South Philly will never lack for character or characters. Residents of and visitors to this stretch of the city will always find reasons to revel for their lot in life. While I enjoy chronicling the aspirations and achievements of today’s crop of inhabitants, I do often ponder what wonders might have come from living among and/or interviewing the figures listed below. I have certainly met some notable individuals during my life, but the more, the merrier. Here then is a list of South Philadelphians whom I wish I could have met.
10) Harry Harp: I love a good dose of difficulty occasionally, but I crave comfort most of the time. Being the father of a four-year-old who loves to stay hydrated, I have St. John Neumann High School product Harry Harp, the inventor of the flexible straw, to thank for my never becoming bent out of shape when my son is thirsty.
9) Paul Arizin: An alumnus of St. Monica School, this sharpshooter starred at Villanova University and logged 12 years playing for the Philadelphia Warriors, making 10 All-Star teams, claiming two NBA scoring championships, and winning the 1956 league champion. Though he died a little more than nine years ago, I would still pick him to launch crucial jumpers before I would even consider a current 76er.
8) Irvin Kershner: I do not care how many “Star Wars” films come to delight our eyes. NOTHING will ever top “The Empire Strikes Back,” the fifth episode in the saga. The Whitman product directed 14 other films, but the geek in me would want to hear about how he felt when giving James Earl Jones his cue to say “No, I am your father.”
7) Edward “Babe” Heffron: Anyone involved in the protection of my country merits my respect, so this Pennsport native, whose World War II feats as a member of the “Easy” Company, part of the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division, inspired the “Band of Brothers” miniseries, would receive a salute and two very eager ears if he were still alive.
6) Mario Lanza: Born Alfred Arnold Cocozza, one of Bella Vista’s finest logged only 38 years on this earth; however, he filled them with such memorable experiences and performances that he has started to change my mind about opera, with which I have never had a strong connection.
5) Marian Anderson: How many people have you known who so easily make apparent that they are rare gems? This South of South native, whom conductor Arturo Toscanini lauded as having a voice that “one hears once in a hundred years,” was one such polished paragon of perfection.
4) John Marzano: Hailing from Passyunk Square, John Marzano played for three teams, including my beloved Boston Red Sox, in his career. Nearly eight years after his passing, his name lives on through an eponymous scout league and in the stories of those who admired his tenacious approach and sincere gratitude for having a shot in the big leagues.
3) Larry Fine: Louis Feinberg, known professionally as Larry Fine, had been my favorite Stooge long before I learned he was born in Queen Village. When I had that fact pointed out to me, I mentally replayed so many of his gags and thought, “Of course he’s from South Philly. We patented silliness.”
2) Frank Rizzo: Most of these figures, including Rizzo, were alive at some point in my life, so I heard of their successes and controversies first-hand. This larger-than-life figure has many admirers and detractors, ensuring that nobody will ever forget the large influence he wielded in this city.
1) David Brenner: Easily my favorite comedian as I grew up, Brenner received an evaluation similar to what I gave Fine when learning he hailed from South Philly. I conducted a phone interview with him in December 2013, generating 75 minutes of material. He asked about the length of our conversation and said he normally engaged in much shorter talks, saying the duration is a testament to my skill as a journalist. I am NEVER deleting that interview. Rest in peace, Mr. Brenner and the figures above you on this list. Thank you for your influence. ■
Contact Editor Joseph Myers at firstname.lastname@example.org or ext. 124.