#50 Alaska – Darby Stanchfield
So, here’s somebody I’ve never heard of before. IMDb, though, has Darby Stanchfield down as Alaska’s most popular thespian. And Wikipedia tells me that she is “best known for her role as Abby Whelan in the ABC political drama series Scandal.” Darby was actually born on Kodiak Island, off the Alaskan mainland, and also lived on one of the Aleutians. Her father was a commercial fisherman.
#49 Arizona – Lynda Carter
Lynda Carter is Wonder Woman. Honestly, who can picture her in anything other than that marvelous outfit? Did you know, though, that she was also a Miss World USA and is married to director Robert Altman?
#48 Maryland – John Astin
Poor John Astin. He must be one of the most typecast actors ever. I challenge you to name another role of his other than Gomez Addams, in TV’s Addams Family. See! I told you so.
Two interesting tidbits about John though … One, he’s a Johns Hopkins grad. Two, he was married to Patty Duke.
#47 Vermont – Rudy Vallee
Possibly America’s first pop singing sensation, Rudy Vallee would later notch over 50 acting credits. His career spanned the ’20 to the ‘90s, and included film, TV, and Broadway. He may be best known for How To Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, with Vallee starring in both the play and the film.
#46 Nevada – Edna Purviance
Another name from a long time ago. Edna Purviance, in fact, goes all the way back to the silent era. She was a favorite of Charlie Chaplin’s, co-starred in many of his films, and was also romantically involved with him. By the way, her hometown of Paradise Valley today claims only 100 people.
#45 Wyoming – Isabelle Jewell
Interesting that our least populous state made it all the way to #45. Native daughter Isabelle Jewell was mostly active in the ‘30s. Her main claims to fame are a starring role in Lost Horizon and a supporting role in GWTW (she was “that white trash, Emily Slattery”).
#44 New Hampshire – Mandy Moore
A contemporary actress for once, Mandy Moore is probably better known for her singing. Heck, she’s sold over 10 million albums worldwide. She has also, though, compiled 46 acting credits, as well as earning a Golden Globe nomination.
#43 South Dakota – January Jones
Wow! January Jones sure is hot. Sounds like she might be a pretty talented actress as well. She’s netted a Golden Globe and one Emmy nomination, all for Mad Men, where she starred for 7 seasons and was Mrs. Don Draper for most of that time. Not too surprisingly, the lovely Miss Jones started out as a model.
By the way, though January was born in Sioux Falls, she grew up in tiny Hecla, population 400.
#42 Maine – Anna Kendrick
Just to show how out of it I am, I had no idea who Anna Kendrick was. She does look pretty familiar though. Oh, wait a minute, she looks just like my best friend Steve’s wife.
Oh, Anna? She’s actually racked up her share of nominations – a Tony, an Oscar, and a Grammy. You might know her for Twilight and Up in the Air.
#41 Rhode Island – Van Johnson
Hard to believe, but Van Johnson was something of a heart throb … oh, back in the 1940s. He was also quite popular in the ‘50s, and was in major films like The Caine Mutiny, Brigadoon, and The Last Time I Saw Paris. He parlayed all that into pretty steady work up until his death in 1992, notching 124 credits total.
#40 Delaware – Elizabeth Shue
Elizabeth Shue was a quintessentially 80s thespian. She was in The Karate Kid, Cocktail, and two Back to the Future sequels. She’s also been nominated for an Oscar and a Golden Globe. Elizabeth is a Harvard alum, by the way.
#39 Oregon – Sally Struthers
Hey, it’s Gloria Stivic! Like John Astin at #48, Sally Struthers will forever be associated with one role. Then again, that’s pretty much the fate of anyone who starred in All in the Family. Struthers did, however, get a couple of Emmys out of her stint on what may have been TV’s most influential sitcom.
#38 North Dakota – Ann Sothern
Ann Sothern is not a name that comes up much these days. She did, however, have one Academy Award and three Emmy nominations, with her career extending from the 1920s to the 1980s. Unfortunately, Ann might be best known for being the voice of the car in the rather odd mid-60s TV show My Mother the Car. Ouch!
#7 West Virginia – Don Knotts
Did you realize that Don Knotts earned no less than 5 Emmys? Not too surprisingly, all of those came for his classic comedic role of the bumbling deputy sheriff Barney Fife on The Andy Griffith Show. In later years, he was also known as the landlord on Three’s Company. No Emmys for that role, I’m afraid.
#36 Arkansas – Mary Steenburgen
As of this writing, Mary Steenburgen has exactly 100 credits to her name. She also has an Oscar and a Golden Globe, both for the quirky Melvin and Howard. Off the screen, Ms. Steenburgen was married to Malcom McDowell, is currently married to Ted Danson, and is big friends with fellow Arkansans Bill and Hillary Clinton. By the way, she was discovered by Jack Nicholson while working as a receptionist at Paramount.
#35 Idaho – Lana Turner
Lana Turner was a blonde bombshell who also happened to be a pretty decent actress as well. She’s particularly well-known for the noir classic The Postman Always Rings Twice, where she cemented her reputation as a femme fatale. Turner was known for an especially stormy personal life, being married no less than eight times. Her dating the mobster Johnny Stompanato – and Stompanato’s killing by her Turner’s 14-year-old daughter – was probably one of Hollywood’s top all-time scandals.
#34 North Carolina – Ava Gardner
Hey, my home state! Now, Ava Gardner’s a pretty famous name (and the American Film Institute has her at #25 for the top female actresses of all time – er, excuse me, “screen legends.”). At the same time, though, I was a little surprised that she never won a major award (though she did get nominations for an Oscar and a Golden Globe). That said, she was definitely one of the classic stars of the ‘50s, ’60, and ‘70s – and a real looker. She might be more famous, though, for her tumultuous personal life, including very short marriages to Frank Sinatra, Mickey Rooney, and jazz musician Artie Shaw.
BTW, Gardner grew up dirt-poor in the eastern (flat, very rural, cotton- and tobacco-growing) part of the state. She would later, though, become quite the jet setter, living in Spain and England.
#33 New Mexico – Neil Patrick Harris
One of the first very out gay actors, Neil Patrick Harris is probably best known for the TV shows Doogie Howser, MD and How I Met Your Mother. He’s also made something of a career for himself hosting awards shows, doing the Tonys 4 times, the Emmys twice, and the Oscars once. He actually won several Emmys for those efforts, and also has a Tony for his leading role in Hedwig and the Angry Inch.
#32 Louisiana – Reese Witherspoon
A cute, perky, blue-eyed blonde, Resse Witherspoon is also a pretty decent actress as well. She’s got one Oscar and one Golden Globe to her credit. Both of those were for Walk the Line, the Johnny Cash biopic, where Witherspoon played June Carter Cash. And that was quite the turnabout from Legally Blonde, the light comedy where she first made her name. Oh, that weird first name? It’s her mother’s maiden name.
#31 Alabama – Tallalulah Bankhead
Here’s a tough one to place. First, Ms. Bankhead was mostly known for the stage, and in those days before Tonys and Obies and what-have-you. Second, her rather flamboyant lifestyle (smoking, drinking, bisexuality, taking her clothes off at parties) tended to overshadow her thespian skills. Nonetheless, she was quite the hit on Broadway, in London’s West End, and even in Hollywood. She actually came from a very aristocratic Southern family, counting senators and a speaker of the House of Representatives among her relatives.
#30 Washington – Carol Channing
Carol Channing was a star of stage, screen, and TV, but mostly stage. She’s actually won 4 Tonys, though all but 1 of those were special or lifetime achievement awards. And that last bit’s only fitting – at age 96, she is undoubtedly the grand old dame of the stage. (By the way, she also has a Golden Globe, for the film Thoroughly Modern Millie.)
If you’ve ever seen Carol, you will never forget her. I like this description of her from Life
She looks like an overgrown kewpie. She sings like a moon-mad hillbilly. Her dancing is crazily comic. And behind her saucer eyes is a kind of gentle sweetness that pleads for affection.
Two final things … Though she was born in Seattle, Carol’s family moved to California when she was only 2 weeks old. And I’ll bet you didn’t know that she is half Jewish and one quarter African-American.
#29 Missouri – Kevin Kline
An actor’s actor, Kevin Kline has won 2 Tonys and an Oscar. He also has an Emmy nomination and no less than 5 Golden Globe nods.
Hard to believe, but he made his screen debut in Sophie’s Choice, opposite Best Actress winner Meryl Streep (see below). I think most people will always associate him with The Big Chill though (well, at least people of my generation). What’s really funny about this talented thespian is that his biggest award, his only Oscar, was for A Fish Called Wanda. That said, he always was a wonderful comic actor.
#28 Hawaii – Bette Midler
Better known as a singer, Bette Midler actually started out acting in off-Broadway plays. After becoming a huge singing sensation in the ‘70s, she returned to acting, starring in such box office hits as Down and Out in Beverly Hills, The First Wives Club, and The Stepford Wives. Overall, she’s won 4 Golden Globes, 3 Emmys, and a Tony.
#27 Missouri – Brad Pitt
Pretty boy Brad Pitt has won one Oscar, one Golden Globe, and one Emmy. Interestingly, that Oscar was for production, on 12 Years a Slave. He’s pretty much box-office gold, with credits like Thelma & Louise, Fight Club, and Ocean’s Eleven. Of course, many people know him more for being Mr. Jennifer Aniston and Mr. Angelina Jolie.
#26 Kentucky – George Clooney
Arguably the most handsome actor ever, George Clooney came by his good looks quite naturally. His mom was a beauty queen and his dad was a TV news anchorman and game show host.
Don’t hate him because he’s beautiful though. He’s also quite a decent actor as well, with one Oscar and 3 Golden Globes to his credit. He earned another Oscar for producing 2016’s Best Picture, Argo. He’s atually set an Oscar record for being nominated in the most categories – 6 to be exact. At the same time, let’s not forget his 2 Emmy nominations. Those were for ER, where Clooney made his mark as Dr. Doug Ross.
And, finally, I’ll have you know that Clooney’s also been very busy saving the world. He is a United Nations Messenger for Peace and a member of the Council for Foreign Relations. He’s raised money for Haiti, Darfur, 9/11, and the 2004 tsunami. Time has him down as one the 100 Most Influential People in the World.
#25 Colorado – Douglas Fairbanks
Douglas Fairbanks was one of the big stars of the silent era. Known for swashbuckling action films such as Robin Hood, The Mark of Zorro, and the Thief of Baghdad, he also kept up quite a profile off the screen as well. In particular, he was a founding member of United Artists, helped found the Motion Picture Academy itself, and hosted the very first Academy Awards. He was also married to Mary Pickford, making them Hollywood’s first celebrity couple. He himself was known as the “King of Hollywood.” Given all that, it’s hard to say how good an actor he really was. Like a lot of silent stars, his career faded quickly with the advent of talkies.
#24 Utah – Loretta Young
Loretta Young is not a very familiar name these days. That said, she was a real beauty, was extremely popular, and won one Oscar and 3 Emmys. Those Emmys come from the very popular Loretta Young Show, which ran from 1953 through 1961. Overall, she worked for eight decades, from 1917 to 1989, totaling over 100 credits. By the way, Young lived in Utah only to age 2 before moving to LA.
#23 Georgia – Julia Roberts
Julia Roberts is one of the most successful actresses ever. She has generated $2.7 billion in box office receipts, and set a record with a salary of $25M for Sea Horse Smile. Very much a latter-day America’s sweetheart, she has starred in a number of romantic comedies, such as Pretty Woman, Notting Hill, Runaway Bride, and Mystic Pizza. That said, she also has serious side, with turns in Steel Magnolias, Eat Pray Love, and Erin Brokovich. Overall, she has one Oscar and 3 Golden Globes.
#22 Florida – Faye Dunaway
A high-cheek-boned beauty, Faye Dunaway was also quite a good actress. She’s been in such classics as Bonnie and Clyde, Chinatown, and Network. Altogether, she’s won as Oscar, an Emmy, and 3 Golden Globes.
Dunaway’s hometown of Bascom has just over 100 people. On the Alabama border in the middle of the Panhandle, it is pretty much in the middle of absolute nowhere.
#21 Tennessee – Kathy Bates
Kathy Bates has won an Oscar, 2 Emmys, and 2 Golden Globes. She started out in theatre, starring in plays such as Vanities; Come Back to the 5 and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean; and ‘night Mother. She caught her big break on the silver screen with Misery, based on the book by Stephen King. Lately, she starred in the TV show American Horror Story.
#20 Mississippi – James Earl Jones
James Earl Jones is known primarily for his gravelly basso profundo voice. In addition to being the voice of CNN, he is also the voice of Darth Vader in the Star Wars series and of Mustafa in The Lion King. He’s much more than a pretty voice though, and counts an Oscar, Tony, Golden Globe, and 3 Emmys to his credit.
BTW, Arkabutla is an unincorporated community too small for me to find any population numbers on it. Jones would actually, though, grow up in Michigan.
#19 South Carolina – Viola Davis
Viola Davis has made something of a career of winning major acting awards. These include Oscars, Golden Globes, Emmys, Tonys, and Obies. In fact, Davis was the first African-American to win acting’s Triple Crown. Though born in SC, she actually moved to Rhode Island at the age of 2 months.
#18 Illinois – William Holden
A very popular actor during the ‘50s, ‘60s, and ‘70s, William Holden was best known for his cynical yet heroic persona. He starred in such classics as The Bridge on the River Kwai, Picnic, The Wild Bunch, and Sunset Boulevard. He won an Oscar for Stalag 17, offering a mere “Thank you” for his acceptance speech. He also won an Emmy, and was rated the 25th best actor of all time by the American Film Institute. By the way, though Holden was a native Illinoisan, he moved to California at age 3.
#17 Iowa – John Wayne
Ah, the Duke himself. As popular and iconic as he was, John Wayne was also something of a caricature. His shtick worked great in Westerns (and his work in movies such as Stagecoach and True Grit is pretty darn good), but every role was pretty much the same. That said, he did work for 6 decades, totaled not quite 180 credits, and won an Oscar and a Golden Globe.
You may already know that “the Duke” was actually born the somewhat-less-than-macho Marion Morrison. I’ll bet you didn’t know, though, that he had a football scholarship at USC (and, yes, he’s another one who moved to the Golden State at an early age).
#16 Michigan – Ellen Burstyn
Like #19 Viola Davis, Ellen Burstyn is another Triple Crown winner. Her totals include two Best Actress Oscars, for The Exorcist and Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore. Overall, she has 155 credits and is still very busy at age 84. Interestingly, Burstyn was actually born Edna Rae Gillooly, and got her start as a Here We Go Dancer on The Jackie Gleason Show.
#15 Kansas – Buster Keaton
Though Buster Keaton dates way back to the silent era, he is nonetheless a very familiar name (as is that trademark deadpan expression of his). As a matter of fact, Roger Ebert once called Keaton “arguably, the greatest actor–director in the history of the movies.” And Orson Welles considered Keaton’s The General the “cinema's highest achievement in comedy.” Finally, I’ll have you know that the American Film Institute voted him the #21 actor of all time.
#14 Minnesota – Judy Garland
C’mon, we’re talking about Dorothy here. She should be #1, right? Hard as it is for me to believe, Judy Garland notched only a Golden Globe and a Tony. That said, she was also something of a nomination queen – I’m talking 2 Oscars, 3 Golden Globes, and 3 Emmys. A pretty serious singer, she also won 2 Grammys as well.
Bet you didn’t know she was born Frances Gumm. And, continuing a theme that’s been pretty much a constant in this post, I’ll have you know that Ms. Garland ditched the Gopher State for the Golden State at age 4.
#13 Texas – Joan Crawford
Mommie Dearest aside, Joan Crawford was actually a pretty decent actress. In addition to an Oscar and a Golden Globe, she also came in as the #10 actress of all time, according to the American Film Institute. Most people remember her for Mildred Pierce, though I always liked Whatever Happened to Baby Jane. ;^) With over 100 credits, her career spanned 6 decades, from the ‘20s (and some silents) to the ‘70s.
BTW, did you know she was born Lucille LaSueur? Wow! You’d think that’d be the name the studios would have given poor little Joanie Crawford instead.
#12 Montana – Gary Cooper
I always thought Gary Copper was a tad wooden, but I may be the only one who does. Most people see him as the classic American hero – a strong, silent type, with a natural, authentic, understated style. Well, he must have been doing something right. I’ve got him down for a 35-year career, 80-some leading roles, and 2 best actor Oscars. And the American Film Institute ranks him #11 in their list of the 50 greatest actors. By the way, Cooper was a real, honest-to-goodness cowboy, working on the family ranch while growing up.
#11 Virginia – Shirley MacLaine
I feel a little sorry for Shirley MacLaine. She’s actually quite talented, and has won an Oscar for Best Actress (and been nominated 6 times), 8 Golden Globes (5 of which were “competitive”), and 1 Emmy. She’s actually been making movies since 1955 – and is still active today.
Unfortunately, she’s mostly known for her wacky New Age beliefs. One of these is that “in a previous life in Atlantis, she was the brother to a 35,000-year-old spirit named Ramtha.” On the other hand, did you know that her real brother is Warren Beatty?
#10 Indiana – James Dean
Are you aware that James Dean died when he was all of 24 years of age? Somehow or other, though, he managed to win 2 Golden Globes and garner 2 Oscar nominations. Hard to believe, but he was in only 8 films. Of course, three of those were East of Eden, Rebel Without a Cause, and Giant. All that said, Humphrey Bogart once summed up Dean’s career well: “Dean died at just the right time. He left behind a legend. If he had lived, he'd never have been able to live up to his publicity.”
#9 Wisconsin – Spencer Tracy
Okay, now we’re getting into true Hollywood royalty. Spencer Tracy won 2 Best Actor Oscars and set a record for nominations with 9 (well, for guys, that is). The AFI ranks him as the #9 actor of all-time.
Tracy was especially admired by his peers, with Bogart, Gable, Cagney, and others considering him the best actor they knew. He was particularly known for his effortless, natural style, and for being the consummate professional. As evidence for that last point, Tracy completed his final film, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner (for which we won his final Oscar), just 17 days before his death. On a more personal side, Tracy will always be associated with Katherine Hepburn (see below), both professionally and romantically.
#8 Ohio – Clark Gable
Darryl V. Zanuck once dismissed Clark Gable by saying that, “His ears are too big and he looks like an ape.” Somehow or other, though, Gable went on to become one of the biggest stars and sex symbols of all time.
IMDb points out that Gable made a specialty of playing a “virile, lovable rogue whose gruff facade only thinly masked a natural charm and goodness.” Could there be a better example of that than his Rhett Butler in GWTW?
Surprisingly, Gable came up a little short in the award department. He won only one Oscar, and was nominated for only two others. The AFI has him ranked #7 all time.
#7 Connecticut – Katherine Hepburn
Dorothy Parker once said of Katherine Hepburn that her acting ran “the gamut of emotions from A to B.” I’ve actually always felt the same. I’m afraid the Great Kate is just not my cup of tea.
That said, she did win a record 4 Best Actress awards, as well as receiving 12 Best Actress nominations, also a record. And, I must admit, the films she got those nominations for – The Philadelphia Story, The African Queen, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, The Lion in Winter – are certainly some of the best ever made. The AFI has her down as the greatest actress ever.
Perhaps it’s her independent, spirited personality – the very essence of the “modern woman” – that made her so respected, popular, influential … and so ahead of her time.
#6 Massachusetts – Bette Davis
Bette Davis won 2 Best Actress awards, out of 10 nominations overall (and was nominated 5 years in a row – a record). And that’s when specializing in rather challenging, not-so-likeable characters. Her top films include such classics as Jezebel; Dangerous; Of Human Bondage; Now, Voyager; and All About Eve. Over 6 decades, she notched 124 credits. AFI considers her the #2 actress ever.
#5 California – Dustin Hoffman
So, this state was well-nigh impossible. Pretty much half of the greatest actors and actresses of all time were born in the state that also just happens to be the home of Hollywood itself. I’m talking about Gregory Peck, Clint Eastwood, Tom Hanks, Leonardo di Caprio …
Dustin Hoffmann, though, leads the pack with 2 Best Actor Oscars, 7 nominations overall, 6 Golden Globes, 13 Golden Globe nominations, and even 2 Emmys. He’s super versatile, but with a real penchant for antiheroes (“Elaine!!!”). His major movies include The Graduate, Straw Dogs, Midnight Cowboy, Little Big Man, Marathon Man, Rain Man, All the President’s Men, Kramer Vs. Kramer, Lenny, Tootsie, …
#4 Pennsylvania – James Stewart
At this point, we’re pretty much getting into my personal faves. So, if you don’t like my rankings …. well, tough.
James Stewart (I can’t help thinking of him as Jimmy) was a beloved everyman, with an endearing shyness, stutter and drawl, and with plenty of boyish, aw-shucks charm. I mean, how can you not like Jimmy Stewart?
Frank Capra was definitely able to bring that persona out, in such classics as It’s a Wonderful Life and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. Another favorite director, though, was Alfred Hitchcock, who had him in Rear Window, Vertigo, and several others.
Overall, Stewart netted 2 Oscars out of 5 nominations. He also netted 2 Golden Globes, though his career was a little early to win all of those that he might have.
Did you know that Stewart was a Princeton grad? How about that he was a pilot in WWII and retired as a Brigadier General in the USAF Reserves?
#3 New York – Humphrey Bogart
Bogie! Could there be a more iconic actor than this guy?
I mean, c’mon … Casablanca, The Maltese Falcon, Key Largo, The Big Sleep, High Sierra, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, Dark Passage, The African Queen … Need I say more?
Here are a few things you probably didn’t know about Bogie though:
- He was born on Christmas day
- His father was a heart surgeon and his mother was a well-known graphic artist
- He attended (and was expelled from) tony prep school Phillips Andover
- His trademark lisp came from an incident while he was in the Navy (battle-related in some stories, trying to take in a drunken sailor in others)
- He was a founding member of the Rat Pack
#2 Nebraska – Marlon Brando
Love him or hate him, this guy changed how actors act. His realism was truly ground-breaking, and all serious actors since have labored in his shadow. He also just so happened to be a truly great artist, inhabiting his roles like few others. We’re talking A Streetcar Named Desire, The Godfather, On the Waterfront, The Wild One, even Viva Zapata and Apocalypse Now … And we’re also talking 2 Oscars (and 8 nominations), 4 Golden Globes (and 9 nominations), and even 1 Emmy as well.
Of course, he was also a little crazy. His personal life was more than a little over the top. We’re talking 3 marriages, at least 16 children (fathered in and out of marriages), family scandals, rumors of bisexuality, fistfights, being notoriously difficult to work with, eccentric political stances, reclusiveness (in his later years) …
#1 New Jersey – Meryl Streep
No other actor has become their character quite like Meryl Streep – from Karen Silkwood to Julia Child to Margaret Thatcher to the French Lieutenant’s Woman to Florence Foster Jenkins. Her incredible facility with accents certainly helps, but what it really comes down to is her remarkable work ethic and absolute perfectionism.
As for awards, she’s set a record with 20 Oscar nominations (and 3 wins). Ditto with Golden Globes (30 nominations and 8 awards). She’s even won 2 Emmys, and scored a Tony nomination as well.
And, through it all, she actually seems to be quite a normal, decent person. Bully for you, Meryl!