Have you ever noticed how no matter where you go, you almost always run into people who are originally from Wisconsin? It’s either that – or you meet folks with a direct connection to our state.
It seems to be the same story in Hollywood circles. You’ll find screen legends as well as D-list celebrities who have been touched by the Badger State. Some of them you probably knew about, others will surprise you. Ready? Let’s take a look….
1. Heather Graham – Milwaukee
This blonde starlet was born in the Brew City – but she wasn’t exactly raised there. Heather Graham’s daddy was an FBI agent and the family moved around because of that.
By the time Heather turned nine, the Graham fam had made a home in Agoura Hills, California where she would eventually find her way into acting. After a few smaller, yet memorable parts, Heather Graham started landing bigger roles starting with Gus Van Sant’s Drugstore Cowboy in 1989.
Another early recognizable role was in the 1996 comedy Swingers, in which she played Lorraine, the final dating prospect for Jon Favreau’s character, Mike. In the movie, Lorraine happened to have recently moved to Los Angeles from Wisconsin.
Of course she’s played other unforgettable characters including Roller Girl in Boogie Nights, Felicity Shagwell alongside Austin Powers himself in The Spy Who Shagged Me and most recently Jade, the stripper from The Hangover.
Despite the sassy roles, Heather Graham is generally viewed as a very all-American girl-next-door kind of actress. We like to think her time in Wisconsin had something to do with that.
2. Mark Ruffalo – Kenosha
Mark Ruffalo doesn’t really give off a Wisconsiny vibe, but calls his birthplace, Kenosha, Wisconsin a “very special place” from which he draws comfort.
Ruffalo recently landed the role as the latest actor to play Bruce Banner/The Incredible Hulk in The Avengers, and it sounds like he’ll actually stick with it as he’s signed on for the sequels. He was also nominated for an Oscar in the Best Supporting Actor category for his role in The Kids are Alright.
On a visit to his hometown during a charity event a few years ago, Ruffalo told the Kenosha News about his warm and fuzzy feelings for Kenosha.
“You leave a place and you want to go see the world. And then you see the world and you want to go back to that place. You have a sentimental connection to the past. It’s comforting.”
3. Willem Dafoe – Appleton
I’ve heard that Willem Dafoe can’t stand his hometown of Appleton, Wisconsin. But that has to be a rumor, because what’s not to love about Appleton? Of course, you can’t blame anyone for wanting to bail from the place where they grew up.
Willem Dafoe told USA Today that he had to “get out of town.” That was in 2007, while he was in Milwaukee visiting old pals and having a great time. He talked about how old ties are important.
“That’s what started the most important, and then I think everybody goes away from that for a little while. And then they come back to that. It’s like a primitive impulse.”
USA Today said Dafoe left home after graduating from Appleton East, but a high school friend of his tells us Willem actually dropped out and left for Milwaukee. (Stay in school kids, or don’t, whatever)
Dafoe is known for his versatility and has played everything from Jesus (Last Temptation of Christ) to a cross-dressing cop (Boondock Saints), a U.S. Soldier in Vietnam (Platoon) and Nosferatu (Shadow of the Vampire).
Check out the video below. It’s a Jim Beam commercial based on and starring Willem Dafoe. It has him watching a young version of himself in Appleton and imagining the different paths his life could have taken. The ad might make you think he chose New York over Milwaukee. In reality, Dafoe went to Milwaukee first where he studied acting at UWM and was part of Theater X, which closed in 2004.
4. Tony Shalhoub – Green Bay
Emmy-winner Tony Shalhoub got his start acting as a young kid at Green Bay East High School when he landed a spot in the school’s production of The King and I, thanks to help from his big sister. He would go on to graduate from GB East where classmates voted him Most Likely to Succeed.
But the best story about Tony Shalhoub’s time at Green Bay East High School is about how he literally broke a leg while on stage. He fell into the orchestra pit during a rehearsal, but recovered in time to perform in the production.
Shalhoub came from a big Lebanese-American family and had 9 brothers and sisters. His parents started a downtown grocery store in Green Bay, and still live in Titletown. Tony Shalhoub is a Packers fan, and I remember seeing him sport a black cheesehead on Sharon Osbourne’s short-lived daytime talk show following a playoff loss.
While he’s an accomplished character actor in many films – he’s known best for playing an OCD private eye on the USA show Monk. Others will remember his character, Antonio Scarpacci from Wings. And not long ago, Shalhoub came to Door County, Wisconsin to appear in the film Feed the Fish.
5. Chris Farley – Madison
Chris Farley is arguably one of the funniest people to come out of Saturday Night Live. Many of the guys who worked with him on SNL, including Adam Sandler, Chris Rock and David Spade admit he had them beat.
He was also a huge Wisconsin sports fan. Farley grew up in Madison and went to college at Marquette University. He eventually joined Second City in Chicago, where he was discovered by Lorne Michaels.
Farley died of an apparent drug overdose in December 1997. For me, it’s one of those instances where you always remember where you were when you found out. I was with my high school jazz band going to perform Christmas music for middle-schoolers. The Tommy Boy quotes were flowing in his honor.
It’s a shame Chris Farley’s life and career ended so early. We can only imagine what kind of hilarity would have occurred. But at least he got to see his Green Bay Packers win a Super Bowl. Check out the Tonight Show appearance below.
6. Gene Wilder – Milwaukee
The man most of us know as the original movie-version of Willy Wonka and the hilarious young Dr. Frankenstein was born in Milwaukee in 1933. His birth name was actually Jerome Silberman, and he picked Gene Wilder as a professional name based on some of his favorite literary influences.
Wilder caught the acting bug when a doctor encouraged him to try and make his sick mother laugh. She noticed his talent and sent him away to an acting school in California. Things didn’t go well there. Wilder says he was bullied and assaulted. So he moved back home to Wisconsin and continued acting in local theater.
Wilder is also known for his films with comedian Richard Pryor and his relationship with legendary comedienne Gilda Radner. She died of ovarian cancer while the two were married, and Wilder became co-founder of Gilda’s Club – a cancer support group.
7. Kathy Kinney – Stevens Point
This one is no surprise. Kathy Kinney – best known as Mimi from The Drew Carey Show – is most definitely from Wisconsin. It’s not just her good-looks and style though, it’s that trademark, biting sarcasm – which Wisconsin women tend to have.
Kinney went to UW Stevens Point before heading off to New York City where she got a job as a secretary at the CBS Television affiliate. Her relationship with her boss was the inspiration for the character of Mimi.
She told The Pet Press that she left Wisconsin to seek adventure in the Big Apple. But she never really intended to become an actress. That happened because of a friend who did have acting aspirations. According to Kinney, the friend “didn’t like to do things by herself.”
“One time she had to take an improvisation class, so I decided to take it with her. It cost $50.00. The next thing I knew they asked me to perform with them. I had no idea I was funny or that anyone else thought I was funny.”
Kinney is still doing improv – most recently on Drew Carey’s Improv-a-Ganza, which airs on the Game Show Network.
8. Bob Uecker – Milwaukee
Bob Uecker is a Wisconsin treasure. We know him best as the radio voice of the Milwaukee Brewers. He’s been calling games since 1971.
Uecker also played for the Milwaukee Braves during his not-so-stellar Major League career. But he follows in the footsteps of baseball-great Casey Stengel. Neither were outstanding players, yet their senses of humor are top-knotch.
Uecker got the nickname “Mr. Baseball” from none other than Johnny Carson. His acting career had him starring as George Owens in the 1980’s sitcom Mr. Belvedere, and he played a hilarious play-by-play broadcaster in the Major League movies.
There’s a bronze statue of Uecker outside Miller Park, and he’s already in the National Radio Hall of Fame. But his “greatest honor” might be the fact that he’s been inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame for his appearances in Wrestlemania III and IV.
9. Frank Caliendo – Waukesha
Frank Caliendo was born in Chicago, but grew up in Waukesha and went to the University of Milwaukee. Caliendo started out working comedy clubs in Milwaukee and quickly became known for his impressions.
He found fame after becoming a cast member on FOX’s MADtv sketch comedy show and later was a popular comedic commentator for FOX’s NFL Sunday.
Of course, one of his most popular impressions is retired sportscaster Jon Madden, who Caliendo likes to portray as having an undying love for former Packers’ quarterback Brett Favre.
Here’s a quick taste…
10. Jessica Szohr – Menomonee Falls
Jessic Szohr of Gossip Girl fame calls her hometown of Menomonee Falls a “family-oriented small town.”
She started modeling at just six years old. That included print ads for Wisconsin’s own Kohl’s department store, which is based in her hometown. She was also a cheerleader and student council member in high school.
On Gossip Girl, Szohr played the role of Vanessa Abrams. Jessica describes the character, who is an independent filmmaker, as a “badass girl from Brooklyn” who doesn’t exactly fit in with the other wealthy kids. However, the author of the books the show is based on says the character was ruined on television. Vanessa was apparently more goth and less Bohemian hippie in the books.
Jessica Szohr made People magazine’s list of “Most Beautiful People” in 2008. And you can catch her in the upcoming Vince Vaughn/Owen Wilson comedy, The Internship.
11. Richard Riehle – Menomonee Falls
He probably won’t ever make People magazine’s list of beautiful people, but he’s also from Menomonee Falls.
Richard Riehle is a talented character actor, who you’ll probably remember as Tom, the guy who invented the jump-to-conclusions mat in the cult comedy Office Space. But Riehle’s credits include many other impressive projects.
You can catch him in Oscar-winning films like the U.S. Civil War drama Glory, Martin Scorsese’s Casino, and making an appearance as a dune buggy driver alongside Johnny Depp in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.
Of course, Richard Riehle has also shown up in Jury Duty with Pauly Shore and Deuce Bigalow Male Gigolo with Rob Schneider. I guess they can’t all be gems.
Rumor has it, Riehle is often quite willing to come back to Wisconsin to act in independent films being produced in the state.
12. Liberace – West Allis
During the 50s, 60s and 70s, the highest paid performer in the world was from Wisconsin. The flamboyant pianist, Liberace was born into an Italian family living in West Allis, Wisconsin.
Liberace’s father was a french horn player and factory worker who strongly encouraged his son to pursue music. Liberace’s mother, on the other hand, thought music was frivolous, which caused tension in the home.
Liberace says his dad made it a point to make music a big deal.
“My dad’s love and respect for music created in him a deep determination to give as his legacy to the world, a family of musicians dedicated to the advancement of the art”
During the Great Depression, Liberace made money playing piano in local strip clubs and cabarets. While both parents disapproved, that may explain his well-known flair and showmanship. Liberace’s first encore performance was in La Crosse at the age of 18. He met his childhood idol, pianist Ignacy Paderewski, backstage at the Pabst Theater in Milwaukee.
He would go on to have his own television variety show. I’ll always remember him on The Muppet Show.
13. Kurtwood Smith – New Lisbon
I always thought the portrayal of Red Foreman on That 70’s Show was a very accurate look at a stereotypical Wisconsin dad. Turns out there might be a good reason for that.
Kurtwood Smith is from the small town of New Lisbon, Wisconsin in Juneau County. According to IMDB, he got the role of Red Foreman after the original choice turned it down. That original choice was none other than Chuck Norris.
Just imagine how different That 70’s Show would have been with Chuck Norris. Sure it might have been cool to see the character Red literally kicking Eric’s butt, however, I’d say Smith was a better choice in the end. He was also the only That 70’s Show cast member who was actually from Wisconsin.
Kurtwood Smith has also been big in Sci-Fi movies TV shows. He played an alien on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Star Trek: Voyager. He was also the villain, Clarence Boddicker, in the original RoboCop movie.
Kurtwood makes a pretty good bad guy. Take a quick look…
14. Peter Weller (RoboCop) – Stevens Point
While we’re on the topic of RoboCop movies – the man who played the title character in both the original movies was also born in Wisconsin. However, Peter Weller’s father was a military helicopter pilot – so his family moved around frequently. Weller actually spent a portion of his life living in Germany.
Other notable roles include the lead in The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension, and numerous appearances on popular TV shows including, House M.D., Dexter and the new Hawaii Five-O. You can also catch him in a role in the new Star Trek movie.
Weller has also done some directing. He won an Academy Award for the short film Partners. Unfortunately, it looks like he won’t be in the upcoming RoboCop remake. You’d think they’d at least give him a cameo.
15. Charlotte Rae (Mrs. Garret) – Shorewood
The understanding, motherly character of Mrs. Edna Garret from Different Strokes and The Facts of Life had to be played by a woman from Wisconsin. Our moms are the best.
Charlotte Rae grew up on a farm near Milwaukee along with two sisters who pursued careers in music.
She attended college at Northwestern University where she met fellow actress and BFF, Cloris Leachman. When Rae left The Facts of Life, Leachman succeeded her.
Rae’s first big role was on the classic TV show Car 54 Where Are You? She has also guest-starred on many other classic and more recent programs, from All in the Family to ER. Rae has been nominated for Tony Awards and Emmy Awards.
16. Tom Wopat (Luke Duke) – Lodi
He may have played a Southern boy on The Dukes of Hazzard, but Luke Duke was a Wisconsin boy in real life.
Tom Wopat was born in Lodi, Wisconsin – also known as The Home of Susie the Duck. Wopat attended UW Madison before performing on Broadway and eventually landed a role on the soap opera One Life to Live.
Of course, his biggest role was as the smarter, more level-headed of the two Duke boys. He perfected the now famous “hood slide” across the front end of that orange Dodge Charge – The General Lee. Wopat says the slide was actually a mistake and he was supposed to vault over the hood. They did another take to get it right, but the mistake was the shot that made it on the show. Then the “hood-slide” ended up becoming Luke’s signature move.
Wopat returned to Broadway later in his career and was even nominated for a Tony Award for his portrayal of Frank Butler in Annie Get Your Gun. You may have also spotted him in a small role as a U.S Marshal in Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained.
Check out that accidental hood-slide where Luke Duke actually tripped:
17. Spencer Tracy – Milwaukee
One of the biggest stars from the Golden Age of Hollywood grew up in the Badger State. Spencer Tracy was apparently a hyper-active troublemaker as a kid, and claims he only continued going to school so he could learn to read the subtitles on silent films.
He was a big fan of the movies as a kid and was also friends with another Wisconsin actor, Pat O’Brien. The two attended the same private Catholic High School (Marquette University High School) and would attend plays together. Tracy would later attend Ripon college.
Tracy may be best known for his relationship with actress Katherine Hepburn. The affair started when the two were filming Woman of the Year. Tracy’s wife knew about the relationship, but it was kept hush-hush in Hollywood, and Tracy never got a divorce.
Over the course of his acting career, Spencer Tracy was nominated for nine Best Actor Academy Awards. That’s a record he shares with Laurence Olivier. Tracy won twice. His final film was Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, a controversial movie (at the time) about interracial marriage. Tracy passed away 17 days after filming finished.
18. Fred MacMurray – Madison/Beaver Dam
Fred MacMurray starred in more than 100 movies, but he’s probably best known for playing the father-figure, Steve Douglas, on the classic TV sitcom My Three Sons, as well as several Disney films.
MacMurray was born in Illinois, but both his mother and father were from Wisconsin, and the family moved to Madison when Fred was young – settling later in Beaver Dam. He attended Carroll College in Waukesha where he played saxophone in local bands, but never graduated.
Fred had a memorable mug that made him perfect for well-meaning good guy roles. But one of his most notable performances was in Billy Wilder’s classic noir Double Indemnity, in which MacMurray played against type as an insurance salesman who gets caught up in a murder plot.
His career got it’s second wind thanks to Disney, allowing him to play even more memorable roles in light comedies. That includes the dad in the Shaggy Dog movies as well as in The Absent Minded Professor and Son of Flubber.
19. Ford Sterling – La Crosse
Ford Sterling is famous for being part of the legendary silent film era comedy act – The Keystone Cops. Sterling was born George Franklin Stitch in La Crosse way back in 1882. Ford Sterling is a great screen name, but if you ask me, George Stitch would have been pretty awesome for comedy too.
The Keystone Cops were a group of incompetent policemen – kind of a stretch, right? Sterling played the most prominent role as Chief Tehiezel. The Keystone Cops began as stars in their own right, but eventually became background players to comedy legends like Charlie Chaplin and Fatty Arbuckle.
When silent films went away and “talkies” emerged, Sterling was one of the lucky actors who made the jump. He transitioned smoothly into speaking roles and ended up appearing in more than 270 films.
20. Laura Kaeppeler – Kenosha
Jumping back to present time – the reigning Miss America happens to be a Wisconsinite.
It had been almost 40 years since a woman from Wisconsin won the title, and Laura Kaeppeler of Kenosha brought it back in 2012. She graduated from Carthage College with a music degree and sings opera. She also sang the National Anthem at last year’s Green Bay Packer’s season opener.
Kaeppeler’s platform at the pageant was helping children with incarcerated parents. Her father served 18 months in prison for mail fraud. During the Miss America pageant, she called her dad and her “best friend.”
After serving time as Miss America (sorry), Kaeppeler plans to get her Master’s degree and become a speech pathologist.
21. Terry Anne Meeuwsen – De Pere
The last Wisconsin women to win Miss America before Kaeppeler (and the very first) was Terry Meeuwsen – a De Pere High homecoming queen who became Miss Green Bay and Miss Wisconsin before winning the ultimate pageant title.
Meeuwsen was singing with The New Christy Minstrels in the early ’70s when she chose to compete in Miss America instead.
After her reign, she landed an on-air job at WTMJ in Milwaukee. But she’s probably best-known for co-hosting The 700 Club with Pat Robertson on the Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN). She’s a major advocate of adoption and serves as director of the CBN ministry – Orphan’s Promise. Meeuwsen and her husband have adopted three girls of their own from Ukraine.
The former Miss America is also a published author with four books to her name.
22. Chris Noth – Madison
Whether you know him as Mr. Big from Sex in the City or Detective Mike Logan on Law and Order or his Elliot Spitzer scandal inspired character on The Good Wife – there’s no denying the fact Chris Noth has made a name for himself on television.
Noth was born in Madison to a father who was an attorney/insurance salesman and a mother who was a reporter for CBS news. Jeanne Parr also appeared as both a contestant and panelist on the game show What’s My Line. She credits the TV appearance with helping her land a job in TV news.
Chris Noth’s father passed away when Noth was around 12 years old. He and his brothers ended up doing a lot of traveling across the world with their mother who was a European correspondent for CBS.
Besides his big roles on TV, Noth has held supporting roles in many films including Castaway, and the Bernie Mac comedy Mr. 3000, which centered around the Milwaukee Brewers. Mr. Big has also been praised by critics for his performances on Broadway.
23. Dan Harmon – Brown Deer
Another comedic visionary is Dan Harmon – who’s known for creating the innovative sitcom Community. He ran the show until NBC fired him- and Harmon went down in what you might call a blaze of glory. Or you might not call it that.
Harmon grew up in the Milwaukee suburb of Brown Deer and joined the improvisational group ComedySportz. Harmon and others wanted to do less family-friendly material and split from ComedySportz to form the Dead Alewives comedy troupe. If you live near Lake Michigan – you don’t need me to explain what dead alewives are.
ComedySportz is where Harmon met his longtime collaborator Rob Schrab, who is from Mayville, Wisconsin and the two have teamed up on various projects including Channel 101 – a unique monthly film festival, and the ill-fated Heat Vision and Jack – which starred Jack Black and Owen Wilson.
Since getting canned from Community, Harmon has started working on an Adult Swim show called Rick & Morty. The animated program is about an inventor and his grandson, it will begin airing later in 2013. Harmon has also hosted a popular weekly comedy show at a Hollywood comic book store called Harmontown, which is also the name of his podcast.
Check out both Harmon and Rob Schrab starring in a Cousin’s Subs employee training video from 1995. Harmon is the lazy employee, Schrab plays the nerdy customer.
24. Joel Hodgson – Stevens Point/Green Bay
Quite possibly the most famous geek to come out of Wisconsin is Joel Hodgson – creator of the cult TV show Mystery Science Theater 3000.
Hodgson also starred in the show as Joel Robinson, who was trapped on a space station with his two wisecracking robot buddies. The trio was forced to watch a bunch of terrible old B-movies – to which they provided sarcastic commentary.
Hodgson was born in Stevens Point and grew up in the Green Bay area where he attended Ashwaubenon High School.
He got his start entertaining in 7th grade with a magic and ventriloquism act. He’d later use those skills to build characters like Tom Servo and Crow T. Robot.
Hodgson did standup in the 1980s and was apparently considered for the role of Woody in Cheers.
MST3K was nominated for two Emmy Awards and Time Magazine named it one of the 100 Greatest TV Shows of All Time.
After MST3K was cancelled, Hodgson and other collaborators on the show launched a similar venture called Cinematic Titanic, which went on indefinite hiatus as of February 2013. Hodgson wrote an HBO special with Jerry Seinfeld in the 1980s and the two reunited on Seinfeld’s web series Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee. Jerry called Joel a “cultural visionary,” and he seemed pretty serious.
25. Zack Snyder – Green Bay
Zack Snyder made a name for himself fairly quickly as a director in Hollywood. His first feature film was the remake of Dawn of the Dead. He went on to direct 300, The Watchmen, Sucker Punch and the family film Legend of the Guardians. Now he’s taking on the challenge of re-introducing Superman in a new way.
Thankfully – he’s got a script from Christopher Nolan (the guy who brought us the latest Batman trilogy) to help him out. Man of Steel hits theaters in June.
Zack Snyder was born in Green Bay. But that’s about all we know about his connection to Wisconsin. He grew up in Connecticut where his mom was a painter and photography teacher who encouraged him to study nude paintings as a boy.
But it certainly seems comic books and graphic novels had a bigger influence on Snyder.
26. Tom Welling – Janesville
Here’s another Wisconsin/Superman connection. Tom Welling is best known for playing young Clark Kent on the television show Smallville, which is a Superman origin story.
Welling moved around the country a lot because of his dad’s job as an executive for General Motors. He was actually born in New York City and went to High School in Michigan, but in between his family spent some time living in Janesville, Wisconsin. We don’t know if he and Paul Ryan ever worked out together.
His most recent role is in the film Parkland, in which he plays a real-life secret service agent, Roy Kellerman, who was protecting JFK the day of his assassination. Welling has also worked on the other side of the camera, directing episodes of Smallville and producing the show Hellcats.
27. Les Paul – Waukesha
The world owes a debt of gratitude to Wisconsin – because without Les Paul – music as we know it would not be the same. Les Paul is the man credited with inventing the solid-body electric guitar. If you’re a musician, you know the name well.
As a kid, Less Paul would perform at area drive-ins. That’s when he figured out that he could connect a phonograph needle to a radio speaker to make an amplifier for his acoustic guitar. Years later he would build “The Log” which would be the grandaddy of all electric guitars.
During his career, the so-called “Wizard of Waukesha” hosted his own radio show and had a television program with is wife Mary Ford. Today many famous musicians use the Gibson guitar that bears his name – including Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page, Slash and Joe Perry.
The city of Waukesha is planning a permanent tribute called “The Les Paul Experience.” See a clip from his TV show showcasing his guitar skills.
28. Steve Miller – Milwaukee
He’s a joker, a smoker, a midnight toker and a Wisconsinite. Steve Miller also happens to be a protege of Les Paul.
The influential musician and inventor was a frequent visitor to Steve Miller and his family’s home when Steve was growing up. Miller’s father was an accomplished recording engineer, and that’s also something Les Paul was interested in. Steve Miller says both his parents were musically inclined and loved jazz.
Miller was just five years old when Les Paul heard a recording they boy’s father made of him playing guitar. Paul encourage young Steve to keep at it and mentored him over the years. Steve Miller attended UW Madison where he formed the band – The Ardells.
He left college before graduating and got an education from the Chicago blues scene instead. Miller has said playing with the likes of Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf made him realize music was his calling.
The Steve Miller Band formed in 1967 and had a string of hits that you hear on Classic Rock radio – including “The Joker,” “Jungle Love,” and “Fly Like an Eagle.” The Steve Miller Band is still touring and making albums, the latest being Let Your Hair Down in 2011.
29. Greta Van Susteren – Appleton
Here’s one well-known Wisconsinite who loves her home-state and often speaks highly of it. (So screw you Willem Dafoe) She’s also a die-hard Green Bay Packers fan.
Anchorwoman Greta Van Susteren is from Appleton, Wisconsin. She went to Xavier High School, got an economics degree at UW Madison and a law degree from Georgetown. Before becoming a TV analyst, she practiced law in Wisconsin as well.
Greta Van Susteren’s career took off thanks to the OJ Simpson trial. She covered the “Trial of the Century” with legal analysis for CNN. Today she hosts the FOX News program On the Record and is the longest serving cable news anchor on air.
Last year, Van Susteren ranked #94 on the Forbes List of World’s Most Powerful Women. Despite her success, she still makes time for friends from Wisconsin. Greta recently posted on her blog, GretaWire about teasing a junior high girlfriend, and in an interview with ClassicWisconsin.com talked about her hometown.
“Appleton is my home. Whenever anyone asks me ‘where are you from?’ I don’t answer Washington, D.C., although I have been here almost 30 years. I respond, ‘Appleton, Wisconsin.’ I try and make one trip a year to see my old friends.
30. Tom Snyder – Milwaukee
Before Craig Kilbourn or Craig Ferguson filled the time slot following Late Night with David Letterman, Tom Snyder hosted The Late Late Show.
Snyder, who passed away in 2007, is one of the unsung heroes of late night television. He grew up in Milwaukee and went to Marquette University where he first planned to study medicine, but switched to journalism because of his love of radio and broadcasting. He began his career on the radio in Milwaukee and eventually ended up as part of the NBC News team.
Tom Snyder’s first late night gig was NBC’s The Tomorrow Show, which aired right after Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show from 1973 to 1982. During that time, Dan Akroyd famously impersonated Snyder on Saturday Night Live.
Tomorrow was cancelled to make way for a young man named David Letterman. But there were no hard feelings between the two hosts. Letterman would eventually bring Snyder over to CBS for the Late Late Show.
Snyder was known for his in-depth and personal interviews. One of his most talked-about interviews was with the band KISS on Tomorrow in 1979. Watch a grumpy Gene Simmons and a hilariously inebriated Ace Frehly in the clip below.
31. Jane Kaczmarek – Milwaukee
Jane Kaczmarek’s big role was as Lois (the mom) from Malcolm in the Middle. She’s from the Milwaukee village of Greendale. She attended UW Madison and originally planned to follow in her mother’s footsteps and become a teacher.
However, she was also involved in theater and while at UW she met Tony Shalhoub. As the story goes, he encouraged her to pursue acting, and Jane followed Tony to the Yale School of Drama.
While there, she was roommates with Richard Burton’s daughter, Kate. Kate set Jane up on a date with Bradley Whitford, a fellow Wisconsinite and actor. The two were married for 17 years, but filed for divorce in 2009.
Although she never won, Kaczmarek was nominated for seven Emmy awards and three Golden Globes for her work on Malcolm in the Middle. She’s also had plenty of memorable guest star and reoccurring roles on shows like The Simpsons, Whitney, and Hill Street Blues.
32. Bradley Whitford – Madison
Jane Kaczmarek’s former husband did win an Emmy award for his role as Josh Lyman, the White House Deputy Chief of Staff on the Aaron Sorkin drama The West Wing.
He also starred in a couple of other shows that didn’t quite make it in the long run, including Sorkin’s SNL-inspired Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, and The Good Guys with Colin Hanks.
The Josh Lyman character may have been a perfect fit for Whitford. He’s very actively politically, and frequently expresses his typically Democratic views. In 2011, he returned to Madison and spoke out against Governor Scott Walker’s budget bill at one of the many protests.
Whitford has also had his share of film roles, including big movies like Philadelphia, Scent of a Woman and Awakenings. But…perhaps to his chagrin…if you don’t know him from The West Wing, you know him as the bad guy from Billy Madison. As you can see in the clip below – he did get to put his classical training from Julliard to good use.
33. John Fiedler (Piglet) – Platteville/Shorewood
Deep in the Hundred-Acre Woods you’ll find the voice of a Wisconsinite. John Fiedler will always be remembered as the voice of Piglet from Disney’s version of Winnie the Pooh.
Fiedler was born in Platteville, and moved to Shorewood at the age of five. His dad happened to be a beer salesman.
Besides playing Piglet, Fiedler is also known for playing other nervous and timid characters in TV and film like Vinnie in The Odd Couple, Mr. Peterson on The Bob Newhart Show and as one of the jurors in the classic movie 12 Angry Men.
Fiedler died of cancer in 2005 just one day after good friend and fellow Winnie the Pooh star Paul Winchell passed away. Winchell provided the voice of Tigger.
34. Chip Zien (Howard the Duck) – Milwaukee
Chip Zien is known for his Broadway performances in productions like Stephen Sondheim’s Into the Woods. But if you grew up in the 1980s, you might be more interested to know that the voice of Howard the Duck came from Wisconsin.
Zien went to Whitefish Bay High School, and later went on to serve as president of the nation’s oldest all-male musical comedy troupe, Mask and Wig, while he was attending the University of Pennsylvania.
Howard the Duck wasn’t much of a success – even though George Lucas actually stepped down as president of Lucasfilms in order to focus on the project. The movie was nominated for seven Golden Raspberry awards and won Worst Picture in 1987.
On the brighter side, Chip Zien more recently played heroic 9-11 airplane passenger Mark Rothenberg in the film United 93.
35. John Matuszak (Sloth) – Oak Creek
Sticking with the 80’s theme – classic kids adventure flick The Goonies wouldn’t be the same without the memorable character of Sloth.
John “Tooz” Matuszak was also a successful NFL defensive lineman who won two Super Bowls and played for the Houston Oilers, Oakland Raiders, Kansas City Chiefs and Washington Redskins. Matuszak had a reputation for partying and was named one of Sports Illustrated’s “Top 5 Bad Boys of the NFL” in 2005.
Of course, the character of Sloth was loveable while also deformed. Don’t tell me you can watch the clip below without getting a little bit teary-eyed. (Okay maybe you can)
36. Kristin Bauer van Straten – Racine
Kristin Bauer van Straten may be the epitome of a Wisconsin woman. The lead sentence of her IMDB profile says she “grew up in Wisconsin playing sports, riding horses, and shooting guns.”
Most-recently she’s played Maleficent the sorceress on ABC’s Once – a character inspired by the villainess in Disney’s Sleeping Beauty. Her most famous role is probably as the vampire, Pam Ravenscroft, on the HBO series True Blood.
But to Seinfeld fans, she’ll always be Man-Hands. Kristin played Jerry’s gorgeous date with masculine, lobster-cracking paws. Coincidentally, the idea for man-hands (not the entire script) was sold to the show by an elementary school teacher in Green Bay.
Another interesting fact – Kristin starred with fellow Wisconsin native Heather Graham in the short-lived ABC comedy Emily’s Reason’s Why Not. And I mean very short lived. The sitcom was canceled after one episode.
Kristin Bauer van Straten was born in Racine, and has a lot of good things to say about her home-state on her website. She describes Wisconsin as “the land of nature, beauty and cheese.”
Along with many small roles on television from LA Law to Bones, she also appeared in the film The Story of Luke, a comedy about dealing with autism. The movie was screened at the 2013 Green Bay Film Festival.
37. Al Jarreau – Milwaukee
Seven-time Grammy winner Al Jareau started singing at his father’s Seventh Day Adventist Church. Jareau’s dad was a minister and his mother played piano in their church.
He was student council president at Lincoln High in Milwaukee and went on to attend Ripon College. During college he performed with a local group called The Indigos.
His professional musical career started out in northern California nightclubs, eventually he moved to L.A. where his voice was discovered. Among his many hits is the theme song to the show Moonlighting. That led to one of his Grammy awards.
Al Jarreau is the only performer to win Grammys in three different musical genres – jazz, R&B and pop.
Besides his Grammy awards, the renowned jazz singer is also known for his scatting abilities.
38. Allen Ludden – Mineral Point
Allen Ludden made a name for himself hosting various game shows – most notably, Password, from 1961 to 1980.
He lived in a few different Wisconsin cities before his mother and adoptive stepfather moved the family to Texas. But he never forgot his connection to the state. Ludden was buried next to his biological father who died of influenza at the age of 26. There’s a man-made lake in Mineral Point named Ludden Lake in his honor.
Ludden was also married to America’s sweetest little old lady, Betty White. At one point the two hosted a talk show together.
The clip from Password below includes Betty White and Jack Paar. It was shot shortly after Ludden and White got married.
39. Al Molinaro – Kenosha
If you’ve been keeping tracking, you may have noticed this is our third famous Al in a row.
Al Molinaro played a lot of roles on old-school television sitcoms, but his most memorable was Al Delvecchio, the guy who ran Arnold’s on Happy Days – the Milwaukee, Wisconsin-based show from Garry Marshal. Of course, Pat Morita was the original and Arnold, and Molinaro replaced him.
Al’s father was a restaurant, tavern and hotel owner in the city of Kenosha, and was considered a sort of “don” in the local Italian community. Although apparently not in the mafia sense of the word. (Sure, whatever). The Molinaro family also had sons in law and politics. Al’s brother Joseph was the longest-serving Kenosha County District Attorney, and his brother George served in the Wisconsin State Assembly.
Here’s what Al Molinaro had to say about his hometown of Kenosha…
“I love that town; I love it. If it wasn’t that I left it for show business, I’d still be there today.”
Molinaro’s other recognizable roles include Murray the Cop on The Odd Couple, as well as appearances in Green Acres, Fantasy Island and all the Happy Days spinoffs.
40. Dustin Diamond – Port Washington
The guy we all know as Screech isn’t actually from Wisconsin. He lives here now. Or at least he’s trying to live here.
You may have heard about child-star Dustin Diamond’s mortgage issues. He’s been dealing with foreclosure threats in Ozaukee County for a number of years.
Diamond was actually born in California, and somehow he landed in Wisconsin when his Saved by the Bell years were finally over. It’s a little bit backwards compared to the career of other famous Wisconsinites.
In 2006, Diamond launched a somewhat-controversial campaign to get out of foreclosure trouble by selling t-shirts that read “Save Screech’s House.” He also tried releasing his own sex tape called Screeched – Saved By the Smell. Not sure why he thought anyone would want to see that.
While he’s been waiting for the next reunion with Zack and Slater – Dustin Diamond most-recently appeared in the apparent comedy Tetherball: The Movie, which also stars porn star Ron Jeremy. Maybe that sex tape was a smart career move after all?
That’s a Wrap…Or is It?
That’s our list! We know we probably missed some people. In fact, we intentionally left off historic Wisconsinites like Harry Houdini, Orson Welles and Laura Ingals Wilder as well as famous athletes and some musicians from the state. We’re saving them for another story.
So make sure to Like WhooNEW on Facebook or Subscribe by Email above – that way you can check out our future Top WI Lists!
Also – let us know if we missed anybody else. Who should have made this list that didn’t? Who is your favorite star from Wisconsin?
Leave a comment below. Maybe the Wisconsin celeb you suggest will make our sequel.