Posted on Dec 4, 2013 in Alumni News and News

img_news_tibbetts_schwarzeneggerDuring a long career as a radio and TV broadcaster, KU associate professor of film studies John C. Tibbetts interviewed dozens of Hollywood film stars, musicians, writers and theatre people. Many interviews were set up by studio publicity departments as part of long press junkets in which performers would do round after round of interviews to promote a new film.

Drawing on his undergraduate education in design, Tibbetts, f’69, g’75, PhD’82, found a way to make himself stand out in this assembly line approach to film promotion: He painted watercolor portraits of the performers and presented them for signing during his interviews. More than 80 of those portraits bearing the autographs and inscriptions of the subjects will be featured in “Stargazing,” an exhibition that opens Dec. 7 and runs through Jan. 31 at the Kansas City Public Library.

img_news_tibbetts_pavarotti2“Many of the interviews were arranged through the studios, and they really guard against every Tom, Dick and Harry seeking an autograph,” Tibbetts says. “But I got to know the publicity chiefs and they got to know me and my work, and I had carte blanche and was able to bring in paintings of whoever I wanted to get signed.”

Tibbetts says the paintings “were a wonderful icebreaker.” Performers would sometimes confide their own lover for painting or other private interests they would never otherwise share. Gene Hackman, Morgan Freeman, Julie Andrews, Angela Lansbury and Michael Douglas were some of the many subjects who asked for copies, which Tibbetts was happy to provide.

“I like to think the subjects themselves really enjoyed it,” he says. “Arnold Schwarzenegger–I did five or six with him–when I’d come in to talk to him, he’d say, ‘Well, what did you paint this time.’”

The interviews that came out of these sessions have been archived by the KU Libraries’ Center for Digital Scholarship as “Over the Rainbow: The John Tibbetts Archive of Conversations in the Arts and Humanities.” They can be viewed online through KU ScholarWorks. For more information on the “Stargazing,” visit


–Steven Hill

Tags: , , , , , ,