Sincerely Yours: Howard Ashman, Making IU Part of His World

Many students today do not immediately recognize Howard Ashman’s name when mentioned as a notable Indiana University alumnus; however, they do recognize Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, The Little Mermaid, Aladdin, and Little Shop of Horrors. Ashman wrote the lyrics and Alan Menken wrote the music for all four of those titles, winning several Academy Awards and Grammy Awards. They took home an Academy Award for Best Original Song in 1986 for Little Shop of Horrors, in 1989 for The Little Mermaid, and in 1991 for Beauty and the Beast. They won the Grammy Award in 1990 for The Little Mermaid, in 1993 for Beauty and the Beast, and in 1994 for Aladdin.

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Snow Queen, lyrics and screenplay written by Howard Ashman. April 29, 1973. Indiana University Archives, Bloomington, Indiana.

Howard Ashman graduated from Indiana University in 1974 with his M.A. from the Department of Theatre and Drama. He accomplished many creative achievements during his time at IU, including writing the screenplay and music for Hans Christian Andersen’s Snow Queen in 1973. A letter to Ashman from R. Keith Michael, Chair of the Department of Theatre and Drama, highlights some of his accomplishments as well as his stellar reputation in the department.

Letter from R. Keith Michael to Howard Ashman. April 30, 1974. Collection 299, Indiana University Archives, Bloomington, Indiana.

After his graduation in 1974, Ashman would not return to Indiana University until April 1987. He was invited to give a lecture and see a performance of Little Shop of Horrors produced by the IU Department of Theatre and Drama.

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Letter from R. Keith Michael to Howard Ashman. December 9, 1986. Collection 299, Indiana University Archives, Bloomington, Indiana.
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Letter from Howard Ashman to R. Keith Michael. December 18, 1986. Collection 299, Indiana University Archives, Bloomington, Indiana.

In April 1987, Ashman returned to the same stage he had been on in
1973 at Indiana University, saying it had been “Fourteen years and a lifetime.” He told the Herald-Times on April 19, 1987, “The distance between Bloomington and New York is a life-time. It’s been a very emotional thing for me to come back. I was an actor at IU, and I haven’t acted since I left here. But I have very intense memories of this place, and of the people who changed my life here. This building vibrates for me. There are ghosts here for me.”

Photograph of Howard Ashman on the set of Little Shop of Horrors in the IU Department of Theatre and Drama. April 19, 1987. Herald-Times, Bloomington, Indiana.

As seen in his agenda below, Ashman spent much of his visit in-and-out of interviews and had lunch and an informal chat with IU theatre students before seeing IU Theatre’s production of Little Shop of Horrors. Sources say that Indiana University was the first university granted permission to stage a performance of Little Shop of Horrors thanks to Ashman.

Howard Ashman Visit agenda. April 16-17, 1987. Collection 299, Indiana University Archives, Bloomington, Indiana.
Little Shop of Horrors, IU Theatre. April 23, 1987. Indiana University Archives, Bloomington, Indiana.

Howard Ashman passed away on March 14, 1991, shortly after completing his work on Disney’s Beauty and the Beast. While he passed well before his time, Ashman’s lyrics live on in some of America’s most beloved animated and theatrical characters. And for one brief moment in April 1987, he made IU part of his world.

 

Contemporary MLK: 1960s Civil Rights Documentaries from IU Collections

Please join the IU Libraries and the Office of the Bicentennial in remembrance of Martin Luther King, Jr. on Thursday, January 19 from 2:00 pm to 6:30 pm for a screening of several civil rights documentaries. These rare documentaries were made during and just after Dr. King’s life, offering a historical lens into how he was viewed and understood by a contemporary audience. The screenings will take place in the new screening room in the Moving Image Collections and Archives on the ground floor of the Herman B Wells Library.

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Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Service in the IU Auditorium on April 5, 1968. Indiana University Archives.

Many of the films for the screening come from the educational film collection of the IU Libraries Moving Image Archive. They were produced for the purpose of teaching about civil rights, discrimination, and the activism of Dr. King. Though the specifics of the historical and political moment have changed between when they were made and the current day, the questions the films raise remain relevant. How do the ideals of America match up with the day-to-day reality of racial and economic inequality? What is the proper way to effect social change? What lessons can we take from Dr. King’s life?

A digital exhibit highlighting materials related to Martin Luther King, Jr. and civil rights from IU collections will also be on display outside of the Moving Image Archive’s screening room all day. Images were generously provided by the Archives of African American Music and Culture, Black Film Center/Archive, Eskenazi Museum of Art, Indiana University Archives, Jerome Hall Law LibraryLilly Library, and Mathers Museum of World Cultures. This exhibit gives a glimpse into the historical documents, photographs, literature, and art related to civil rights and Martin Luther King, Jr. from IU repositories across campus, demonstrating the rich research value and diversity of IU’s collections.

King, Martin Luther. Why We Can’t Wait. New York: Harper & Row, [1964]. Courtesy, The Lilly Library, Indiana University, Bloomington, Indiana.
King, Martin Luther. Why We Can’t Wait. New York: Harper & Row, [1964]. Courtesy, The Lilly Library, Indiana University, Bloomington, Indiana.
The screening lasts from 2:00 pm to 6:30 pm. It is intended as a drop-in event, so please come and see as many of the films as your schedule allows. From 4:00 pm to 4:45 pm, there will be a brief lecture by Professor Alex Lichtenstein from the IU Department of History. A break with complimentary snacks will follow.

Location: Moving Image Collections and Archive (Ground Floor of the Wells Library, Room 048)

By Andy Uhrich and Kristin Leaman

Dancing the Night Away: Student Life in the 1950s

Margaret Albersmeyer Werling graduated with a bachelor’s in Education in 1953, and, according to her personal scrapbook, attended every sporting event, theater show, and dance that she possibly could between 1951 and 1953. While perusing her scrapbook, I discovered many interesting IU student traditions including: the decorating of fraternities for football games, the Law-Med School Boress, the Arbutus Queen Contest, and the Fall Carnival Parade.

Fraternity decorated for Homecoming, 1949

Margaret was an avid attendee of athletic events and saved programs from basketball games, track and field events, and football games. She must have truly enjoyed attending the Old Oaken Bucket games between IU and Purdue because she saved tickets and programs from 1951 and 1952. Although she did get to see IU triumph in football, she watched the Hoosiers clinch the 1953 NCAA Basketball Championship over Kansas and attended campus celebrations.

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Margaret Werling’s ticket for the 1951 Old Oaken Bucket game

I was most intrigued by Margaret’s impressive dance card collection. Dance cards initially became popular in Vienna, Austria in the 19th century and their usage peaked in the early 20th century.  Dance cards were typically small, decorated booklets worn on a woman’s wrist or attached to her dress with a cord. Men carried pencils and wrote their names on lines next to the name of dances in the booklet.

1942 Junior Prom dance card
1942 Junior Prom dance card

Dance cards remained in fashion until the 1960s when dances became less formal affairs.  Common phrases such as “pencil me in,” “my dance card is full,” and “save the last dance for me” are all tied to the dance card culture. Many of Margaret’s dance cards have a decorated cover that reflects the theme of the dance, lists of committee members who sponsored the dance, and details about the entertainment.

Dances were all the rage at IU in the 1950s.  There were plenty of formal and informal dances to keep students busy.  Students could attend the Freshman Frolic, the Freshman Tyronian, the Sophomore Cotillion, the Junior Prom, the annual Blanket Hop hosted by Sigma Delta Chi (the honorary journalistic fraternity), the Senior Siwash, and many more!

Dance at the Union, 1951
Dance at the IU Memorial Union, 1951

A dance that became an annual tradition on campus was the Wellhouse Waltz. The first iteration of this dance was held in 1944 at the Alumni Hall of the Union. Each year, male attendees selected a freshman woman to become “Miss Campus Coed.” It was said that in order for any IU woman to become a “true coed,” her date must take her to the Well House after the Wellhouse Waltz and then kiss her for the full twelve strokes at midnight.

The Junior Prom was the most formal dance of the season and was held in the Men’s Gymnasium with a dedicated theme.  The festivities could last until two o’clock in the morning. Students must have truly enjoyed these dances because they would “end only by force of the 12:30 curfew when dates unwillingly part” (1953 Indiana Arbutus, p. 138). The theme of Margaret’s 1953 prom was “A Star Danced.”

Duke Ellington at the 1952 Dames' Ball
Duke Ellington at the 1952 Dames’ Ball

Well-known artists played at many IU dances.  In 1952, Duke Ellington played at the Dames’ Ball, a dance where women escorted the men.  According to the 1952 Arbutus, “The men reaped the benefits of inverted chivalry that evening as they were called for, paid for, and encumbered with original – and uninhibited – corsages.”  At the end of the night, one man was chosen to be “King of the Dames.”

Students voted on a Queen at both formal and informal dances. At the 1952 Sweater Hop, the Sweater Queen was selected out of twenty-nine candidates. According to the 1953 Arbutus, “each housing unit had the privilege of selecting their candidate for the competition. The list was narrowed down to five girls before the dance by several judges picked from campus dignitaries. The sponsoring housing unit then put on an all-out campus campaign.” Couples attending the dance cast their vote and the winner was presented with a cashmere sweater and roses.

Margaret must have loved her time dancing the night away as an undergraduate at Indiana University because she came back to earn a master’s degree in education eight years later. If you would like to learn more about dances at IU, look at Margaret Werling’s scrapbook, or learn about other IU student traditions, contact the IU Archives.