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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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Leonard, Sheldon (22 February 1907–10 January 1997), performer, director, producer, and writer, primarily for television, radio, and film, was born Sheldon Leonard Bershad in New York City, the only child of Frank Bershad, a salesman, and Anna Levitt Bershad, an immigrant from Russia whose father had been a scribe to the Romanoff court. The family lived in the polyglot Morrisania section of the Bronx except for a period of three years during Leonard's early teens, when they lived in Belleville, New Jersey. In his autobiography Leonard describes Belleville as a "WASPy suburb" that made him self-conscious of the urban working-class accent and mannerisms that would become his trademarks as a performer as well as his Jewish background....

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Tinky ‘‘Dakota’’ Weisblat

Nelson, Ozzie (20 March 1906–03 June 1975), and Harriet Nelson (18 July 1909–02 October 1994), television actress and singer, were icons of American middle-class culture of the baby-boom era following World War II. They were universally recognized as “Ozzie and Harriet,” which was the title of their popular television sitcom. Ozzie was born Oswald George Nelson in Jersey City, New Jersey, the son of George Waldemar Nelson and Ethel Orr. He grew up in nearby Ridgefield Park, New Jersey, where his banker father was active in civic organizations. George Nelson was also interested in amateur theatricals, bringing the whole family in on the act, so that from an early age young Oswald sang and acted for the public. His work never entirely lost its original amateur orientation....

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Reis, Irving (07 May 1906–03 July 1953), radio and film director, was born in New York City, the son of Austrian immigrants Philip Reis, a tinsmith and construction worker, and Rose Lipkowitz. Already a ham radio operator at the age of thirteen, Reis showed an early enthusiasm for sound technology and experimentation. Although he received a scholarship to study bacteriology at Cornell, Reis lacked credits for admission, so in order to acquire the necessary courses, he attended Columbia University extension classes. But his interest in broadcasting—and the financial demands of supporting the family—won out, and he quit college after two years to take a job with the radio division of the telephone company in 1928....

Article

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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Jack Webb On the set of “Dragnet.” Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-112140).

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Webb, Jack (02 April 1920–23 December 1982), actor, director, and producer, was born Jack Randolph Webb in Santa Monica, California, the son of Samuel Webb and Margaret Smith. His parents separated when he was about two years old. Because his father left home when Webb was so young, he had no memories of him, and he was raised by his mother and grandmother. He grew up in an impoverished section of downtown Los Angeles, where at Belmont High School he became interested in art and dramatics and performed in several school productions. Needing to support himself and his mother, he gave up plans to attend college, and following his graduation from high school he worked in a men’s clothing store. On his own time he appeared on several local radio programs. In 1943 he joined the Army Air Forces, and while stationed in Minnesota he worked on a few United Service Organizations (USO) variety shows. Following his discharge in 1945, an affiliate of ABC Radio hired him to report on the San Francisco Conference (Apr.–June 1945) held to draw up the charter of the newly formed United Nations. While he was in San Francisco, Webb hosted a morning show focusing on jazz and also played the part of a tough detective in the radio drama “Pat Novak for Hire,” a series about waterfront crime. In 1947 he married singer-actress Julie London, with whom he would have two children....