The 11 Greatest Clevelanders

There’s famous people from Cleveland? Of course! And some lifelong Clevelanders may not even know who’s resided in our fair city. Possibly the best looking actor and the most beautiful actress, a man whose face we’ve seen on canned goods since childhood, and the wealthiest American ever. Some don’t make this list because they only lived here for a short time (like Tom Hanks) and you gotta stop somewhere. But here’s 11. Maybe it’ll spark a debate…

I want an explosion the size of Cleveland.Joel Silver

Paul Newman: Cleveland’s greatest citizen. Possibly America’s greatest humanitarian. Grew up in Shaker Heights. His father owned Newman-Stern, a well-known sporting goods store downtown. Nominated for 9 Academy Awards, he’s probably the greatest male (we see you Meryl Streep) actor ever. Yet, he won only one one acting Oscar for the 9th best performance he was nominated for (sorry Color of Money fans). A champion race care aficionado, he created dozens of camps for kids around the world with serious illnesses and started a food company that’s given half a billion dollars to charity. As CBS News said at the time of his death in 2008, “Nobody’s perfect. But as an actor, and as a humanitarian, Paul Newman was close.”

Bob Hope: This legendary performer may have been born in England but his formative years were spent right here on Cleveland’s east side. He started performing as a child, including on trolleys in Cleveland to earn money. A lifelong Indians fan, and one-time minority owner, he’s been honored by having the Carnegie-Lorain bridge renamed the Hope Memorial Bridge in his honor in 1983.

Halle Berry: 90 years after they started giving out Academy Awards, Halle Berry remains the only African-American woman to receive an Oscar for Best Actress. Raised on Cleveland’s east side, Berry graduated from Bedford High School before becoming a pageant queen, winning Miss Ohio in 1986. As her film career blossomed, Berry actually won an Emmy for the HBO movie in which she played, not coincidentally, another Cleveland native Dorothy Dandridge, who happened to be the first African-American woman nominated for Best Actress. Indeed, the two women were born in the same hospital. 

Ettore (Hector) Boiardi aka Chef Boyardee: Born in Italy, he emigrated to New York at the age of 16 and eventually became head chef at the famous Plaza Hotel there. But, he became even better known after opening his first restaurant in Cleveland in 1924, Il Giardino d’Italia (which translates to The Garden of Italy). By 1928, after people routinely asked how they could make Italian food themselves,  he began the process of mass marketing Italian specialties that would make him a household name to this day. At first the meals were boxed though as we all know today, it comes in cans as well. During his time here he lived in Cleveland Heights and Shaker Heights and after dying Parma, he is buried in Chardon.

Drew Carey: Born and raised on Cleveland’s west side in the Old Brooklyn neighborhood (though his show seems to be set in Parma), Carey became the face of the city due to his popular 1990s-era sitcom The Drew Carey show and this was especially true during the ’90s and early ’00’s when he was the nation’s #1 Cleveland Indians fan. For the past decade plus he has been the host of the “Price is Right,” giving people who are sick from school or work something to watch on TV. 

Arsenio Hall: Arsenio’s impact upon culture has in many ways been forgotten since his peak in the early 1990s with his late night TV show “The Arsenio Hall Show.” But his show was in many ways electric, and had a major impact about the landscape of television and especially late night TV during the so-called late night wars of the early and mid-90s. Not only did he look different than most talk show hosts, his show was less about comedy and more, if you will, about fun with guests whose cultural background often prohibited them from appearing on other late night shows. He’s a graduate of Warrensville Heights High School and as a kid, began his show business career by performing magic and parties and events.

Steve Harvey: Born in West Virginia, Harvey’s family moved to Cleveland when he was young, and he grew up on East 112th Street, which now bears his name. After graduating from Glenville High School, the comedian got his start in show business by performing at Hilarities Comedy Club for the first time in 1985. After several years with his own popular sitcom, “The Steve Harvey Show,” he’s now the host of “The Family Feud” (daytime game shows becoming a late-career goldmine for one-time Cleveland comics apparently).

Toni Morrison: Born Chloe Ardelia Wofford, and reared in Lorain by parents who’d moved to Ohio to escape the racism of the South, Morrison became one of the most honored writers of her generation. Her book, Beloved , won the Pulitzer Prize in 1988 and catapulted her to literary stardom. In 2012, she was honored with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, just one more of the many laurels bestowed upon her. 

Jesse Owens: “The Buckeye Bullet,” whose real name was James Cleveland Owens (talk about destiny!) was born in Alabama, but like Toni Morrison’s family, they moved north to Cleveland to seek out better opportunities when Jesse was 9. While living on East 100th Street, Owens attended East Tech, tying world running records while still only in high school. He attended Ohio State and then in 1936 ran into the annals of history with his performance at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin (where Anglo-Saxon Nazism ruled the day), winning 4 gold medals in sprints, long jump, and relay.

Harvey Pekar: The curmudgeonly comic book author whose unique worldview would make him a cult superstar, grew up on Kinsman and would graduate from Shaker Heights High School. He famously worked as a file clerk at the Cleveland VA, even after achieving fame. He started his comic and graphic novel exploits in 1972, with the first issue of American Splendor coming out in 1976. The city of Cleveland would be a constant companion in his writings. He was perhaps most widely known for his frequent appearances on Late Night with David Letterman, where the host seemed equal parts enthralled and appalled by the Clevelander. (If you haven’t seen the movie American Splendor, released in 2003 and starring Paul Giamatti, do yourself a favor and find it.) Pekar died in 2010 at his home in Cleveland Heights and two years later the Cleveland Heights-University Heights Library on Lee Road unveiled a statue of him. He’s buried at Lakeview Cemetery.

John D. Rockefeller: He was the wealthiest American of his time and perhaps of all time. He was born in upstate New York, but when he was 13 the family moved to Strongsville. His father was the epitome of a “snake-oil salesman” whose own behavior was probably a driving force behind Rockefeller’s drive and ambition. He started as a clerk in downtown Cleveland at the age of 16 and by the end of the Civil War, his career in the oil industry was in full bloom. For the next 70 years he would be one of the most despised men in the country due to his wealth, monopolistic tendencies, and harsh treatment of competitors. Nevertheless he was also one of America’s greatest philanthropists and his wealth continues to provide funding to nonprofit organizations to this day. So, your view on Rockefeller might be a true reflection of your own worldview. He is also buried at Lakeview Cemetery, with a massive obelisk marking his final resting place. 


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