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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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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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Clooney, Rosemary (23 May 1928–29 June 2002), popular singer and actress, was born in Maysville, Kentucky, the daughter of Andrew Clooney, an occasional house painter, and Frances Guilfoyle Clooney, district sales manager for a chain of dress shops. Both parents were of Irish Catholic descent. Rosemary and her two younger siblings, Betty and Nick, grew up in a household that was unstable and often failed to provide basic necessities. Andrew Clooney, an alcoholic, was often unemployed; Frances Clooney, the more consistent breadwinner, traveled frequently for her job, leaving the children with their father or with relatives. In 1941, following her divorce from Andrew Clooney, Frances Clooney remarried and moved to California, taking her son with her; Rosemary and Betty were left behind to keep house for their father and to get by as best they could. Though Andrew Clooney found steady work at a defense plant, money was tight; the girls paid for school lunches with refunds from soda bottles they collected....

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Cohan, George M. (3 or 4 July 1878–05 November 1942), performer, writer of songs, musicals, and plays, and producer, was born in Providence, Rhode Island, the son of Jeremiah “Jerry” John Cohan and Helen “Nellie” Frances Costigan. (Cohan’s middle initial stands for Michael.) At the age of seven, Cohan was sent to the E Street School in Providence. His formal schooling lasted six weeks, after which the school sent him to rejoin his parents and sister, Josie, in their theatrical travels. He took violin lessons and played the instrument both in the theater orchestra and in a trick violin act he devised. The Cohans went on their first road show as a family in 1889; when the show failed they went back to ...

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Daniels, Bebe (14 January 1901–16 March 1971), entertainer, was born Phyllis Bebe Daniels in Dallas, Texas, the daughter of Danny Daniels (Melville Daniel MacMeal), the actor-manager of a traveling stock theater company, and Phyllis Griffin, his leading lady. From birth Daniels was called “Bebe,” which means baby in Spanish, reflecting her mother’s Spanish ancestry. Daniels first appeared onstage when she was only ten weeks old, and she performed in her first Shakespearean production at the age of four. After her father left the family around 1907–1908, Daniels’s mother took her to Los Angeles, California. She played child roles onstage until a new labor law was passed. In 1910 she made her silent film debut in ...

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Davis, Sammy, Jr. (08 December 1925–16 May 1990), variety performer and entertainer, was born in Harlem, New York, the son of Sammy Davis, Sr., an African-American dancer, and Elvera “Baby” Sanchez, a Puerto Rican chorus girl, both in Will Mastin’s Holiday in Dixieland...

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Desmond, Johnny (14 November 1920–06 September 1985), singer and actor, was born Giovanni Alfredo de Simone in Detroit, the son of Anthony de Simone, a grocery store owner, and Lillian Buccellato. Johnny sang at age nine on a local radio show, “Uncle Nick’s Children’s Hour.” He later attended the Detroit Conservatory of Music, then formed his own vocal group, the Downbeats. In the summer of 1940 the Downbeats were hired by the ...

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Dietrich, Marlene (27 December 1901–06 May 1992), actress and singer, was born Maria Magdalena Dietrich in Berlin, Germany, the daughter of Louis Erich Otto Dietrich, a policeman, and Wilhelmina Elisabeth Josephine Felsing. Dietrich trained as a concert violinist at the Hochschule für Musik in Berlin, but a hand injury at the age of twenty-one led her to shift her ambitions to acting. She adopted the surname Marlene for her stage name by combining syllables of her first two names....

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Evans, Dale (31 October 1912–07 February 2001), actor and singer-songwriter, actor and singer‐songwriter, was born Lucille Wood Smith in Uvalde, Texas, the daughter of Walter Hillman Smith, a cotton farmer and hardware dealer, and Bettie Sue Wood. At an early age her name was changed to Frances Octavia Smith. During her childhood the family moved to Osceola, Arkansas, where Frances attended local schools and enjoyed singing with church and social groups. She was bright, skipped several grades, and entered high school at the age of twelve. Two years later, to her parents' dismay, she eloped with her boyfriend, Thomas F. Fox, and gave birth to their son the following year. Soon afterward Fox deserted the family, leaving Frances to raise the child on her own; the couple divorced in 1929 when Frances was seventeen....

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Faye, Alice (05 May 1915–09 May 1998), singing actress, was born Alice Jeanne Leppert in New York to Charley Leppert, a policeman, and his wife Alice Moffat Leppert. Educated in New York schools and lying about her age, she began her professional career in 1928 as a dancer for the Chester Hale Troupe and the night-club entrepreneur Nils Thor Granlund. Faye (who legally changed her name in 1935) was a chorine in the eleventh ...

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Holman, Libby (23 May 1906–18 June 1971), actress and singer, was born Elizabeth Holtzman in Cincinnati, Ohio, the daughter of well-to-do lawyer Alfred Holtzman and Rachel Workum. After receiving a B.A. from the University of Cincinnati, Holman made her stage debut in a touring production of the drama ...

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Ives, Burl (14 June 1909–14 April 1995), folk singer and actor, was born Burl Icle Ivanhoe Ives in Hunt City Township, Illinois, the son of Frank Ives, a tenant farmer and highway culvert builder, and Cordella White. A bird, singing on an oak branch outside his mother’s window, ushered in Ives’s birth, and his brothers made him a cornstalk fiddle when he was just a toddler, but it was his pipe-smoking grandmother Kate White who made him a singer. She knew hundreds of folksongs and would fix her bright, black-button eyes on him and sing. Ives was age four when, at an old soldiers’ reunion, he first performed in public. Although he had just eaten two hot dogs that he purchased on credit, he sang well, received one dollar, paid his debt, and spent the remainder on merry-go-round rides. At age twelve he sang and played his banjo at a local camp meeting and was asked while still in the sixth grade to be part of a high school theater group that performed in neighboring towns. He spent his junior and senior years in a consolidated high school in nearby Newton and played football as a fullback and as an all-conference guard....

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Jolson, Al (26 May 1886–23 October 1950), singer and entertainer, was born Asa Yoelson in Seredzius, Lithuania, the son of Moses Reuben Yoelson, a rabbi and cantor, and Naomi Cantor. Brought to the United States in 1894, Jolson was educated at the Jefferson Public School in Washington, D.C., before entering the theatrical profession in 1900 as a singer with the Victoria Burlesquers. Jolson subsequently teamed with Fred E. Moore in a singing act featuring stereopticon slides, but his career as a “boy tenor” ended when his voice changed. He and his elder brother, Harry, performed together as “The Hebrew and the Cadet” prior to joining Joe Palmer as Jolson, Palmer and Jolson in “A Little of Everything,” an act that toured the major vaudeville circuits beginning in late 1904. Jolson first performed in blackface at this time....

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Charles W. Carey Jr.

Kaye, Danny (18 January 1913–03 March 1987), entertainer, was born David Daniel Kaminski in Brooklyn, New York, the son of Jacob Kaminski, a tailor, and Clara Nemerovsky. He dropped out of high school during his sophomore year and hitchhiked with a friend to Miami Beach, Florida, to become professional song-and-dance men. After returning to Brooklyn two weeks later, he worked as a soda jerk, office clerk, and insurance appraiser by day and performed at private parties by night. In 1929 he went to work at White Roe Lake House in New York’s Catskill Mountains as a tummler, an entertainer who amused the guests during their every waking hour. For the next four summers he performed at White Roe as Danny Kaye and unsuccessfully sought work on Broadway during the winter....

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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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Lenya, Lotte (18 October 1898–27 November 1981), singing actress, was born Karoline Wilhelmine Charlotte Blamauer, in Vienna, Austria, the daughter of Franz Blamauer, a carriage driver, and Johanna Teuschl, a laundress. “Linnerl,” as she was nicknamed, spent her childhood in a Roman Catholic but impoverished and abusive family in the working-class district of Penzing. At fourteen she left the Bürgerschule for gifted children in Hietzing to begin a four-year apprenticeship in a small hat factory. In 1913, however, an aunt took her to Zurich, where she worked as a domestic helper while studying dance part-time and playing small roles in productions at the Stadttheater....

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Lillie, Beatrice (29 May 1894–20 January 1989), comic actress, was born Beatrice Gladys Lillie in Toronto, Canada, the younger of two daughters of John Lillie, a schoolmaster, and Lucy Ann Shaw Lillie. Educated in Toronto and at St Agnes College in Belleville, Ontario, Canada, Lillie was sometimes known as Gladys Monteil when appearing with her mother and sister Muriel onstage in Canada....

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Monroe, Marilyn (01 June 1926–05 August 1962), film actress and sex symbol, was born Norma Jeane Mortensen (and was also known as Norma Jeane Baker in her youth) in Los Angeles, California, the daughter of Gladys Monroe Baker Mortensen, a film cutter, who was unmarried when she gave birth to Monroe (her father has never been positively identified). Gladys Mortensen was an avid movie fan, but Monroe spent very little time with her often unstable mother. Within two weeks of her birth, Monroe was placed in the first of what would be a succession of foster homes, guardianships, and orphanages. This experience convinced her that she was a “mistake,” a person easily abandoned. Given an insecure childhood that included the trauma of sexual molestation and an early marriage (to James Dougherty in 1942; they were divorced in 1946) arranged in part to prevent her return to an orphanage, it is a testament to Monroe’s tenacity, personal strength, and resilience that she managed to achieve the heights in her career that she did....

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Newley, Anthony (24 September 1931–14 April 1999), singer and songwriter, was born in the East End of London, the son of Frances Grace Newley, a single mother. It has been reported that Newley's father was a local building contractor who made himself known late in Newley's life, but his name has not been recorded. Educated mainly locally, Newley, like many London children during World War II, was evacuated to the countryside. A sojourn with a music hall performer introduced him to theater, and at age fourteen, while working as a tea boy for an advertising agency, he entered London's Italia Conti stage school....

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Robeson, Paul (09 April 1898–23 January 1976), actor, singer, and civil rights activist, was born Paul Leroy Robeson in Princeton, New Jersey, the son of William Drew Robeson, a Protestant minister, and Maria Louisa Bustill, a schoolteacher. Robeson’s mother died when he was six years old, and he grew up under the influence of a perfectionist father, a former runaway slave who fought in the Union army. During his senior year at the Somerville, New Jersey, high school, he achieved the highest score in a statewide scholarship examination to attend Rutgers College (later Rutgers University). The lone black at Rutgers as a freshman in 1915 and only the third African American to attend the institution, Robeson was an outstanding student and athlete. A varsity debater, he won class prizes for oratory all four years, was elected to Phi Beta Kappa as a junior, was one of four seniors chosen for membership in the Cap and Skull honorary society, and was named class valedictorian. The 6′ 3″, 215-pound Robeson earned twelve varsity letters in four sports (baseball, basketball, football, and track) and was twice named football All-America (1917 and 1918). According to former Yale coach ...