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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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Allen, Gracie (26 July 1895–27 August 1964), actress and comedienne, was born Grace Ethel Cecile Rosalie Allen in San Francisco, California, the daughter of George Allen, an Irish clog and minstrel dancer, and Margaret Darragh. The year of her birth has been cited as late as 1906, but the 1900 U.S. Census confirms the 1895 date. Gracie was the family’s fifth child and fourth daughter. Sometime after 1900 Allen’s father deserted the family, and her mother married Edward Pidgeon, a San Francisco police captain....

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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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Arden, Eve (30 April 1912?–12 November 1990), stage, film, radio, and television actress, was born Eunice Quedens in Mill Valley, California, the daughter of Lucille Frank. Her parents divorced when she was two because of her father’s inveterate gambling. As a single parent, her mother made a living as a milliner, work that accounts in part for the headpieces Arden was noted for in her Hollywood days. She was raised by her mother in San Francisco and by her aunt in Mill Valley, inland from Sausalito. Success in a high school play led her to begin acting professionally at age sixteen with the Henry Duffy company in San Francisco. Soon after, she toured West Coast resorts and hotels (“the citrus circuit”) with the Bandbox Repertory Theater, a “superstock” company. Both allowed her to develop her acting skills. An appearance in a Leonard Silman revue, ...

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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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Lucille Ball. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-106047).

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Ball, Lucille (08 August 1911–26 April 1989), actress and television executive, was born Lucille Désirée Ball in Jamestown, New York, the daughter of Henry Dunnell Ball, a telephone lineman, and Désirée “DeDe” Evelyn Hunt. Stagestruck from an early age, Ball quit school at fifteen to attend New York City’s John Murray Anderson/Robert Milton School of the Theater and Dance. Later accounts describe her New York years, from about 1926 to 1933, as a time of struggle that required the aspiring actress to be tough. Jobs in the chorus line of Broadway shows never seemed to pan out for Ball, who eked out a living first waitressing and then modeling. She eventually got her show-business break in 1933, when she was sent to Hollywood as a chorus girl in ...

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Tallulah Bankhead Photograph by Carl Van Vechten, 1934. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LOT 12735, no. 92 P&P).

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Bankhead, Tallulah (31 January 1902–12 December 1968), actress, was born into an illustrious political family in Huntsville, Alabama, the daughter of William Bankhead, a U.S. representative and, from 1936 to 1940, Speaker of the House, and Adelaide Eugenia Sledge. Shortly after Bankhead’s birth her mother died, and Tallulah was sent to Jasper, Alabama, to be raised by grandparents and occasionally by her father. Though the family was Episcopalian, Bankhead and her elder sister, Eugenia, were educated at Catholic girls’ schools in Virginia, New York, Washington, D.C., and Alabama. At an early age Bankhead displayed the flamboyant personality for which she became famous....

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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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Berg, Gertrude (03 October 1899–14 September 1966), actress, writer, and producer of radio and television programs, was born Gertrude Edelstein in the Harlem district of New York City, the daughter of Jacob Edelstein, a Catskills resort hotel owner, and Diana Netta Goldstein, a bookkeeper and hotel kitchen manager. She was educated in public schools and showed interest in acting as a child, performing comic skits at her father’s hotel. As a teenager, she took several extension courses in playwriting at Columbia University. In 1918 she married Lewis Berg, a mechanical engineer, whose work took the couple to a sugar refinery in Reserve, Louisiana. In 1921 they returned to New York, where they would live for the rest of their lives. The couple had two children....

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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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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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See Abbott, Bud

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Robert A. Armour

Crane, Bob (13 July 1928–29 June 1978), actor, was born Bob Edward Crane in Waterbury, Connecticut, the son of Alfred T. Crane and Rosemary Senich. Following graduation from high school, Crane studied music in Waterbury with plans to become a professional drummer. He played with the Connecticut Symphony from 1944 until 1946, when he left to perform with several dance bands touring the East Coast. Following a stint with the Connecticut national guard from 1948 until 1950, he became a radio disc jockey with a reputation for humor and a glib manner. Between 1950 and 1956 he worked for radio stations in New York and Connecticut before moving to station KNX in Hollywood, California, where he remained until 1965. His humor and clowning made the show a quick success....

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Crosby, Bing (03 May 1903–14 October 1977), singer of popular music, was born Harry Lillis Crosby in Tacoma, Washington, the son of Harry Lowe Crosby, a plant accountant, and Catherine Harrigan. His father was an easy-going descendant of Edmund Brewster, one of the Puritan signers of the Mayflower Compact. His mother, an Irish Catholic, was a strict disciplinarian. Early in his life the family moved to Spokane, Washington, where Crosby grew up. At age six he entered Webster Elementary School (1909–1917), where he received the nickname “Bing.” In 1921 he graduated from the rigidly Jesuit-run Gongaza High School and entered Gongaza University (1921–1925), where he prepared for a law career....

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Bebe Daniels. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-106959).