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

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Ball, Lucille (08 August 1911–26 April 1989), actress and television executive, was born Lucille Désirée Ball in Jamestown, New York, the daughter of Henry Dunnell Ball, a telephone lineman, and Désirée “DeDe” Evelyn Hunt. Stagestruck from an early age, Ball quit school at fifteen to attend New York City’s John Murray Anderson/Robert Milton School of the Theater and Dance. Later accounts describe her New York years, from about 1926 to 1933, as a time of struggle that required the aspiring actress to be tough. Jobs in the chorus line of Broadway shows never seemed to pan out for Ball, who eked out a living first waitressing and then modeling. She eventually got her show-business break in 1933, when she was sent to Hollywood as a chorus girl in ...

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Tallulah Bankhead Photograph by Carl Van Vechten, 1934. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LOT 12735, no. 92 P&P).

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Bankhead, Tallulah (31 January 1902–12 December 1968), actress, was born into an illustrious political family in Huntsville, Alabama, the daughter of William Bankhead, a U.S. representative and, from 1936 to 1940, Speaker of the House, and Adelaide Eugenia Sledge. Shortly after Bankhead’s birth her mother died, and Tallulah was sent to Jasper, Alabama, to be raised by grandparents and occasionally by her father. Though the family was Episcopalian, Bankhead and her elder sister, Eugenia, were educated at Catholic girls’ schools in Virginia, New York, Washington, D.C., and Alabama. At an early age Bankhead displayed the flamboyant personality for which she became famous....

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Berg, Gertrude (03 October 1899–14 September 1966), actress, writer, and producer of radio and television programs, was born Gertrude Edelstein in the Harlem district of New York City, the daughter of Jacob Edelstein, a Catskills resort hotel owner, and Diana Netta Goldstein, a bookkeeper and hotel kitchen manager. She was educated in public schools and showed interest in acting as a child, performing comic skits at her father’s hotel. As a teenager, she took several extension courses in playwriting at Columbia University. In 1918 she married Lewis Berg, a mechanical engineer, whose work took the couple to a sugar refinery in Reserve, Louisiana. In 1921 they returned to New York, where they would live for the rest of their lives. The couple had two children....

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Bebe Daniels. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-106959).

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Daniels, Bebe (14 January 1901–16 March 1971), entertainer, was born Phyllis Bebe Daniels in Dallas, Texas, the daughter of Danny Daniels (Melville Daniel MacMeal), the actor-manager of a traveling stock theater company, and Phyllis Griffin, his leading lady. From birth Daniels was called “Bebe,” which means baby in Spanish, reflecting her mother’s Spanish ancestry. Daniels first appeared onstage when she was only ten weeks old, and she performed in her first Shakespearean production at the age of four. After her father left the family around 1907–1908, Daniels’s mother took her to Los Angeles, California. She played child roles onstage until a new labor law was passed. In 1910 she made her silent film debut in ...

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Faye, Alice (05 May 1915–09 May 1998), singing actress, was born Alice Jeanne Leppert in New York to Charley Leppert, a policeman, and his wife Alice Moffat Leppert. Educated in New York schools and lying about her age, she began her professional career in 1928 as a dancer for the Chester Hale Troupe and the night-club entrepreneur Nils Thor Granlund. Faye (who legally changed her name in 1935) was a chorine in the eleventh ...

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Alice Faye. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

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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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Hedda Hopper Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-97336).

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Hopper, Hedda (02 May 1885–01 February 1966), actress and gossip columnist, was born Elda Furry in Hollidaysburg, Pennsylvania, the daughter of David E. Furry, a butcher, and Margaret Miller. The fifth of nine children, Hopper attended school until the eighth grade, after which she stayed home to help her mother with the household. She had an early driving desire to be on the stage, spurred by seeing ...

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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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Edward L. Lach, Jr. and Barbara Bennett Peterson

Meadows, Audrey (08 February 1926–03 February 1996), television personality, actress, and singer, was born Audrey Cotter in Wuchang, China, the daughter of the Reverend Francis James Meadows Cotter, an Episcopal minister, and Ida Taylor Cotter. Her parents had gone to China as Christian missionaries, and until she was five she lived in Wuchang and spoke both Chinese and English. The family returned to the United States in 1931 and first resided in Providence, Rhode Island, where her father had accepted a pastorate at St. John's Protestant Episcopal Cathedral. Following successive pastoral moves to Sewickley, Pennsylvania, and Pittsfield, Massachusetts, the family settled in 1935 in Sharon, Connecticut, where Rev. Cotter was rector of Christ Church until the late 1950s....

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Audrey Meadows. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

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Montgomery, Elizabeth (15 April 1933–18 May 1995), actress, was born in Los Angeles, California, the daughter of Robert Montgomery, a handsome actor, and Elizabeth Allen Bryan Montgomery, a beautiful actress. Elizabeth Montgomery graduated from the Spence School for actors and actresses, in New York City, and then studied at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, also in New York. Following three years of strenuous training, she made her debut in 1951 in “Top Secret,” a segment of “Robert Montgomery Presents,” her father's popular television show. By the 1950s, Robert Montgomery was widely known not only as a versatile actor, director, and producer but also as the first president of the Screen Actors Guild (1935–1939) and as a decorated naval combat veteran. He even helped direct ...

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Elizabeth Montgomery Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-115583).

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