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Angelou, Maya (4 Apr. 1928–28 May 2014), writer, performer, and activist, was born Marguerite Ann Johnson in St. Louis, Missouri, the second child of Bailey Johnson, Sr., a doorman and Navy dietitian, and Vivian Baxter, a registered nurse, cocktail hostess, and Merchant Marine. Her brother, Bailey, Jr., nicknamed her Maya, and the name stuck. After their parents’ divorce, the two young children were sent alone on a train from San Francisco to Stamps, Arkansas, to be met and raised by their paternal grandmother, Annie Henderson, and their father’s brother, Uncle Willie, who was disabled. Grandmother Henderson had managed to build and own a general store with living quarters in the back, and it was also a safe black community gathering place in the segregated town. Uncle Willie provided a steady stream of good reading and high scholastic expectations, and their grandmother, “Momma,” taught them no-nonsense life skills, took them to church, and loved them....

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Barnum, P. T. (05 July 1810–07 April 1891), showman, was born Phineas Taylor Barnum in Bethel, Connecticut, the son of Philo F. Barnum, a farmer and storekeeper, and Irena Taylor. While attending public school in Bethel, Barnum peddled candy and gingerbread. He later wrote that he had always been interested in arithmetic and money....

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Black, Shirley Temple (23 April 1928–10 February 2014), child actor and diplomat, was born Shirley Jane Temple in Santa Monica, California, the third child and only daughter of George Temple, a banker, and Gertrude Krieger Temple. Shirley's mother had longed for a baby girl, and from the moment of her birth she became her mother's "pet project." Gertrude enrolled her in Ethel Meglin's nearby dance studio when Shirley was three years old, and, beginning in December 1931, Shirley joined other Meglin dance studio children in the Baby Burlesks series made by Educational Films Corporation, where she lampooned such stars as ...

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Shirley Temple Black. Color carbro print, 1938, by Harry Warnecke and Lee Elkins. National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution; gift of Elsie M. Warnecke.

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Bono, Sonny (16 February 1935–05 January 1998), entertainer, songwriter, and politician, was born Salvatore Phillip Bono in Detroit, Michigan, the son of Santo Bono, a truck driver, and Jean Bono (maiden name unknown), a beautician. Reared in a working-class environment, Bono was an average student and enjoyed playing the class clown. When he was seven the family moved to Los Angeles, California, where he finished his education. Bono married Donna Rankin in 1954, two years after his graduation from Inglewood High School. They had one daughter....

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Helen Gahagan Douglas. Before her marriage to Melvyn Douglas. Photograph by Arnold Genthe. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-G401-T-4775-002).

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Douglas, Helen Gahagan (25 November 1900–28 June 1980), actress and politician, was born in Boonton, New Jersey, the daughter of Walter Hamer Gahagan, a civil and contracting engineer, and Lillian Rose Mussen. In 1905 the family moved to an exclusive neighborhood in Brooklyn, New York. Helen’s authoritarian father made all the family decisions; her mother stressed education and the religious values of the Episcopal church. She also had a penchant for the opera and took Helen to every performance of the Metropolitan Opera. As a child Helen often staged dramatic presentations atop her father’s billiard table for siblings and friends. Although bright, she was a poor student and dreamed of being an actress, a career choice neither parent found acceptable....

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Eisler, Gerhart (20 February 1897–21 March 1968), Communist journalist and politician, was born in Leipzig, Germany, the son of Rudolf Eisler, a philosopher, and Marie Ida Fischer. Eisler grew up in Vienna, Austria, where his father was an assistant professor without tenure (Privatdozent) at the university. The socialist sympathies of his parents, his own studies in anarchist and Marxist literature, writing for his school journal, and eventually his experiences as a young officer during World War I were all factors that influenced Eisler’s future. He was active in the revolution in November 1918 and joined the Communist party of German-Austria....

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Friganza, Trixie (29 November 1870–27 February 1955), actress and singer, was born Brigid O’Callaghan (sometimes listed as Delia O’Callahan) in Grenola, Kansas, the daughter of Cornelius O’Callaghan and Margaret Friganza, occupations unknown. She revealed little about her parentage except that they were Spanish and Irish. She made her stage debut in 1889 as a chorus girl in a touring production of ...

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Gray, James Harrison (17 May 1916–19 September 1986), newspaper publisher, broadcast executive, and politician, was born in Westfield, Massachusetts, the son of Lyman Gray, an attorney, and Clara (maiden name unknown). James Gray spent his childhood in Springfield, Massachusetts, where his father served as district attorney. He received his A.B. in English from Dartmouth College in 1937, lettering in several sports and earning Phi Beta Kappa honors. After graduating Gray enrolled at the University of Heidelberg in Germany to study world history. While there in 1939 he contributed news articles about Nazi Germany to the ...

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Hapgood, Norman (28 March 1868–29 April 1937), journalist, critic, and reformer, was born in Chicago, Illinois, the son of Charles Hutchins Hapgood, a farm implement manufacturer, and Fanny Louise Powers. He grew up in wealth in Alton, Illinois. In 1890 he graduated with an A.B. from Harvard University, where he was strongly influenced by Professor ...

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Hays, Lee Elhardt (14 March 1914–26 August 1981), songwriter, singer, and political activist, was born in Little Rock, Arkansas, the son of the Reverend William Benjamin Hays, a Methodist minister, and Ellen Reinhardt, a court reporter. The youngest of four children, Lee Hays left home at age fourteen for Emory Junior College Academy in Oxford, Georgia, a Methodist prep school from which he graduated in 1930. He had hoped to take a bachelor’s degree, but during the depression none of his family members could help with tuition....

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Will Hays [left to right] Will Rogers and Will Hays, c. 1925. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-83080).

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Hays, Will H. (05 November 1879–07 March 1954), motion picture industry official, lawyer, and politician, was born William Harrison Hays in Sullivan, Indiana, the son of John T. Hays, an attorney, and Mary Cain. He graduated from Indiana’s all-male Wabash College in 1900 and privately studied law. Upon passing the Indiana bar, Hays opened a law office in Sullivan and became city attorney. He moved through a variety of political offices in Indiana before he was named chairman of the Republican National Committee in June 1918. When ...

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Loy, Myrna (02 August 1905–12 December 1993), actress and political activist, was born Myrna Adele Williams in Radersburg, Montana, the daughter of David Franklin Williams, a cattle rancher, and Della Mae Johnson, a singer. After her father’s death in the 1918 influenza epidemic, the family moved to Culver City, California. While attending high school, Loy auditioned for movie studios and helped support her family by teaching children’s dancing classes and working as an assistant film cutter at Horsley Studios. She also danced in the prefeature chorus line at Grauman’s Chinese Theater before coming under contract to Warner Brothers. Her first role was a “human chandelier” in ...

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Macy, John Williams, Jr. (06 April 1917–22 December 1986), federal administrator, was born in Chicago, Illinois, the son of John W. Macy, an advertising executive, and Juliette Moen. He attended the North Shore Country Day School in Winnetka, Illinois, then entered Wesleyan College, where he majored in government, graduating Phi Beta Kappa in 1938. After college he served as an intern with the National Institute of Public Affairs from 1938 to 1939 in a program designed to introduce the brightest young minds to the idea of a career in government....

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Mankiewicz, Frank (16 May 1924–23 Oct. 2014), political advisor, journalist, and broadcast and public relations executive, was born Frank Fabian Mankiewicz in New York City, one of three children of Herman Mankiewicz, a drama critic for The New York Times and The New Yorker...

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Means, Russell Charles (10 November 1939–22 October 2012), Oglala/Yankton activist, American Indian Movement leader, and actor, was born on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, the eldest son of Walter “Hank” Means (Oglala Lakota) of Pine Ridge and Theodora Louise Feather (Yankton), of the Yankton Sioux Reservation in South Dakota. His father worked as an auto mechanic for the Bureau of Indian Affairs at Pine Ridge. His mother served as secretary to the superintendent of the Pine Ridge Reservation. Following the matrilineal ways of the Sioux (the term used to refer collectively to the Lakota, Nakota, and Dakota), Russell Means was raised by his mother’s extended family. The Means family relocated to Vallejo, California, in 1942. They moved to Huron, South Dakota, at the end of World War II, only to return to Vallejo soon thereafter, where Walter worked as a welder in the navy shipyards, and Theodora took a position as a secretary at an air force base. In 1954 the Means family bought a home in the Oakland area....

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Murphy, George (04 July 1902–03 May 1992), actor, dancer, and politician, was born George Lloyd Murphy in New Haven, Connecticut, the son of Michael Murphy, a university and olympic track coach, and Nora Long. In his autobiography Murphy called his family “close-knit” and “dominated by a loving father who constantly demanded the best of us.” His father died in 1913 and in 1917, at the age of fifteen he ran away from home after his mother’s death with the intention of joining the navy in order to serve in World War I. He returned shortly after, finished high school, and attended Yale University. Discontented with school, Murphy left Yale in his junior year and worked in a number of occupations from toolmaking to coal loading before his girlfriend, Julie Johnson (real name Juliette Henkel), taught him to dance....

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O’Daniel, W. Lee (11 March 1890–11 May 1969), Texas governor, U.S. senator, and radio performer, known as “Pappy,” was born Wilbert Lee O’Daniel in Malta, Ohio, the son of William O’Daniel, a farmer and worker in a plow factory, and Alice Ann Thompson Earich, a seamstress and laundry woman. His father was accidentally killed working on a bridge construction project when O’Daniel was a baby, and he lived with his mother’s third husband, Charles H. Baker, a farmer, outside of Arlington, Kansas, after 1895. O’Daniel attended local schools and then studied one year at a business college in Hutchinson, Kansas. Afterward he entered the flour milling business and worked at a variety of office jobs in Kansas towns. In 1916 he started the Independent Milling Company, and his firm soon operated into Texas. He married Merle Estella Butcher, with whom he would have three children, in 1917; the marriage exempted him from the draft in World War I....