This afternoon I’m meeting with an Arkansas State Senator. We’ll talk about Dad, I. Granger McDaniel, and his time with the RAF during WWII and the four years he spent in German POW camps. I couldn’t be happier. But I realized this morning I don’t write about my mom enough, Ann Stell McDaniel.The Lord knows she was a brilliant force of nature who is sometimes left in the enormous shadow of my dad’s legacy.
If I accomplish a quarter of what my mother did I feel I ran a good race.
Mom, everyone called her Ann Stell, was an actor, a director, a thespian. While she was still a student at Hot Spring High in the late 30’s and early 40’s she would perform one woman shows for soldiers at the Rehabilitation Center. When Dad went to war she went to Vassar and majored in theater. While in New York she was one of the stars of the very first televised Soap Opera, Far Away Hill. She was the beautiful evil woman who stole husbands.
She was a Power’s Model in New York. My grandmother didn’t understand what that meant and believed modeling had to do with prostitution so she literally got down on her knees and prayed God would forgive my mom for being being a “Power’s Model”.
When she came back to Hot Springs she was one of the first who believed in an art community for this city. She and a few others including Jo Few , Pat Eisele and Sissy Beyers envisioned today’s “City of the Arts” and started the ground work.
They turned an old skating rink on Whittington into The Arts Center. The front of the building was used as an art gallery the back was a theater where The Community Players brought theater, real theater, to Hot Springs.
During those years I think Mom had the greatest impact on Hot Springs. The 50’s and 60’s were time when homosexuality was unthinkable and considered so unspeakably vile in the South. But Ann Stell wasn’t like the rest of the world. She recognized and did not judge a few of the young men who worked in the theater. She knew they were gay and told them they were valuable and talented. She also told them to find a life outside of Arkansas. And they did. Several of these men have contacted me over they years and all have gone on to have fabulously successful careers in New York and California.
I remember when I was in kindergarten at St. Luke’s Day School (she was one of the founders who created that school too) she decided we all had terrible diction. So she made all the five and six year old memorize a scene from Gilbert and Sullivan’s opera The Mikado.
“To sit in solemn silence in a dull, dark, dock, In a pestilential prison, with a life-long lock, Awaiting the sensation of a short, sharp, shock, From a cheap and chippy chopper on a big black block! To sit in solemn silence in a dull, dark, dock, In a pestilential prison, with a life-long lock, Awaiting the sensation of a short, sharp, shock, From a cheap and chippy chopper on a big black block! A dull, dark, dock, a life-long lock, A short, sharp, shock, a big black block! To sit in solemn silence in a pestilential prison, And awaiting the sensation from a cheap and chippy chopper on a big black block”
Sure lots of people memorize that poem but who makes six year olds say it?
There are some still here in Hot Springs who remember Ann Stell’s power, brilliance and vision, Mary Sargo, Melinda Gassaway, Pinky Few come to mind. Mom was a polarizing and controversial woman. She battled with society, the world, culture and my dad, but she refused back down. She was never the warm and nurturing type but she taught me to be true to myself no matter the cost. And that’s an invaluable lesson.
Like my brother Jack and Dad, Ann Stell left me a long long time ago. But looking around Hot Springs, I know she would be pleased with the art community. I miss her sometimes. Lord knows she was brave and always put on a good show.