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Abbott, Bud (02 October 1895–24 April 1974), and Lou Costello (06 March 1906–03 March 1959), a team of comedians on stage, radio, film, and television, were born, respectively, in Asbury Park and Paterson, New Jersey. Abbott (born William Alexander Abbott) was the son of Harry Abbott, a circus advance agent, and Rae Fisher, a circus bareback rider. Costello (born Louis Francis Cristillo) was the son of Sebastian Cristillo, an Italian-born silk weaver and insurance sales agent, and Helen Rege....

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Ace, Goodman (15 January 1899–25 March 1982), and Jane Ace (12 October 1905–11 November 1974), radio entertainers of the 1930s and 1940s, were both born in Kansas City, Kansas, and broke into radio there in 1929. Goodman Ace’s father was Harry Aiskowitz, a haberdasher who had emigrated from Riga, Latvia; his mother was Anna Katzen. Goodman began working in the Wormser Hat Store in Kansas City as a teenager following his father’s death. At the age of twenty, however, he took a big cut in pay to become the movie and drama critic of the ...

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Acuff, Roy (15 September 1903–23 November 1992), country music singer and composer, was born Roy Claxton Acuff in Maynardsville, Tennessee, just a few miles north of Knoxville in a spur of the Great Smoky Mountains, the son of Neil Acuff, an attorney and pastor, and Ida Florence Carr. The family moved to Fountain City, a suburb of Knoxville, when Acuff was sixteen, and he spent most of his high school years excelling in sports. After graduation he was invited to have a tryout at a major league baseball camp, but a 1929 fishing trip to Florida resulted in a severe sunstroke, and Acuff was bedridden for a number of months. During his convalescence he reawakened an early interest in music and began to hone his abilities on the fiddle. By the time he had recovered, he had given up his dreams of a baseball career and had determined to utilize his newly discovered musical talent....

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Adams, Franklin P. (15 November 1881–23 March 1960), newspaper columnist, humorist, and radio personality, was born Franklin Pierce Adams in Chicago, Illinois, the son of Moses Adams, a dry-goods merchant, and Clara Schlossberg, both German-Jewish immigrants. During his childhood he was an avid reader of the classics, history, nineteenth-century fiction, and light verse. He studied mathematics and science at the Armour Scientific Academy in Chicago, graduating in 1899. He attended the University of Michigan for less than a year, during which he studied literature and after which he began to earn his own living....

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Fred Allen. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-105144).

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Allen, Fred (31 May 1894–17 March 1956), humorist, was born John Florence Sullivan in Somerville, Massachusetts, the son of James Henry Sullivan, a bookbinder, and Cecilia Herlihy. Allen and his younger brother were raised by their aunt Elizabeth Herlihy Lovely, following the death of their mother in 1897. The boys remained a part of their aunt’s extended, working-class, Irish-American family when their brooding, alcoholic father remarried in 1909, residing in Allston and later the Dorchester section of Boston. Allen graduated from Boston’s High School of Commerce in 1911 but did not seek a business career. Among James’s few contributions to his son’s life in comedy was the job of bookrunner that Allen filled, beginning at age fourteen, in the Boston Public Library, his father’s employer. While awaiting call slips in the stacks, Allen read about comedy and practiced juggling. Fascinated with vaudeville, America’s most popular live amusement in 1910, and a hanger-on in Boston’s theatrical district, he appeared as a comic juggler in the library’s employee talent show in the summer of 1911. Soon he was a frequent contestant in amateur vaudeville shows in the Boston area, earning sufficient prize money to encourage him to declare professional status in 1912. Although one-night stands took Allen’s act as far afield as Maine and Connecticut, in September 1914 the young actor moved to New York....

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Ameche, Don (31 May 1908–06 December 1993), actor, was born Dominic Felix Ameche in Kenosha, Wisconsin, the son of Felix Ameche, a saloon operator, and Barbara Hertle. Ameche’s father, a native of Italy, had changed the spelling of his name from “Amici” to “Ameche” when he immigrated to the United States. Ameche, one of eight children—his brother Jim Ameche became a popular radio personality—studied at Columbia Academy, a Roman Catholic preparatory school in Dubuque, Iowa, for four years beginning at age fourteen. He then entered Columbia College (also in Dubuque) but left in 1928 in order to study law, taking courses at Marquette University in Milwaukee, then at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., and finally at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. He never received a degree. Ameche had performed in plays in high school, and while he was at the University of Wisconsin he performed in a Madison stock company. This interest led him, in 1929, to again change course and pursue a professional acting career. That same year he landed his first Broadway role, as the butler in ...

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Anderson, Eddie “Rochester” (18 September 1905–28 February 1977), radio and movie actor, was born Edward Lincoln Anderson in Oakland, California. Anderson was from a show business family; his father, “Big Ed” Anderson, was a vaudevillian, and his mother, Ella Mae (maiden name unknown), was a circus tightrope walker. As a youngster Eddie sold newspapers on the streets of Oakland, which, according to his own account, injured his voice and gave it the rasping quality that was long his trademark on radio....

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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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Backus, Jim (25 February 1913–03 July 1989), actor, comedian, and author, was born James Gilmore Backus in Cleveland, Ohio, the son of Russell Gould Backus, a mechanical engineer and president of a local heavy-machinery company, and Daisy Gilmore-Taylor. They lived in Bratenahl, an upper-class borough of Cleveland. Jim attended the Bratenahl School, then as a teenager went to Kentucky Military Institute, but when he tried to enlist, the army rejected him, telling him that he had a vertical stomach and would have to eat six times a day to stay nourished. However, at school he began a lifelong friendship with fellow cadet and future movie actor ...

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Melissa Vickery-Bareford

Belushi, John (24 January 1949–05 May 1982), actor-comedian, was born in Chicago, Illinois, the son of Adam Belushi, the owner of a local restaurant, and Agnes (maiden name unknown). John was the eldest of three sons. His younger brother Jim also became an actor. An aggressive and difficult child, Belushi often got into trouble as a youngster. At Central High School in Wheaton, Illinois, however, he satisfied an intense need for attention by participating in such extracurricular activities as football, wrestling, choir, forensics, and the drama club and by playing drums in a rock ’n’ roll band. In his senior year he was captain of the football team as well as homecoming king....

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Benny, Jack (14 February 1894–26 December 1974), comedian on radio, in films, and on television, was born Benjamin Kubelsky in Chicago, Illinois, and grew up in Waukegan, Illinois. His father, Meyer Kubelsky, only recently had come to the United States from Russia. His mother was Emma Sachs, the daughter of Lithuanian immigrants; she met her husband in Chicago through a matchmaker. Meyer Kubelsky began selling household goods from a horse and wagon traveling along the shores of Lake Michigan; he then became a saloon-keeper and eventually purchased a haberdashery shop....

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Edgar Bergen [left to right] Edgar Bergen (holding Charlie McCarthy), Rudy Vallee, and Joe Penner, 1957. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-113260).

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Bergen, Edgar (16 February 1903–30 September 1978), actor and ventriloquist, was born Edgar John Berggren in Chicago, Illinois, the son of John Berggren and Nell Swanson, stolid Swedish immigrants who lived in various places in Illinois and for a time owned a dairy farm in Michigan. From an early age Edgar was attracted to show business, especially to local fairs, circuses, and vaudeville. At age eleven he sent off a quarter for “The Wizard’s Manual,” which taught, among other things, “Secrets of Magic, Black Art, Mind Reading, Ventriloquism, and Hypnotism.” Edgar found all of these arts attractive and shortly was performing magic tricks and ventriloquism for his family and neighborhood children....

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Bono, Sonny (16 February 1935–05 January 1998), entertainer, songwriter, and politician, was born Salvatore Phillip Bono in Detroit, Michigan, the son of Santo Bono, a truck driver, and Jean Bono (maiden name unknown), a beautician. Reared in a working-class environment, Bono was an average student and enjoyed playing the class clown. When he was seven the family moved to Los Angeles, California, where he finished his education. Bono married Donna Rankin in 1954, two years after his graduation from Inglewood High School. They had one daughter....

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Boone, Richard (18 June 1917–10 January 1981), motion picture, stage, and television actor, was born Richard Allen Boone in Los Angeles, California, the son of Kirk Boone, a corporation lawyer, and Cecile Beckerman. Boone graduated from the San Diego Army and Navy Academy in 1932 and enrolled at Stanford University two years later. He worked on fishing boats during the summers. At Stanford he studied art and became a member of the boxing team, winning amateur light heavyweight championships in 1936 and 1937. He was expelled from Stanford after becoming involved in a prank that resulted in an injury to the wife of former U.S. president ...

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Bowes, Major (14 June 1874–13 June 1946), radio producer and talent show host, was born Edward J. Bowes in San Francisco, California, the son of John M. Bowes, a customs agent, and Caroline Amelia Ford. Bowes’s father died when he was only six, forcing him to abandon his schooling after he graduated from grammar school. Bowes became a remarkably educated individual nevertheless and entered the real estate business in San Francisco, becoming prosperous if not wealthy. In 1909 he married ...

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Samuel Willard Crompton

Burr, Raymond (21 May 1917–12 September 1993), actor, was born Raymond William Stacy Burr in New Westminster, British Columbia, Canada, the son of William Johnston Burr, a Canadian hardware dealer, and Minerva Smith, an American pianist and music teacher. Burr’s early years were spent in an unusual mixture of privilege and privation. Traveling at a young age with his parents and later with his maternal grandfather, he was exposed to other cultures and languages, notably Chinese. At the same time, Burr suffered emotionally from the separation of his parents when he was five or six years old. His mother brought Burr and his two younger siblings to Vallejo, California, while his father remained in British Columbia....

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Cantor, Eddie ( September 1892?–10 October 1964), entertainer, was born Israel Iskowitz in New York City, the son of Mechel Iskowitz, a violinist, and Meta Kantrowitz. Orphaned at the age of three, he was raised by Esther Kantrowitz, his maternal grandmother. He was educated in the public schools of New York’s Lower East Side. His grandmother registered him as “Israel Kantrowitz,” but the name was subsequently anglicized to “Isidore Kanter” by a school official. Kanter, who altered the spelling of his name to “Cantor” upon embarking on a show business career in 1911, grew up on the streets. His grandmother, an Orthodox Jew, earned a living selling candles and other household items and by securing employment for young immigrants as maids in East Side homes....

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Carson, Johnny (23 October 1925–23 January 2005), comedian and television host of the hugely popular The Tonight Show, comedian and television host of the hugely popular The Tonight Show, was born in Corning, Iowa, the son of Homer Carson, a lineman with a local power company, and Ruth Hook. Homer moved about, seeking and finding better positions in the utilities industry. The Carson family moved to Norfolk, Nebraska, in 1933, where Homer became a manager of the Iowa-Nebraska Electric Light and Power Company. The Carsons lived on the good side of town and experienced little of the deprivations of the Great Depression. And so when Johnny, in 1937, wanted to send to Chicago for a magic kit, the money was forthcoming. He became fascinated with magic and practiced card and other tricks for hours before a mirror. He gave magic shows at his mother's bridge club and at high school assemblies. Johnny was fourteen when, as the “Great Carsoni,” he gave his first professional performance before the Norfolk Rotary Club. He was paid three dollars....