On earlier this month Gordon Parks died at the age of 93. Not only was he a great photographer but he was also a Kansan like me. I've always been a collector of fellow Kansans, famous, infamous and just regular folks. This interest has only grown since I moved overseas. In fact as I write this, I realize I'm wearing a T-shirt my cousin sent me that reads "Kansas State Fair-1982, GO HOG WILD!" Clearly I appreciated the gift. My favorite accessory is my "Don't Mess with Kansas Either" belt that I bought from the Paul Frank store in New York City. At any rate, methinks I've digressed. So without further ado, I submit my personal list of Kansans that ROCK, ROT and RULE.
*denotes honorary Kansan status- By definition, to be a "Jayhawker" one must be born in Kansas.
KANSANS THAT ROCK!
These Kansans are alive and still kickin' it! Rock on guys!
1. Melissa Ethridge-1961, Leavenworth, rock singer- hey I know first hand how hard it is to be gay and from Kansas! I have so much respect for her knowing where she's come from and the journey she's had this far. YOU GO GRRRRRL!
2. Dennis Hopper-1936, Dodge City, film actor and director- He has been in a TON of movies but I was impressed that he was both in Giant and Rebel Without a Cause and was a good friend of James Dean.
3. *Don Johnson-1949, moved to Wichita when he was 5 and also lived in Galena, television and film actor- I loved how what he changed men's fashion instantly by wearing a sport coat over a T-shirt in Miami Vice (now a movie).
4. Kirstie Alley-1951, Wichita, television and film actress. You know, Cheers?
5. Scott Heim-1966, Hutchinson, gay author of Mysterious Skin, now a movie
6. Jim Lehrer-1934, Wichita and Independence, television journalist, anchor on PBS's The News Hour with Jim Lehrer- one of the most respected anchormen in America, known for being fair and moderating presidential debates.
7. Kansas (The band formed in 1970 by Kerry Livgren and Phil Ehart, both of Topeka)- Dust in the Wind, Carry On My Wayward Son
8. Martina McBride-1966, Sharon, country singer. I liked her Independence Day song. The roof is on fire!
9. Linda Brown (Thompson)-1943, Topeka. In 1954, this African-American 3rd grader had to walk a mile to get to elementary school despite the fact that there was one only seven blocks away. In Brown vs Topeka Board of Education the Supreme Court determined that this was illogical and unfair. This landmark decision lead to the desegregation of US public schools. It was my pleasure to meet her when I was in university.
10. Cassandra Peterson-1949, Manhattan, aka Elvira, actress- otherwise known as the Mistress of the Dark to all you goth-types out there!
11. James Reynolds- 1950, Oskaloosa, actor. Best known for Days of Our Lives, his part was the longest-running African-American character. Plus he guest-starred on Seinfeld, Dukes of Hazzard and Diff'rent Strokes.
12. Erin_Brockovich-1960, born in Lawrence, attended Kansas State University. This woman, despite her lack of a formal law school education, was instrumental in constructing a case against the $30 billion Pacific Gas & Electric Company (PG&E), of California in 1993. The case was settled in 1996 for $333 million, the largest settlement ever paid in a direct action lawsuit in U.S. history. Loved the movie and Julia Roberts' portrayal of this flawed heroine!
KANSANS THAT ROT!
These are Kansans, either alive or dead that I'd rather be associated with some other state...
1. *Fred Phelps-born in Mississippi! -A SOUTHERN Baptist minister who has made a career out of hate. Seriously, he hates pretty much everyone at this point.
2. Robert "Bob" Dole- 1923, Russell, U.S. House of Representatives and Senate, vice presidential candidate in 1976, sought Republican presidential nomination in 1980 and 1988, and 1996 GOP presidential nominee. With the exception of the Freedom for Americans with Disabilities Act, the rest of his career was pretty much about keeping WASPs in power.
3. Sam Brownback -1956, Parker, US senator and the Christian right's next choice for president. Here's why you should be scared. A member of Opus Dei and the secret, exclusive Fellowship, he co-sponsored Constitution Restoration Act. If passed, it will strip the Supreme Court of the ability to even hear cases in which citizens protest faith-based abuses of power.
4. *Carrie Nation-1846-1911, Medicine Lodge, militant crusader against illegal saloons with her hatchet. She came to my hometown to smash some bars and then had a rally at my childhood church.
5. *"Ike" Eisenhower-1890 - 1969, Abilene, five-star U.S. Army General, Supreme Allied Commander of European theater, and President of the United States. As the only general to serve as president in the 20th century, Americans started dying in Vietnam and the US began a nuclear arms race with the USSR. He overthrew the elected prime-ministers of Iran and Congo in favor of pro-American dictators (the Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi and Col. Mobutu). He only supported the civil rights movement when he had to and sent troops into Lebanon. In my opinion, his only positive accomplishments were creating the US Interstate Highways and working behind the scenes to bring McCarthy and his communist witch-hunt to an end.
6. Marlin Fitzwater-1942, Abilene, the only press secretary to serve under two presidents (Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush). His career was spent spinning the Iran-contra affair, the Persian Gulf War and presidential vomit in Japan.
And KANSANS THAT RULE.....
Although they are no longer among us, the legacies of these Kansans still live on!
Writers and Poets
James Langston Hughes- 1902 - 1967, Topeka and Lawrence, poet and author. I was interested to learn that, not only did he have many gay friends, that some think he was also in the closet. Damon Runyon-1884 - 1946, Manhattan, short story writer and journalist. I loved reading his stories, especially "Guys and Dolls" which later became a musical.
* Gwendolyn Brooks-1917 - 2000, Topeka, Pulitzer Prize-winning poet. I first discovered her in elementary school in one of my reading books. I was so impressed that she was both African-American poet and from Kansas! Plus I really enjoyed her poetry!
Charles M. Sheldon-1857 - 1946, Topeka, minister and best-selling author. As the leader of the Social Gospel movement, he emphasized practically applying the Bible to our moral lives, instead of focusing so much on doctrine of personal redemption. What would Jesus Do? His support of women and the feminist movement set him apart from the rest.
*James Barr Fugate-1922-1995, Holyrood, writer, playwright, journalist. He was one of the first gay authors to portray gay men as well-adjusted, not self-destructive and immoral. The gay book club I belonged to in Kansas was named the Fugate Society in his honor.
Artists and Musicians
Gordon Parks-1912 - 2006, Fort Scott, photographer, writer, and motion picture director
*Charlie "Yardbird" Parker-1920 - 1955, Kansas City,MO, jazz saxophonist
John Steuart Curry-1897 - 1946, Jefferson County, artist. I love his mural of John Brown as Moses in the Kansas State Capitol.
*Frederic Remington-1861 - 1909. In 1883 he bought and worked a sheep ranch in Peabody, Kansas. Western painter
Elizabeth "Grandma" Layton-1909 - 1993, Wellsville, artist - I used to see one of her paintings in the Myers Library at Ottawa University when I went to work there every day. It was by taking an art class there that she discovered her talent as well as overcame her debilitating depression that 13 shock treatments could not cure.
Pioneers and Visionaries
*George Washington Carver-1864-1943, Minneapolis, African-American agricultural chemist who made it possible for poor share-croppers to make a living on their cotton-depleted farms. He was so brilliant! His genius is only surpassed by his desire to help his fellow man.
Amelia Earhart -1897 - 1937?, Atchison, the first woman granted a pilot's license by the National Aeronautics Association and the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean. Her mysterious disappearance still captures our imaginations.
Karl Menninger-1893 - 1990, Topeka, psychiatrist and co-founder of the Menninger Clinic and Foundation
Jack St. Clair Kilby-1923, Great Bend, 2000 Nobel Prize for Physics for his work as inventor of the integrated circuit and co-inventor of the pocket calculator
Walter P Chrysler-1875 - 1940, Wamego and Ellis, established the Chrysler Corporation
Buster Keaton-1895 - 1966, Piqua, silent film comedian. He received an Oscar for his lifelong work in comedy.
Louise Brooks- 1906-1985, Cherryville, silent film star. She was beautiful and a trendsetter.
*Jean Harlow- born in KC, MO. Somehow connected to Seneca, Kansas, this film actress, was originally named Harlean Carpentier. She was one of Marilyn Monroe's idols growing up.
Hattie McDaniel-1895 - 1952, Wichita, film actress, first African-American Academy Award winner for Gone With the Wind. She has two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, one each for her radio and movie careers.
*Oscar Micheaux-1884-1951, Great Bend. He was the first African-American to produce a feature-length film and the first African-American to produce a “talkie” motion picture. Director Spike Lee credits Oscar Micheaux as a film pioneer in nearly every interview he gives.