Actors and Filmmakers

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Entry Category: Actors and Filmmakers

Moore, Rudy Ray

African-American comedian, singer, film actor, and film producer Rudy Ray Moore was known as “king of the party records” because of the popularity of his comedy albums. He released many comedy albums in the 1960s and 1970s and was best known for the character Dolemite, which he developed in his standup routine and portrayed in two films, Dolemite and The Human Tornado. Rudy Ray Moore was born on March 17, 1927, in Fort Smith (Sebastian County). The oldest of seven children, he often sang in church and developed a taste for performance. After his mother married, he lived briefly in nearby Paris (Logan County) before moving back to Fort Smith. He moved to Cleveland, Ohio, at the age of fifteen …

Needham, Harold Brett “Hal”

Hal Needham was an American stuntman, stunt coordinator, writer, and director who performed stunts in scores of films and television shows. The director of hit movies like Smokey and the Bandit, Smokey and the Bandit II, Stroker Ace, Cannonball Run, Cannonball Run II, and Hooper, Needham was considered a pioneer in the stunt industry, having introduced techniques and safety equipment still in use today. Harold Brett “Hal” Needham was born on March 6, 1931, in Memphis, Tennessee, the third of three children of Howard and Edith Needham. Needham’s father left the family soon after he was born. Eventually, Needham’s mother married a sharecropper named Corbett, who moved the family to Arkansas when Needham was four. She and Corbett had two …

Nichols, Jeffrey Ryan (Jeff)

Jeffrey Ryan Nichols directed and wrote the screenplays for the critically acclaimed movies Shotgun Stories (2007), Take Shelter (2011), Mud (2013), and Loving (2016). Jeff Nichols was born in Little Rock (Pulaski County) on December 7, 1978. He grew up in Little Rock, graduating from Central High School. He studied filmmaking at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts, where he befriended fellow Little Rock–born director and frequent collaborator David Gordon Green. He graduated in May 2001. Following his father’s advice to write about Arkansas, Nichols began contemplating his youth in the land between Little Rock and England (Lonoke County), a landscape he says he romanticizes from childhood visits to his grandparents. Yet in writing and filming, Nichols …

Owens, Freeman Harrison

Freeman Harrison Owens was a pioneer cinematographer and inventor of cinematic technology, including the A. C. Nielsen Rating System, a plastic lens for Kodak, and the method of adding synchronized sound to film. He is credited with 11,812 inventions and held 200 patents during his lifetime. Freeman Owens was born on July 20, 1890, in Pine Bluff (Jefferson County). He was the only child of Charles H. Owens and Christabel Harrison Owens and grandson of Arkansas Supreme Court judge William M. Harrison. Owens attended Sixth and Beech Street Elementary School, but he dropped out during his senior year at Pine Bluff High School. He went to work for a movie theater when he was twelve years old. He cleaned the …

Perryman, Lloyd Wilson

Lloyd Wilson Perryman was a member of the country and western group Sons of the Pioneers for more than four decades, appearing in dozens of movies and selling millions of records. An accomplished guitarist and singer, Perryman was a fixture in Hollywood from the mid-1930s until his death. Lloyd Perryman was born in Ruth (Fulton County) on January 29, 1917, to Samuel and Sally Perryman. He had eight older brothers and sisters. His family also lived in Zion (Izard County), where they farmed and owned a general store, prior to moving to California in 1928 when Perryman was eleven years old. There, Perryman learned to play the guitar and became involved with music while in high school. His first radio …

Phillips, Kate

aka: Mary Katherine (Kay) Linaker
Mary Katherine (Kay) Linaker (a.k.a. Kate Phillips) was a veteran stage and screen actress who went on to become a writer of television and movie screenplays. She achieved her greatest notoriety as a writer on the 1958 horror/science fiction classic, The Blob. Kay Linaker was born on July 19, 1913, in Pine Bluff (Jefferson County). Her father owned C. A. Linaker and Company and was a wholesaler for Armour Food Company. Linaker’s father died when she was eleven. When she was twelve, she entered the Hillside School in Norwalk, Connecticut, a boarding school from which she graduated at sixteen. She had already expressed an interest in theater and planned to attend Wellesley College, but the exercise treatments for the polio …

Piazza, Ben Daniel

Ben Daniel Piazza was an actor, director, author, and playwright who was compared to the young Marlon Brando in his youth but achieved acclaim for character roles in his later years, often portraying an edgy, tightly controlled suburbanite or a repressive parent in films such as The Blues Brothers. He began acting in 1952 during his college days at Princeton University and worked steadily in theater, film, and television until his death in 1991. Ben Piazza was born on July 30, 1933, in Little Rock (Pulaski County) to Charles Piazza, a shoe repairman, and Elfreida Piazza, a homemaker. He was one of nine children, having two sisters and six brothers. He graduated from Little Rock High School (later Central High …

Pierce, Charles Bryant

Charles Bryant Pierce was an independent filmmaker from Arkansas whose movies have become cult classics. Films that he wrote, directed, and/or produced include The Legend of Boggy Creek, Bootleggers, and The Town that Dreaded Sundown, which were not only made in Arkansas with local actors but also drew their inspiration from Arkansas themes. He is believed to be the source of one of the most famous lines in American film history: “Go ahead, make my day.” Charles B. Pierce was born in Hammond, Indiana, on June 16, 1938, the son of Mack McKenny Pierce and Mayven Bryant Pierce. When he was a few months old, the family moved to Hampton (Calhoun County) in the south-central part of Arkansas. Living in …

Pittman, Montgomery

Montgomery Pittman was a television writer, director, and actor noted for writing the movie Come Next Spring set in a fictional version of Cushman (Independence County) in the 1920s. Other credits include writing and directing episodes of The Twilight Zone, Maverick, and 77 Sunset Strip. According to his California death certificate, Social Security records, and other official documents, Montgomery Cherlez Pittman was born in Louisiana on March 1, 1917; however, his World War II draft card gives his date of birth as March 1, 1920, and place of birth as specifically New Orleans. His parents’ names are often given as John Griffin Pittman and Mary Belle Thompson, but he is not listed as a member of their household in the …

Powell, Dick

aka: Richard Ewing Powell
Richard Ewing Powell was a musician, actor, and director. An ambitious man always pursuing new avenues for his creativity, Powell experimented with different media (radio, film, and television) at a time when not many did. The films of which he was a part ranged from 1930s comical musicals to 1940s films noir. Dick Powell was born in Mountain View (Stone County) on November 14, 1904, the second of three sons of Sallie Thompson and Ewing Powell. His father was a machinery salesman sometimes credited with introducing the gasoline engine to north Arkansas. Powell’s mother encouraged her three sons’ interest in music. His most important early musical influence was George R. “Dick” Case, a Mountain View merchant for whom he was …

Purcell, Lee

Emmy Award–nominated actress, producer, writer, and director Lee Purcell has starred in numerous films, television shows, and stage productions. At the beginning of her career, she was mentored by legendary movie star Steve McQueen, who said he chose her from about 500 actresses because she “seemed to jump right out of the screen.” Lee Purcell was born Lee Jeune Williams at the Cherrypoint Marine Corps Air Station in North Carolina on June 15, 1947. Her father, Major Frank D. Williams Jr., was a highly decorated Marine Corps pilot who was killed while on active duty when she was a child. She was placed into the care of various relatives until her mother, Lee McKnight Williams, married again, this time to …

Rogers, Betty Blake

Betty Blake Rogers was the wife of Will Rogers, one of the most beloved entertainers of the twentieth century. In addition to her roles as wife and mother, she managed the family’s finances, a job made difficult by Will’s enormous success and generous nature. She was a partner in his career, encouraging him to start on the lecture circuit and helping him choose film scripts. Betty Blake was born on September 9, 1879, at Silver Springs, later called Monte Ne (Benton County), to James Wyeth Blake, a miller, and Amelia Crowder Blake. Her father died when she was young, and the family moved a few miles north to Rogers (Benton County). Betty was seventh in a family of nine, and …

Sammon, Winona

aka: Peggy Shannon
Winona Sammon was a stage and cinema actress in the 1920s through early 1940, using the stage name Peggy Shannon. There were high hopes for her career early on, but as it progressed, her roles became smaller and less prestigious. Winona Sammon was born on January 10, 1907, to Edward and Nannie Sammon in the upstairs living quarters over her father’s store on Barraque Street in downtown Pine Bluff (Jefferson County). She had a younger sister. In late 1923, she traveled to New York City with her mother to visit an aunt, who lived in the same building as Florenz Ziegfeld’s secretary, “Goldie” Glough. Sammon was invited for some publicity pictures with Ziegfeld, who, with famed choreographer Ned Wrayburn, chose …

Schoonover, Wear Kibler

Wear Kibler Schoonover won many academic and athletic awards while attending the University of Arkansas (UA) in Fayetteville (Washington County). While he was part of the All-American football team, he went to Hollywood to play a part in the film Maybe It’s Love. Schoonover later served in the U.S. Navy and worked for the government in the Legal Services Department of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Wear Schoonover was born on March 18, 1910, in Pocahontas (Randolph County) to attorney Eugene Gardiner Schoonover and Estelle Waddle Schoonover; he had two siblings who died in infancy and one brother. Schoonover graduated from Pocahontas High School and attended UA, accomplishing much in both academics and sports. Schoonover was the first UA athlete …

Staggs, Monica

Monica Staggs is an actress best known for her work as a stunt double in numerous films and television shows. Monica Ann Staggs was born on February 24, 1970, in Boulder, Colorado, to Nova Staggs and Thomas Staggs. She has one sister. Staggs spent most of her youth in North Little Rock (Pulaski County) and graduated from Sylvan Hills High School in 1988. She then did work in the drama and English departments at both the University of Arkansas (UA) in Fayetteville (Washington County) and the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, as well as attending the University of Central Arkansas in Conway (Faulkner County) for a time. Without completing a degree, in 1996, she took a job as a stand-in …

Steenburgen, Mary Nell

Mary Nell Steenburgen is one of Arkansas’s most celebrated actors. Noted for roles in cinema, television, and stage, she has portrayed a wide range of characters, from the president’s mother, Hannah Nixon, in Nixon (1995) to schoolteacher Clara Clayton in Back to the Future III (1990) and seductress Betty Carver in What’s Eating Gilbert Grape (1993). She has won many awards, including an Academy Award for her portrayal of Lynda Dummar in Melvin and Howard (1980). Mary Steenburgen was born on February 8, 1953, in Newport (Jackson County) to Maurice Steenburgen, a freight train conductor, and Nellie Mae Wall Steenburgen, a school secretary. Her family—including a younger sister, Nancy Lynn—moved to North Little Rock (Pulaski County) when she was three …

Stickney, Phyllis Yvonne

Phyllis Yvonne Stickney is an actress, comedian, poet, playwright, producer, and motivational speaker best known for her television and film roles in the late 1980s and 1990s. Noted in the twenty-fifth anniversary issue of Essence magazine as one of 200 African-American women who have changed the world, she was inducted into the Arkansas Black Hall of Fame in 1998. Phyllis Stickney was born in Little Rock (Pulaski County) to Belle and Felix Stickney Jr. She has publicly been vague about her age, and no available sources offer the year of her birth. Her father was an executive with the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA), and the family moved frequently. She has two siblings, one of whom, Timothy, is also an …

Takei, George Hosato

George Hosato Takei gained international fame as Lieutenant Sulu in the original Star Trek television series and six movies. When he was a boy, he and his family were held in the War Relocation Authority Camp in Rohwer (Desha County). George Takei was born on April 20, 1937, in Los Angeles, California. His father, Takekuma Norman Takei, immigrated to the United States from Japan at age thirteen, graduated from Hills Business College in San Francisco, and owned a cleaning shop in the Wilshire corridor of Los Angeles. His mother, Fumiko Emily Nakamura Takei, was a native U.S. citizen who was educated in Japan. In 1942, after the outbreak of World War II, President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066, …

Thomason, Harry Z.

Harry Z. Thomason is a film and television producer best known for the television series Designing Women and for his friendship with Bill Clinton. Thomason made the casting of people of Southern heritage more popular, replacing the ignorant hillbilly type with a more wry, witty, sophisticated Southerner. Thomason was born in 1940 in Hampton (Calhoun County). After moving to Little Rock (Pulaski County), he became a high-school speech teacher and football coach. Beginning with Encounter with the Unknown (1973), he wrote, produced, and/or directed the movies The Great Lester Boggs (1974), So Sad about Gloria (1975), The Day It Came to Earth (1979), and Revenge of Bigfoot (1979). He then moved to television, where he produced the television movies A Shining Season …

Thornton, Billy Bob

Billy Bob Thornton is an actor, director, screenwriter, and musician who began his film career in the late 1980s and has since starred in a number of popular and critically acclaimed films. He received an Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay for Sling Blade (1996). Billy Bob Thornton was born on August 4, 1955, in Hot Springs (Garland County), the oldest son of high school basketball coach Billy Ray Thornton and Virginia Faulkner, a psychic. At seven months of age, he set the Clark County record for heaviest infant, at thirty pounds. He has two younger brothers, Jimmy Don and John David. Residing with over a dozen relatives in a shack with no electricity or plumbing, the Thorntons subsisted on …

Wakely, James Clarence (Jimmy)

Jimmy Wakely, an American country and western singer and actor from the 1930s through the 1950s, made several recordings and appeared in B-western movies with most major studios as a “singing cowboy.” Wakely was one of the last singing cowboys after World War II and also appeared on radio and television; he even had his own series of comic books. He has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 1680 Vine Street. Jimmy Wakely was born James Clarence Wakeley on February 16, 1914, in Mineola (Howard County) to Major Anderson Wakeley, a farmer, and Caroline (or Carolin) “Cali” Burgess Wakeley. As a teenager, he changed “James” to “Jimmy” and dropped the second “e” in his last name, making …

Yarbrough, Arthur Jean Wilker

Jean Yarbrough was a film and television director and producer who worked on numerous low-budget films, or “B-movies,” mostly for Hollywood’s so-called “Poverty Row” studios beginning in the 1930s. In the 1950s, he transitioned successfully to television, directing many episodes of several popular TV series, including The Addams Family, Death Valley Days, Gunsmoke, The Life of Riley, McHale’s Navy, and Petticoat Junction. Known more for his efficiency than his artistry, he may be best remembered for his directorial work with the Abbott and Costello comedy team on feature films as well as their 1952–1954 television series. Arthur Jean Wilker Yarbrough was born on August 22, 1900, in Marianna (Lee County). He was the only child of William T. Yarbrough and …