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Ammons, A. R. (18 Feb. 1926–2 Feb. 2001), poet, was born on his family’s tobacco farm near Whiteville, North Carolina, the son of Willie M. and Lucy Delia McKee Ammons. The main family book was the Bible. Archie Randolph Ammons spent his formative childhood years working on the farm and as a result always felt close to nature and the vicissitudes of weather. After graduating from Whiteville High School in ...

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Caesar, Sid (8 Sept. 1922–12 Feb. 2014), television comedy star, was born Isaac Sidney Caesar in Yonkers, New York, the youngest of three surviving sons of Max Ziser, a Jew who emigrated from Austria, and his Russian-born wife, Ida Raphael Ziser. As a young boy Sid amused factory workers in his father’s greasy spoon, the St. Claire Buffet and Luncheonette, with Italian, Russian, Polish, Hungarian, and Lithuanian double talk. At eleven, Sid learned to play the saxophone, and he made six dollars a week playing in Mike Cifficello’s Swingtime Six while a student at Yonkers High School....

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Carpenter, Scott (1 May 1925–10 Oct. 2013), astronaut, was born Malcolm Scott Carpenter in Boulder, Colorado, to Marion Scott Carpenter, a post-doctoral student in chemistry, and Florence Kelso (Noxon) Carpenter.

When his mother became ill with tuberculosis and his father abandoned them, “Buddy” was raised in Boulder by his grandparents, Victor Irwin Noxon, Progressive publisher of the ...

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Craven, Wesley Earl (2 Aug. 1939–30 Aug. 2015), director, writer, and producer of prominent American horror films, was born and raised in Cleveland, Ohio. Craven described his mother, Caroline, as a religiously devout Baptist who took her children to church virtually every Wednesday and Sunday. His father, Paul, was a more distant and intimidating figure. Perhaps because of his strict upbringing, with prohibitions on activities like dancing, parties, or going to the movies, Craven was a strong student and went on to receive a B.A. in English from Wheaton College in ...

Image

Portrait of Ruby Dee. Van Vechten, Carl, 1880-1964, photographer

Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, Carl Van Vechten Collection, (LC-USZ62-102155)

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Dee, Ruby (27 Oct. 1922–11 June 2014), actor, author, and civil rights activist, was born Ruby Anne Wallace in Cleveland, Ohio, to Edward Nathaniel Wallace, who held various positions with the Pennsylvania Railroad, and Gladys Hightower. When the unstable Gladys left the family, her father married Emma Amelia Benson, a former teacher....

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Dennis, Sandy (27 Apr. 1937–2 Mar. 1992), actress, was born Sandra Dale Dennis in Hastings, Nebraska, to Jack Dennis, a salesman and postal clerk, and Yvonne Hudson Dennis, a secretary. She grew up in Lincoln, where she attended public schools and developed a lifelong love of literature, including poetry. She also enjoyed watching plays on television, at a time when that medium was a showcase for outstanding drama. One in particular, Horton Foote’s ...

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Divine (19 Oct. 1945–7 March 1988), film actor, stage performer, and singer, was born Harris Glenn Milstead in Baltimore, Maryland, to Harris Bernard Milstead and Frances Vukovich Milstead. Milstead was educated in the public schools in suburban Baltimore and graduated from Towson High School in ...

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Fisher, Carrie (21 Oct. 1956–27 Dec. 2016), actress and writer, was born Carrie Frances Fisher in Beverly Hills, California, to Eddie Fisher, a popular singer and the grandson of Russian-Jewish immigrants, and Debbie Reynolds, a Hollywood actress whose forebears were Anglo-Saxon Protestants of modest means. At the time of Carrie’s birth, Fisher and Reynolds, who had married to great fanfare a year earlier, were a celebrated young couple, labeled “America’s sweethearts” by the media. The public doted on newspaper and magazine coverage as well as film footage of the seemingly perfect couple and their adorable little daughter. The arrival little more than a year later of a son, Todd, only enhanced their image....

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Glenn, John (18 July 1921–8 Dec. 2016), aviator, astronaut, and United States Senator, was born John Herschel Glenn, Jr. in Cambridge, Ohio, the son of John Herschel Glenn, Sr. and Clara Sproat Glenn. The couple subsequently adopted a daughter, Jean. The family moved to New Concord, Ohio shortly after John’s birth where the father established a local plumbing company. Glenn attended local schools, graduating from New Concord High School in ...

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Keeshan, Robert “Bob” James (27 June 1927–23 Jan. 2004), actor, was born in Lynbrook, Long Island, a suburb of New York City, to Joseph Keeshan, a grocery chain manager, and Margaret Conroy Keeshan. Both parents were émigrés from Ireland. Robert, known as Bob, and his three siblings attended local schools and enjoyed a comfortable upbringing until their father lost his well-paying job in the early 1930s, during the Great Depression. Resettled in the suburb of Forest Hills, the family struggled to make ends meet, and their situation became worse with the sudden death of Margaret Keeshan in ...

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McCambridge, Mercedes (16 Mar. 1916–2 Mar. 2004), actress, was born Charlotte Mercedes Agnes McCambridge in Joliet, Illinois, to John P. McCambridge and Marie Mahaffey McCambridge, who were both of Irish descent. Initially called Carlotta by her mother, she was known as Mercedes by the age of three and nicknamed Mercy. The occupation of John McCambridge is unknown. The family, observant Roman Catholics, moved to the South Side of Chicago in the early 1920s, and Mercedes attended Catholic schools. At St. Thomas the Apostle High School, she excelled in dramatic productions, graduating in ...

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Myerson, Bess (16 July 1924–14 Dec. 2014), politician and television personality best remembered as Miss America 1945, was born in Bronx, New York, to Louis Myerson and Bella Podell Myerson, both Jewish immigrants from Russia. She was listed as Bessie on her birth certificate but was known as Bess from an early age. Her father worked as a housepainter and her mother at a number of part-time jobs. Bess had two sisters, one older and one younger, as well as one brother who died before she was born. The family lived in a one-room apartment in the Sholem Aleichem Cooperative Houses. Though the family was not affluent, an emphasis was placed on education, including music education, as Bess’s mother believed it important that a woman be able to support herself financially. Bess studied piano and flute, graduating from the High School of Music and Art in ...

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O’Hara, Maureen (17 Aug. 1920–24 Oct. 2015), actress, was born Maureen FitzSimons, the second of six children of Dublin hatter Charles Stewart Parnell FitzSimons and his wife, Marguerita Lilburn FitzSimons, a talented contralto and fashion designer. Ranelagh, Ireland, the village of Maureen’s birth and adolescence, was a famous site where the seventeenth-century Irish fought the English conquest. Maureen was an heir to that independence. Her mother schooled her in self-confidence, and her father taught her the contact sport of camogie....

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Ride, Sally K. (26 May 1951–23 July 2012), astronaut, physicist, and science educator, was born Sally Kristen Ride in Los Angeles, California, the elder child of Joyce and Dale B. Ride. Dale, a World War II veteran, taught high school social studies before teaching political science at Santa Monica Community College. Joyce worked briefly at UCLA and volunteered for decades for women’s prison reform. Ride’s younger sister, Karen, whom Sally called “Bear” (a nickname that stuck permanently), grew up to become an ordained Presbyterian minister. Ride attributed her self-contained disposition to her mother’s Norwegian heritage and her introverted family....

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Rivers, Joan (8 June 1933–4 Sept. 2014), comedian, was born Joan Alexandra Molinsky to Meyer C. Molinsky, a physician, and Beatrice Grushman Molinsky in Brooklyn, New York. Both parents were Russian Jewish immigrants of some means who had come to the United States following the Russian Revolution of ...

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Schirra, Wally (12 Mar. 1923–3 May 2007), astronaut, aeronautical engineer, and television commentator, was born Walter Marty Schirra, Jr. in Hackensack, New Jersey to army aviator and engineer Walter Marty Schirra, Sr., who flew bombing missions over Germany in World War I, and Brooklyn-born Florence Leach Schirra, who barnstormed after the war as a wing walker in the couple’s Curtiss Jenny....

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Spelling, Aaron (22 Apr. 1923–23 June 2006), television producer, was born to Polish-Russian immigrant parents and grew up poor in Dallas, Texas. His father, David Spurling, a tailor, had his name accidently changed to Spelling by inspectors when he first arrived at Ellis Island. He married a widow, Pearl Wald Seltzer, in ...

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Wallach, Eli Herschel (7 Dec. 1915–24 June 2014), actor, was born in the Red Hook neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York, to Abram Wallach and Bertha Schorr Wallach. His parents, Jewish immigrants from Poland, owned a candy store that provided an adequate living for Eli and his three siblings. As a child he enjoyed imitating the actors he saw in silent films, and he entertained his family by performing stories from newspaper comics. During his youth he dreamed of becoming an actor, but by the time of his graduation from Erasmus Hall High School in ...

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Wilder, Gene (11 June 1933–29 Aug. 2016), actor, writer, director, and novelist, was born Jerome “Jerry” Silberman in Milwaukee, Wisconsin to Velvel (William) Silberman, a Jewish salesman who emigrated from Russia, and Jeanne (Baer) Silberman, from a Polish Jewish family in Chicago.

Jerry became a comedian when he was eight, hoping to make his mother laugh as she recovered from her first heart attack. “If my mother hadn’t laughed, I probably wouldn’t be a comic actor” (...