Best excuse to use the catfish as an icon for a newspaper
"It's Arkansas's answer to the sophisticated bunny, and we think a more appropriate symbol for Arkansas than the Razorback. Watch for the catfish, he's strong, keeps his ponds and rivers picked up, and as you will see, has some very interesting things to say about Arkansas." Haters, form a line to the right to make "bottomfeeder" jokes. (January 1977)
Worst culinary pandering to a political candidate
Cotham's, home of the Hubcap hamburger, serves Joe Lieberman lox and bagels when he campaigns in Arkansas with presidential hopeful Al Gore. (September 2000)
"Huckabee ... could be the Baptist ministry's answer to David Pryor. He's the kind of young man who might succeed in secular politics," writes John Brummett in a story about a schism in the Southern Baptist Convention. (March 1991)
In a story by Judith Gallman about the idea to revitalize East Markham, future River Market godfather Jimmy Moses says, "It will work. I swear to God it will happen." Proposed new names for the district: East End, East Markham, Entertainment district, Water Street. (July 6, 1994)
Best assignment given to a young male reporter
David Glenn, in researching a story on massage parlors in Little Rock, finds one where a sweet lady he calls "Louise" includes what's called "a local" in her rubdown. Louise tells him she believes in the Bible and that her type of massage is important to her customers. "They need relief." (October 1974)
Worst result for a citizen trying to report child pornography
A doctor who tries to report to the FBI the sender of unsolicited emailed pornography ends up being charged with a felony and convicted. Bottom line: Don't let the government know if you're being emailed stuff you don't want and know is illegal. (September 2000)
"I think an important part of starting the Times was Alan's synergy with the Art Farm, which at that time was not only the hippie commercial art agency for First Federal Savings and Loan but also the Little Rock home of Greasy Greens," remembers Vernon Tucker in an email to the Times. "The band wasn't just a band and the Art Farm wasn't just another ad agency. This was hard to explain to the 4H member from Lonoke who was writing an essay on agriculture in Arkansas, saw Art Farm in the telephone directory and listened patiently while I tried earnestly to explain our contribution. The Greens, or Greasy Greens were more of a performance art collective than a traditional music group. Most of us were artists of one kind or another with little musical background." Tucker was co-editor with Alan Leveritt in the early '70s. Art Farm leader Patrick McKelvey illustrated often in the early days, including the first cover of Union Station Times. And Danny Morris created the catfish logo.
- BEST COVER MOTIF: The dominant Arkansas Times cover theme of the late '70s to early '80s is best described as "sexy camping."
Best pinball parlor in Little Rock in 1974
The Little Rock Municipal Airport, reported in the Times to have the widest selection of pinball machines in the city. (Sept. 19, 1974)
Best low bar for measuring success for Arkansas Times in 1976
"Two years is not a very long time of life; but it is a milestone of large importance for a new publication. We think the magazine has improved, in the quality of writing and appearance, but there are other ways to measure improvement: They don't cut off the lights any more and we pay the rent nearly on time." (September 1976)
Worst "It's OK when we do it" moment
In the Sept. 22, 1994, issue, the Times pokes fun at the Democrat-Gazette for bringing back the "Ripley's Believe It or Not" feature, writing, "Once again, Arkansas readers have access to valuable and provocative knowledge: 'Beavers can completely close their nostrils and ears!'" A year later, on Oct. 27, 1995, the Times does a cover story "Believe it Or Not," focusing on Arkansans whose achievements won them a place in the column (but failing to note that Times freelancer Stephen Steed and his three brothers were once in Ripley's, because all four were born on the same date in different years).
- BEST WAY TO CLOSE A DEAL: In order to sell an ad to Moses music store, publisher Alan Leveritt agrees to pose nude on the toilet in an ad. (February 1976)
Columnist Graham Gordy proposes new slogans for Arkansas cities. Among the most memorable: Ash Flat: "Kick-ass name for a town or a baby."
Bryant: "Because Benton was getting all uppity." Eureka Springs: "If you're into UFOs, dulcimers and Jesus, look no further." Fayetteville: "Your daughter had a lot of sex here." Fairfield Bay/Heber Springs: "Sure, you can drive your golf cart on a state highway." Maumelle: "French for 'small breasts,' Arkansan for 'MILF MOUNTAIN'!!" North Little Rock: "We see your palatial Presidential Library and raise you a concrete RV park."
Texarkana: "Two cities. One fantastic Bennigan's." West Memphis: "If you'll eat crab legs from a dog track, you won't mind all the other terrible shit that goes on here." (Aug. 10, 2011)
Best follow-up comment
On the online version of Graham Gordy's column, a reader reports the Bennigan's in Texarkana has been closed for three years.
About three weeks before Viagra was approved by the FDA, the Times ran a story on a Van Buren doctor who was treating his impotent patients with inflatable prosthesis implants, which cost around $20,000. The doctor had done 570 over the previous three years, the most in the world. "This is a happy business," he said. (March 6, 1998)
- BEST TATTOO: Arkansas Times convinces art director Bryan Moats to get a tattoo of the outline of Arkansas and a lightning bolt for our 2011 Best of Arkansas cover. (July 27, 2011)
Best is that how it really was?
In an advance article on Jimmy Buffett coming to Little Rock to play Robinson Auditorium (for "an older and more discerning crowd that often turns up for rock concerts at Barton Coliseum"), the Times writes, "But the obvious question is whether Little Rock is ready for anything but wild hippie acid music." (March 30, 1975)
Worst contest idea
The Times sponsors a contest for folks wanting to have dinner with groupie Connie Hamzy. (July 4, 1997)
Best advice from the Times
That Keith Moyer, the editor of the Arkansas Gazette, call John Robert Starr, editor of the Arkansas Democrat, "Boo's Belching Buttboy." And in return, Starr should call Moyer "Gaseous Gannett Goon." The advice came after emails between the two surfaced that showed similar puerile insults. (June 1991)
The month after the 1980 Le Dare story, three people write in to cancel their subscriptions, including one Little Rock reader who said the story was full of "trashy and gutter language."
Best observation by an architect about a building
In a cover story about Arkansas architect Fay Jones, Jones recalls meeting Frank Lloyd Wright in a new Houston hotel and hearing him say when he looked at circular holes in a light cove, "Now Jones, here you see the effect of venereal disease in architecture." (October 1983)
Worst recipe to appear in the Times. Or maybe in history
Horseradish souffle. Main ingredients: horseradish, lemon gelatin, whipping cream. (April 1982)
Worst moment of temporary insanity
"Paul Greenberg's voice may be Arkansas's best voice." (November 1987).
Worst metamorphosis of an Arkansas legislator
In a 1987 profile of powerful state Sen. Nick Wilson, Bob Lancaster writes that Wilson started out as "an idealist young liberal in the David Pryor mold," and that he, along with three other legislators, "helped change the Senate's image from that of a smoky lair filled with fat old stogie-smoking crooks and buffoons to that of the more progressive and more promising of the two houses of the legislature." But 10 years later, Doug Smith breaks the news that little-understood legislation steered $3 million in state grants to three lawyers, the tip of the iceberg that would eventually bring down Wilson. In 1999, the plump, stogie-smoking Wilson was convicted of conspiring to divert funds from state programs and tax evasion and sent to prison.
- BEST HOT SPRINGS MADAM TELLS ALL: Maxine Jones recounts her heyday as "Hot Springs most wanted madam." Jones owned a number of brothels and paid off local authorities "in cash — as much as $500 a night at times — or with the rather special favors her girls could provide." Says Jones, "I never did have a man to take the money I earned like some girls do — pimps, you know. I figured if I was smart enough to make it, then I was smart enough to keep it." (April 1982)
Best scent in the Times
Former editor Bill Terry writes for the 15th anniversary of the Times that contributing writer Miller Williams advised the young Times to keep a certain possum scent about it, since Little Rock didn't "need another New Yorker." Terry writes, "So we had a little sex in the magazine, including a nude on the cover once. A little sex and a little of this and that; one issue, for example, bashing doctors and exploring the value of whores, a cover on the stupidest (and the smartest) Arkansas legislators and some cops and robbers stuff." (September 1989)
Best sequel to "Babe"
A story about an old hunter who raised an orphaned razorback hog with his hounds and taught it to tree 'coons with the best of them. (November 1983)
That of the late Arkansas-born stuntman Hal Needham. It included once jumping from an airplane onto the back of a galloping horse, directing "Smokey and the Bandit," stunt-doubling for Captain Kirk in some early episodes of "Star Trek," owning the Budweiser rocket car, driving cross-country in a souped-up ambulance in the famous "Cannonball Run," and living in Burt Reynolds' pool house for over a decade. (June 1, 2011)
Our smackdown on "Raiders of the Lost Ark," in which we like the first reel, but say that by the end (the part, as you'll remember, with all the Nazi face melting, pits full of snakes and Wrath of God stuff) "they had run out of ideas." (August 1981)
Worst ad in history, ever, which probably killed some people
Just in time for the suicide season, the Times runs a double-page ad featuring a little old lady bundled up and alone, sitting beside her Charlie Brown Christmas tree and frowning sadly out the window, clearly lost in thought about how she just wishes sometimes that The Lord would take her now. The headline: "You don't have to be alone at Christmas." Why? Because COMPUTERS! A computer store on Kavanaugh has a 24-hour helpline to help you with any issue you have with your new computer! No, really. We ran that. (December 1983)
- WORST FASHION SPREAD: Behold. (April 1986)
Worst pioneer tale
Bob Lancaster's characteristically brilliant writing about the Mountain Meadows Massacre of 1857, in which a mob of pissed-off Mormons descended on a wagon train full of Arkansans traveling through Southern Utah and slaughtered anybody old enough to speak. (March 1984)
Best viscous/vicious pairing
In a short blurb, we note Philip Martin's erotic novel "The Eavesdropper," excerpted in Nerve magazine. We're no prudes, but almost the only part of the Nerve excerpt we can print here is: "... viscous, vicious milk. Spoonful, spoonful, spoonful." Why yes, the excerpt of Martin's novel IS still available online at nerve.com. Why do you ask? (June 1998)
The Times explores what would happen in Arkansas in the event of a full-on nuclear exchange with the Soviets. Digest: Between the ICBM silos in Faulkner County, Little Rock Air Force Base, the defense industries in Camden and being downwind of big air bases in Oklahoma and Texas, we'd all be the past tense of that word that starts with F, ends with K, and ain't "firetruck." (April 1984)
Worst fawning over Joe Lieberman
The Times would later conclude that the former senator from Connecticut was "slimy," a "turncoat and a warmonger" who would "mislead and manipulate the people." The Times called him "Loserman" and "serpentine" and never forgave for his "wimpish acquiescence to the theft of running mate Al Gore's victory in 2000." But back in 2000, in the homestretch of the presidential campaign, some Times columnists think Joe Lieberman's nomination as veep is just the ticket. Ernie Dumas writes in August that "Lieberman seriously elevates Gore's moribund campaign." By September, John Brummett is full-on swooning: "[T]his man has done nothing less than unite American Christians and Jews under a banner of God and shared values."
Worst eye for political talent
"Overrated: Mike Beebe, the extolled Democratic state senator and oft-suggested candidate for statewide office who has never been tested in terms of telegenic skills or retail political ones," writes John Brummett. (Dec. 8, 2000)
- BEST GOOF: Arkansas Enquirer (April 1988)
Best kind Robert Starr obituary
Max Brantley: "The big war over, Starr and I became occasional lunch mates, part of a loose band of old fogey media types. These invariably pleasant meetings were no stranger, I always said, than the post-war reunions of Japanese and American Pearl Harbor survivors." (April 7, 2000)
Best unkind Robert Starr obituary
Bob Lancaster: "[T]hat last batch of columns, which, if they lacked the old venom, still bore the old Starr taint in that they were self-indulgent, inconsequential, stupid, loutish, and uncalled for." (April 21, 2000)
Worst advice from God
"I asked God, 'Do you want me to change the law to put prayer in schools?' He said no. If you do that, kids would have the right to pray to other gods, too. They could pray to Buddha. God doesn't want that." — Kathy Smith, founder of Put God Back in Public School, a North Little Rock group that sought to provide "Christian counseling" in public schools. (June 12, 1998)
Best things hidden in a bottle on a high shelf in White Water Tavern
The ashes of one of former owner Larry "Goose" Garrison's best friends. "In high school, I bit part of his ear off. We got in a fight — that's how we got to be friends," Garrison tells Lindsey Millar in his oral history of the bar. Also in the bottle: Four women's pubic hairs — three reds and one black. A line of cocaine. "Some good kine bud." (Oct. 14, 2010)
Best gullible Huck
When the Canadian spoof TV show "This Hour Has 22 Minutes" came to Arkansas, the interviewer told then-Gov. Mike Huckabee that the Canadian Capitol was a downscaled replica of the Arkansas Capitol, only made out of ice. "We're worried about global warming, though, so we're putting a dome over it," said the interviewer. "But to pay for it, we must attract visitors." They filmed Huckabee saying, "I'm Governor Mike Huckabee of Arkansas, wanting to say congratulations, Canada, on preserving your National Igloo." The live audience in Canada watching the tape laughed uproariously. (Dec. 18, 1998)
Best last of a kind
"If the philosophy of liberalism is thinking that the government has a role in helping people who need help, I plead guilty." — Dale Bumpers (Jan. 8, 1999)
- BEST LAMPSHADE: Why is there an otherwise naked man (with a naked woman behind him) in an advertisement for a furniture store called Contemporary Design? (July 1977)
Best "You're a Real Arkie If"
"... You've ever written 'Go Hogs!' on a hotel registry in a foreign country." (Oct. 16, 1998)
Worst headline to encourage a re-read
"Diarrhea drug a cheap high" (March 17, 1994)
Worst headline typo
"Who's scenery is it, anyway?" (May 7, 1999)
Worst headline typo ON THE COVER!!
"Arkansan of the year: Towsend Wolfe" (sorry, Townsend!). (Jan. 26, 2001)
Best dated political advice
"Republicans win the state only by luck, disease, or when the Democrats make fools of themselves ... If you want to run for office in the state and lose, then simply be a woman, a black, a Jew or a Republican — in that order." —Pollster Jim Ranchino on Arkansas in the '70s. (September 1977)
The Observer eulogizes "Sunglasses After Dark," "the best (we think) and strangest radio show to ever grace Arkansas airwaves." The KABF 88.3 FM show, hosted by Oleo Magneto, went dark after 23 years thanks to a programming shakeup. Oleo, The Observer remembers, "used 'of course' often, as in 'That was, of course, from the extremely rare Japanese pressing of Pere Ubu's third album.' Few DJs could rival Oleo's musical knowledge, and he never failed to pass it along to his listeners." The Observer is torn up about the loss, but Oleo asks that we remember this: "Every noise I ever broadcast is still in circulation, in its original form, somewhere in the ether, and, as a result, has a better claim on eternity than humans are likely to have." (April 19, 2007)
Best fishing advice
How to catch a bass: "Take an ordinary wooden spring loaded clothespin and drill a small hole in one of the flat ends, working a split ring through the hole. Then attach a swivel to the split ring. Next, tie the monofilament line to the swivel. To the other prong of the clothespin on the wide outside edge, affix two or three treble hooks with eye screws and split rings. Wonder lure is almost ready. For the clincher, stick an Alka-Seltzer tablet in the mouth of the clothespin, and chunk the whole contraption somewhere near the lurking lunker. The fizzing of the Alka-Seltzer tablet on top of the water is enough to drive most bass absolutely crazy, and they will often strike the line out of pure spite." (July 7, 1994)
Worst ain't never been no gay "Hey, I'm 6 foot, 195. I ain't never been no gay. ... Everybody that knows me knows I'm not homosexual." — Alderman Mike Meadows of El Dorado. (Dec. 31, 1999)
- BEST WE KNEW THEM WAY BACK WHEN: "Is this Arkansas's Next Bill Clinton?" asks our headline in Mike Trimble's 1987 story. Subhed: "No. I'm the first Mike Beebe." Beebe is a "comer," reports Trimble. "He's got the equipment," Trimble writes. "Good-looking and fit at forty, Beebe need not worry over the fact that the day is probably past when a homely man can be elected to statewide public office in Arkansas." The look, Trimble adds, is aided by "a haircut of a kind you don't get in barbershops where the barbers are named Otis." (January 1987)
Worst high society
Did you remember that David Koch (of the billionaire political meddlers the Koch brothers) married a young woman from Conway? Koch was 50 and Julia Flesher was 27 when they met; they're still married. Well before the Koch brothers became famous right-wing bogeymen, we make note of the Times of London reporting on Julia Flesher Koch's foibles in Great Gatsbyville back in 1999. She had been the leading "fin de siecle society wife," but then fell out of favor with "New York's snobbish society grande dames." She threw a boring edition of the annual Koch New Year's Eve party in Aspen, Colo. According to the Times of London: "Diana Ross, yawning on a sofa, left before midnight." (April 9, 1999)
Worst failure to recognize how annoying a style of music could become
"The punkization of horn-and-rhythm rich ska music has formed one of the most energizing ... hybrids of late." (Jan. 23, 1998)
Worst 1970s lede
"There is one concept of feminine sexuality that is going to have to be dealt with before some of us can continue down the path of enlightenment toward women's equality. I'm not talking about sensitivity or emotion or intelligence. I'm talking about pussy." Opening lines of Arlin Fields's "A Dissertation On An Important But Seldom-Discussed Concept Of Feminine Sexuality or 'Shake It, Baby, Shake It.'" (October 1975)
Worst failure to appreciate the smell of napalm in the morning
Our original verdict on "Apocalypse Now": A "surrealistic disappointment." (January 1980).
Best animal magnetism
"An animal lover — and how! — in southwest Arkansas." The Times reports on Catherine Gordon, who owned 14 lions, 14 cougars, nine tigers, five bears, three leopards and one camel. Plus 35 horses and "various coyotes and dogs." The subhed asks, what do you do with all those animals? "Dress 'em up of course."
From the article: "'Whenever company comes over you have to put clothes on the children, don't you know?' she says, slipping a blue T-shirt onto Vincent, a four-month-old lion club.' Next she puts a scarf on a cougar cub, and a shirt on a bear cub with pierced ears and purple toenails."
Gordon brought her brood over from India to her hilltop farm just across from the Miller County swamp.
"I don't think there's anything unusual about sleeping with lions, but I guess some people do," she tells the Times. "This is what I like. I don't like shopping. I don't like eating out. I don't have a husband or children. I like this. I'm the only kid on the block like me." (July 1989)
- BEST USE OF A PIG: Arkansas head football coach and amateur magician Lou Holtz proves a good sport for this cover, following a so-so 7-5 season. (September 1981)
Best breaking news
An entire column in 1998 explains honey. Sample: "Honey is sweet, like sugar, but with more complex flavor." (Feb. 13, 1998)
Worst effort at clickbait before there was such a thing as clickbait
"Some Views of Arkansas History, Including a Sexy Indian Princess" is the headline to a review of Pat Winter's "River of Destiny" ("the breathtaking saga of a buxom Indian princess who looks like Sophia Loren is a checkout-counter classic"). (January 1987)
Best barbecue, same as it ever was
"Ever try to eat a rib sandwich in the traditional fashion? Hell, ever try to eat any Sims sandwich in a traditional fashion? They pile on what seems like a pound of meat, drown it in sauce and give you the pile and wish you good luck." From Max Brantley's review of an old standby (Jan. 23, 1998). Max also recounts his first encounter with Sims when he was a cub reporter working the police beat in the early 1970s. Covering a shooting at the restaurant, he sought a quote from Alan Sims. "I didn't see nothing," he replied. "I was just basting my ribs."
Best lede to a true crime story
"It is 7:30 p.m., March 10, 1980. My hand grips a skillet on my kitchen stove. Bubbles form and rise in the simmering bacon grease, and I wish those tiny bubbles were crystal balls. There are six other people in my house. Minutes ago, I fried bacon and eggs for four of them, one of whom was not invited. He is a stranger. He is, he warns us, a desperate man, a fugitive, a man who has nothing to lose. We believe him. His eyes are like a cold, wet wind. He is armed. He is holding the rest of us hostage." Thus begins a first-person, purportedly true tale of a family taken hostage by a gunman in the Ozarks. A nail-biting thriller from start to bloody finish. (May 1983)
- BEST PHOTO COUP: The Times convinces John Robert Starr, managing editor and columnist for the Arkansas Democrat, to pose shirtless and with a knife in a cover story on the newspaper war.
Best reporting in the field coming up empty
Bob Lancaster goes to Southwest Arkansas after multiple reports of UFO sightings. "I saw a shooting star in the southern sky, and imagined that a UFO doing dipsy doodles wouldn't be halfway as remarkable," he writes. "The ordinary can be more amazing than what we can conjure or suppose." (June 1988)
The unsuccessful 2008 attempt, as revealed in a story by David Koon, by Westside School shooter Andrew Golden to obtain a concealed handgun permit. Golden, who filed for the permit under his new name, Drew Douglas Grant, was denied a permit by the State Police. Though Golden's record was officially clear due to his being only 11 years old at the time of the March 1998 shooting which took the lives of four of his classmates and a teacher, the State Police had an old set of his fingerprints on file. (Dec. 11, 2008)
Best A Simple Plan
Warwick Sabin reports on a Mena man who as a boy found the only money recovered from the 1971 D.B. Cooper plane hijacking and robbery. Brian Ingram, 8 years old at the time, came across a buried bundle of $20 bills in 1980 while camping with his family on the banks of the Columbia River in Washington state. The money was turned over to the FBI, but Ingram was eventually allowed to keep $3,000 of the $5,800 he found, which he planned to sell for big bucks as a souvenir. (Jan. 26, 2006)
Worst credit check
A 1974 exclusive reveals that two insurance companies had denied a Eureka Springs woman auto insurance because a credit report alleged that she was sexually promiscuous. Then-editor Alan Leveritt writes, "Occasionally a story crosses an editor's desk describing an act so outrageous that simply printing it and getting the word out isn't enough. Newsprint is too thin and flimsy. You want to pick up the typewriter and use it on someone." The report from Retail Credit says "she is sexually promiscuous, she uses language not normally used by females in mixed company, and she has a reputation in the community for having bad morals. Equity Mutual and State Farm both decline to insure her based on the report. A representative from State Farm says that if a woman was reported to be sexually promiscuous, the company would refuse insurance "not on moral grounds, but because it would be impossible to predict who might be driving the car." (Nov. 28, 1974)
- BEST BEEFCAKE: Our expose' on Le Dare, an all-male stripclub near Geyer Springs Road. The longish piece includes minutely detailed descriptions of each dancer, including the featured dancer "Elliot," who is described as, "Our favorite. Is black, a doll in a cowboy outfit. Struts like a prince. Boots, thonged jeans. Was cheerleader at SMU. Knows how to strip with style. Jeweled G[-string] with silver straps. Flowing, sexy dancer. Looks like Richard Pryor." (March 1980)
The Observer, writing in the June 13, 2003 issue about things learned since becoming a father: "As long as it issued from your kid, you can clean up vomit and then go back to eating your chili."
"Fingering the Federalist Society" (July 11, 2003)
Best lonely lede
"They're poor, or affluent. They live across town, or next door.
Or, they're you.
David Glenn's examination of loneliness in Little Rock in 1974 is well-reported and unapologetically sad. Glenn speaks with dozens of lonely people and catalogues the results. "I usually cry at night," says one. A worker for Central Services for the Elderly describes a client: "Mrs. A, early to mid-nineties, is a very remarkably lady. ... I have called her ... to inquire how she was feeling. She is very alone and quite sad."
Glenn never divulges whether he himself is lonely. It is implied. (Nov. 28, 1974)
"Let's face it: Arkansas doesn't have any real bars. ... What we've got — the result of a half-Baptist, half-hellraiser heritage that causes us to drink wet and vote dry — is a weird assortment of hotels with bars attached (in some parts of the state), restaurants with bars attached (in some parts of the state), country clubs, honky-tonks, and 'private clubs' that are such a sham you couldn't pry the quotation marks off with a crowbar." (July 1987)
Best yesterday feels like today
From a 1987 bar guide: "Having survived all that, people say [the White Water Tavern] is just not the same as the old days, before it served mixed drinks, when it was darker ... . Despite its slight slicking up, the White Water still has that good neighborhood blend of older folks and college kids, dating couples, married couples, businesspeople, cowboys, and unisex tables of singles who wouldn't be averse to meeting somebody cute who also likes to dance to "Hand Jive" or "Mr. Union Man." (July 1987). Bonus same-as-it-ever-was: "The nice thing about the Capital Bar in Little Rock is that you can pretend you're a big shot and nobody will call your hand."
- BEST GRAFFITI: Arkansas Times hires Jose Hernandez to create a graffiti mural for our 2012 Best of Arkansas cover. (July 25, 2012)
Best pulp lede
"He used to wear rings on his fingers made of twenty-dollar gold pieces crested with diamonds that glistened on his fat bronzed hands like pineapple rings on a ham." From Bill Terry's dazzling profile of "Big Man," the 300-pound con man and police informant who played both sides of the street. (March 1978)
Best proof the Times is up on the trends
"Crystals run computers and keep watches in time, but will they cure diseases and bring about world peace?" (April 1986)
"Tattoos aren't just for bikers anymore. Some dare call them art." (April 26, 2007)
Worst news that doesn't change
A sampling from 1998:
Senate candidate gets in hot water for stating rape doesn't produce pregnancy because of a peculiarity of female body chemistry. Ugh. Fay Boozman in 1998 (Oct. 23, 1998; great caption: "Boozman: His theory debunked in 1820").
"We have the worst roads of any state," writes Bob Lancaster (May 22, 1998).
"Legal yes; available no: Fewer abortion doctors threaten choice." (Feb. 13, 1998)
The outlook on Mara Leveritt's hobby horses haven't improved much in the last 15 years. "As always, the explanation offered for the drive to increase surveillance of citizens is safety," she wrote (March 6, 1998). And on the "abominable war on drugs," she wrote, "We are seeing the failure of that meddlesome approach. ... Our prisons are bursting. Families have been shattered. Drug use has not been stopped." (March 27, 1998).
Best Portis being Portis
Some favorite bits from "The Forgotten River," Charles Portis' long-form piece for the Times on journeying along the Ouchita River:
"The girl behind the bar knew nothing, which was all right. You don't expect young people to know river lore."
"At lunch one day he found a split avocado on his plate, or 'alligator pear,' as it was called on the menu. 'I had never seen one before. I wouldn't eat it.' "
"[DeSoto] was looking for another Peru, out of which he had taken a fortune in gold. ... What he found was catfish."
"Those earnest enunciators who say 'bean' for 'been' should know that Hakluyt, the Oxford scholar, spelled it 'bin,' as did, off and on, the poet John Donne."
"Did they know of any songs about the Ouachita? Well, no. They tried hard, too, to think of a song. Everybody was very obliging."
"My motel room cost only $21, and, as a bonus, a man was practicing law in the next room." (August 1991)
- WORST APARTHEID ANALOGY: "Dope smokers are like blacks in South Africa: They're no longer in the minority but neither do they have the power," says an anonymous weed smoker in the Times cover story "The High Life in Little Rock." Olivia Myers Farrell is the cover model. (November 1977)
James Carville looks like a combination of "Walter Hussman and E.T." writes John Brummett from the campaign trail. (May 7, 1992)
Best 40-year crusade
The Times' first story on gay marriage comes in 1974 (then-editor Alan Leveritt opens the issue by comparing the struggle for equality for gay people to the Civil Rights movement). From that issue, "Like Any Other Marriage": After 15 years, Roy and David know that this has worked." What does a gay couple argue about, we ask? "I argue about the telephone bill being too high and such things as that," Roy says. We note that Roy and David live "in a society that does not yet fully accept their ideas and actions." Says Roy, the public is "learning more about it and the more you learn about anything, the less afraid you are of it." In 2014, the Times cover story on the first legal gay marriages (before a stay in the legal case put the brakes on for now) is headlined "At Last." We interview dozens of newlyweds. "This is something we've waited a long time for and never thought we'd see in this lifetime," says one new husband, James Paulus. "We just never thought we'd see the day."
- BEST ASS GRAB: Crescent Dragonwagon's expose on the single life in Little Rock produced some current staffers' pick for best all-time cover. Dragonwagon reports out on the town and talks to lots of lonely hearts. She finds that Little Rock "is a delicious blend of the traditional and new and can be spontaneous, progressive and conservative all at once," but "[t]here isn't a great deal of casual sex around town." (January 1978)
Best fortune telling
A 1974 story makes predictions about what Little Rock would look like in 1990. "There are apparently conflicting ideas about what the city of Little Rock will look like in the year 1990 and what function it will perform. They vary from space odyssey visions of a towering futuristic metropolis where people are clustered like thriving aphids to far more modest projections of an inner-city with pretty, traffic-less streets, quiet parks and cultural areas." Amazingly, we also predict the precise timing of the rise and fall and rise and fall of Hot Dog Mike decades later. (Dec. 12, 1974)
Best and Worst: Clinton Chronicles
Best kicking a Big Dog when he's down
Betsey Wright, former chief of staff to Gov. Bill Clinton, pens a cover story for the Times titled "Musings and Rantings from the far (Arkansas) North." On the "ridiculous distraction" of the Lewinsky scandal, Wright writes, "The only other thing I am sure of is that if Bill Clinton were in my reach I would be mightily tempted to bash him on his head and kick him in the shins." (Aug. 14, 1998)
Worst where have I heard that before?
"Public support for the president's voluminous plan plummeted even as polls showed that people continued to like all its major ideas." That's Ernie Dumas writing about a health care plan 20 years ago, in a column on the eventually doomed Clinton plan for universal health insurance. (Aug. 18, 1994)
Best 15-year-old sentiment to re-use for headline next year
"Hillary Clinton ... is beginning to benefit from the residual modern-day Democratic advantage, which is the buffoonery of Republicans." —John Brummett (Sept. 22, 2000)
Best new history
Bill Clinton's victory in 1992 changed everything, writes Max Brantley. "An exorcism was what it was. Of hillbilly jokes. Of decades when we had only Mississippi to thank ... Arkansas is no longer, first, the home of Lum and Abner and Orval Faubus. It is the home of Bill Clinton. History now begins in 1992, not 1957." (Nov. 5, 1992)
Best copy and replace statement
"People ask me all the time, 'What do you want to be doing five years from now?' ... And I always tell them, 'I don't think like that. I don't see my life that way," Arkansas First Lady Hillary Clinton tells Mara Leveritt. (October 1989)
"I mean, back in the late '70s, if you remember, people were saying, 'Oh my gosh, she's going to keep working. I can't believe it.' ... This issue has been played out at every level except the presidential one. I haven't had questions like this in Bill's last three campaigns ... so in a funny kind of way, the presidency is the last step to recognize the transition that has already occurred in both our private and public lives," Hillary Clinton tells Mara Leveritt. (Aug. 27, 1992)
Leslie Newell Peacock profiles a local Clinton lookalike, North Little Rock bolt and screw sales rep Terry Kent. "Thick white hair is combed neatly back, blue eyes peeking out of crinkled bags. His head waggles when he laughs; pride turns his mouth into an upside down U. When he waves to the crowd, he rejects Nixon's V signs for hitchhiker thumbs. 'Thank youuuu,' he chokes, 'thank youuuuuuu.'"
Reception is as sharply divided for Kent as it is for the president: "When he entered a Batesville restaurant recently, a woman told him he looked like Bill Clinton and then added, 'If I had a gun I'd kill you on the spot.' 'She wasn't smiling,' Kent grimaced." (Nov. 25, 1994)