Cities bereft of a centralizing celebrity culture (i.e. cities that are not Los Angeles or New York) take an unusual pride in the famous people who were born in, grew up in, or once passed through them. Somehow a half-interesting bit of trivia about a movie star’s origin takes on more significance than it probably should. At best, it gives creative types hope that interesting people can come from seemingly uninteresting places. At worst, the delight we take in it makes those of us who live in “uninteresting” places appear provincial and easily impressed.
My hometown of Appleton, Wisconsin, counts actor Willem Dafoe as one of its own, despite the fact that Dafoe wants nothing to do with it, having badmouthed Appleton in numerous interviews over the years. He referred to the city as a “slum” in a Vanity Fair questionnaire and seems generally sour about his time there. Maybe he got cut from Appleton East High School’s wrestling team or stood up for prom? (He did get kicked out of high school for making a “pornographic” art film, according to this Guardian profile.) Actually, now that I’ve done some research I’m underwhelmed by Dafoe’s level of vitriol; perhaps wounded, sensitive Appletonians have overstated their case against him.
Harry Houdini, on the other hand, apparently liked Appleton enough that he claimed it as his birthplace, although was really born in Budapest. Appleton houses a Houdini museum and a monument sculpture. More meaningful to me personally is that Terry Zwigoff, director of Crumb and Ghost World, is from Appleton.
Then there are celebrities who retain stronger ties to their birthplace. When I lived in Wichita, Kansas, it was not uncommon to see actress Kirstie Alley out on the town. She even owned the local Scientology church, a large and foreboding building not far from my house. One of the poets in my MFA program temporarily left so he could costar in Alley’s short-lived and assuredly awful reality TV series. Yes, really. I never watched it.
As for Cincinnati, we’ve got Jerry Springer, talk show host and our one-time mayor. Yes, really. He resigned after admitting he’d hired a prostitute. He was caught because he’d paid for that prostitute with a check. Yes, really. Doris Day and Sarah Jessica Parker, too. Day has a dog park named after her. Parker can be seen researching her family history at a local branch of the Cincinnati library on an episode of Who Do You Think You Are?, a very boring show. Oh, and Nick Lachey, who owns Lachey’s Bar, an unremarkable watering hole in the hip Over-The-Rhine neighborhood. Until recently Peter Frampton had a house in chi-chi suburb Indian Hill. Winsor McCay, one of the greatest cartoonists ever, didn’t grow up here but spent a time here doing chalk talks and working for the local newspaper; I’m told that he thought fondly enough of it that he referred Cincinnati as his home throughout his life.
None of this, probably, is interesting to you. But it might be if you lived here.
What about the celebrities of your hometown? Comment below, if you want.