fed and -watered.

Richard Linklater, Paul Thomas Anderson and Armie Hammer arrive on the red carpet for the 2018 Texas Film Awards Suzanne Cordeiro/ For American-Statesman

2. Two new social magnets. We heard high praise for the Fairmont, Austin’s newest and largest hotel. John Paul DeJoria judged the steak the best he’d ever tasted at a social event like this one. His actress wife, Eloise DeJoria, and hometown film hero, Matthew McConaughey, fresh from his light-as-smoke “Beach Bum” project, joined him at an intimate table. Meanwhile, the AFS Cinema, called a “beacon of film culture” by AFS CEO Rebecca Campbell, but still unknown to most of the city, provided a suitable backdrop for the Awards Ceremony. “I think Austin is really growing up,” said entertainer and humanitarian Turk Pikpin as we headed from the tent to the lobby. (I will say that getting in and out of the movie theater rows during the multi-hour ceremony was a bit of a game for some of us.)

Timothée Chalamet poses with Riley Cummins. Suzanne Cordeiro/ For American-Statesman

3. Keeping it light. Many a regular gala guest dreads the live auction part of a benefit evening, unless lighting strikes and a rare combination of auctioneer, bidders and auction items is especially electrifying. AFS backer and Texas Tribune CEO Evan Smith acknowledged as much when he rose to conduct the Fund a Filmmaker part of this gala. He was helped by young Augustine Frizzel, who gushed about her AFS grant and how it transformed her most recent project. “It came at the most vulnerable and most precarious time in a filmmaker’s career,” she said. Then with elegance, humor and precision, Smith raced through the $30,000 digital drive to the relief of all. So far, AFS has given out $1.8 million in grants to rising talents.

Armie Hammer interviews with the media on the red carpet for the 2018 Texas Film Awards. Suzanne Cordeiro/ For American-Statesman /

4. Real reels. “Whoever edited that clip reel deserves an award,” said honoree Paul Thomas Anderson, eight-time Academy Award nominee and director of “Boogie Nights,” “Magnolia,” “There Will Be Blood and, most recently, “Phantom Thread.” This has always been a superpower for the AFS ceremony, which has gone by several names. Editing wizardry worthy of any Oscar telecast was also applied to Dallas-raised Hammer’s career, whose reel included “The Social Network,” “J Edgar,” “Nocturnal Animals” and, most recently, “Call Me By Your Name,” and the posthumously honored Jonathan Demme, whose clips included “Stop Making Sense,” “Philadelphia” and “The Silence of the Lambs,” along with samples from his astounding array of documentaries, feature films and music videos.

Timothée Chalamet signs autographs for fans at the 2018 Texas Film Awards. 3/8/2018 Suzanne Cordeiro/ For American-Statesman

5. Gracious grace. Each AFS ceremony is a lesson in Austin film history. Louis Black dug deep into his stories about Demme’s timely interventions into local film culture. Rick Linklater and Anderson, who won the Jonathan Demme Award, talked at length about “the great risk-taker” Demme’s profound influences. They weren’t the only ones to show grace. Guests called Chalamet’s introduction of Hammer “incredibly sweet” and “authentic,” while Hammer responded to his “Call Me By Your Name” romantic partner by saying: “I think I’ve handed you about 20 of these awards, so you handing me this one means a lot.” Hammer and Chalamet have charisma to spare. We were reminded of the old line: “Actors Studio can make an actor, but only God can make a movie star.”

At age 10, the Long Center opens its doors wider

If you lived in Austin during the 1960s and ’70s, you called the oddly shaped domed structure on the shores of Town Lake the Municipal Auditorium.

Austin’s Municipal Auditorium under construction in 1958 and photographed by Rockdale Works. Contributed by Austin History Center PICA 26945

If you arrived in the 1980s, it was then known as Palmer Auditorium, renamed after late Austin Mayor Lester Palmer. Maybe you referred to it jokingly as the “Green Turtle,” or variations on that theme.

If you were around during the 1990s and early 21st century, you’ll recall the seemingly Sisyphean efforts to turn that outdated 1959 building into the Long Center for the Performing Arts. Many things were tried; some failed, some succeeded.

And if you were in town March 28-30, 2008, you might have attended one many glorious events staged for the Long Center’s grand opening. One could praise right away  the handsome and lively Dell Hall, the largest performance space, but also the terrace lined with columns — the result of an engineering challenge — that offered one of the finest views of the city skyline.

The center, home to the city’s top symphony, opera, ballet and choral companies, as well as to mid-sized arts groups and touring acts, is back in the spotlight this year. A larger 10th anniversary party is planned for fall 2018, but before that on March 3, the center will blaze with the talents of the Avett Brothers and Asleep at the Wheel for a celebratory concert and after party.

Never one to rest on its laurels, the Long Center staff and trustees have spent the past year reexamining the center’s role in the community. It was known in some circles a decade ago primarily as a place of refuge for the larger arts groups who were nudged out of Bass Concert Hall by the University of Texas. Yet even from days when charismatic leaders such as Cliff Redd explained the unbuilt center’s future role, it was always intended to be a place of convergence for all of the arts.

It became more than that — and, then again, sometimes less. Despite the absence of a hoped-for café or shop, the center swarmed with unexpected activity year-round, much of that outside. The place itself became the main event, not what was booked on its two indoor stages. And even those performance offerings became increasingly varied, less traditional.

Well, after spending a year with consulting creatives from the ad agency Archer Malmo, the Long Center leaders have in hand a plan to fill the spaces, including the much-loved H-E-B Terrace, with an even wider variety of entertainment.

“The landscape of Austin is changing and so are we,” says Cory Baker, president and CEO of the Long Center. “The most immediate changes you’ll see are in our programming, wherein we’re diversifying in order to set the stage for the next generation of artists.”

How that will play itself out remains to be seen. Everyone is aware of the city’s need for affordable artistic venues. What it means, however, for the current resident companies of Dell Hall and Rollins Studio Theatre, who often rehearse as well as perform there, remains unclear.

For now, branding upgrades will suffice while the staff tries to free up more dates to mix in fresh forms of shared activity.

UPDATE 1:30 Feb. 28.: We asked Baker to amplify her comments on the changes at the Long Center.

American-Statesman: What exactly do you mean by more diverse entertainment bookings in the future? The examples you use — movies, talks, etc. — are already a part of your line-up and have been for a while.

 When we say diversifying programming, we are thinking beyond just adding new genres to the mix. We are focused on diversifying the experience options within the performing arts spectrum and being more intentional about our choices in order to expand our reach and engage new audiences.

We strive to be progressive, relevant and genuinely more reflective of our ever-evolving population. This means working with artists to create unique experiences for Austin – the Avett Brothers playing with Asleep at the Wheel, Bill Murray’s critically acclaimed new project – and blurring the lines to surprise our audiences by partnering with b to showcase boundary-breaking opera singer, Joseph Keckler.

We are also expanding the offerings within each genre, for instance, we are proud to present José González and the Boston Pops (coming 2019). Our speaker series goes from world-renowned astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson to iconic photographer Annie Leibovitz.

Family programming is another area where our offerings are as different as the many families that we serve, from seeing the Paw Patrol juggernaut in Dell Hall to enjoying free bubble fun on the lawn for Bubblepalooza and our All Summer Long series of community events. This is part of our current programming, and it shows the intentional choices we will be making for the next 10 years and beyond.

What exactly does this mean for the seven resident companies? Less performance time? Less rehearsal time?

The Long Center is proud to continue to be the home of our resident companies. Our strategy has been to look at the calendar and performance spaces as creatively as possible in close coordination with our partners. An example of this is that the Austin Opera graciously works with us so that we can present on their dark nights. This year, we have already presented many incredible artists … through our willingness to share the space in creative ways.

When it comes to Rollins, the venue was always intended to be a shared community asset — an accessible, affordable and practical performance space for a wide array of local artists to create and present work. With the space crisis in Austin growing and demand on the room increasing, we have challenged ourselves to think proactively about how we can serve an extended range of arts groups in the city and work creatively with our existing partners to find practical solutions that will best serve the arts ecosystem here in Austin

 

Glimpse inside Austin parties for history and the arts

Two subjects galvanized this year’s Angelina Eberly Luncheon, which benefits the Austin History Center Association, the nonprofit ally of the Austin History Center.

Monte Akers and Charles Peveto at Angelina Eberly Luncheon for the Austin History Center Association. Michael Barnes/American-Statesman

One hot topic was the Driskill Hotel, traditional site of the always gratifying midday event. Leading the public chat about the venue’s rollercoaster past was Monte Akers, attorney and author, whose “The Grand Dame of Austin: A History of the Driskill Hotel” was recently released by Waterloo Press (must be transparent, also the publisher of my two books).

His best anecdote, however, was told off the cuff: Before lunch a lady introduced herself as Helen Corbitt. Could she really be the celebrated Driskill chef who had popularized the cheese soup that we sipped in the lobby? (She died in 1978.) Perhaps it was her daughter? Akers asked around. But the well-attired woman had vanished for a while like a Driskill ghost. Luncheon chairman Charles Peveto put the questions to rest: That was Helen Covert, not Helen Corbitt.

Also on the stage in the banquet room were Luci Baines Johnson and Julian Read. Johnson’s family was closely associated with the hotel. For decades, LBJ held periodic court in the ornate 1886 palace. His daughter told the stories behind the stories, including the fact that LBJ and Lady Bird Johnson‘s first breakfast date at the hotel was later rendered in several conflicting versions by her parents and their friends.

Read, one of the greats of public relations and public affairs, shared a detailed history of the hotel’s modern ownership. Best known in some circles for his work with Texas Gov. John Connally, Read represented the Driskill through several of those owners, all struggling to bring the building up to its historic potential.

The other subject? The association plunged deep into the campaign to give over a portion of the shuttered Faulk Library to the center, which long ago maxed out its storage, exhibition and office space. It would take $11.8 million for critical infrastructure to bring it up to code, then another $3 million for the center to expand into two floors and the basement. For a long while, leaders have endorsed a public-private partnership that could mean little or no cost to taxpayers. Luckily, in the audience this day were Mayor Steve Adler, Mayor Pro Tem Kathie Tovo, as well as former mayors Lee Cooke and Frank Cooksey, all strong backers of the center.

Out into the arts

Sandhya Shardanand, Stephen Torrence and Janet Brooks at Malcolm Bucknall opening at Wally Workman Gallery. Michael Barnes/American-Statesman

The Austin spring performing arts season is up and running. We thoroughly enjoyed Zach Theatre‘s staging of “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time,” a fluid telling of 15-year-old Christopher’s experiences as he negotiates parents, teachers and strangers through the lens of autism in the United Kingdom. Director Dave Steakley‘s team was particularly good at visualizing the mindset of Christopher, played expertly by Texas State University student Preston Straus. It will be remembered as one of the performances of the season.

We also finally caught cabaret singer Ute Lemper live at UT’s McCullough Theatre as presented by Texas Performing Arts. The modern embodiment of the 20th-century cabaret scenes in Berlin, Paris, New York and Buenos Aires, Lemper can channel Marlene Dietrich and any number of performers set off into the world in part by Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht, while sharing the theater history in priceless asides. That is not all. Lemper spent a good portion of the show with a pianist and a bass player scatting in high jazz form. Although technically amazing, this style paled in comparison to Lemper’s clear-eyed, clear-edged cabaret. Note of approval: “Mack the Knife” should always be performed in German. Always.

We also stopped by the opening reception for artist Malcolm Bucknall at Wally Workman Gallery. The longtime Austin artist presented exquisite amalgamations of human and animals, of in Victorian or Edwardian dress, as if borrowed from outrageous children’s books from the period. We had a fairly long talk with Bucknall about his time in the U.K., India, Cyprus and ultimately Austin, after his father moved here to start UT’s metallurgy program in 1958. We plan to hear more of these stories at his studio this week.