Prior to Terms of Endearment (1983) and a handful of Alexander Payne films shot there, the state's main ties to the movie industry were Boys Town (1938)—set in Lincoln and Omaha, but shot in Culver City—and a number of personalities who left the plains to work in Hollywood. Here's a look at some of the memorable talents to come from the Cornhusker State.
Omaha-born Frederick Austerlitz—later known as Fred Astaire—began his career in 1905 at the age of five and, with sister Adele as half of his vaudeville act, subsequently toured the country on the Orpheum circuit.
Prolific character actor Ward Bond began his movie career in 1928 and went on to appear in dozens of John Ford-directed films as well as classics like It Happened One Night (1934) and Gone With the Wind (1939). Bond was born in the small town of Benkelman, Nebraska, in 1903.
Marlon Brando was born in Omaha on April 3, 1924. Acting ran in his family—at least his immediate family. His mother was an actress in local amateur theater and later became director of the Omaha Community Playhouse. His sister Jocelyn also hit the boards, eventually heading to New York to pursue a career as a professional. Marlon followed suit in 1943 and...well, you know the rest.
"I keep my family out of my public life because it can be an awful nuisance to them," Montgomery Clift once said. "What's my mother going to tell strangers anyway? That I was a cute baby and that she's terribly proud of me? Nuts. Who cares?" The cute baby in question—born in Omaha, Nebraska, in 1920—made his Broadway debut at the age of 14 in Fly Away Home.
Sandy Dennis was born in Hastings, lived in Kenesaw for a bit and ended up in Lincoln, attending high school with Dick Cavett. At age 19, with a little acting experience from the Lincoln Community Theater Group under her belt, Dennis headed to New York to try her luck on Broadway. Her luck was very, very good.
Henry Fonda was born in Grand Island, Nebraska, and eventually found his way to Omaha, where he appeared under the direction of Dorothy Brando, Marlon’s mother, at the Omaha Community Playhouse. From there, Fonda went east and joined the Cape Cod University Players before finding acclaim on Broadway.
Harold Lloyd was born in 1893 in Buchard, Nebraska and made his stage debut in Tess of the d’Urbervilles at the Burwood Stock Company in Omaha. An accident settlement of $3,000 allowed him and his father to leave the midwest for one of the coasts. They flipped a coin, the west coast won, and the Lloyds made their living in San Diego, where the future silent film comic met director Hal Roach during a local movie shoot. The rest, gentle reader, is history.
Dorothy McGuire, born in Omaha in 1916, became an Omaha Community Playhouse player when cast in their production of A Kiss for Cinderella. Educated in Omaha, Indianapolis and Wellesley, Massachusetts, McGuire eventually made it to Broadway and was brought to Hollywood by David O. Selznick.
Robert Taylor, born in Filley in 1911, had this to say about the folks in his home state: “It's happens that I like the people of Nebraska. They're the best, the most hospitable, the most honest, the most trustworthy people in our whole darned country.” As a teen in Nebraska, he was an athlete, an orator and a cellist. As a young man in California, he was a medical student and an actor at Pomona College. In 1934, a talent scout spotted him and he was signed for a contract at MGM, where he worked for the next 24 years.
In 1902, Wahoo served as the birthplace of one of Hollywood’s most prominent studio heads. The story goes that Darryl F. Zanuck’s father was a hotel night clerk, his mother the daughter of the hotels’s owner and their marriage a bit of a flop. Abandoned by mom and pop by the time he was 13, Zanuck soon afterwards joined the army, held odd jobs and eventually sold a movie idea to Irving Thalberg. A genius for recognizing good stories for the silver screen made for a fast rise up the Hollywood ladder, and Zanuck became head of production at Warner Bros. at the age of 23. He formed 20th Century Films in 1933 and, two years later, helped create 20th Century Fox.