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East Liberty's Wall of Fame

Monday, May 07, 2001

Here are some notable people from "Greater East Liberty" whose photos are part of the East Liberty Gallery of Stars collection at the East Liberty Quarter Chamber of Commerce. (The full list is on the East Liberty branch library Web site:

1. George S. Kaufman (1889-1961) -- One of the most successful Broadway playwright-directors of the 20th century. Born in East Liberty, graduated from Peabody High School. Initially a drama critic for the New York Times. Collaborating with Moss Hart and others, wrote stage plays that were enormous critical and popular Broadway successes, including "Once in a Lifetime" (1932), "You Can't Take It With You" (1938) and "The Man Who Came to Dinner" (1941).

2. Gene Kelly (1912-1996) -- Broadway and Hollywood dancer, choreographer and director best known for his performance in "Singing in the Rain" (1952). Graduated from Peabody High School in 1929, University of Pittsburgh in 1933; had a dance studio in East Liberty, starred on Broadway and in dozens of Hollywood movies and musicals opposite other greats such as Judy Garland and Fred Astaire. Memorialized in annual awards for high school musicals run by Pittsburgh Civic Light Opera.

3. Fred Kelly (1916-2000) -- Youngest brother of Gene Kelly, an accomplished dancer who is credited with introducing the cha-cha to America and popularizing the mambo. Graduated from Peabody High School in 1934 and the University of Pittsburgh. Taught Gene to tap dance so Gene could earn extra money for college. When Gene Kelly left the Broadway show, "The Time of Your Life," Fred Kelly replaced him. Career included directing the Ice Capades, choreographing NBC's "Colgate Comedy Hour" and teaching John Travolta to dance. The brothers danced together in one movie, "Deep in My Heart" (1954).

4. Dick Powell (1904-1963) -- Singer and actor who was born in Arkansas and got his start as master of ceremonies at the old Enright Theater in East Liberty in late 1920s. After crooning his way through Hollywood musicals in the 1930s, became a dramatic actor in the 1940s. Hosted "Dick Powell's Zane Grey Theater" (1956-62) and "The Dick Powell Show" (1961-63) on early television.

5. Erroll Garner (1921-1977) -- One of the most popular jazz pianists of the 1950s, brother of Linton Garner, also a jazz pianist. Appeared on radio station KDKA at age 7; played piano on riverboats at age 11. Moved to New York in early 1940s; gained international reputation by the 1960s. Never learned to read music. Because of his small stature, carried a Manhattan telephone book with him to reach the keys. Biggest hit was "Misty."

6. Michael "Dodo" Marmarosa (1925- ) -- Jazz and bebop pianist who grew up on Paulson Avenue in East Liberty; became one of the most sought after pianists in world of jazz. His early influence in jazz was Erroll Garner, a childhood friend. Left Pittsburgh at age 15 to play piano with the Johnny "Scat" Davis Orchestra. Later played with Gene Krupa, Charlie Parker, Lester Young, Artie Shaw and Tommy Dorsey. Returned to Pittsburgh on and off, recording "Pittsburgh 1958" and playing piano at the Colony Restaurant in Mt. Lebanon in the 1960s. Still lives in the Pittsburgh area.

7. Adam Wade (1935- ) -- Singer and actor who grew up in East Liberty, graduated from Westinghouse High in early 1950s. An all-around entertainer who was the first African-American television game show host, a director, producer, writer and actor who has appeared on television soap operas, in stage shows, plays and films. He played in Las Vegas in an all-black version of "Guys and Dolls." He is best known for the songs, "Ruby," "Take Good Care of Her," and "The Writing on the Wall."

8. Mary Lou Williams (1910-1981) -- Legendary jazz pianist, composer and arranger who was born as Mary Scruggs in Atlanta in 1910, grew up in East Liberty where she was known as the "little piano girl," played for her fellow students at the Lincoln Elementary School. Graduated from Westinghouse High School in 1928 and left Pittsburgh. Wrote hundreds of jazz pieces, including "Zodiac Suite." After converting to Catholicism, wrote a piece commissioned by the Vatican called "Mary Lou's Mass." Her version of "Blue Skies" was the definitive Duke Ellington version for years. At time of her death, was artist-in-residence at Duke University in North Carolina.

9. Fritz Weaver (1926 - ) -- Character actor who was born in East Liberty, graduated from Peabody High School in 1944. Earned bachelor's degree from University of Chicago. Began his career in off-Broadway roles in the early 1950s: "The Chalk Circle" and "The Way of the World." Performed lead Broadway roles such as Hamlet and Peer Gynt, as well as television and movie roles. Credits include roles in "Fail Safe" (1964), "Marathon Man" (1976) and the role of Josef Weiss in the TV miniseries "Holocaust" (1978).

10. Ron Anthony (1933 - ) -- Guitarist and composer who served as guitarist for the late Frank Sinatra from 1986 to 1995. Formerly with The George Shearing Quintet. Did extensive work in television and jazz clubs. Now free-lances with his own group, teaches and records CDs.

11. Dakota Staton (1931 - ) -- Jazz singer who lives in New York. Born in East Liberty, graduated from Westinghouse High School in 1948. Started singing with local band at age 16; went to Detroit at age 18. Followed nightclub circuit through major cities in the United States and Canada. Was discovered while singing in a Harlem nightclub. Signed first contract with Capitol Records in 1954. Is well respected in jazz community, but never broke into the mainstream of music.

12. Billy Eckstine (1914-1993) -- Handsome bandleader and baritone heartthrob billed as the "Sepia Sinatra." Had a string of hits including "I Apologize," "Everything I Have Is Yours," and "Skylark." Raised on Bryant Street in Highland Park and attended Peabody High School and then went to Washington, D.C. Became one of America's most popular ballad singers in the late 1940s and early 1950s. His appearance at the old Paramount Theater broke an attendance record held by Frank Sinatra. Loved coming home to Pittsburgh and died here.

13. Lorin Maazel (1930 - ) -- A child prodigy, Maazel was born in Paris, grew up in Pittsburgh's East End and graduated from Peabody High School. Made his conducting debut at age 8. Conducted the Los Angeles Philharmonic at age 9. Made his debut with the Pittsburgh Symphony in 1943; became an apprentice conductor and violinist in 1949. Has held prime posts in Berlin, Cleveland and Vienna and conducted about 150 orchestras around the world. Led the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra from 1988 to 1996. Recently was named music director of the New York Philharmonic.

14. Billy Strayhorn (1915-1967) -- Pianist, composer, lyricist and arranger of jazz music. Born in Dayton, Ohio, grew up in Homewood, graduated from Westinghouse High School in 1935 where he wrote "Lush Life," his second most popular song. In 1938, went backstage at the Stanley Theater, hoping to play for Duke Ellington. That meeting led to a 28-year collaboration between Strayhorn and Ellington, in which Strayhorn traveled the world with the Duke Ellington Orchestra. Strayhorn's "Take the 'A' Train" became the Ellington band's signature song. Their association lasted until Strayhorn's death.

15. Frank Gorshin (1934 - ) -- Actor, impressionist, singer and comedian who graduated from Peabody High School in 1951. While in high school, worked as usher at the Sheridan Square Theater in East Liberty and began doing impressions of his heroes -- Al Jolson, James Cagney and Edward G. Robinson. At age 17, won a talent contest which launched his career. His breakthrough came when he signed for the role of The Riddler on the "Batman" television series in 1966. That led to headline status in Last Vegas, a string of Broadway shows, television and movie roles. His recent movie roles include "Meteor Man," "12 Monkeys" and "Twilight of the Ice Nymphs." Lives in Connecticut.

16. Billy Conn (1917-1993) -- A boxing hall of famer known as "The Pittsburgh Kid." Raised on Shakespeare Street in East Liberty. Was one of the greatest light heavyweight champions in boxing history, winning the championship in 1939. For his career (1935-48), won 63 of 76 bouts. Will be forever remembered for his near upset of heavyweight champion Joe Louis in 1941.

17. Patricia Prattis Jennings (1941 -- ) -- Principal keyboardist, Pittsburgh Symphony. Grew up on Lincoln Avenue; made debut with the Pittsburgh Symphony at age 14. Graduated from Westinghouse High School in 1958; Carnegie Mellon University, bachelor's in fine arts in 1962 and master's in 1963. In 1966, became first African-American woman to receive a contract with the orchestra. Featured soloist during the symphony's Far East tour in 1987. Performed as co-soloist with Andre Previn on TV Series "Previn and the Pittsburgh," and as soloist with Benny Goodman at Lincoln Center in New York City and the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in Los Angeles.

18. Charles Grodin (1935 -) -- A comic actor who graduated from Peabody High School in 1953; made his Broadway debut in "Sex and the Single Girl" (1964). Through a voluminous movie career, played navigator Aardvark in "Catch-22" (1970), love scenes with Miss Piggy in "The Great Muppet Caper" (1981). Enjoyed one of his most popular successes as a droll embezzler in "Midnight Run" (1988). Has written several books, hosted talk shows on CNBC and MSNBC and recently became a commentator on "60 Minutes II."

19. Billy Porter (1969 - ) -- Broadway musical theater actor who was born in East Liberty. His outstanding voice was discovered in a church choir. After vocal, saxophone and dance lessons, graduated from the Pittsburgh High School for the Creative and Performing Arts and Carnegie Mellon University in 1991. On Broadway, he has won key roles in "Grease," "Smokey Joe's Cafe," "Miss Saigon," and "Five Guys Named Moe." Has gone on to a recording career.

20. Ahmad Jamal (1930 - ) -- A renowned jazz pianist who grew up in East Liberty. A child prodigy who began playing the piano at age 3. Began formal studies at age 7. Joined musician's union at age 14. Began touring after graduation from Westinghouse High School in 1946. In 1950, formed his own trio, The Three Strings. Was discovered while performing at The Embers Club in New York. Has been performing, recording and composing distinctive jazz for decades. His album, "But Not for Me" was on the Top 10 for 108 consecutive weeks and was the turning point in his career. His popular album "Ahmad Jamal at the Pershing," and his song, "Poinciana" still are famous.

21. Variety Club birthplace -- A baby who later was known as Joan Riker Mrlik was abandoned by her mother in the Sheridan Square Theater on Christmas Eve 1928. John Harris, the theater manager, and employee Gene Kelly, who later went on to stardom, found her in the theater nursery with a note saying her name was Catherine. The 11 members of the Variety Club, a theatrical social club, informally adopted her and gave her the name, "Catherine Variety Sheridan." The child was eventually adopted. The event transformed the year-old organization into a fund-raising charity for disadvantaged children which now is international in scope.

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