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Jill Silos-Rooney

actor, athlete, singer, and producer, was born in Newark, New Jersey, to Annabelle Patricia West and John Allen Amos Sr., a self-taught diesel auto mechanic and tractor trailer driver. Shortly after his second birthday, the family moved to East Orange, New Jersey, where they lived while John Sr. served in the military during World War II. His father left after the war, and his mother struggled to support her family by working as a domestic and then as a certified dietician. Amos recalled that, “the only time [he] ever saw his mother concede to possible failure was one time when she could not find any food in the cupboards. She had to ask him to go to the next-door neighbor to borrow food” (interview with John Amos by the author, 2010 Amos first joined the Metropolitan Baptist Church in Newark New Jersey at about ...


David F. Smydra

athlete, actor, and activist, was born James Nathaniel Brown on Saint Simons Island, Georgia, to Theresa and Swinton Brown, a onetime boxer, who abandoned Theresa and their son two weeks after his birth. A couple of years later Theresa departed for Long Island, New York, to take a domestic job, leaving Jim to be raised by his great-grandmother and grandmother, the latter an alcoholic. By 1944 Theresa had saved enough money to send for Jim, and they were reunited in Manhasset, Long Island, for the first time in six years. Despite the usual friction of being the new kid—he was once accused by his peers of fighting dirty—Brown eventually distinguished himself athletically. He gained the attention of a local policeman, who lent Brown keys to the high school gym so that the youth could organize Police Boys' Club games whenever he and his friends wanted to play.At Manhasset ...


Kris'tina I. Ackerman

was born in Paris, Kentucky and raised in Millersburg, Kentucky. Born James Milton Kelly to Arnita and Eichler Kelly, he spent his childhood between San Diego, California, where his father ran a locker club for navy personnel, and Kentucky, where he excelled in sports throughout high school. He later attended the University of Louisville on a football scholarship, but left during his freshman year.

In 1964 Kelly began training in the Okinawan shorin-ryu style of martial arts, instructed by Parker Sheltin in Lexington, Kentucky, where he received his green belt. He met and married his girlfriend Marilyn Dishman in 1967 and in the same year the couple had their only child Sabrena Kelly kept practicing karate and later trained and taught in Chicago where he received his brown belt He and Marilyn divorced soon after After moving to San Diego Kelly earned his black belt under Sgt LeRoy Edwards ...


Canada Lee was born in New York City. Originally a boxer, Canada Lee entered the theater after a fight in 1933 left him blind in one eye. He began his acting career in the role of Banquo in a black production of Shakespeare's Macbeth, funded by the Works Progress Administration (WPA) Negro Federal Theatre Project, in 1936. The play was directed by Orson Welles and marked the beginning of Lee's portrayal of nontraditional roles, at a time when most black actors and actresses were relegated to demeaning roles.

Although Macbeth received some negative reviews (due more to the fact that a black cast was performing Shakespeare than to the quality of the acting), it gave Lee the needed exposure to continue in such roles. Through the WPA Negro Federal Theatre Project, he continued to experiment with the nontraditional, performing in Eugene O'Neill's One Act Plays ...


Christopher Caines

actor, 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 the composer J. Rosamond Johnson and at age eleven he was favorably reviewed at a student concert in Aeolian Hall his parents ...


Mr. T  

Jason Philip Miller

actor, performer, and minister, was born Laurence Tureaud in the rough and tumble Robert Taylor housing projects in Chicago, Illinois. He was the youngest of twelve children. His father, Nathaniel, a minister, abandoned the family when Laurence was five years old, leaving the young boy's mother to raise her large family on a meager welfare check. Tureaud attended Dunbar Vocational School and won a football scholarship to Prairie View A&M in Texas. He matriculated in 1971 but was expelled after just a year (presumably for academic indifference, though the official reasons are unclear).

His academic career apparently at an end, Tureaud enlisted in the U.S. Army, where he served as a military policeman, but that too turned out to be a brief association. In 1971 he married Phyllis Clark The couple would have three children but later divorced Two years later he tried out for ...


Daniel Donaghy

basketball player, actor, and rapper, was born in Newark, New Jersey, to Lucille O'Neal and Joseph Tooney. Within six months of O'Neal's birth, Tooney left Lucille O'Neal. Shaquille and his three half-siblings were raised by Lucille and army sergeant Philip Harrison. O'Neal grew up as an “army brat,” relocating with his family to military bases in New Jersey, Georgia, Germany, and San Antonio, Texas. By the time he was thirteen, O'Neal had already grown to six-feet-five. His lack of coordination and recurring status as the “new kid” led him to feel like an outcast without many close friends.

O Neal s life changed dramatically once he began to participate in sports Although athletic success did not come immediately he failed to make his high school basketball team as a freshman O Neal eventually became a dominant athlete leading San Antonio s Robert G Cole Senior ...


Joel Gordon

Egyptian movie star and bridge master, was born Michel Dimitry Chalhoub in Alexandria on 10 April 1932 to parents of Lebanese Catholic origin. Joseph Chalhoub, his father, a successful lumber merchant, moved the family to Cairo when Michel was four. During World War II his business expanded. The family moved into an upscale apartment in the exclusive Garden City neighborhood. As a teen, Michel attended the Cairo branch of the prestigious English-language Victoria College. His parents frequented the fashionable clubs and casinos with the glitterati of Egyptian society. His mother, Claire, became a frequent gambling partner—Sharif has called her a “mascot”—of the notorious King Faruq, who would summon her at all hours to play by his side and who regularly visited the family flat.

Young Michel showed little aptitude for academics He was drawn to sports Via an uncle he developed an attraction to French culture and language He also ...


Robert Fay

Born in Alexandria, Egypt, then under British Colonial rule, Michel Shalhoub was the son of a successful timber merchant. He attended private English schools in Egypt and then graduated from Cairo’s Victoria College. He converted to Islam, changed his name to Omar Sharif, and embarked on an acting career. Sharif achieved stardom in Egypt with Sina Fil Wadi (The Blazing Sun, 1954), which also starred Faten Hamama, whom he married. They had one child, a son named Tarek.

Sharif’s work caught the notice of English director David Lean, who cast him as Sherif Ali ibn el Kharish in Lawrence of Arabia (1962). The role earned him an Academy Award nomination, and catapulted him into international stardom. His smoldering romantic presence captivated audiences and made him one of the most successful stars of the 1960s. In 1965 Sharif again teamed up with Lean this ...


Steven J. Niven

football player, sportscaster, and actor, was born Orenthal James Simpson in San Francisco, California, to Jimmie Simpson, a cook, and Eunice Durden, a nurse's aide. The child disliked his unusual first name, which was-given to him by an aunt who had heard of a French actor named Orenthal. Sometime during his childhood—accounts differ as to when—he began using his initials “O. J.,” which friends later adapted to “Orange Juice” and, later, to “Juice.” When O. J. was four, Jimmie Simpson abandoned his wife and family, leaving Eunice to raise four children in a two-bedroom apartment in the run-down Potrero Hill public housing projects near San Francisco's Chinatown. Eunice Simpson worked long hours to provide for her children but it was often a hard struggle When O J contracted rickets as an infant for example he was left bowlegged and in need of leg braces that his ...


football player, was born in Beaumont, Texas, the second of three sons of Willie Ray Smith Sr., a high school football coach, and Georgia Smith, a teacher and head of the city schools’ economics department. A powerful defensive force in both college and professional football, Smith found a second career as an outsized actor in film and television.

Growing up in an all‐black neighborhood in Beaumont, Smith and his brothers, Willie Ray Jr. and Lawrence Edward Tody learned football under their father while at Charlton Pollard one of three high schools where the elder Smith coached and accumulated some of his 235 victories As a standout defensive end Bubba received many scouts attention Smith wanted to attend the nearby University of Texas but while the Longhorns head coach Darrell Royal offered him a scholarship he was unable to promise that Smith would play for the still segregated program In ...


James I. Deutsch

film actor and athlete, was born Woodrow Wilson Woolwine Strode in Los Angeles, the son of Baylous Strode, a brick mason whose mother was a Blackfoot Indian, and Rosa Norris Strode, whose ancestors included Cherokees. Because of his imposing size—6 feet 4 inches and 215 pounds at his peak—and his physical strength and coordination, Strode first achieved renown as an athlete. At Thomas Jefferson High School in Los Angeles, he earned honors in both football and track and field (shot put, high jump, high and low hurdles), which resulted in an athletic scholarship to the University of California at Los Angeles. However Strode's scholastic credentials were insufficient, so he first had to prove himself academically. Over the next two years he took special classes, while also training for the Decathlon event at the 1936 Olympic Games though he was not selected for the team He finally ...


Michael L. Krenn

boxer and actor, was born in Jacksonville, Florida. His parents' names are unknown, and little is known about Wallace's early life. He first found work as a baggage handler for a railroad in Florida. At the suggestion of some of his friends who noted Wallace's size and strength, he left his home state in his late teens for New York City, where he hoped to establish himself as a heavyweight boxer.

Wallace progressed quickly as an amateur and entered the 1948 Golden Gloves tournament with an undefeated record. It was during this tournament that Wallace had his most famous fight. In the first round, he was matched against the winner of the New England Golden Gloves tourney, a rough and crude fighter named Rocky Marciano. Had Marciano not gone on to become the only undefeated heavyweight champion in the history of boxing the fight might have been ...


Michael Adams

football player, sportscaster, actor, director, screenwriter, and producer, was born in Gary, Indiana, where his father was a steelworker and his mother a homemaker. Williamson earned a track scholarship to Northwestern University, where he studied architecture, but football coach Ara Parseghian recruited him for an additional spot. After college Williamson played for the San Francisco 49ers in 1960 before jumping to the National Football League's new rival, the American Football League. In four seasons with the Oakland Raiders and three with the Kansas City Chiefs, he was an outstanding defensive back, earning the nickname “The Hammer” for his practice of hitting opposing players in the head with his forearm while tackling them.

Williamson's “unsportsmanlike” play earned him great notoriety. Before the first Super Bowl, played in January 1967, he boasted that he would knock Green Bay Packer receivers Boyd Dowler and Carroll Dale ...