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Johnny Mack Brown. With Mae West, on movie set. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-111083).

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Brown, Johnny Mack (01 September 1904–14 November 1974), college football player and film actor, was born John Mack Brown in Dothan, Alabama, the son of John Henry Brown and Hattie McGillary. Brown’s father owned a small retail shoe store in Dothan that brought the family only a small income. Johnny had to go to work at an early age selling newspapers. He spent much of his youth fishing, hunting, and playing football and other sports with his five brothers. Brown attended Dothan High School, where he earned letters in track, baseball, and football and was an all-state football player. In 1923 Brown earned a scholarship to play football all four years at the University of Alabama....

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Caray, Harry (14 March 1914?–18 February 1998), baseball broadcaster, was born Harry Christopher Carabina in St. Louis, Missouri, the son of Christopher Carabina and Daisy Argint. Although most sources claim 1 March, in either 1919 or 1920, as his birthdate, Caray's birth certificate, examined by the ...

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Buster Crabbe Second from left, with Duke P. Kahanamoku, far left , Harold "Stubby" Kruger, far right, and an unidentified Red Cross boy scout, at the Olympic tryouts, Cincinnati, Ohio.

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Crabbe, Buster (07 February 1908–23 April 1983), athlete and motion picture actor, was born Clarence Linden Crabbe in Oakland, California, the son of Edward Crabbe and Agnes McNamara. When Crabbe was two, the family moved to Hawaii, where his father was overseer of a pineapple plantation. There Crabbe’s natural abilities in many sports brought him the lifelong nickname of “Buster.” He earned sixteen sports letters in high school, set thirty-five national and sixteen world swimming records during his years in sports competition, and was a member of the U.S. swimming team for the Olympics of 1928 (Amsterdam) and 1932 (Los Angeles). He received a B.A. from the University of Southern California in Los Angeles in 1932. In the Olympics that same year he crowned his athletic career by winning the gold medal for the 400-meter freestyle event, coming in first by one-tenth of a second. “That one-tenth of a second changed my life,” he said ( ...

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Dizzy Dean Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-29523).

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Dean, Dizzy (16 January 1910–17 July 1974), baseball player, coach, and broadcaster, was born Jay Hanna Dean in Lucas, Arkansas, the son of Albert Dean and Alma Nelson, both migrant workers. “Dizzy,” a nickname he acquired from his zany antics, had a younger brother, Paul, who also pitched in the major leagues. There has been some uncertainty about Dean’s birthdate, birthplace, and baptismal name. According to Dean, the biographical confusion might stem from the fact that he liked to give every reporter a scoop. Dean said his other name, Jerome Herman, was adopted when he was seven years old. A playmate by that name died, and to console the boy’s father, Dean said that he would take the youth’s name as his own....

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Garagiola, Joe (12 Feb. 1926–23 March 2016), baseball player, broadcaster, and television personality, was born Joseph Henry Garagiola in St. Louis, Missouri, the son of Giovanni Garagiola, a brickyard worker, and his wife, Angelica, both Italian immigrants from near Milan. He grew up in the Italian neighborhood known as “the Hill,” across the street from his lifelong friend and baseball Hall of Famer, Yogi Berra. As the quintessential storyteller Garagiola told it, “Not only was I not the best catcher in the major leagues, I was not the best catcher on my street!” (...

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Gifford, Frank (16 Aug. 1930–9 Aug. 2015), professional football player and broadcaster, was born Frank Newton Gifford in Santa Monica, California, the youngest of three children of Weldon Wayne Gifford, an oil and shipyards worker, and Lola Mae (Hawkins) Gifford.

Frank was a shy boy whose lisp made him self-conscious. His family moved through Depression-era trailer camps, hunting work. Football bolstered his confidence, and the sport became his lifelong identity. He was co-captain of the Bakersfield High School Drillers, who became San Joaquin Valley football champions in ...

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Red Grange. Red Grange [second from right], signing a movie contract, with his manager, Charles C. Pyle, standing alongside. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-105233).

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Grange, Red (13 June 1903–28 January 1991), football player, coach, and broadcaster, was born Harold Edward Grange in Forksville, Pennsylvania, the son of Lyle Grange, a lumber camp foreman, and Sadie Sherman. When Grange’s mother died in 1908, his father moved the family, which included Red’s older sisters and his three-year-old brother, to Wheaton, Illinois, where the elder Grange had grown up. Years later, Red, as he was nicknamed because of his auburn hair, recalled that “at first I missed Forksville terribly,” but as time passed he realized that Wheaton “offered a more civilized way of life.”...

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Harmon, Tom (28 September 1919–15 March 1990), football player and sportscaster, was born Thomas Dudley Harmon in Rensselaer, Indiana, the son of Louis A. Harmon, a steel mill policeman, and Rose Marie Guinn. Harmon grew up in Gary, Indiana, where, under the coaching of Doug Kerr at Horace Mann High School, he earned fourteen varsity letters in four sports, started three years for the football team, was the leading national interscholastic football scorer with 150 points in a season, and won state track and field championships. Coach Kerr steered Harmon toward the University of Michigan, where Kerr had played, and where he took the high school’s backfield each spring for a clinic....

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Heilmann, Harry Edwin (03 August 1894–09 July 1951), baseball player and announcer, was born in San Francisco, California, the son of Richard Heilmann, a German-immigrant ironworker, and Mary McVeigh. Raised in the Roman Catholic faith, Heilmann attended parochial schools until 1911, when he dropped out of Sacred Heart College, the preparatory school for St. Mary’s College of California, after flunking mathematics and failing to make the varsity baseball team. While working as a bookkeeper for the National Biscuit Company, Heilmann started playing baseball for a semiprofessional club at Hanford, California. He was signed by a scout for Portland Oregon, in the Northwest League, where he showed a great deal of professional promise as an outfielder-first baseman. At the end of the 1913 season the Detroit Tigers of the American League (AL) purchased his contract. Paid $2,100 for the 1914 season, Heilmann appeared in 66 games and batted only .225. When he turned down the same amount in 1915, Detroit assigned him to San Francisco in the Pacific Coast League, where he batted a lusty .364....

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Kiner, Ralph (27 Oct. 1922–6 Feb. 2014), baseball player and broadcaster, was born Ralph McPherran Kiner in Santa Rita, New Mexico, the son of Ralph Maclin Kiner, a baker, and Beatrice Grayson Kiner, a nurse. When his father died four years later, his mother moved the family to Alhambra, California, where Ralph played baseball at Alhambra High School and attracted attention from New York Yankee and Pittsburgh Pirate scouts. The Pirates convinced him he had a better chance of success with them than with the talented and deep Yankees and signed him with a $3,000 bonus, with which he paid off his mother’s mortgage....

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Canada Lee Photograph by Carl Van Vechten, 1941. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LOT 12735, no. 687 P&P).

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Lee, Canada (03 May 1907–09 May 1952), actor, theater producer, bandleader, and boxer, was born Leonard Lionel Cornelius Canegata in New York City, the son of James Cornelius Canegata, a clerk, and Lydia Whaley. Lee’s father came from a wealthy and politically prominent family in St. Croix, Virgin Islands, whose ancestors had adopted a Danish surname. Lee’s grandfather owned a fleet of merchant ships; the family also raced horses. James Canegata shipped out as a cabin boy at eighteen, settled in Manhattan, married, and worked for National Fuel and Gas for thirty-one years. Lee grew up in the San Juan Hill section of Manhattan’s West Sixties and attended P.S. 5 in Harlem. An indifferent student, he devoted more energy to fisticuffs than to schoolwork. Lee studied violin from age seven with composer J. Rosamund Johnson, and at age eleven he was favorably reviewed at a student concert in Aeolian Hall; his parents hoped he would become a concert violinist....

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Lindstrom, Freddy (21 November 1905–04 October 1981), baseball player, manager, announcer, and coach, was born Frederick Anthony Lindstrom in Chicago, Illinois, the son of Frederick Lindstrom, a plumbing contractor, and Mary Sweeney. (His middle name was changed to Charles later on.) At Tilden High School and then at Loyola Academy, Lindstrom starred as an infielder and batter. In 1922 ...

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Max Patkin With Bob Nieman of the St. Louis Browns, c. 1951. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

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Patkin, Max (10 January 1920–30 October 1999), baseball clown, was born in West Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the son of Samuel H. Patkin, a delicatessen operator and later a repairman, and Rebecca Patkin (maiden name unknown); both parents were Russian-Jewish immigrants. He graduated from West Philadelphia High School; two years at Brown Prep confirmed his lack of academic promise. Since seeing ...

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Rizzuto, Phil (25 September 1917–13 August 2007), baseball player and broadcaster, was born Fiero Francis Rizzuto (he later legally changed his first name to Philip) in Brooklyn, New York, the son of Brooklyn natives Fiore, a trolley conductor, and Rose Angotti Rizzuto. The family, New York to the core, moved to Queens when Phil was twelve. A star baseball player at Richmond Hill High School, Phil tried out with the local Giants and Dodgers, his favorite team, at sixteen but failed to make an impression. The other New York team, the Yankees, signed him in 1936 and he began to work his way up through the Yankee farm system, spending a year at Bassett, Virginia, in 1937, moving to Norfolk in 1938, and then Kansas City in 1939 and 1940. At each stop in this journey he batted over .300. In Kansas City he also picked up his lifetime nickname, “Scooter,” as teammate Billy Hitchcock, observing the speedy but short-legged Rizzuto's running style, told him that he did not run, he scooted. He was named the top minor league player in baseball that final year in Kansas City....