Wednesday, August 10, 2022

Ellis Nassour’s Exhibition Provides Rare Insight in Performing Arts History

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University of Mississippi’s new year began with the opening of an expansive exhibition spanning the width of entertainment world from circuses to theatre, all donated from an illustrious UM alum (1964) Ellis Nassour.

Nassour is a man of many tales, especially as a renowned arts journalist. He has seen many dazzling stars in his life, and decided to share that with the University of Mississippi so the students may have a glimmer to spark their interest of performing arts.

Norm Easterbrook, director of Gertrude C. Ford Center, recalls the Ford Center showcasing Nassour’s collections of posters featuring classic stars like John Wayne last spring.

A collection of Al Hirschfeld's caricatures are included in the collection.
A collection of Al Hirschfeld’s caricatures are included in the collection.

He said, “It was wonderful to walk through the walls featuring those posters. The students could access this collection (at the J.D. Williams Library) for research. His collection of posters shows how the art form has changed over time in posters from 50s and 60s to present day.”

Nassour’s collection was so large that the J.D. Williams Library Archives had to map it out with a team that built cases and reviewed which collection could go where depending on case themes.

Dr. Jennifer Ford, head of special collections at J.D. William Library, said, “I would definitely recommend this exhibition to students interested in getting a better understanding of the Mamie and Ellis Nassour Arts & Entertainment Collection and its great potential for research projects. There are so many topics they could research based on this collection, for example: the history of theatre; the circus; the role of media and the entertainment world; women in the arts, just to name a fraction of what is possible.”

Some theater students were able to experience Nassour’s knowledge as they participated in the exhibition’s opening night with a staged reading of the musical Honky Tonk Angel based upon Nassour’s biography of Patsy Cline with the same title.

This part of the exhibition can be found in the William Faulkner room in Special Collections.
This part of the exhibition can be found in the William Faulkner room in Special Collections.

Rene Pulliam, director of the department of theatre, said, “Ellis was great to work with — passionate about the subject and the show. He was gracious to the students, musicians and case throughout the whole process. I hope he was as proud of the performance as we were.”

Pulliam thinks Nassour’s exhibition will help current students connect to the past. Pulliam said, “I know I have asked my students to take time to visit the exhibit and journal their responses. All have found the assignment interesting and a learning experience.”

Dr. Ford echoes Pulliam and Easterbrook in agreement of the exhibition’s usefulness to the students interested in the story of performing arts. She said, “I do not have one specific section which stands out the most to me – it is the totality I believe which makes it so memorable. The signed posters, playbills, photographs, manuscripts and critical work about the theatre and entertainment world all contribute to the comprehensiveness of the exhibition.

“Besides it is also wonderfully colorful and visually exciting for our patrons and they frequently remark on this aspect.”

The exhibition will be at the library until this coming December so there is ample time for students to visit the exhibition, especially for research.


Callie Daniels is a staff reporter/writer for HottyToddy.com. She can be reached at callie.daniels@hottytoddy.com.

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