USA Famous People of Kansas

Kansas Biographies

A-I • J-W
Kirstie Alley (1955 - ) Actress starring in Cheers and Veronica’s Closet; born in WichitaThe increasing girth of Kirstie Alley's rear end has figured prominently (pun intended) on many a tabloid cover in recent years. At the peak of her career ("Cheers"), of course, her butt was indeed at its smallest. It's no surprise that she therefore sums up her life philosophy this way: one's level of happiness tends to be inversely proportional to the size of one's posterior.

With extremely salty language on par with what you might hear in a 50 Cent song, Alley has penned a self-deprecating Hollywood tell-all in the disguise of "note-to-self"-style diary entries. With many apologies to Bridget Jones, we learn that Alley is a former cocaine addict who once participated in the snorting of a six-foot-long trail of powder at a party. (She's says she's currently a Scientologist and credits L. Ron Hubbard with curing her of her narcotic addiction, as well as her issues with food.) We also learn--for better or worse--that she has the hots for John Travolta, Kid Rock, and Ben Affleck, and that she blames her weight gain for a super-extended period of unplanned celibacy.• Kirstie Alley Books • Kirstie Alley Movies

Roscoe Fatty Arbuckle actor, Smith Center - Roscoe Conkling "Fatty" Arbuckle (March 24, 1887 – June 29, 1933) was an American silent film actor, comedian, director, and screenwriter. Starting at the Selig Polyscope Company he eventually moved to Keystone Studios where he worked with Mabel Normand and Harold Lloyd. He mentored Charlie Chaplin and discovered Buster Keaton and Bob Hope. He was one of the most popular stars of the 1910s, and soon became one of the highest paid, signing a contract to make $1 million a year in 1918.

In 1921 Arbuckle threw a party during Labor Day weekend. Bit player Virginia Rappe became ill at the party and died days later. Soon Arbuckle was accused of raping and accidentally killing Rappe, enduring three widely publicized manslaughter trials. His films were banned, his career was ruined, and he was publicly ostracized. Though he was acquitted by a jury and received a written apology, the trial's scandal has mostly overshadowed his legacy as a pioneering comedian. Though the ban on his films was eventually lifted, Arbuckle only worked sparingly through the 1920s. In 1932 he began a successful comeback, which he briefly enjoyed before his death in 1933. • Roscoe Fatty Arbuckle Books • Roscoe Fatty Arbuckle Movies

Robert D. Ballard (1942 - ) He discovered the Titanic shipwreck; born in WichitaBeautifully presented, this volume gives a guided tour of some of the most historic and famous shipwrecks of the 20th century, including Andrea Doria, Bismarck, Britannic, Empress of Ireland, the Ghost Fleet of Guadalcanal, Lusitania, and Titanic. The detailed illustrations accompany an astounding collection of underwater photography, archival images, and memorabilia that recalls each ship’s former glory. Gripping stories unlock the mysteries of the ships ghostly remains, and an epilogue speaks to the essential need for preserving ships. Equal parts scientific and historical study, this adventurous exploration into the lives of these ships and those who discovered them will thrill naval and transportation buffs, as well as any fan of nautical history.• Robert D. Ballard's Books
Walter Beech - (January 30, 1891 – November 29, 1950) Beech was an American pioneer aviator.  lived in Wichita

Born in Pulaski, Tennessee, Beech started flying at age 14, when he built a glider of his own design. Then, after flying for the U.S. Army during World War I, he joined the Swallow Airplane Company as a test pilot. He later became General Manager of the company. In 1924, Beech joined Clyde Cessna in co-founding Travel Air Manufacturing Company, which was to become the world's largest producer of both monoplane and biplane commercial aircraft. When Travel Air merged with the Curtiss-Wright Airplane Company, Beech became vice-president of the new corporation.

In 1932 he and his wife, Olive Ann Beech, co-founded Beech Aircraft Company. Their early Beechcraft planes won the Bendix Trophy. During World War II, he produced more than 7,400 military aircraft. The twin Beech AT-7/C-45 trained more than 90 percent of the U.S. Army Air Forces navigator/bombardiers and 50 percent of its multi-engine pilots. Beech died from a heart attack on November 29, 1950. He and his wife are buried at Old Mission mausoleum in Wichita, Kansas. • Walter Beech Books

Gwendolyn Brooks (1917 - ) The first African American to win a Pulitzer Prize; born in Topeka.This long-awaited volume by the late George Kent is the first full-scale biography of the Pulitzer Prize-winning poet. Kent carefully chronicles Brooks's aesthetic and political development in relation to familial and literary influences, the Chicago arts community, and the civil rights and black nationalist movements. Brooks is dramatically and critically portrayed as an artist struggling to create a style that reflects the particularities of her own and other black Americans' experiences while conveying a greater universalism in black life and literature. Her achievements as a critic, teacher, speaker, philanthropist, and activist are also emphasized. Enriched by generous quotes from Brooks's early notebooks, as well as anecdotes from the poet, her family, and her friends, this book will be enjoyed by anyone interested in Brooks or American poetry.• Gwendolyn Brooks Books
John Brown (May 9, 1800 – December 2, 1859) Infamous abolitionist during the Civil War The claims of Reynolds’s subtitle strike many as inflated; while John Brown certainly grew into a towering folkloric figure after his death, the historians who review the book note that his actions were less a direct cause than an important symbolic precursor to the Civil War. Some critics believe Reynolds, winner of the Bancroft Prize for Walt Whitman’s America, is overly sympathetic to Brown’s use of violence. Though other reviewers counter that the author never turns full-scale apologist, the question of whether violence is an acceptable response to injustice—even one as grave as slavery—hangs over the text, especially as Reynolds examines the parallels between Brown’s actions and our current understanding of terrorism. One thing is certain: John Brown’s legacy is as unstable a part of our national history as ever.• John Brown Books
George Washington Carver (1864 - 1943) A great scientist, educator and humanitarian; graduated from Minneapolis Kansas High SchoolThis book is well written. Unlike many of the biographies on the bookshelves of the national chains these days, this biography was not written to sell so much as to inform and enlighten. The author gives us a very close glimpse of Carver, from his youth through his college years and professional life. The reader feels as though he has met this man at one time or another because the author has presented Mr Carver's progression and accomplishments through life in a very human light. There are constant reminders of the motives behind Carver's decisions and actions which stem from his personal Christian belief that he is on mission to fulfill a purpose and find meaning in his life and career by serving others. I believe that this biography is very informative and does great service to a great man by accurately presenting the facts of his life and his deepest feelings and thoughts. This book was written at a time before the onslaught of cheap biographies which are now published to entice the reader with "national enquirer" style gossip and political correctness, the sole purpose being to ring the cash register. I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in learning about Georre W. Carver on a deeper level.• George Washington Carver Books
Clyde Cessna - (1879 - 1954) One of the outstanding pioneers of aviation; born in Hawthorne. Clyde Vernon Cessna was born in Hawthorne, Iowa on December 5, 1879. When he was 2, he and his family moved to rural Rago in Kingman County, Kansas along the Chikaskia River. During his boyhood he used his self-taught innovation and mechanical skills to improve farm machinery and to develop new farming methods. He later became a successful car dealer in Enid, Oklahoma.

Clyde's interest in aviation began in 1910 after witnessing an aerial exhibition in his home state of Kansas. It was this exhibition that led him in future years to pursue his career in aviationAfter realizing his interest in aviation,In the years following World War I the enconomy's interest in private flying increased, an increase which eventually lead Cessna in 1925, along with Walter Beech and Lloyd Stearman, to found the Travel Air Manufacturing Company located in Wichita, Kansas. On 7 September 1927, the Cessna Aircraft Corporation officially became incorporated • Clyde Cessna Books

Walter Chrysler (1875 - 1940) Founder of Chrysler Corporation in 1925; born in Wamego. From humble beginnings as a Kansas railroad-shop apprentice wiping down locomotives for 5U cents an hour, Walter Chrysler (1875-1940) rose to become a railroad master mechanic and foreman, then a leading auto manufacturer and industrial mogul. Brashly confident, convinced of America's limitless potential for economic growth, Chrysler, "the quintessence of American business in the 1920s," built Manhattan's Chrysler BuildingAart deco emblem of modernism and progressAwhose spire went up just one month before the 1929 stock market crash. This dynamic biography brings a surprisingly neglected giant out of the shadows. Chrysler, self-educated, self-made son of a German immigrant, is not nearly as well known as Henry Ford, even though he expanded Detroit's Big Two (GM and Ford) into the Big Three, when Chrysler Corporation bought out Dodge in 1928. (His legacy lives on in Daimler-Chrysler, formed in 1998.) • Walter Chrysler Books
John Steuart Curry (November 14, 1897–August 29, 1946) was an American painter whose career spanned from 1924 until his death. He was noted for his paintings depicting life in his home state, Kansas. Along with Thomas Hart Benton and Grant Wood, he was hailed as one of the three great painters of American Regionalism of the first half of the twentieth century.

Curry was born on a farm in Dunavant, Kansas, November 14, 1897. He was the eldest of five children to parents Smith and Margaret Curry. Despite growing up on a Midwestern farm, both of Curry's parents were college educated and had even visited Europe for their honeymoon. Curry's early life consisted of caring for the animals on the farm, attending the near by high school and excelling in athletics. His childhood home was filled with many reproductions of Peter Paul Rubens and Gustav Dorι, and these artist’s styles played a significant role in crafting John Curry’s own style. John Steuart Curry Books

Charles Curtis (1860 - 1936) The first Native American to serve as US vice president (1929-1933); born near Topeka. As the Indian expert in Congress, Curtis had significant power in formulating and carrying out the assimilationist program that had been instituted, particularly by the Dawes Act, in the 1880s. The strategy was to encourage reservation Indians to reject communal life and reap the rewards of individual enterprise. Central to these developments were questions of ownership, land claims, allotments, tribal inheritance laws, and what constituted the public domain. The underlying issues, however, were Indian identification and assimilation. The government's actions--affecting schools, the federal courts, Indian Office personnel, allotment and inheritance laws, mineral leases, and the absorption of the Indian Territory into the state of Oklahoma--all bore the mark of Curtis's hand.• Charles Curtis Books
Bob Dole (1923 - ) United States senator for many years; he ran for President in 1996; born in Russell. If you're tired of all the rhetoric-spewing and mud-slinging from this year's presidential eelction campaign's, this candid pictorial will show you a side of Bob Dole you'd never expect. The photos and accompanying excerpts piece together a well-written, informative scrapbook of the man behind the solemn mug. This book has it all - from childhood photos to a fraternity composite to his recovery bed when he returned from the war.

And if the idea of a warm, fuzzy side of Dole surprises you, wait 'til you flip through the pages of his college/military years. Bob Dole was (gasp) a babe. Believe it or not, Dole was quite the stud in his early years.

In a 1941 excerpt from the Pony Express, the student newspaper at Russell High School, the paper reports, "Bob Dole was rated the ideal boy of Russell High School by the Girl Reserve Club when they voted by ballot as a part of the boy and girl relations program." • Bob Dole Books

Amelia Earhart (1897 - 1937) The first woman granted a pilot’s license by the National Aeronautics Associate, the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean (1932), and the first person to fly solo across the Pacific; born in Atchison.East to the Dawn is a superbly-written biography of Amelia Earhart by Susan Butler. This is a must-read for all seeking an in-depth view of the woman whose irrepressible spirit took her places where no man or woman had gone before. Amelia's life with her partner and husband, George Putnam, amidst her high profile career, is the basis of the new motion picture, "Amelia," starring Hilary Swank. As one of the producers of this film, I can attest to the significance of East to the Dawn, as a key source for the film. Butler's research reveals a fascinating relationship between Earhart and Gene Vidal (the father of Gore). As the daughter of an aviatrix, Susan Butler provides keen insights into what drives a woman to question the status quo and take risks beyond daredevil proportion. We also learn how Amelia impacted the world and why she remains an indelible legend and icon today. • Amelia Earhart Books
Dwight D. Eisenhower (October 14, 1890 – March 28, 1969), grew up in Abilene.  

He was a five-star general in the United States Army and the 34th President of the United States, from 1953 until 1961. During the Second World War, he served as Supreme Commander of the Allied forces in Europe, with responsibility for planning and supervising the successful invasion of France and Germany in 1944–45. In 1951, he became the first supreme commander of NATO.As President, he oversaw the cease-fire of the Korean War, maintained pressure on the Soviet Union during the Cold War, made nuclear weapons a higher defense priority, launched the Space Race, enlarged the Social Security program, and began the Interstate Highway System. He was the last World War I veteran to serve as U.S. president, and the last president born in the 19th century. Eisenhower ranks highly among former U.S. presidents in terms of approval rating. He was also the first term-limited president in accordance with the 22nd amendment. •

Milton S. Eisenhower • Milton Stover Eisenhower, D.H.L. (Hon.) (September 15, 1899 – May 2, 1985) served as president of three major American universities: Kansas State University, the Pennsylvania State University, and the Johns Hopkins University. He was the younger brother of U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower, Edgar N. Eisenhower, and Earl D. Eisenhower.

Born in Abilene, Kansas, Eisenhower graduated from Kansas State University in 1923 with a Bachelor of Science degree in industrial journalism. Eisenhower served as Director of Information for the U.S. Department of Agriculture from 1928 to 1941. In 1942, he was director of the War Relocation Authority, the U.S. civilian agency responsible for the relocation and internment of Japanese Americans during World War II, and from 1942 to 1943, associate director of the Office of War Information.

In 1943, Eisenhower became President of Kansas State University (his alma mater), a position he held until 1950. During this time, he also served as the first Chairman of the U.S. National Commission for UNESCO. In this role, Eisenhower sought to also establish UNESCO commissions for each state. He personally organized the first such commission, in Kansas.

Eisenhower was often referred to as "Doctor." However, he did not hold an earned doctoral degree; instead, he had received an honorary doctorate of humane letters (D.H.L.) from the University of Nebraska in 1949 . After leaving Kansas State University in 1950, Eisenhower served as President at two other universities: Milton S. Eisenhower Books

Melissa Etheridge (1961 - ) Popular singer and guitarist; born in Leavenworth.

She's not in Kansas anymore! Melissa Etheridge, the gutsy Midwest girl who grew up to be the heartland's gift to rock & roll (and a major gay spokeswoman) tells all in her memoir, The Truth Is.... With a little help from Laura Morton, the bestselling collaborator of Marilu Henner and Joan Lunden, Etheridge sets the record straight about her life on and off the stage, her coming-out drama, and the stories behind her songs • Melissa Etheridge Website • Melissa Etheridge Discography • Melissa Etheridge Books

Carl A. Hatch • Carl Atwood Hatch (November 27, 1889 – September 15, 1963) was a Democratic Party politician from New Mexico who represented the Land of Enchantment in the United States Senate from 1933 until 1949.

Hatch was born in Kirwin, Kansas on November 27, 1889, and attended public schools in Kansas and Oklahoma. In 1912 he graduated from Cumberland School of Law at Cumberland University and in that year he was also admitted to the bar, whereupon he began practice in Eldorado, Oklahoma. In 1916 he moved to Clovis, New Mexico, where he continued his practice; from 1917 to 1918 he served as the state's assistant attorney general. He was the state collector of internal revenue from 1919 to 1921. From 1923 to 1929 Hatch served as the district judge of the ninth judicial district of New Mexico; from 1930 to 1933 he was a member of the state board of bar examiners.

In 1933, he was appointed to fill out the U.S. Senate term of Sam G. Bratton, who had resigned to accept a judicial post; he was elected in his own right in 1934, and reelected in 1936 and 1942. Carl A. Hatch Books

James Butler Hickok (May 27, 1837 – August 2, 1876), better known as Wild Bill Hickok, was a figure in the American Old West. His skills as a gunfighter and scout, along with his reputation as a lawman, provided the basis for his fame, although some of his exploits are fictionalized. His nickname of Wild Bill has inspired similar nicknames for men known for their daring in various fields.

Hickok came to the West as a stagecoach driver, then became a lawman in the frontier territories of Kansas and Nebraska. He fought in the Union Army during the American Civil War, and gained publicity after the war as a scout, marksman, and professional gambler. Between his law-enforcement duties and gambling, which easily overlapped, Hickok was involved in several notable shootouts, and was ultimately killed while playing poker in a Dakota Territory saloon. • James Butler Hickok Books

Dennis Hopper actor, Dodge City Dennis Lee Hopper (born May 17, 1936) is an American actor, filmmaker and artist. Hopper became interested in acting and eventually became a student of the Actors Studio. He made his first television appearance in 1955, and appeared in two films featuring James Dean, Rebel Without a Cause (1955) and Giant (1956). Over the next ten years, Hopper appeared frequently on television in guest roles, and by the end of the 1960s had played supporting roles in several films. He directed and starred in Easy Rider (1969), winning an award at the Cannes Film Festival and was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay as co-writer of the film's script.

He was unable to build on his success for several years, until a featured role in Apocalypse Now (1979) brought him attention. He subsequently appeared in Rumble Fish (1983) and The Osterman Weekend (1983), and received critical recognition for his work in Blue Velvet and Hoosiers, with the latter film garnering him an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor. He directed Colors (1988), portrayed King Koopa in the film version of Super Mario Bros. (1993) and the villain in Speed (1994). Hopper's more recent work includes a leading role in the television series Crash. • Dennis Hopper Books • Dennis Hopper Movies

William Inge - William Motter Inge (May 3, 1913 – June 10, 1973) was an American playwright and novelist, whose works typically feature solitary protagonists encumbered with strained sexual relations. In the early 1950s, he had a string of memorable Broadway productions, and one of these, Picnic, earned him a Pulitzer Prize. With his portraits of small-town life and settings rooted in the American heartland, Inge became known as the "Playwright of the Midwest."

Born in Independence, Kansas, Inge attended Independence Community College and graduated from the University of Kansas in 1935 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Speech and Drama. Offered a scholarship to work on a Master of Arts degree, he moved to Nashville, Tennessee, to attend the George Peabody College for Teachers, but later dropped out.

Back in Kansas, he worked as a laborer on the state highway and a Wichita news announcer. In 1937-38 he taught English and drama at Cherokee County Community High School in Columbus, Kansas. Completing his Master's at Peabody in 1938, he taught at Stephens College, in Columbia, Missouri, from 1938 to 1943. • William Inge Books