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Allie Cleveland Harrison was a professor of the dramatic arts who, for more than four decades, made a mark in the development of the theater programs in the South through his work at Little Rock Junior College (now the University of Arkansas at Little Rock), the University of Arkansas (UA) in Fayetteville (Washington County), and Alabama’s Auburn University. Harrison was also an award-winning memoirist.
Cleveland Harrison was born on August 17, 1924, in McRae (White County). The younger son of Allie Harrison and Floy Harrison, he served in the U.S. Army during World War II, at one time being stationed in Berlin, Germany. Upon his return to the United States, he earned an AA degree from Little Rock Junior College; an MA in speech and dramatic arts from the University of Arkansas; BS and MA degrees in English, speech, and theater from Ohio State University; and a PhD in drama and theater from University of Kansas. Harrison’s scholarly focus was nineteenth-century American and English drama. He was especially interested in the works of the English-American playwright, director, and actor Dion Boucicault, having explored an aspect of his work for his doctoral dissertation. Harrison contributed to numerous academic publications, including the Quarterly Journal of Speech, Speech Teacher, Theatre Journal, Southern Speech Communication Journal, and Journal of Aesthetic Education. He also wrote a one-act play, The Ladies of Fashion, which was published by Chandler Publications of San Francisco, California.
Harrison married Marian Blair “Tumpy” Gammill on June 22, 1946, and the couple had a son and a daughter.
Harrison’s professional career began in 1949 when he returned to his alma mater, Little Rock Junior College, as an instructor in English. In 1951, while still teaching speech, Harrison pursued what would be a lifelong passion, establishing a drama and theater program at the school. He led and developed the growing program, while also teaching speech, until 1958 when he left to accept a position at UA in Fayetteville, where he worked for thirteen years, serving in both the undergraduate and graduate theater programs.
In 1970, Harrison joined the School of Fine Arts at Auburn University, as head of the Department of Theater. Throughout his twenty-one years at Auburn, Harrison reshaped the university’s program, serving first as head professor and ultimately ascending to the position of senior professor. Harrison was the driving force behind some extensive revisions of the curriculum, changes that led to the development of a well-respected and multi-faceted undergraduate-focused program. Meanwhile, he also oversaw the design and construction of the Telfair B. Peet Theatre, a building that has become a centerpiece of the town’s cultural offerings. He recruited impressive new talent to the school, and the department soon earned membership in the National Association of Schools of Theater.
In addition to building the department academically, Harrison also made it an active operating theater. During the first decade that he was at the helm, the department undertook an ambitious production schedule, producing nine full-length plays each semester in some years. Harrison was actively involved in the productions, generally directing at least two plays each year. He also stepped onto the Auburn stage, performing in the roles of Sir Thomas More in A Man for All Seasons, Captain Hook in Peter Pan, and Lazar Wolf in Fiddler on the Roof, among others.
Harrison’s many contributions to the theater were recognized in 1991 when he was given the Theater Hall of Fame Award “for distinguished contributions and enduring dedication as a past pioneer in Alabama Theater” by the Alabama Conference of Theater and Speech.
Harrison retired from the Auburn faculty in 1991 but remained in the city. Turning to writing in his retirement years, he made a number of award-winning contributions to publications sponsored by the Pulaski County Historical Society, while also writing two well-received memoirs. His book on his experiences in World War II, Unsung Valor: A GI’s Story of World War, published in 2000, was awarded the Eisenhower Center of American Studies’ Forrest C. Pogue Prize in 2001. A Little Rock Boyhood: Growing Up in the Great Depression was published in 2010.
Harrison died on June 16, 2012, of leukemia.
For additional information:“Dr. A. Cleveland Harrison.” Jeffcoat-Trant Funeral Home & Crematory. http://www.jeffcoattrant.com/fh/obituaries/obituary.cfm?o_id=1510519&fh_id=13855 (accessed April 7, 2016).
Harrison, A. Cleveland. A Little Rock Boyhood: Growing Up in the Great Depression. Little Rock: Butler Center Books, 2010.
———. Unsung Valor: A GI’'s Story of World War II. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2000.
Obituary of A. Cleveland Harrison. Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, June 26, 2012.
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Last Updated 4/13/2016
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