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Abbott, Bud (02 October 1895–24 April 1974), and Lou Costello (06 March 1906–03 March 1959), a team of comedians on stage, radio, film, and television, were born, respectively, in Asbury Park and Paterson, New Jersey. Abbott (born William Alexander Abbott) was the son of Harry Abbott, a circus advance agent, and Rae Fisher, a circus bareback rider. Costello (born Louis Francis Cristillo) was the son of Sebastian Cristillo, an Italian-born silk weaver and insurance sales agent, and Helen Rege....

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Ace, Goodman (15 January 1899–25 March 1982), and Jane Ace (12 October 1905–11 November 1974), radio entertainers of the 1930s and 1940s, were both born in Kansas City, Kansas, and broke into radio there in 1929. Goodman Ace’s father was Harry Aiskowitz, a haberdasher who had emigrated from Riga, Latvia; his mother was Anna Katzen. Goodman began working in the Wormser Hat Store in Kansas City as a teenager following his father’s death. At the age of twenty, however, he took a big cut in pay to become the movie and drama critic of the ...

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Acuff, Roy (15 September 1903–23 November 1992), country music singer and composer, was born Roy Claxton Acuff in Maynardsville, Tennessee, just a few miles north of Knoxville in a spur of the Great Smoky Mountains, the son of Neil Acuff, an attorney and pastor, and Ida Florence Carr. The family moved to Fountain City, a suburb of Knoxville, when Acuff was sixteen, and he spent most of his high school years excelling in sports. After graduation he was invited to have a tryout at a major league baseball camp, but a 1929 fishing trip to Florida resulted in a severe sunstroke, and Acuff was bedridden for a number of months. During his convalescence he reawakened an early interest in music and began to hone his abilities on the fiddle. By the time he had recovered, he had given up his dreams of a baseball career and had determined to utilize his newly discovered musical talent....

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Adams, Franklin P. (15 November 1881–23 March 1960), newspaper columnist, humorist, and radio personality, was born Franklin Pierce Adams in Chicago, Illinois, the son of Moses Adams, a dry-goods merchant, and Clara Schlossberg, both German-Jewish immigrants. During his childhood he was an avid reader of the classics, history, nineteenth-century fiction, and light verse. He studied mathematics and science at the Armour Scientific Academy in Chicago, graduating in 1899. He attended the University of Michigan for less than a year, during which he studied literature and after which he began to earn his own living....

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Alexanderson, Ernst Fredrik Werner (25 January 1878–14 May 1975), engineer and radio and television pioneer, was born in Uppsala, Sweden, the son of Aron Martin Alexanderson, a professor, and Amelie von Heidenstam. From an early age Alexanderson showed interest in things scientific, and so he was sent to the Royal Institute of Technology at Stockholm, where he studied engineering, graduating in 1900. The Royal Institute had no specific program in electrical engineering, which was Alexanderson’s major interest, and so he spent the following year at the Königliche Technische Hochschule in Charlottenburg, Germany, then one of the best engineering schools of Europe. Here for the first time Alexanderson became acquainted with contemporary work in electromagnetics and wireless communication....

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Fred Allen. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-105144).

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Allen, Fred (31 May 1894–17 March 1956), humorist, was born John Florence Sullivan in Somerville, Massachusetts, the son of James Henry Sullivan, a bookbinder, and Cecilia Herlihy. Allen and his younger brother were raised by their aunt Elizabeth Herlihy Lovely, following the death of their mother in 1897. The boys remained a part of their aunt’s extended, working-class, Irish-American family when their brooding, alcoholic father remarried in 1909, residing in Allston and later the Dorchester section of Boston. Allen graduated from Boston’s High School of Commerce in 1911 but did not seek a business career. Among James’s few contributions to his son’s life in comedy was the job of bookrunner that Allen filled, beginning at age fourteen, in the Boston Public Library, his father’s employer. While awaiting call slips in the stacks, Allen read about comedy and practiced juggling. Fascinated with vaudeville, America’s most popular live amusement in 1910, and a hanger-on in Boston’s theatrical district, he appeared as a comic juggler in the library’s employee talent show in the summer of 1911. Soon he was a frequent contestant in amateur vaudeville shows in the Boston area, earning sufficient prize money to encourage him to declare professional status in 1912. Although one-night stands took Allen’s act as far afield as Maine and Connecticut, in September 1914 the young actor moved to New York....

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Allen, Gracie (26 July 1895–27 August 1964), actress and comedienne, was born Grace Ethel Cecile Rosalie Allen in San Francisco, California, the daughter of George Allen, an Irish clog and minstrel dancer, and Margaret Darragh. The year of her birth has been cited as late as 1906, but the 1900 U.S. Census confirms the 1895 date. Gracie was the family’s fifth child and fourth daughter. Sometime after 1900 Allen’s father deserted the family, and her mother married Edward Pidgeon, a San Francisco police captain....

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Mel Allen Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-112027).

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Allen, Mel (14 February 1913–16 June 1996), sportscaster, was born Melvin Allen Israel in Birmingham, Alabama, the eldest child of Julius Israel and Anna Leib Israel. His parents were Russian immigrants who made their home in the small town of Johns, outside Birmingham. Julius Israel ran a general store in Johns and later sold women's apparel to support his family, which included Melvin's younger brother and sister. The elder Israel moved his family to various small towns in Alabama and to Greensboro, North Carolina, while he pursued his selling career; by Melvin's early teens the family had settled in Birmingham....

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Ameche, Don (31 May 1908–06 December 1993), actor, was born Dominic Felix Ameche in Kenosha, Wisconsin, the son of Felix Ameche, a saloon operator, and Barbara Hertle. Ameche’s father, a native of Italy, had changed the spelling of his name from “Amici” to “Ameche” when he immigrated to the United States. Ameche, one of eight children—his brother Jim Ameche became a popular radio personality—studied at Columbia Academy, a Roman Catholic preparatory school in Dubuque, Iowa, for four years beginning at age fourteen. He then entered Columbia College (also in Dubuque) but left in 1928 in order to study law, taking courses at Marquette University in Milwaukee, then at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., and finally at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. He never received a degree. Ameche had performed in plays in high school, and while he was at the University of Wisconsin he performed in a Madison stock company. This interest led him, in 1929, to again change course and pursue a professional acting career. That same year he landed his first Broadway role, as the butler in ...

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Anderson, Eddie “Rochester” (18 September 1905–28 February 1977), radio and movie actor, was born Edward Lincoln Anderson in Oakland, California. Anderson was from a show business family; his father, “Big Ed” Anderson, was a vaudevillian, and his mother, Ella Mae (maiden name unknown), was a circus tightrope walker. As a youngster Eddie sold newspapers on the streets of Oakland, which, according to his own account, injured his voice and gave it the rasping quality that was long his trademark on radio....

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Arden, Eve (30 April 1912?–12 November 1990), stage, film, radio, and television actress, was born Eunice Quedens in Mill Valley, California, the daughter of Lucille Frank. Her parents divorced when she was two because of her father’s inveterate gambling. As a single parent, her mother made a living as a milliner, work that accounts in part for the headpieces Arden was noted for in her Hollywood days. She was raised by her mother in San Francisco and by her aunt in Mill Valley, inland from Sausalito. Success in a high school play led her to begin acting professionally at age sixteen with the Henry Duffy company in San Francisco. Soon after, she toured West Coast resorts and hotels (“the citrus circuit”) with the Bandbox Repertory Theater, a “superstock” company. Both allowed her to develop her acting skills. An appearance in a Leonard Silman revue, ...

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Roone Pinkney Arledge. Signing a business contract with the boxing promoter Don King (left) and the former heavyweight champion George Foreman (right), 21 October 1976. Courtesy of AP Images.

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Arledge, Roone (08 July 1931–05 December 2002), television broadcasting executive, was born Roone Pinckney Arledge, Jr., in the Forest Hills section of Queens in New York City, the son of Roone Arledge, an attorney, and Gertrude Stritmater Arledge. He grew up in Merrick, a Long Island suburb, and excelled at Mepham High School both in his studies and in athletics as a member of the varsity wrestling and baseball teams. Graduating in 1948, Arledge enrolled at Columbia University hoping to become a professional writer; he had varied interests in journalism, drama, and academic philosophy and was a writer for the Columbia student newspaper, the Spectator. He graduated in 1952. Still uncertain of his career, he enrolled in graduate courses at Columbia's School of International Affairs with thoughts of becoming a foreign correspondent. Needing to support himself, he took an entry‐level television production job at the (now defunct) DuMont Television Network....

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Armstrong, Edwin Howard (18 December 1890–31 January 1954), electrical engineer and inventor, was born in New York City, the son of John Armstrong, a publisher, and Emily Smith, a teacher. Armstrong attended public schools in New York City and in Yonkers, New York, where the family moved in 1900. Fascinated by machinery, he enjoyed repairing broken toys for friends and later learned to repair automobiles. In his teens he was impressed by ...

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Arnaz, Desi (02 March 1917–02 December 1986), bandleader, actor, and television producer, was born Desiderio Alberto Arnaz y Acha III in Santiago de Cuba, Cuba, the son of Desiderio Arnaz II, a landowner and politician, and heiress Dolores “Lolita” de Acha. His early youth was privileged, but the revolution of 1932 broke up his secure home. His father was jailed briefly, and the family ended up in Miami with very little money....

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Backus, Jim (25 February 1913–03 July 1989), actor, comedian, and author, was born James Gilmore Backus in Cleveland, Ohio, the son of Russell Gould Backus, a mechanical engineer and president of a local heavy-machinery company, and Daisy Gilmore-Taylor. They lived in Bratenahl, an upper-class borough of Cleveland. Jim attended the Bratenahl School, then as a teenager went to Kentucky Military Institute, but when he tried to enlist, the army rejected him, telling him that he had a vertical stomach and would have to eat six times a day to stay nourished. However, at school he began a lifelong friendship with fellow cadet and future movie actor ...

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Lucille Ball. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-106047).