ROY ACUFF (b. 1903) The ”King of Country” recorded seminal country hits like ”Wreck on the Highway” and ”Great Speckle Bird” with an emotional intensity few could match. A Grand Ole Opry performer since 1938, he cofounded the Acuff-Rose Publishing Co., which helped establish Nashville as a legitimate center of the music business. That fact was not lost on him; as he once said, ”I’m a seller, not a singer.”
PETER ALLEN (b. 1944) Discovered by Judy Garland in the Hong Kong Hilton in 1964 (he was married to her daughter Liza Minnelli from 1967-74), the ebullient Australian dazzled audiences with showy concert renditions of tunes like ”I Go to Rio” and ”Quiet Please, There’s a Lady Onstage.” His ”I Honestly Love You” won two Grammys in 1974, and in 1981 he became the first man allowed to join the Radio City Rockettes’ kick line.
NESTOR ALMENDROS (b. 1930) The cinematographer made gorgeous substance out of light and shadow for directors Francois Truffaut (The Last Metro), Alan Pakula (Sophie’s Choice), Eric Rohmer (Pauline at the Beach), and Robert Benton (Kramer vs. Kramer), winning an Oscar for Terence Malick’s 1978 film, Days of Heaven.
ISAAC ASIMOV (b. 1920) A founder of modern science fiction, the amazingly prolific Asimov wrote nearly 500 books on topics ranging from the Bible to robots to Gilbert and Sullivan; in 1966 fans voted his Foundation Trilogy a Hugo award as the best all-time sci-fi series.
ALLAN BLOOM (b. 1930) The quintessential curmudgeonly professor launched the backlash against curriculum reform in American universities with his 1987 bestseller, The Closing of the American Mind. Derided by critics as a sexist, elitist antiquarian, Bloom’s yearning for a return to Western ”great books” struck a nerve with other academic traditionalists.
SHIRLEY BOOTH (b. 1898) Few actresses could rival the glories of Shirley Booth’s career: three Tonys, two Emmys, and an Oscar for a lifetime of winning performances that included TV’s compassionate maid Hazel, lonely housewife Lola Delaney in the stage and film versions of Come Back, Little Sheba, and some 40 other Broadway plays. The New York Times‘ drama critic Brooks Atkinson once wrote of Booth: ”No one else in the theater has made native decency so human, so triumphant and so captivating.”
JOHN CAGE (b. 1912) The world’s foremost exploratory composer influenced every art with his ceaseless experiments, paving the way for Philip Glass’ operas, Jasper Johns’ paintings, and the choreography of his longtime companion, Merce Cunningham. Life itself was artful for Cage, a view he once expressed by saying, ”There is no noise, only sound.”
LAURIE COLWIN (b. 1944) She warmed readers, body and soul, with her fiction and recipe/essay collection. In 1990’s Goodbye Without Leaving, she wrote: ”I followed my boy, whose coppery hair flopped into his eyes. I thought of what he would be, what I had been, of the old man he would turn into whom I would never know. The journey seemed impossibly strange, amazingly long, and over in a flash.”