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Albert, Eddie (22 April 1906–26 May 2005), actor and environmental activist, was born Edward Albert Heimberger in Rock Island, Illinois, the son of Frank Daniel Heimberger, a realtor, and Julia Jones. At the age of one his family moved to Minneapolis, Minnesota, where he attended parochial school before graduating from Central High School in 1924. He then entered the University of Minnesota where he majored in business and worked his way up to manager at the local theater. Young Eddie left school without graduating and worked a series of odd jobs before joining a singing trio that appeared on the local radio station. Tired of hearing his name mangled as “hamburger” he changed it to Eddie Albert, and after successfully auditioning at NBC he moved to New York with partner Grace Bradt to star in ...

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Caras, Roger (24 May 1928–18 February 2001), animal rights activist, Hollywood executive, and naturalist, was born in Methuen, a rural Massachusetts town around thirty miles north of Boston, the son of Jacob Caras, an insurance salesman, and Bessie Caras, an accountant. His affection for animals developed at an early age. At home he was exposed to dogs, cats, and canaries, and in the woods surrounding his house were raccoons, deer, opossums, and skunks. "Methuen was a wonderful place in which to learn and to explore," he recalled in his autobiography, ...

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Furness, Betty (03 January 1916–02 April 1994), actress, product spokesperson, and consumer advocate, was born Elizabeth Mary (Betty) Furness in New York City to George Choate Furness, an executive with the Union Carbide and Carbon Corporation, and Florence Sturtevant, who later became an interior decorator. Betty was educated at New York City’s elite Brearley School and then attended the Bennett School for Girls in Millbrook, New York, where one of her classmates predicted she would become an actress. That prophecy made sense because Betty had long shown an interest in performing. Her introduction to the media came at age seven, when she accompanied her father to the studio to watch him produce informational radio talks about the care and use of batteries. She got her first job at age fourteen, modeling for the John Robert Powers Modeling Agency during summer vacation. Several years later she caught the eye of a well-known photographer named Hal Phyfe, who was taking graduation pictures at the Bennett School. He too was impressed by how personable and photogenic she was, and he made sure her photos got to the right people....

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Johnson, Osa (14 March 1894–07 January 1953), author, lecturer, and film producer, was born Osa Helen Leighty in Chanute, Kansas, the daughter of William Sherman Leighty, a railroad engineer, and Ruby Isabel Holman. In 1910 she left high school to marry Martin Johnson, whom she had met eleven years earlier when he visited Chanute as an eighteen-year-old itinerant photographer. In the meantime he had visited Europe alone and traveled with ...

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La Follette, Fola (10 September 1882–17 February 1970), actress and feminist, was born in Madison, Wisconsin, the daughter of Robert Marion La Follette, a progressive politician, and Belle Case La Follette, a lawyer and suffragist. Though named Flora at birth, she used her childhood nickname throughout her life. A history major at the University of Wisconsin (1900–1904), La Follette studied under historian of the American West ...

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Paul Robeson As Othello. Photograph by Carl Van Vechten, 1944. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-111185).

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Robeson, Paul (09 April 1898–23 January 1976), actor, singer, and civil rights activist, was born Paul Leroy Robeson in Princeton, New Jersey, the son of William Drew Robeson, a Protestant minister, and Maria Louisa Bustill, a schoolteacher. Robeson’s mother died when he was six years old, and he grew up under the influence of a perfectionist father, a former runaway slave who fought in the Union army. During his senior year at the Somerville, New Jersey, high school, he achieved the highest score in a statewide scholarship examination to attend Rutgers College (later Rutgers University). The lone black at Rutgers as a freshman in 1915 and only the third African American to attend the institution, Robeson was an outstanding student and athlete. A varsity debater, he won class prizes for oratory all four years, was elected to Phi Beta Kappa as a junior, was one of four seniors chosen for membership in the Cap and Skull honorary society, and was named class valedictorian. The 6′ 3″, 215-pound Robeson earned twelve varsity letters in four sports (baseball, basketball, football, and track) and was twice named football All-America (1917 and 1918). According to former Yale coach ...

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Thomas, Danny (06 January 1912–06 February 1991), entertainer and philanthropist, was born Muzyad Yakhoob in Deerfield, Michigan, the son of Shaheed Yakhoob (later anglicized to Charles Jacobs), a horse breeder, and Margaret Christen Simon. He started working at the age of eleven, first selling newspapers on a street corner and then candy and soda pop in a burlesque house. He later changed his name to Amos Jacobs and started a song-and-dance act with one of his brothers. He quit high school at age sixteen and attempted unsuccessfully to find employment as a comedian, then worked several years as a punch press operator, night watchman, and semiprofessional basketball player. In 1932 he became an announcer on a local radio station and then master of ceremonies at Bert’s Beer Garden, in Detroit, Michigan....

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Washington, Fredi (23 December 1903–28 June 1994), actress, dancer, and civil rights activist, was born Fredericka Carolyn Washington in Savannah, Georgia, the second child and eldest daughter of Hattie Walker Ward and Robert T. Washington, a porter, part-time barber, and postal worker. Their neighborhood on the outskirts of Savannah was racially mixed, and Fredi remembered being bullied by white children because of her race. Even as a young girl she fought back when a neighbor’s son hurled derogatory epithets at her....