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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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Adler, Sara (1860?–28 April 1953), actress, was born in Odessa, Ukraine, the daughter of Ellye Levitzky and Pessye (maiden name unknown), merchants. She attended a Russian school, where she made her dramatic debut at age eight in the role of Emilia in Schiller’s ...

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Adler, Stella (10 February 1901–21 December 1992), actress and acting teacher, was born in New York City, the daughter of Jacob Adler, an actor, and Sara Levitzky Adler, an actress and producer. As part of the first family of the American Yiddish theater, Adler was acting from the age of five. Like her parents and five siblings, she was in constant demand as her parents’ Independent Yiddish Art Company played its ever-expanding repertory to packed houses on the city’s Lower East Side. The child-actor’s schedule allowed little time for formal education beyond reading and theatergoing....

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James Agee Photograph by Walker Evans, 1937. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-103100).

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Agee, James Rufus (27 November 1909–16 May 1955), writer, was born in Knoxville, Tennessee, the son of Hugh James Agee, a construction company employee, and Laura Whitman Tyler. The father’s family were poorly educated mountain farmers, while the mother’s were solidly middle class. Agee was profoundly affected by his father’s death in a car accident in 1916. He idealized his absent father and struggled against his mother and her genteel and (he felt) cold values. “Agee’s mother wanted him to be clean, chaste, and sober,” the photographer ...

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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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Aldrich, Robert Burgess (09 August 1918–05 December 1983), filmmaker, was born in Cranston, Rhode Island, the son of Edward Burgess Aldrich, a leading Rhode Island newspaper publisher and Republican politician, and Lora Lawson. His grandfather was Nelson Wilmarth Aldrich, a self-made millionaire and influential U.S. senator; his aunt Abby Greene Aldrich (...

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Maud Allan Photograph by Arnold Genthe, 1910. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-G399-4135-A).

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Allan, Maud (27 August 1873–07 October 1956), dancer, choreographer, and actress, was born Ula Maude Durrant in Toronto, Canada, the daughter of William Allan Durrant, a shoemaker, and Isa Matilda Hutchinson. In the late 1870s the family migrated from Ontario to San Francisco, where Allan grew up and, from an early age, studied piano with several teachers. San Francisco’s thriving theatrical and musical environment in the late 1880s and early 1890s enabled her to see fine performances, including those by some of the best women artists, among them Adele aus der Ohe and Sarah Bernhardt. Allan’s discipline, however, was piano. At age twenty-two, already musically accomplished and very beautiful, she went to Berlin for advanced piano study at the Royal High School for Music then under the direction of Joseph Joachim....

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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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Allyson, June (07 October 1917–08 July 2006), actress, was born Eleanor “Ella” Geisman in the Bronx, New York, the daughter of Robert Geisman, a janitor, and Clara Provost. Ella's father was an alcoholic and took little interest in her. When she was six months old, her parents separated. Mother and daughter moved from their Bronx tenement on 143rd Street to her grandparents' apartment near Pelham Bay. Clara landed a $20-a-week printing job and moved with her daughter to an $18-a-month coldwater flat off Third Avenue. Ella collected firewood and bathed in a washtub. Many moves followed. Often, Ella was shipped off to her grandparents. She felt isolated and abandoned. “You're going to be somebody in this world,” her grandmother consoled her ( ...

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June Allyson 18 Nov. 1943. Courtesy of AP Images.

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Amberg, George (28 December 1901–27 July 1971), professor of film and dance critic, was born Hans Aschaffenburg in Halle, Germany, the son of Gustav Aschaffenburg, a prominent Jewish psychiatrist, and Maja Nebel. He was educated in Davos, Switzerland, from 1916 to 1918, at a fashionable boys’ private high school where the kaiser sent his children, and also in Cologne, Munich, and Kiel. In 1923 he founded Cassette, the avant-garde theater in Cologne, and was also a stage director there. From 1924 to 1928 he worked in theatrical festivals with noted German director Gustav Hurtung, first as a dramaturge and play director at the Cologne Theatre, then in 1926 at the Heidelberg Theatre Festival, and thereafter in 1927–1928 as director in the Darmstadt Theatre. Amberg earned his doctorate in December 1930 from the University of Cologne on the German novelist Theodor Fontane as critic. He was also a lecturer and member of the drama department at the university. From 1930 to 1933 Amberg helped to organize the University of Cologne’s theater museum and also established and directed its film library and institute. His published writings from this period concerned the subject of dance. He was a contributing editor on dance to the Ullstein and Herder encyclopedias. Amberg also gave visiting lectures in Berlin, Frankfurt, Zurich, and Basel. He established a cabaret as well, which was usually considered a low-class entertainment venue, but his was experimental theater that included all of the arts....

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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....