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Adler, Sara (1860?–28 April 1953), actress, was born in Odessa, Ukraine, the daughter of Ellye Levitzky and Pessye (maiden name unknown), merchants. She attended a Russian school, where she made her dramatic debut at age eight in the role of Emilia in Schiller’s ...

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Adler, Stella (10 February 1901–21 December 1992), actress and acting teacher, was born in New York City, the daughter of Jacob Adler, an actor, and Sara Levitzky Adler, an actress and producer. As part of the first family of the American Yiddish theater, Adler was acting from the age of five. Like her parents and five siblings, she was in constant demand as her parents’ Independent Yiddish Art Company played its ever-expanding repertory to packed houses on the city’s Lower East Side. The child-actor’s schedule allowed little time for formal education beyond reading and theatergoing....

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Maud Allan Photograph by Arnold Genthe, 1910. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-G399-4135-A).

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Allan, Maud (27 August 1873–07 October 1956), dancer, choreographer, and actress, was born Ula Maude Durrant in Toronto, Canada, the daughter of William Allan Durrant, a shoemaker, and Isa Matilda Hutchinson. In the late 1870s the family migrated from Ontario to San Francisco, where Allan grew up and, from an early age, studied piano with several teachers. San Francisco’s thriving theatrical and musical environment in the late 1880s and early 1890s enabled her to see fine performances, including those by some of the best women artists, among them Adele aus der Ohe and Sarah Bernhardt. Allan’s discipline, however, was piano. At age twenty-two, already musically accomplished and very beautiful, she went to Berlin for advanced piano study at the Royal High School for Music then under the direction of Joseph Joachim....

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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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Allyson, June (07 October 1917–08 July 2006), actress, was born Eleanor “Ella” Geisman in the Bronx, New York, the daughter of Robert Geisman, a janitor, and Clara Provost. Ella's father was an alcoholic and took little interest in her. When she was six months old, her parents separated. Mother and daughter moved from their Bronx tenement on 143rd Street to her grandparents' apartment near Pelham Bay. Clara landed a $20-a-week printing job and moved with her daughter to an $18-a-month coldwater flat off Third Avenue. Ella collected firewood and bathed in a washtub. Many moves followed. Often, Ella was shipped off to her grandparents. She felt isolated and abandoned. “You're going to be somebody in this world,” her grandmother consoled her ( ...

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June Allyson 18 Nov. 1943. Courtesy of AP Images.

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Andrews, Dana (01 January 1909–17 December 1992), actor, was born Carver Dana Andrews in Collins, Mississippi, to Charles Forrest Andrews, a Baptist minister, and Annis Speed. During his years as a Hollywood star, studio publicists listed his birth date as 1912. The third of nine children, he was named after professors his father had studied under at a theological seminary and was known as Dana. One of his brothers also became an performing under the name Steve Forrest....

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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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Thomas W. Collins Jr.

Arthur, Jean (17 October 1900–19 June 1991), actress, was born Gladys Georgianna Greene in Plattsburgh, New York, the daughter of Hubert Greene, a photographer, and Johannah Nelson Greene. Gladys Greene's father led a peripatetic lifestyle: in pursuit of seasonal photography work, he frequently moved his family to locations in New England and Florida, but in 1909 he abandoned them. When he reappeared in 1910, they were living in Rochester, Maine, and thereafter he came and went for months at a time as he pleased. In 1915 the Greene family moved to New York City. Financial difficulties led her to drop out of high school during her junior year. Around 1918 she began to work as a commercial model. She later explained that she had made up her mind not to be like other women who only wanted “husbands and furnished apartments on the installment plan” (quoted in Oller, p. 34). By the early 1920s she had posed for Alfred Cheney Johnston, the photographer for Ziegfeld's Follies, and as a “Christy Girl” for the acclaimed magazine illustrator ...

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Jean Arthur Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

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Astor, Mary (03 May 1906–25 September 1987), actress, was born Lucile Vasconcellos Langhanke in Quincy, Illinois, the daughter of Otto Ludwig Wilhelm Langhanke and Helen Vasconcellos, both teachers. Astor was the product—and she considered herself just that—of an ambitious German immigrant father who had worked at teaching, chicken farming, and window dressing with varying degrees of success before getting what Astor would later call the “Great Idea.” “My father decided I should become an ” she wrote, “and my father had never been wrong.”...

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Bacall, Lauren (16 Sept. 1924–12 Aug. 2014), actress, was born Betty Joan Perske in the Bronx, New York, the only child of William Perske, a salesman, and Natalie Weinstein-Bacal, a secretary. Her parents divorced when she was young, and she was raised in Manhattan by her mother and grandmother, both Romanian Jewish immigrants. Betty attended Highland Manor school in Tarrytown and Julia Richman High School in Manhattan. At sixteen, longing for a career in the theater, she enrolled at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, alongside future film star Kirk Douglas. Her tuition put a strain on the working-class family’s finances, and she left the school after one year....

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Pearl Bailey In her costume from St. Louis Woman. Photograph by Carl Van Vechten, 1946. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-103735).

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Bailey, Pearl (29 March 1918–17 August 1990), actress, singer, and entertainer, was born Pearl Mae Bailey in Newport News, Virginia, the daughter of the Reverend Joseph James Bailey and Ella Mae (maiden name unknown). Her brother Bill Bailey was at one time a well-known tap dancer....

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Fay Bainter Photograph by Arnold Genthe, 1916. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-G432-1583-B).

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Elizabeth R. Nelson

Bainter, Fay (07 December 1893–16 April 1968), actress, was born in Los Angeles, the daughter of Charles Bainter, an inventor, and Mary Okell. Making her stage debut at the age of five in the Burbank Stock Company’s production of The Jewess, Bainter managed to squeeze in an education between rehearsals and performances of children’s roles in stock companies such as the Burbank, the Belasco, and the Grand Theater. She graduated from the Girls Collegiate School in Los Angeles....

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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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Bancroft, Anne (17 September 1931–06 June 2005), actress, was born Anna Maria Louisa Italiano in the Bronx, New York, to Michael Italiano and Mildred di Napoli. Both parents were Italian immigrants. Her father worked as a fabric cutter in Manhattan's garment district; her mother was a switchboard operator at Macy's department store, also in Manhattan. Growing up in the Bronx, Bancroft was enrolled in dancing and acting classes at an early age and loved to perform. Nevertheless, she intended to pursue a career as a laboratory technician after graduating from Christopher Columbus High School in the Bronx in 1948. Instead, encouraged by her mother, she enrolled at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in Manhattan and studied there for two years....