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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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Adler, Luther (04 May 1903–08 December 1984), stage, film, and television actor, was born in New York City, the son of Jacob Pavlovich Adler, founder of the American Yiddish theater movement, and Sara Levitzkaya Adler, an actress. While all of the children acted professionally, only Luther and his sister ...

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Albert, Eddie (22 April 1906–26 May 2005), actor and environmental activist, was born Edward Albert Heimberger in Rock Island, Illinois, the son of Frank Daniel Heimberger, a realtor, and Julia Jones. At the age of one his family moved to Minneapolis, Minnesota, where he attended parochial school before graduating from Central High School in 1924. He then entered the University of Minnesota where he majored in business and worked his way up to manager at the local theater. Young Eddie left school without graduating and worked a series of odd jobs before joining a singing trio that appeared on the local radio station. Tired of hearing his name mangled as “hamburger” he changed it to Eddie Albert, and after successfully auditioning at NBC he moved to New York with partner Grace Bradt to star in ...

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Albertson, Jack (16 June 1907–25 November 1981), actor, was born in Malden, Massachusetts, the son of Leo Albertson and Flora Craft, a shoe factory worker. Soon after his birth, his father abandoned his mother, and Albertson was raised by his mother and his stepfather, Alex Erlich, a barber. Albertson abandoned his formal education after a single year of high school and began working at factory jobs and as a rack boy for the local pool hall. By age eighteen he was successfully competing as a dancer in amateur talent shows and had formed his own singing group, called “The Golden Rule Four.” He went to New York in 1931 in search of a job in show business. Noticed by an agent while trading steps with some of his fellow would-be hoofers in front of the Palace Theatre, Albertson was offered his first job, joining five other dancers backing a two-woman vaudeville team....

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Alda, Robert (26 February 1914–03 May 1986), stage, motion picture, and television actor, was born Alphonso Giuseppe Giovanni Roberto d’Abruzzo in New York City, the son of Alphonso d’Abruzzo, a barber, and Frances Tumillo. After an education at the New York University Architectural School, Alda was employed as an architectural draftsman in New York from 1928 to 1931. Since he possessed an excellent singing talent, he gravitated to the stage, touring in burlesque shows such as ...

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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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Ames, Leon (20 January 1902–12 October 1993), actor, was born Leon Waycoff in Portland, Indiana, the son of Russian immigrants whose names are unknown. In the 1880s large deposits of natural gas had been discovered in a region extending through north-central Indiana and Ohio, and the ensuing boom drew many immigrant workers and their families to the area to lay pipelines and then maintain the new infrastructure. Ames attended local schools and early on developed an interest in acting and the theater, its attractiveness heightened by performances of traveling theater troupes that passed through Portland. In high school he starred in several productions, including ...

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Anderson, Broncho Billy (21 March 1882–20 January 1971), the first western film hero, was born Max Aronson in Little Rock, Arkansas, but little else is known of his background, including the identity of his parents. While in his late teens Aronson became a traveling salesman, a job that brought him into the company of actors and a resulting interest in the theater. He moved to New York, where he changed his name to Gilbert Anderson and found work as a fashion model, posing in illustrations for publications such as the ...

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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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Arbuckle, Roscoe “Fatty” (24 March 1887–29 June 1933), actor, was born Roscoe Conkling Arbuckle in Smith Center, Kansas, the son of William Arbuckle, a wheat farmer. His mother's name and occupation are unknown. At birth, he weighed approximately fourteen pounds; his mother almost died during the delivery, and her health remained tenuous throughout his childhood. His father, an alcoholic, blamed him for her condition and routinely beat him and berated him about his weight. Around 1889 his family moved to Santa Ana, California. Shortly thereafter his father moved alone to northern California, where he worked as a crop picker and eventually purchased a small hotel in San Jose....

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Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle. [left to right] Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle and Mabel Normand, c. 1915, in one of their Keystone films. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-10081).

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Arlen, Richard (01 September 1898–28 March 1976), film actor, was born Cornelius Van Mattimore in Charlottesville, Virginia, the son of James Mattimore, a lawyer, judge, and grain broker, and Mary Van. Arlen’s childhood was spent primarily in the St. Paul, Minnesota, area, where sports and the outdoor life more than formal schooling engaged his attention. Paramount Pictures would later invent an academic career at the University of Pennsylvania for him, but in fact he attended St. Thomas College near his boyhood home, and that only briefly. In 1917 he left school to join the Royal Canadian Air Force. Although he never saw World War I combat, he learned to fly, eventually rose to the rank of lieutenant, and developed a love of aviation that would last through life....

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William Stephenson

Arliss, George (10 April 1868–05 February 1946), actor, was born in London, England, the son of William Arliss-Andrews, a printer and publisher. His mother’s name is unknown. He grew up in literate, cultured, and somewhat bohemian surroundings. The family home in Bloomsbury was close to the British Museum, and his father was patron of a circle of writers and eccentrics who frequented it. Privately educated, he became stagestruck at age twelve when introduced to amateur theatricals by Joseph and Henry Soutar, two sons of an acting family who also became actors....

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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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Fred Astaire. Gelatin silver print, 1936, by unidentified artist. National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution.

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Astaire, Fred (10 May 1899–22 June 1987), dancer, film star, and choreographer, was born in Omaha, Nebraska, the son of Frederick Austerlitz, an immigrant Austrian brewery employee, and Ann Geilus. Astaire’s sister, Adele Astaire, showed unusual talent in early dancing school recitals and was taken to New York in 1904 by her mother for professional training. Her brother, younger by a year and a half, was enrolled in dancing school with her. In 1906, when Fred was only seven, the two children began performing successfully in vaudeville....

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Atwill, Lionel (01 March 1885–22 April 1946), actor, was born in Croydon, England, the son of Alfred Atwill and Ada Emily Dace. He was educated at Mercer’s School in London as an architect and surveyor. In 1904 he decided to pursue a career as an playing a footman in a play called ...

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Autry, Gene (29 September 1908–02 October 1998), country singer, actor, and baseball team owner, was born Orvon Gene Autry in Tioga, Texas, the son of Delbert Autry, a livestock dealer and tenant farmer, and Elnora Ozmont Autry. He later recalled that his family was poor but “never Tobacco Road poor. My father earned good money, when he felt like it, which was some of the time” (Autry, p. 4). They moved frequently during his childhood, to small farms and hamlets in northern Texas and southern Oklahoma, eventually settling outside Ravia, Oklahoma. His grandfather, a Baptist minister, taught him to sing when he was five years old so he could join the church choir; his musically talented mother taught him how to play a mail-order guitar. As a teenager he sang ballads for tips at cafes, and around 1923 he toured for three months with the Fields Brothers Marvelous Medicine Show. During these years he was reportedly fired from a job as a ranch hand because his singing distracted the other hands from their labor....

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Gene Autry. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

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Ayres, Lew (28 December 1908–30 December 1996), actor, was born Lewis Frederick Ayres III in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (No information about his parents could be obtained for this article, although it is assumed that he shared his father's name.) After graduating from high school in San Diego, California, he attended the University of Arizona, planning to earn a medical degree. A talented banjo and guitar player and pianist, he played in a university jazz band and became a musician in Los Angeles. An agent who spotted Ayres performing in a Hollywood nightclub, and dancing with the actress Lily Damita, in 1928, obtained a small part for him in ...