Despite being labeled “Kenowhere” by some of its population, the city of Kenosha, and Kenosha County, has served as the birthplace and home of quite a few famous and successful people.
The list of Kenoshans who have touched the nation and impacted the world is actually quite extensive, so for brevity’s sake, here are seven notable people you might not have known were born in Kenosha, Wis.
7. Orson Welles (actor/writer/director)
Okay, so you probably knew this one. It seems that one can’t talk to any film buff in the local area without the mention that Kenosha served as the birthplace of the director, writer and actor of “Citizen Kane” himself. Welles was born in a home in the Library Park District of the city on May 6, 1915.
Welles lived in the city until he was 5 years old, at which time his parents separated, and young Welles moved to Chicago. Welles started acting on the stage in the 1930s, making his New York stage debut in 1934. In the late 30s, Welles produced "The Mercury Theatre on the Air" with John Houseman. The theatre became famous for its broadcast version of "The War of the Worlds."
Wells went on to have a successful career as a writer, actor and director, winning an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay for “Citizen Kane,” as well as many other accolades throughout his career.
He died on Oct. 10, 1985 at the age of 70.
Though long dead, his final film, "The Other Side of the Wind," was released on Netflix in 2018. The Netflix plot synopsis for the film reads, "On the last day of his life, a legendary director struggles to complete a new project and contemplates his legacy."
6. Al Molinaro (actor)
Can one think of “Happy Days” without the image of Arnold Drive-In owner Al Delvecchio popping up in their mind?
Yes, the distinguished face of Al Delvecchio belongs to none other than Kenoshan Al Molinaro.
Born in Kenosha on June 24, 1919, Molinaro grew up in the Columbus Park neighborhood of the city as the son of Italian immigrants from Calabria, Italy.
In fact, Molinaro’s father was a leader of the Kenosha Italian community, his brother served as district attorney and a municipal judge, and another sibling served in the state Assembly.
While his family stayed in the area for most of their lives, a starry-eyed Molinaro left Kenosha in his early twenties, heading off to the West Coast to pursue an acting dream.
Molinaro died on Oct. 30, 2015, at the age of 96.
5. John Stephenson (actor/voice actor)
Younger members of the community will probably look at John Stephenson’s name and say, “Who?” However, older Kenoshans will most likely recognize his voice if they watched cartoons as a child.
Stephenson, born in Kenosha on Aug. 9, 1923, worked for Hanna-Barbera Productions for a few decades, providing voice work for characters on “Top Cat,” “Scooby-Doo,” “Breezly and Sneezly,” “Squiddly Diddly,” and “The Atom Ant/Secret Squirrel Show,” among others.
He also voiced Mr. Arable in the 1976 cartoon film adaptation of "Charlotte's Web."
However, most notably, he provided the voice for Fred Flinstone’s boss, Mr. Slate, on “The Flinstones” throughout the series’ original run and beyond.
He also served as the end narrator of the show “Dragnet” (1967-1970), recapping the fate of criminals at the end of every episode.
Don Ameche, born May 31, 1908, as Dominic Felix Amici, was an American actor who performed on the radio, on television and in film, enjoying a long career from the 1930s into the 1990s.
Ameche started his film career with an uncredited part in a 1935 production of “Dante’s Inferno” produced by Fox Corporation, later 20th Century Fox. He garnered his first leading roles in Fox’s production of “Sins of Man” in 1936 and in Ramona, the studio’s first color film.
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Among the roles Ameche is most remembered for is “The Story of Alexander Graham Bell” in 1939 — which, according to a 1993 article in The Gazette (Cedar Rapids-Iowa City) led to a generation of people referring to a telephone as the “ameche”.
Though Ameche’s film career slowed in the late 1940s, he found it resurrected with a role in the 1983 Eddie Murphy/Dan Aykroyd comedy “Trading Places.” And in 1986, he won an Academy Award for his role in the film “Cocoon”.
The last films of Ameche’s career were “Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey” and “Corrina, Corrina,” which was completed days before his death on Dec. 6, 1993, in Scottzdale, Ariz.
3. Margaret Landon (author)
It is quite possible that many do not know Landon or have heard of her name; however, one could bet top money that you know a film her work inspired: “The King and I”.
Yes, Landon, born Sept. 7, 1903, in Somers, Wis., penned the book “Anna and the King of Siam” — based on Anna Leonowens, a governess in the court of King Mongkut — that later was adapted by 20th Century Fox in 1946.
Landon wrote the book while raising her first three children with her husband Kenneth while serving as Presbyterian missionaries and running a mission school in Trang in Siam (Thailand), while reading extensively about the country.
It was during this time that she learned of the late 19th-century governess and felt inspired to write about her when the family returned to America in 1937, publishing the book in 1944.
Landon lived to be 90 years old, dying in Alexandria, Va., on Dec. 4, 1993.
2. Jim Rygiel (visual effects)
There is no doubt that many local residents and people all over the world have seen the work of Jim Rygiel in some form.
Born Feb. 17, 1955, in the city of Kenosha, where he grew up and attended St. Joseph Catholic High School, Rygiel has made a name for himself in the visual effects field, working on big films such as “Godzilla” (2014), “The Amazing Spider-Man,” “The Last of the Mohicans,” “The Lord of the Rings” series, and, in an odd connection to another Kenosha County resident, “Anna and the King”, among many other films.
He has also served as the visual effects supervisor on such TV shows as “American Horror Story,” “Preacher,” “Lost in Space (2019),” “The Orville,” “True Detective,” “Preacher” and “American Crime Story”, just to name a few.
Rygiel started his career in visual effects in 1980, joining Pacific Electric Pictures, according to his Linkedin page, before moving on to Digital Productions in 1983.
In 1989, Rygiel formed and headed a computer animation department for Boss Film Studios, during which time he supervised films such as “Starship Troopers, Air Force One”, “Cliffhanger,” “Batman Returns,” “Alien III,” and “Ghost.”
In 2002, he received both an Academy Award and the British Academy of Film and Television arts award for Best Visual Effects for his work on “Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring.”
Rygiel continues to work in his field and is currently serves as the executive visual effects supervisor at FuseFX in Los Angeles.
1. Mark Ruffalo (actor)
Were you turning green with anger the further down the list you got without seeing a mention of this actor?
That’s right, the Hulk is from Kenosha.
Mark Ruffalo, born Nov. 22, 1967, in Kenosha, has had a career spanning from the stage to arguably the biggest film franchise of all time.
Ruffalo first got noticed on the stage in an off-Broadway production of “This is Our Youth,” winning a Lucille Award for Best Actor. After gaining attention on stage, Ruffalo transitioned to film through his role in the film “You Can Count on Me” in 2000.
After rave reviews from his performance, Ruffalo would go on to star in such films as “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,” “Zodiac”, “Shutter Island” and “The Kids are Alright”.
However, in recent years, Ruffalo has been most recognized for his role as Bruce Banner/The Hulk in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, from the first “Avengers” film through the culmination of the first three phases of the Marvel universe films in “Avengers: Endgame”, and possibly into future phases of the cinematic universe.
Ruffalo can next be seen in the film "Dark Waters", which will be released in theaters on Nov. 22.
In the end, Ruffalo, and others on this list, prove that one can gain accolades, attention, fame and do notable things with their life — even if they’re from “Kenowhere.”
Do you know of other notable people from Kenosha County that deserve a spot on this list? Send them to Kenosha News Digital Editor Daniel Thompson at email@example.com.