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Cassavetes, John (09 December 1929–03 February 1989), actor, screenwriter, director, and filmmaker, was born in New York City, the son of Nicholas John Cassavetes, the owner of a travel business, and Katherine Demitri. Although his father, a Greek immigrant, had a “knack” for making and losing millions, Cassavetes grew up in the affluent Long Island towns of Sands Point and Port Washington, where he went to public schools. He attended Mohawk College and Colgate University, majoring in English. He left college for a brief stint as a sports announcer, but after reading the plays of ...

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Chase, Ilka (08 April 1905?–15 February 1978), actress and author, was born in New York City, the daughter of Francis Dane Chase, a hotel manager, and Edna Woolman Chase, editor of Vogue magazine. She was given her unusual first name in honor of a Hungarian friend of her mother. Chase, whose parents divorced when she was a child, was educated at a succession of boarding schools, including convent schools in Manhattan and Suffern, New York, run by the Sisters of the Holy Child, and Mrs. Dow’s School, Briarcliff Manor, New York. Most summers were spent at her grandmother’s estate at Brookhaven, Long Island. At age sixteen Chase was sent to finishing school in Groslay, France, and later attended a convent school at Neuilly, outside Paris. In 1923 she returned to New York to make her society debut at the Cosmopolitan Club....

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George M. Cohan Photograph by Carl Van Vechten, 1933. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LOT 12735, no. 236 P&P).

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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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Collinge, Patricia (20 September 1894–10 April 1974), actress and writer, was born in Dublin, Ireland, the daughter of Frederick Channon Collinge, a musical director and conductor, and Emmie Russell. She was privately educated in Dublin. It was there, admitted free to plays as a professional courtesy to her father, that she first saw and loved theater. At the age of ten she made her first professional appearance at London’s Garrick Theatre, playing Ching-a-Ling in a 1904 Christmas pantomime, ...

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Coward, Noël (16 December 1899–26 March 1973), playwright, songwriter, and performer, was born Noël Peirce Coward in Teddington, England, the son of Arthur Sabin Coward, a generally unsuccessful traveling piano salesman, and Violet Agnes Veitch. Coward’s American connections began at age sixteen as an extra in a ...

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Jane Cowl Photograph by Arnold Genthe, 1914. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-G432-0155-B-007).

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Cowl, Jane (14 December 1884–22 June 1950), actor, producer, and writer, was born Grace Bailey in Boston, Massachusetts, the daughter of Charles A. Bailey, a provision dealer and clerk, and Grace Avery, a singer and voice teacher. Around 1887 the family moved to Brooklyn, where Jane published verses in ...

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Craven, Frank (24 August 1880?–01 September 1945), actor and playwright, was born in Boston, Massachusetts, the son of John T. Craven and Ella Mayer. Craven’s parents, both repertory theater actors, were members of the Boston Theatre Company at the time of his birth. It was in that company’s production of Henry Arthur Jones’s ...

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Da Silva, Howard (04 May 1909–16 February 1986), actor, director, and playwright, was born Howard Silverblatt in Cleveland, Ohio, the son of Benjamin Silverblatt, a dress cutter, and Bertha Sohon. The family later moved to New York City and then to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Da Silva completed his education with a year at the Carnegie Institute of Technology (1927–1928), supporting himself by working in the city’s steel mills. He then hitchhiked to New York and became an apprentice in the Civic Repertory Company for a year’s study. His debut as an actor in the company’s 1929 production of ...

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Davenport, Benjamin Butler (1871?–07 April 1958), playwright, actor, and theater manager, was born in New York City, the son of John L. Davenport, a water commissioner, and (probably) Delia Post. He may have been called John at birth. Butler later claimed to have been dedicated to his art from age six, when his mother gave him a toy theater, or from age eight, when he “caught a glimpse” of ...

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Dee, Ruby (27 Oct. 1922–11 June 2014), actor, author, and civil rights activist, was born Ruby Anne Wallace in Cleveland, Ohio, to Edward Nathaniel Wallace, who held various positions with the Pennsylvania Railroad, and Gladys Hightower. When the unstable Gladys left the family, her father married Emma Amelia Benson, a former teacher....

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Fisher, Carrie (21 Oct. 1956–27 Dec. 2016), actress and writer, was born Carrie Frances Fisher in Beverly Hills, California, to Eddie Fisher, a popular singer and the grandson of Russian-Jewish immigrants, and Debbie Reynolds, a Hollywood actress whose forebears were Anglo-Saxon Protestants of modest means. At the time of Carrie’s birth, Fisher and Reynolds, who had married to great fanfare a year earlier, were a celebrated young couple, labeled “America’s sweethearts” by the media. The public doted on newspaper and magazine coverage as well as film footage of the seemingly perfect couple and their adorable little daughter. The arrival little more than a year later of a son, Todd, only enhanced their image....

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Gleason, James (23 May 1886–12 April 1959), film and stage actor and writer, was born in New York City, the son of William Gleason and Mina Crolius, both actors. Theater was always the center of Gleason’s life. Born just a few blocks from Broadway, he was first seen by audiences at the age of two months, carried in his mother’s arms in Aristophanes’ ...

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Goodwin, Ruby Berkley (17 October 1903–31 May 1961), actress and author, was born in Du Quoin, Illinois, the daughter of Braxton Berkley, a coal miner and union organizer, and Sophia Jane Holmes, who had nine other children. She graduated from high school there and, in 1920, moved with her parents to Imperial Valley in California. She attended San Diego State Teachers’ College for one year and later taught in El Centro, where, in 1924, she married Lee Goodwin, an auto mechanic. They had five children and adopted another. In 1931 the Goodwin family moved to Fullerton, where she attended Fullerton Junior College, held various jobs, and was extensively involved in civic organizations. From 1936 to 1952 she worked as personal secretary to actress ...

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Patricia Flanagan Behrendt

Gordon, Ruth (30 October 1896–29 August 1985), actress and playwright, was born in Quincy, Massachusetts, the daughter of Clinton Jones, a factory foreman, and Annie Ziegler, a secretary.

Upon graduating from high school in 1914, Ruth Gordon Jones, an aspiring actress from the age of twelve, was accepted by the prestigious American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York. Months later, after the academy’s president concluded that she was unsuited to the stage and dismissed her from the program, she began her seventy-year career as a stage and screen actress, playwright, and screenwriter. Her first marriage, in 1918, to Gregory Kelly, a young actor with whom she briefly owned a minor stock company in Indianapolis, ended with his early death in 1927. Gordon’s only child, Jones Harris, the son of the legendary producer ...

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Gordone, Charles (12 October 1925–16 November 1995), playwright and actor-director, was born Charles Edward Fleming in Cleveland, Ohio, the son of Charles Fleming and Camille Morgan Fleming. His stepfather was William Gordon. The boy never knew his biological father and often referred to himself as “part Indian, part Irish, part French, and part Nigger.” With the birth of Charles, the family moved to the mother's hometown, Elkhart, Indiana, where young Charles went to school. Shirley Gordon Jackson, the older of his two sisters, recalled that the family then moved out of the “colored” part of town and crossed the railroad tracks to the white side of Elkhart's “Mason-Dixon line.” All of Charles's school friends were white. He was a straight-A student, “doing everything right,” winning honors in dramatics, music, writing, and debate. He also received sixteen letters in sports and set a school record in the high jump....

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Hedda Hopper Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-97336).

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Hopper, Hedda (02 May 1885–01 February 1966), actress and gossip columnist, was born Elda Furry in Hollidaysburg, Pennsylvania, the daughter of David E. Furry, a butcher, and Margaret Miller. The fifth of nine children, Hopper attended school until the eighth grade, after which she stayed home to help her mother with the household. She had an early driving desire to be on the stage, spurred by seeing ...

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Melissa Vickery-Bareford

Hull, Henry (03 October 1890–08 March 1977), actor and playwright, was born in Louisville, Kentucky, the son of William M. Hull, a drama critic for the Louisville Courier-Journal, and Elinor Bond Vaughn. Hull attended Louisville public schools as a young boy, and in 1904 he enrolled in the College of the City of New York. After two years Hull transferred to the Cooper Union Institute in New York City, remaining there two years before completing his engineering education at Columbia University in 1909. Hull had been working as a mining engineer when his brother Shelley, an actor, secured a small part for him with Guy Bates Post’s company; Hull made his stage debut in 1909 in ...