September 29, 2008
During 1936, in a state deep within the waves of the Great Depression, Texas held a statewide celebration that marked 100 years of Texas Independence. The celebration culminated in the $25 million Central Exposition in Dallas.
The State Fair grounds were transformed into a glorious celebration of the dual theme of history and progress and contained over 50 buildings. The Texas Centennial provided Dallas with the opportunity to create the first world’s fair in the Southwest, despite the Depression. As businessman Stanley Marcus said "…modern Texas History began with the celebration of the Texas Centennial, because it was in 1936…that the rest of America discovered Texas."
The Mary McCord/Edyth Renshaw Collection on the Performing Arts, housed in Bywaters Special Collections of Southern Methodist University and named after two former SMU theater professors, includes a wide array of materials related to theater, film, dance and music, especially in the Southwest. An important component includes scrapbooks dating from 1886 through 1980.
The scrapbook of Lucille Robinson concerning the Texas Centennial gives a poignant glimpse into the lives of two young friends enthralled with the Texas Centennial in Dallas in 1936. Consisting of clippings, photographs, ticket stubs and correspondence, the scrapbook is a window into the life of Texans involved with this celebration. The letters so carefully pasted into the scrapbook reveal a close friendship between two young women that began with a mutual love of the Globe Theatre at the Texas Centennial.
Lavonia Rorie, a student at SMU, wrote Lucille regularly beginning in late September about a wide range of topics, making sure to mention details of the Globe — a replica of the famous London theatre — and the Centennial, while also mentioning of her everyday life in Dallas. The photographs and clippings of the Globe that were pasted into the scrapbook were enclosed in Lavonia’s letters. She even enclosed some newspaper scraps that the actors had thrown into the audience as confetti!
During the summer of the Centennial, Lucille and Lavonia saw the show at the Globe almost daily, and discussed the actors and the plays in detail. After Lucille left for school, Lavonia continued to see the shows while constantly longing for someone with whom she could to discuss the production. Since Lavonia had a shift at her family's stand at the Centennial, she often sneaked away and lurked around the Globe, meeting the actors and making friends with the stage hands, particularly the "little curtain puller, Jack," who let her watch the shows and informed her of all the important theater gossip.
Besides the Globe news, Lavonia also filled Lucille in on the events in her daily life, from her date with an "adorable boy" who is a "heavenly dancer" and didn't take her home until 1 a.m. to her busy schedule of driving back and forth from the Centennial every day. And while the scrapbook does not include Lucille’s letters back to Lavonia, it is easy to imagine what the contents might have been.
One of the primary topics addressed in almost every letter concerned sororities. Lavonia was in Alpha Omicron Pi at SMU, while Lucille was going through rush at another university. While obviously Lavonia wished that Lucille could have gone to SMU and been an Alpha Omicron Pi, too, she made a point of telling Lucille that "of course she isn’t mad" that Lucille went Tri Delta instead of Alpha Omicron Pi, and encouraged her not to be too "downhearted" about all of the pledge meetings she was required to attend. Lucille also had become involved in her university's theatre club, and while Lavonia commended her for her participation, she also responded by writing "the kids up there must be very playful. Imagine pouring water down your face!"
While the two co-eds were moving past the incredible Centennial to get on with their lives, the memory of the Texas Centennial remained. As Lavonia wrote on the last day of the Centennial, "Maybe you think the last day and night weren't sad. Every one tried to be gay, but under it all you could tell that they were sorry it was all over… I took one last look at the lights which were very misty and dim because of the fog. I can’t help shedding a tear even now when I think of all the fun I had there."
• Hamon Arts Library
• State Fair of Texas
• State Fair of Texas Time Line
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