Celebrity Hoosiers Abound


SLIGHTLY OFF THE MARK

            A lot of great or famous people come from Indiana. (You can be famous without being great, of course – especially these days.) I recently read of the death of a man who isn’t well known, but probably should be – a man who hailed from Professor Harold Hill’s favorite place, Gary, Indiana.

            Gary is, of course, the former stomping grounds of the Jackson family, who have some small amount of talent in the singing and dancing field. People like that tend to migrate from The Middle to the Coasts, where the entertainment jobs are, so Michael and his kin are often thought of as Californians.

            Much as I love Indiana, I can see a certain advantage of being in California … especially around, say, January.

            The man I’m speaking of is Ralph McQuarrie, and if you haven’t heard of him you’ve definitely heard of the jobs he was involved with. McQuarrie, who sure enough moved to California, died this month at the age of 82.

            Some celebrities came to Indiana, some stayed, and some moved on. (That’s why we can claim Abe Lincoln, who didn’t stick around.) John Chapman came from Massachusetts, but headed out looking for a state he could more easily spell. Looking to keep him busy and out of trouble, John’s father (a former Minuteman at Concord) apprenticed him as an orchardist, which is a real word. As a result, John’s purported burial place in Fort Wayne is now called Johnny Appleseed Park.

            There was also Ambrose Burnside, a Civil War general whose odd facial hair gave us the term sideburns; Benjamin Harrison, who lived in the White House for a short time before he traded it in for dying; actors Brendan Fraser, Carole Lombard, Shelley Long, Steve McQueen, and James Dean, among others; that David Letterman fellow; and of course Tony Stewart, famous for driving in circles … much like anyone trying to drive around Indianapolis.

            Speaking of trying to find your way around Indianapolis, aviator Amelia Earhart is from Indiana and so, perhaps ironically, is Wilbur Wright. Also Jim Davis, although talking about his creation (Garfield) makes me sneeze.

            Then there were more notorious Hoosiers: bank robber John Dillinger; D.C. Stephenson, Grand Hoopla of the Klu Klux Klan and all-around nasty guy; and of course Jimmy Hoffa, who for all we know might still be here.

            Ralph McQuarrie wasn’t as famous as those people, but he also didn’t end up in prison or cement overshoes.

            There were even some fairly well known people who lived right here in my area. For instance, Earl Butz (stop it, that was his name) came from the Albion area to become Secretary of Agriculture, and Kendallville’s Brad Miller is apparently a pretty good basketball player.

I don’t follow basketball, but as a writer I appreciate knowing I share a county with the home of author Gene Stratton-Porter, whose books were turned into movies just as mine are going to be. (It’s important to have confidence, people!) Also from here was Arthur F. Mapes, Indiana State Poet Laureate, who wrote the official state poem. It starts with: “There once was a lady from Muncie …”

            Then there’s Ford Frick, a fellow writer from Wawaka (where you’ll find a company of the same name). He must have pursued his dreams, because he became Commissioner of Major League Baseball.

            As far as professions are concerned, maybe my favorite Hoosier celebrity is Jamie Hyneman, who became famous as one of the Mythbusters. Blowing up stuff for a living? That’s what I’m talkin’ about.

            Oh yeah – you’re probably still wondering about Ralph McQuarrie.

Well, a long time ago a young movie maker asked him to do some design work for a proposed motion picture. McQuarrie didn’t think anything would come of it – after reading the script, he decided it would be too expensive to make – but he did paintings of a gold-plated robot in a desert, and a villain in a Samurai-inspired helmet. Then, because the movie opening took place in space, he put a breathing apparatus on the black-clad bad guy.

            The movie had already been rejected by United Artists and Universal but, when they saw McQuarrie’s drawings, 20th Century Fox execs green lighted it.

            They called the movie Star Wars, and it probably never would have been made without McQuarrie’s art of clashing lightsabers and battling spaceships.

            Oh, and here’s something fun: McQuarrie even made an appearance in the series, playing a Rebel general in the second movie. Still, I would guess the artist, who started out doing animation for CB S News coverage of the Apollo space program, preferred to stick to his first love. In addition to providing illustrations and concepts for the first three Star Wars movies, he worked on Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Raiders of the Lost Ark, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, Star Trek IV, and Jurassic Park, among others.

            It’s that kind of behind the scenes work that brings us the spectacular entertainment we’ve come to expect, so we should all be glad people like McQuarrie brought their considerable talent to Hollywood. It’s nice to know Indiana does its share, too … makes you wonder where the next big Hoosier find will come from, doesn’t it?

            Hopefully it’ll be somebody who owes me money.