CHINUA ACHEBE Achebe’s 1958 debut novel, Things Fall Apart, is the single most widely read book by a contemporary African author, and it earned him the sobriquet of Father of Modern African literature. Criticized by some for writing in English, Achebe provided the world with unforgettable accounts of the effects of European colonialism on his homeland of Nigeria. To learn more about Chinua, watch this BBC tribute to his wonderful and broad talents.
MICHAEL ANSARA A native of Syria, Ansara moved to the U.S. as a child where he fell in love with acting after trying it as a way to help overcome shyness. Married for a number of years to actress, Barbara Eden, Ansara is probably most well known for his turn as Cochise in the television series Broken Arrow.
KAREN BLACK Her film career took off after she played an acid-dropping hooker in Easy Rider followed by an Academy-Award-nominated performance as a waitress involved with the abusive Jack Nicholson character in Five Easy Pieces. In addition to acting, Black was also a singer/songwriter and screenwriter.
BOBBY “BLUE” BLAND Known as the “Lion of the Blues,” Bland mixed gospel, blues and R&B to create a sound that strongly influenced Nat King Cole and others. Inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1992, Bobby also received a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.
EILEEN BRENNAN She excelled at playing women who were tough as nails on the outside, but who were born with or were worn down by life to a softness on the inside. Whether it was the brothel madame in The Sting, the waitress in The Last Picture Show or later in her film and TV roles as the hard-nosed Captain Doreen Lewis in Private Benjamin, Brennan put her indelible touch on every character she portrayed.
J.J. CALE A talented musician in his own right, Cale is best known for writing songs that others made famous. Eric Clapton’s versions of Cale’s After Midnight and Cocaine and Lynyrd Skynryd’s version of Cale’s Call Me the Breeze all bear the trademark Tulsa sound that Cale helped to originate.
ANTHONY CARO A figurative sculptor who apprenticed with Henry Moore in the 1950s, Caro ultimately turned to abstract assemblages of metal and found industrial objects to express himself. Knighted in 1987, the chief executive of the Royal Academy of Arts, Charles Saumarez Smith, referred to Caro as “one of the greatest sculptors in the second half of the twentieth century.”
COWBOY JACK CLEMENT Another musician whose talents benefited the careers of others, Jack Clement discovered and was the 1st to record Jerry Lee Lewis during Clement’s tenure as a producer at Sun Records in Memphis. Other artists who recorded songs written by Cowboy Jack include Dolly Parton, Elvis Presley, Ray Charles and Johnny Cash.
JOE CONLEY After playing small roles in theater and television, Joe Conley finally found his niche as storekeeper Ike Godsey on The Waltons. He played the part for the duration of the program’s run and appeared in reunion shows as well.
RAY DOLBY He invented the noise reduction system that surrounds us with the encompassing sound that we experience each time we go to a currently released film, and he helped to develop the video tape recorder during his earlier years as an engineer. The fortune he amassed thanks to his inventive genius has been estimated at over $2 billion. He was Ray Dolby.
DOUGLAS ENGELBART In 1968, when most of us had yet to think of computers as anything other than huge machines humming away at IRS headquarters, Douglas Engelbart introduced bitmapped screens, hypertext and the computer mouse. A visionary whose work earned him a National Medal of Technology in 2000, Engelbart spent his life following his own revolutionary dreams.
JOAN FONTAINE The only actress or actor to win an Academy Award for a lead performance in an Alfred Hitchcock film (in Suspicion), Fontaine made her mark on the movies from 1935 until her retirement in 1994. Famous for feuding with her sister, actress Olivia de Havilland, the pair are the only siblings to win lead acting Oscars.
ANTONIO FRASCONI Born in Argentina and naturalized in Uruguay, Frasconi moved to the U.S. in 1945 where he began a career as an illustrator whose powerful woodcuts won him a Guggenheim Fellowship and a spot as runner-up for the Caldecott Medal for the illustration of children’s books. To view a gallery of Frasconi’s work visit fellow illustrator Stephen Kroninger’s tribute page.
DAVID FROST His talent for satire shone on both sides of the pond in the British and U.S. versions of That Was The Week That Was. And of course his interviewing skills were legendary, leading him to ask Richard Nixon, as no other journalist dared, to apologize to the American public for Nixon’s role in the Watergate scandal and its cover up. Frost remained active in journalism and entertainment until his unexpected death at age 74.
ANNETTE FUNICELLO As an original Mickey Mouse Club Mouseketeer she was the first crush of a generation of Baby Boom boys. She went on to sing and exude wholesome goodness in a number of beach movies with Frankie Avalon. Her personal struggle with multiple sclerosis kept her from the public eye in her later years.
EYDIE GORME A big band singer in the early 50s, Eydie met her husband, Steve Lawrence, when they both appeared on The Tonight Show with Steve Allen in 1953. The pair married in 1957 and performed together from that point on. Eydie’s only Top 40 hit was 1963’s Blame It On The Bossa Nova. Gorme won a Grammy in 1967 for her performance of If He Walked Into My Life from the Broadway play Mame.
HAJI The dark-haired beauty from Canada became a favorite of cult movie director Russ Meyer, appearing in Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!, Motorpsycho, et al.. In addition to writing most of her own dialogue in Meyer’s films, Haji also introduced plot points concerning psychedelia and witchcraft. She made her final film appearance in 2003’s Killer Drag Queens on Dope.
JIM HALL Presented with a guitar for Christmas when he was ten, Hall would study piano and bass at the Cleveland Institute of Music before moving to L.A. to become a jazz guitarist, composer and arranger. Known for his development of motifs and ability to improvise, Hall cut records with a number of great musicians over the years including pianist George Shearing and violinist Itzhak Perlman.
JULIE HARRIS In her mid-twenties she broke hearts playing a lonely, attention-starved teen in the Broadway and film versions of Carson McCuller’s A Member of the Wedding, and won a Tony for her turn as the original Sally Bowles in the stage production of I Am A Camera. She would go on to win four more Tonys, three Emmys, a Grammy and an Oscar nomination.
NOEL HARRISON The son of British actor Rex Harrison, Noel was primarily known in America for playing Mark Slate, the trusty partner of Stefanie Power’s April Dancer in The Girl from U.N.C.L.E.. But Harrison was also an Olympic skier and a singer, who not only played the nightclub circuit, but performed in musical theater in Britain and the U.S.
RAY HARRYHAUSEN He created the stop-action animation technique called “Dynamation” perhaps best demonstrated by the famous fighting skeletons scene from Jason and the Argonauts. To hear Harryhausen talk about all of the special effects he engineered for the movie visit this link.
RICHIE HAVENS As the first performer to hit the stage at 1969’s Woodstock Music Festival, Havens played and sang for nearly three hours while acts scheduled to follow him made their way to the site through the nearly impassible traffic and crowds. Finally, after running out of songs to play, Havens riffed on the spiritual Sometimes I Feel Like A Motherless Child, creating his unforgettable Freedom.The song and the way he sang it embodied the spirit of a generation.
JANE HENSON Jane first worked with husband-to-be Jim Henson on the live television puppet show Sam and Friends and went on to help create The Muppets. The pair married in 1959 and in the 60s Jane devoted herself to raising the five Henson children.
VIRGINIA JOHNSON Johnson and husband, William Masters, sparked a furor as well as a bit of a revolution with their published research into human sexuality and its dysfunctions. Originally hired as Masters’ research assistant, Johnson helped him develop the instruments the pair would use to measure the arousal of test subjects who agreed to engage in sex for the purpose of the scientific study. The pair, who married in 1971, would go on to found their own research institute in St. Louis.
GEORGE JONES He had his first hit as a country singer with White Lightnin’ in 1959, and practically ruled the country charts through the 60s until his alcoholism and prescription drug abuse forced him to seek treatment in 1967. Jones, who made a comeback in the 80s, was also a talented songwriter and was married to fellow country star, Tammy Wynette for six years.
JANE KEAN A talented singer, actress and comedienne, Kean and her sister started show biz as a comedy duo on the nightclub circuit before appearing in Broadway musicals. Kean is probably best known for succeeding Joyce Randolph as Trixie Norton on The Honeymooners. To hear Kean’s account of how she landed the job visit this link.
JIM KELLY A gifted all-round athlete, Kelly became one of the single most decorated karate champions of the early 1970s and parlayed his talents into an acting career that included co-starring with Bruce Lee in Enter the Dragon and starring in Black Belt Jones.
ELMORE LEONARD Before finding his niche in crime fiction, Leonard wrote pulp Westerns, a number of which were made into vehicles for major film stars. Paul Newman starred in Hombre, Clint Eastwood starred in Joe Kidd, and Glenn Ford starred in 3:10 to Yuma long before Leonard provided John Travolta with another notch in his comeback belt with Get Shorty. Whether via novels or screenplays, Leonard was a master of irony and suspense.
DORIS LESSING In 2005 Time magazine referred to Lessing’s The Golden Notebook as one the the 100 best English-language novels written since 1923. And in 2007 she became the eleventh woman and the oldest recipient (at age 88) of the Nobel Prize for Literature. Lessing’s works explore the layered, intricate, interior worlds of women and the way their being female impacts their external social and cultural lives. Wary of being labeled a feminist who accepts a one dimensional view of women, Lessing refused to be oversimplified.
NELSON MANDELA Imprisoned for over 27 years for his work against the apartheid government of South Africa, Mandela managed, even from behind bars, to inspire his countrymen and the world. Elected President of South Africa after his release from prison, Mandela and South African President F.W. de Klerk were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993 for their joint efforts to end apartheid. To learn more about this incredible man, watch the Frontline documentary The Long Walk of Nelson Mandela.
MIKE McCORMACK Paul Brown, legendary founder and coach of the Cleveland Browns, referred to McCormack as “the finest offensive tackle who ever played pro football.” McCormack spent most of his career as a player with the Browns and went on to coach the Eagles, Colts and Seahawks. He was inducted into the Football Hall of Fame in 1984.
DON MITCHELL Best known for playing Mark Sanger on the television series Ironside, Mitchell also had roles on McMillan and Wife and on the CBS daytime drama Capitol.
PETER O’TOOLE He received his first Academy Award nomination for the role of T.E. Lawrence in Lawrence of Arabia and went on to garner seven more before being awarded an honorary Oscar in 2003. The only thing brighter than his abilities as an actor were his incredible blue eyes. You will be sorely missed Mister O’Toole.
ELEANOR PARKER Baby Boomers may remember her best as the baroness who lost Captain von Trapp to his children’s governess in The Sound of Music, but Parker was a three-time Oscar nominee for performances like this in Caged.
LILLY PULITZER Pulitzer’s brightly-colored, floral fashions were originally designed to camouflage orange juice stains that were a by product of working at her Palm Beach juice stand. But the poppy colors and classic lines of her dresses became the rage among the social elite in the 1960s, including Jackie Kennedy, and earned Pulitzer the nickname “The Queen of Prep.”
LOU REED Reed first gained notoriety in the 1960s as the frontman and principle songwriter for The Velvet Underground. His subsequent solo career spanned the next forty years, one of the highlights of which was his 1973 hit Walk on the Wild Side.
FREDERICK SANGER One of only two people to win the Nobel Prize in the same category twice, Sanger’s work in sequencing the structure of insulin was influential in the discovery and understanding of the structure and sequencing of DNA.
MARTIN SHARP His psychedelic, pop art posters of Bob Dylan and Donovan graced the walls of thousands of Boom Era teens and his album covers for Cream and other groups made him the graphics darling of an era. Sharp also created covers, cartoons and illustrations for the seminal magazine, Oz.
MURIEL SIEBERT On December 28, 1967 Siebert became the first woman to own a seat on the New York Stock Exchange. In addition to being a vocal and consistent advocate for women in industry, Siebert also founded the Siebert Entrepreneurial Philanthropic Plan which offers buyers of new securities a chance to support charities in their own communities.
JEAN STAPLETON Stapleton played the part of Edith Bunker so impeccably that it’s difficult to imagine anyone else in the role of All in the Family’s ditzy matriarch. Stapleton won three Emmys and two Golden Globe awards for her work as Edith all more than well-deserved.
PAT SUMMERALL After playing pro ball in the NFL for a decade, Summerall segued into sportscasting for CBS and for Fox. In 1977 he was named National Sportcaster of the Year by the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association.
MARIA TALLCHIEF When George Balanchine co-founded what would become the New York City Ballet in 1946 he chose Tallchief as his prima ballerina making her the company’s first star and the first Native American ballerina of note. The passion with which she danced Balanchine’s difficult choreography made her a worldwide sensation which she remained until her retirement in 1966.
HELEN THOMAS She was the first female member of the National Press club and her tenure as a White House correspondent spanned five decades and eleven presidents Eisenhower through Obama. She was a hard-hitting presence in the press corps for all of those years and expressed her opinions via a Hearst Newspapers column from 2000 to 2010.
AUDREY TOTTER She played tough-talking dames in films such as The Postman Always Rings Twice and The Unsuspected, but found parts harder to come by in the 50s. Most Boomers will remember her as Nurse Wilcox on the CBS series Medical Center.
ABIGAIL VAN BUREN Her advice column, Dear Abby, dished up common sense solutions to problems big and small. Syndicated in 1,400 newspapers with a readership of 110 million, Van Buren’s column was the most widely syndicated and read in the world. It was Diane Sawyer who correctly dubbed Abby the “pioneering queen of salty advice.”
MARCIA WALLACE We loved her as Carol Kester, the wise-cracking receptionist on The Bob Newhart Show, but it was her performance as a voice artist portraying elementary school teacher Edna Krabappel on The Simpsons that won her an Emmy in 1992. As Bart wrote on the blackboard, “We’ll really miss you, Mrs. K.”
SLIM WHITMAN His three octave range falsetto is what enabled his yodeling style and set him apart in the world of country music. Especially popular in Britain, Whitman’s Rose Marie remained on the UK country charts for 36 years, a record that lasted until 1991.