PITTSBURG - Southeast Kansas may be best known for its mining industry and fried chicken, but the region also is rich with the names of entertainers who made a career from the early through mid-20th century in stage, film, and radio.
A new exhibit in Special Collections at Leonard H. Axe Library, entitled “Southeast Kansans in Stage, Radio, and Film,” features six influential entertainers from this region: Carson Robison, Zasu Pitts, Dr. Eva Jessye, Louise Brooks, Gordon Parks, and William Inge.
Included in the exhibit are books, photographs, and documents of these famous performers, musicians, writers, and artists who had Southeast Kansas roots, and who made their mark in American culture.
Carson Robison, from Oswego and Chetopa, Kansas, was well-known for his New York radio show and for composing topical songs during World War II.
Zasu Pitts, of Parsons, Kansas, made more than 500 films during her career, including Greed (1924) and many comedy shorts.
Dr. Eva Jessye, from Coffeyville, Kansas, and the Eva Jessye Choir traveled world-wide and also were cast in the original Broadway and touring productions of George Gershwin’s renowned production, Porgy and Bess (1935).
Louise Brooks, born in Cherryvale, Kansas, was best known for her work in the 1929 German films, Pandora’s Box and Diary of a Lost Girl.
Gordon Parks, of Fort Scott, Kansas, wrote a fictional autobiography, The Learning Tree (1963), of his early childhood years in Fort Scott. He later turned his book into a screenplay and filmed the movie of the same title on location in Bourbon County.
William Inge, of Independence, Kansas, began his career in teaching and was also a drama critic prior to writing his most successful plays and screenplays, Come Back, Little Sheba (1950), Picnic (1953), Bus Stop (1955), The Dark at the Top of the Stairs (1957), and Splendor in the Grass (1961).
The exhibit is open to the public Monday through Friday, from 8 a.m. to noon and 1 to 5 p.m., through the spring semester. It was curated by Janette Mauk, Senior Administrative Specialist for the Special Collections & University Archives. Special Collections is located in the lower level of Axe Library at 1605 S. Joplin St.