Lobby card from the original 1939 release of The Wizard of Oz, a film for which William Allen Horning designed sets. (Photo: Wikipedia Commons)

In September, I asked Mary Haseltine McQueary how to pronounce “Haseltine” for a column I wrote. 

The story was on how to say familiar Ozarks words such as “Gillioz,” “Kearney” and “Bois D’arc.”

For the record, it is pronounced “Hasel (rhymes with “dazzle”) – Teen.” Haseltine Road is on the city’s west side.

In turn, Mary had a story idea for me. It involved local history, as you might expect. She is president of the board that oversees the History Museum on the Square.

She told me about a man named William Allen Horning, a Springfield native who went on to win two Academy Awards in art direction and was nominated six other times. 

Art direction is the design and construction of sets used in movie-making.

Horning died of lung cancer on March 2, 1959. The same Associated Press news story on his death appeared in papers across the nation. 

People outside Hollywood might not have known his name, but they certainly knew the legendary movies he helped create.

He won Oscars for the 1958 movie “Gigi” and the 1959 movie “Ben-Hur.”

He was nominated for “Gigi” just before he died. 

Before his death, he had already worked on “Ben-Hur,” which won 11  Oscars at the 1960 awards celebration hosted by Bob Hope (whom I once interviewed).

Horning is the only person ever to win two Oscars posthumously.

Over his lifetime, he was nominated eight times, including for “The Wizard of Oz,” made in 1939.

The movie needed 65 sets built and required the construction of things like talking trees and the wicked witch’s giant hourglass.

I know what you’re thinking: What movie could have possibly beaten out “The Wizard of Oz” for art direction?

It was “Gone with the Wind.”

Horning was also nominated for his work on “North by Northwest,” made in 1959;  “Quo Vadis,” made in 1951; “Les Girls” and “Raintree Country,” both made in 1957; and “Conquest,” made in 1937.

He started at Metro-Goldwyn Mayer in 1931 when the studio hired him as a draftsman.

He became an assistant in 1936 to Cedric Gibbons, then the studio’s supervising art director. Many of the Oscar nominations included both Gibbons and Horning.

But after Gibbons retired in 1956, Horning had his amazing string of nominations and victories.

One of Horning’s assistants described Horning as brilliant in technical matters. The assistant, Jack Martin Smith, is quoted in a Wikipedia page on the “Wizard of Oz”:  

“It was the lunchtime game among the art directors to try to ask Horning a question he couldn’t answer … you couldn’t stump him.”

Perhaps that should not be surprising when you consider Horning graduated from the University of California (Berkeley) School of Architecture in 1926.

So is it true? 

Was this legendary set designer who left his mark on American cinema from Springfield, Missouri?

Yes, it’s true.

But he did not live here very long.

Despite my best efforts, I cannot tell you for sure where he and his family resided while in Springfield.

Much of the information in this story comes from my first subscription to Ancestry.com. 

I also was assisted by McQueary and local historian Richard Crabtree.

Horning was born Nov. 9, 1904, in Springfield. 

His father, William Henry Horning, was a plumber, according to a 1906 Springfield city directory. His dad worked at a company called Tompkins & Shields.

That same city directory lists his father’s residence as “r. country Carthage Road.”

There is no Carthage Road in Springfield, then and now.

If you go to the 1900 federal census, William Henry Horning (the father, 19 at the time) lived on a  family farm on North Campbell Road. He married in 1903 and, perhaps, moved out of the family home.

Regardless, William Allen Horning was a boy when his family moved to Fresno, California. 

A 1907 Fresno city directory lists his father as a plumber in Fresno. 

The 1910 census states that William Horning (the father) and his wife Effie were living in Fresno with their 5-year-old son William.

As with most of my dives into history, there are loose threads.

There is a Horning Street in Springfield. It is near East Chestnut Expressway and Highway 65 and intersects with South Monte Vista Avenue.  

I checked the News-Leader archives, and the earliest mention of “Horning Street” is 1960.

In other words, I don’t know if Horning Street in Springfield is connected to the family of Academy-Award-winning Horning.

Finally, although there is no “Carthage” street or avenue in Springfield, there is a subdivision on the west side of the city that was under development in 1925. 

It was called “Carthage Road Place” and was – according to a newspaper ad — “three miles out (from city limits) on Highway 14-16.” 

Potential buyers were instructed to head west from the city on Mt. Vernon Road.

The fact there was a subdivision called “Carthage Road Place” leads me to believe there once was a road in or near Springfield called Carthage Road. Perhaps it was only unofficially called Carthage Road.

No matter. 

What counts is that the AP news story on the death of William Allen Horning, who helped shape American cinema, made it clear.

It says: Born in Springfield, Mo.

We can claim him.

Steve Pokin

Steve Pokin writes the Pokin Around and The Answer Man columns for the Springfield Daily Citizen. He also writes about criminal justice issues. He can be reached at spokin@sgfcitizen.org. His office line is 417-837-3661. More by Steve Pokin