Brick Bats Reportage

A Legacy of Carnegie

Laurence “Larry” Luckinbill should be a more familiar name. Sure, he’s from Fort Smith and I’ve seen a number of his movies, but if you start thinking about all those solid character actors from say childhood on — sigh, it’s a lot of folks.

Why it was just the week before last that a stray Facebook message revealed that Robert Walden has a home in central Arkansas; the actor’s wife has been charged with running a major nonprofit there. You know, the no-nonsense “Rossi” on Lou Grant.

It must drive actors nuts to be remembered mainly for one role. Luckinbill may be lucky in that respect, having worked a lot a wide-ranging career. On the other hand, his two introducers this morning at the University of Arkansas delivered about six too many Star Trek jokes. Luckinbill played Leonard Nimoy’s Vulcan half-brother in the movie Star Trek V. So not Sulu or Scotty, or spots in the original series, the previous four movies or the next six (the 12th is reported to be due out in a year)

It’s more impressive to know he’s had a long-lived stage career, including, recently, several one-man shows profiling Americans from Teddy Roosevelt to Lyndon Johnson, Ernest Hemingway to Clarence Darrow.

This morning, he formally presented his papers to UA Libraries’ Special Collections. The glass cases along the back of the Helen Robson Walton Reading Room in Mullins Library displayed programs, posters, stills and scripts, as well as make-up kits and so forth. Tim Nutt of Special Collections produced from behind the lectern the archives’ first-ever action figure, Luckinbill as Sybok, Spock’s sibling.

For his part, Luckinbill told the audience that his pointy ears — but not his Emmy, yet (for Lucy & Desi: A Home Movie) — will be in the boxes bound for Fayetteville.

the old Carnegie Library, Fort Smith
Carnegie Library, Fort Smith, 1908 through the early ’70s. (credit)

I got a kick out of his speech, and how he delivered it. Luckinbill, who’ll be 78 in November, only walks like he’s that age. His face, overall physique and diction put him 15 years younger.

He wanted us to know he loves books. He recalled his first trip to a library, Fort Smith’s old Carnegie, at age 7, and how magnificent it was, through those young eyes.

I loved that building, too, so those sentences won me. He recalled its stacks, then of libraries he’s enjoyed since, including the New York Public Library. Luckinbill earned a bachelor’s at UA, explaining he caught the acting bug in its Fine Arts Building, and a master’s in playwriting from Catholic University.

The Carnegie was replaced by a wonderful new building in the early 1970s, which I also loved. New library buildings are fun. That one now is a Webster University campus, and the newest library is even grander.

KFSM old wing, formerly Fort Smith's Carnegie Library
KFSM old wing, formerly Fort Smith’s Carnegie Library, 2010. (credit)
KFSM new wing, abutting the former Fort Smith Carnegie Library
KFSM new wing, abutting the former Fort Smith Carnegie Library. (credit)

Luckinbill did not mention how a TV station took over our hometown’s grand old building, or how a two-story concrete block shoebox was epoxied to the side of the Carnegie.

That either means he hasn’t come home in a while or, more likely, he excised what would have been a distracting tangent from his focus.

He was talking about the United States when he concluding with, “know that we are safe [pause] as long as there are libraries.”

As a zinger he added that he wants epitaph to read, “Well, this is nice, but where are my books?”

Amen, brother.

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