By Bill Gelman
From South Philly to Hollywood
A famous face from Lower Moyamensing, Darren showed he was destined for fame back in 1959 when he played Moondoggie in the hit movie “Gidget.” But it was just the start of bigger things to come as he appeared on the big screen 18 more times, including sequels “Gidget Goes Hawaiian” and “Gidget Goes to Rome.” He played Pappadimos in “The Guns of Navarone,” which also included the likes of Gregory Peck and Anthony Quinn. The film received a Best Picture Oscar nomination. The actor born James Ercolani also put together an impressive small screen resume, playing Officer Jim Corrigan in the 1980s drama “T.J Hooker” that also included William Shatner and Heather Locklear. Darren also made several guest appearances on the popular soap “Melrose Place” and “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.” He was a pretty talented singer, too, as “Goodbye Cruel World” reached №1 and earned him a Grammy nomination. “Angel Face and “Her Royal Majesty” were a couple other of his popular songs.
“Well we’re movin on up, to the east side. To a deluxe apartment in the sky.” Those are the opening words to the theme song to the hit sitcom “The Jeffersons,” and it’s the role of George Jefferson that made Hemsley a household name in the television sitcom world. His famous character debuted on “All in the Family” in 1973, and spent two seasons as Archie Bunker’s neighbor. It paved the way for “The Jeffersons,” which broke television ground for its portrayal of an affluent African-American family. The South of South native earned Emmy and Golden Globe nominations for his performance. He became a television icon, playing the character for more than 10 seasons (including “All in the Family”). He also enjoyed success playing Deacon Ernest Frye on “Amen” and the voice of B.P. Richfield on “Dinosaurs.”
We’re just weeks away from “Star Wars: The Last Jedi.” But a long, long time ago, Kershner joined the force as the director of “Star Wars: Episode V — The Empire Strikes Back.” He was the man behind the camera for “Never Say Never” again, as well. Kershner made his directorial debut in 1958’s “Stakeout on Dope Street,” for which he wrote the screenplay. He worked with such Hollywood luminaries as Sean Connery, Faye Dunaway, Richard Harris, Tommy Lee Jones, John Lithgow, George C. Scott, Barbra Streisand and Joanne Woodward over the course of his career. In addition to his films, the South Philadelphia High product directed episodes for seven television series and two made-for-TV movies.
In terms of South Philly television stars, Klugman was one of the biggest and most successful. Besides playing prominent roles such as sportswriter Oscar Madison in “The Odd Couple,” he also handled the role of medical examiner Quincy, M.E. on the show of the same name. The former ran from 1970 to ’75 while the latter ran from ’76 to ’83. He also appeared on a 2002 episode of NBC’s “Crossing Jordan.” Klugman earned his share of accolades over the course of his career in the form of 10 Emmy nominations and three wins, two of which came for his performance on “The Odd Couple.” He also claimed a Golden Globe for the same role. The other Emmy honor came in ’64 for his role as Joe Larch in “The Defender.”
This former Passyunk Square native has literally made it big, with the “it” being one of the stars of the 2017 film adaptation of Stephen King’s classic horror novel “It.” Lierberher played Bill Denbrough, whose brother Georgie is claimed by Pennywise the Dancing Clown. The movie was a hit at the box office, grossing more than $680 million worldwide. The teenager also appeared opposite Bill Murray and Noami Watts in the 2014 film “St. Vincent” and played the role of Johnny Masters on the Showtime drama “Masters of Sex.” Add an appearance in a Super Bowl commercial, and this young actor stands out as one on the rise. His next projects, “The True Adventures of Wolfboy” with Chloë Sevigny and John Turturro, and “Low Tide,” are both slated to be released next year.
Word out of Hollywood is that “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” will be opening its writers’ room early next year to get ready for a 13th season of the hit FXX sitcom. The Pennsport native continues to be the man with many hats — serving as creator, writer, director, producer and actor. He has played Mac on all 153 episodes of the show, which also stars Charlie Day, Glenn Howerton, Kaitlin Olsen and Danny DeVito. McElhenney’s road to the small screen included moving to New York City at age 18 where he found work in commercials and small roles in TV shows and movies, such as “The Devil’s Own” and “Wonder Boys.” In terms of the future, he is scheduled to write and direct “Minecraft: The Movie,” which is slated to be released in 2019.
One could say Medeiros has a way with words, serving as head writer for more than 2,000 episodes of “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno.” He executive produced more than 300 episodes, as well. The former Bella Vista resident started out in advertising, and sold jokes for a few bucks on the side. Medeiros had sent some material to Leno, who was in the area performing in Valley Forge for a show. It ended up being his ticket to L.A. as Leno offered him a job, as did Bob Hope. He also served as executive producer of “The Missing Piece: The Truth About the Man Who Stole the Mona Lisa,” which won multiple awards at various film festivals.
What do the shows “2 Broke Girls,” “The King of Queens,” “Spin City” and “Dharma and Greg” have in common? Nadar, who once called Passyunk Square home, served as a producer and writer on all of them. She is in the pre-production stage of her latest project, serving as a writer and executive producer of the TV movie “I Mom So Hard.” The former resident of 10th and Reed streets and St. Maria Goretti grad started her career writing for TV magazine shows like “Entertainment Weekly,” but upon visiting TV sets for the job, she found her true calling. Her promising career in the television sitcom world started when she and writing partner Amy Cohen sold a script to “Caroline in the City,” and it just grew from there.
Noel, who used to call 15th and Porter streets home, is making her mark as an up-and-coming name in the film industry. The actress, writer and producer won the Audience and Best Actress Awards for “22 Years” at the 2016 Los Angeles Movie Awards. The 16-minute short film, in which Noel, who attended the High School for Creative and Performing Arts, serves as producer and star, is based around the experience of a young woman named Avi who receives an unexpected call from her past — her estranged father. Noel has enjoyed success as a professional dancer, too, appearing in “The Lion King” on Broadway. She also has toured with pop superstars Madonna and Jennifer Lopez as a featured dancer. Noel has several films currently in the works, with the short “Trust Love” and the drams “To the New Girl” in post production.
When talking about the biggest writers to come out of South Philly, look no further than this gentleman, as he has three Emmy Awards to his name for Outstanding Writing in a Comedy-Variety or Music Series for his role with “The Carol Burnett Show.” But the Point Breeze native also caught the attention of legendary entertainer Bob Hope, who relied on Perret to be his head writer. His career also included working on several other popular television sitcoms including “Welcome Back, Kotter” that featured a very young John Travolta as Vinnie Barbarino and “Three’s Company.”
Peter Mark Richman
Richman, 90, may have slowed down on the Hollywood scene, but if you look over the IMDB profile of this actor/writer/producer, you may be surprised by all the roles he has handled over the course of his long career. We are talking appearances on the daytime soap “Santa Barbara,” “Dynasty” and “Beverly Hills 90210,” just to name a few. He also played Dunwell in “The Naked Gun: 2 ½: The Smell of Fear.” Before making it famous, Richman attended South Philadelphia High School where the former fullback helped the Rams football team win a city championship. The 1945 graduate was the team captain.
Were you scared when you saw the 1960 version of “Psycho?” Well, you have this 1940 South Philadelphia High grad partially to thank for it. He wrote the screenplay for the 1960 Alfred Hitchcock-directed film that likely sent many people home afraid to take a shower again. He also penned several episodes of the 1960s TV show “The Outer Limits” and the TV movies “Home for the Holidays” and “Snowbeast.” Stefano would circle back to the “Psycho” story in 1990, writing the script for the TV movie “Psycho IV: The Beginning.”
Those who were fans of the Rat Pack era likely remember this comedian well. He kept close company with the likes of Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr., Dean Martin and Peter Lawford. Long before George Clooney, Matt Damon and Brad Pitt made “Ocean’s Eleven” relevant again, he was part of the original crew playing “Mushy O’Connors.” The stand-up comedian, born Joseph Abraham Gottlieb, grew up in Whitman and went on to land big roles, including being Joey Barnes on “The Joey Bishop Show.” He was the host of a TV talk show, with each episode dealing with his personal and professional life as a celebrity. It ran on NBC from 1961 to ‘65.
The last time the South Philly Review dedicated an entire issue to funny people, this comedian appeared on the cover. It was well-deserved, as this Dickinson Square west native, made 158 career appearances — more times than any other guest — on “The Tonight Show” with Johnny Carson, which included several stints as a guest host. He also made appearances on “Late Night with David Letterman,” “The Hollywood Squares”and several other shows. Brenner also did four HBO specials, including 2000’s “Back with a Vengeance.”
“Nyuk, nyuk, nyuk.” It remains as one of the many famous sayings that made Fine and his fellow Three Stooges hard to forget. The former Queen Village resident made his mark with exceptional comedic timing, a willingness to be a buffoon and, of course, his unforgettable hairdo. Watch a clip, and his performance will likely leave you in hysterics just like it did during the days of black-and-white TV. Old clips are available on YouTube and the threestogges.com website. Fine also earned his permanent marker in Hollywood as he posthumously received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1983.
Unlike the other comedians on this list who have passed, Irrera continues to perform regularly, including his annual Thanksgiving week appearances at the Helium Comedy Club. His success story is a result of delivering top-notch material blended with colorful characters and voices. He is a winner of multiple CableACE awards, including Best Stand-Up Comedy Special for his 1989 HBO special “One Night Stand.” His second came in ’95 for the Showtime series “Full Frontal Comedy,” which he hosted. Irrera’s other television credits includes guest roles on “Seinfeld,” “The King of Queens” and “Everybody Loves Raymond.” He can be seen on the Showtime series “I Am Dying Up Here.”
Thomas “Cozy” Morley made a career out of making people laugh as he entertained crowds regularly from Philadelphia to the Jersey Shore. The jokes were family friendly. Back in the day, you may have heard him sing that popular Jersey Shore anthem “On the Way to Cape May,” once or twice. (Al Alberts, featured below, also made the song a hit). Others may have seen the bronze statue of him outside of Westy’s in North Wildwood. Some even referred to him as a Jersey Shore icon.
Some may remember him as the host of the Al Alberts showcase, but he is also remembered as the lead singer and co-founder of the Four Aces. The song “Three Coins in the Fountain” by the Four Aces reached №1 in 1954, and even more impressive is the fact the song won an Academy Award for Best Original Song. “Love is a Many-Splendored Thing” was another biggie for the group as it was №1 for four weeks and won an Academy Award for Best Song. If you have ever listened to “On The Way to Cape May” while driving south on the Garden State Parkway, the voice may have sounded familiar. Yes, it was Alberts, who is a South Philadelphia High grad.
Anderson, who called the South South neighborhood home, left her mark on this world not just as an opera singer, but one who broke down barriers for others to follow. She was the first African-American to perform at New York’s Metropolitan Opera in 1935 and the White House a year later. But that’s nothing. Three years later, on Easter Sunday, Anderson literally packed the house — 75,000 strong — to perform at the Lincoln Memorial. This came after the Daughters of the American Revolution denied her presence at Constitution Hall. Decades after losing her battle with congestive heart failure in 1993, Anderson remains well-represented around the neighborhood with a recreation center bearing bearing her name while the historical society commemorates her childhood home at 762 S. Martin St. The Marian Anderson Award Gala, which took place earlier this month at the Kimmel Center, celebrates critically acclaimed artists.
Part of the famous trio Dick Fox’s Golden Boys with fellow list member Bobby Rydell and Fabian, Avalon has experienced fame with the group as well as individually. Francis Avallone, the singer from West Passyunk, came to fame in the 1950s, with “Venus” and “Why” snaring the top spot on Billboard Magazine’s Hot 100 chart in ’59. He also dabbled in acting, starring opposite Annette Funicello in “Muscle Beach Party,” “Bikini Beach” and “Beach Blanket Bingo.” In later years, he played The Teen Angel in the ’78 musical “Grease” and appeared on the 2009 season of the hit reality show “American Idol.” Avalon continues to tour and make appearances.
To many, Blavat is better known as “The Geator with the Heater” and “The Boss with the Hot Sauce,” but Blavat hit pure gold when it comes to his career as a disc jockey as well as a radio and TV personality. His autobiography “You Only Live Once: My Life in Music” tells his whole story about how he got to be the man he is today. Even in his 70s, Blavat, a Bishop Neumann grad, is not slowing down as he can still be heard regularly on the radio in the Lehigh Valley all the way down to the Jersey Shore. His monthly calendar continues to be booked with multiple gigs a week, including tomorrow at the Golden Nugget in Atlantic City and his Saturday night show Rock & Roll R&B Express on WXPN. Some of the early career highlights included managing a national tour for Danny and the Juniors and working as a valet for the late comedian Don Rickles. Blavat also made several television appearances on “American Bandstand,” “The Monkees,” “The Mike Douglas Show” along with several others.
Maybe you have heard of the song “Rock Around the Clock” by Bill Haley and the Comets? Well, Cedrone was the man on the guitar when the song was recorded in 1954. Yes, South Philly has made its mark for producing a long list of entertainers, but this man, who died at the young age of 33, is known today as the first guitarist of rock & roll. His guitar has been on display in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame since 1998. Cendrone was inducted into the shrine in 2012 along with The Comets.
Ernest Evans may hail from South Carolina, but Philly is where he did “The Twist” — his hit song that climbed to the top of the charts. The song introduced the concept of “dancing apart to the beat.” Checker’s career has been highlighted by 22 top-40 songs, including “Pony Time,” which reached №1. “The Twist” was a hit again in 1962 when it recharted into the №1 spot. The former South Philadelphia High student still performs today. Philadelphia RowHome Magazine recently honored the singer at the Blue Sapphire Awards with a Lifetime Music Achievement honor. For those who think people have forgotten about “The Twist,” it would be far from the case, as in 2008, Billboard Magazine honored Checker by proclaiming the song the №1 record of all time on the Billboard Hot 100 Singles Chart.
Ever listen to the song “Bad, Bad Leroy Brown” or “Time in a Bottle?” They were two of Croce’s biggest hits, both reaching №1 on the charts. It seemed he was destined to be a musician, as Croce started playing music on an accordion during the early years of his childhood. His debut album, “You Don’t Mess Around With Jim,” cracked the top-20 on the American charts, with the title track reaching the top 10. It also included top-20 hit “Operator.” Croce would have likely recorded more hits, but a tragic 1973 plane crash took his life at the age of 30.
Growing up in South Philadelphia, DeFranco seemed destined to be a future clarinet player, as he learned to play the instrument during the early years of his childhood. Sure enough, he went on to make a major impact in the music world during the swing and big band era. DeFranco went on to perform alongside the likes of Gene Krupa and Billie Holiday. He also served as the bandleader of the Glenn Miller Orchestra from 1966 to ’74.
Just like his good friends from the neighborhood, Frankie Avalon and Bobby Rydell, the singer from Lower Moyamensing can truly say his career has been Golden. The trio, better known as Dick Fox’s Golden Boys, even makes an occasional stop in the Philadelphia area, most recently at SugarHouse Casino. The man born Fabian Forte Bonaparte has earned his share of individual accolades, which include being added to the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2002. His “Fabulous Fabian” earned gold album status while “Tiger” and “Turn Me Loose” reached gold record status. Some may remember Fabian from his “American Bandstand” days, where he made 20 appearances dating back to 1958. Like his fellow neighborhood stars, Fabian also dabbled in the world of movies and television, which includes serving as co-executive producer of the 1993 documentary miniseries “The Wild West,” which was nominated for an Emmy. He also appeared in “The Longest Day” with Richard Burton and Henry Fonda and “Mr. Hobbs Takes a Vacation” with James Stewart and Maureen O’Hara.
The native of the 2500 block of South Fifth Street made his mark in the music industry with 22 consecutive hit records. It started with the 1950 release of “Thinking of You,” which made Billboard’s Top-50 List and the publication named Fisher America’s Most Promising Male Vocalist in its annual disc-jockey poll. “Oh! My Papa,” “Wish You Were Here” and “Lady in Spain” are a few of the other hits that followed. Fisher also enjoyed being in front of the camera, as he hosted “Coke Time” that resulted in a $1-million contract to become the company’s national spokesman. A Golden Globe in ’58 for Best TV Show and two Emmy nominations in the Best Male Singer category soon followed. Today, the tabloids would likely have a field day following Fisher as Debbie Reynolds, Elizabeth Taylor and Connie Stevens were his famous ex-wives.
Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff
Long before Universal Companies was created, Gamble and Huff teamed up to make a major mark in the music industry via Philadelphia International Records. They co-founded the company in 1971, and saw them write for and produce an impressive list of artists that included The Jacksons, Lou Rawls, Dee Dee Sharp, The O’Jays and numerous others. Gamble and Huff are members of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, earning induction in 2008. Today, they are still known as “The Architects of the Philly Soul sound.” In 1989, the duo won a Grammy for Best R&B Song, “If You Don’t Know Me By Now” — for the remake by Simply Red. Ten years later, Gamble and Huff added another Grammy win — the Trustees Award for having a hand in the creation and promotion of more than 3,000 songs.
Referred to as one of the innovators of rock and roll, his 1957 song “Butterfly” was a hit on the American and British charts, selling more than 3 million copies. “Fabulous,” “Ninety-Nine Ways,” “I Love You So Much It Hurts” and “Cool Baby” were some of his other hits. He made appearances on “Dick Clark’s American Bandstand” and “The Ed Sullivan Show” and was a big hit in London, even getting inducted into Great Britain’s Rock and Rock Hall of Fame in 1998. In his hometown of South Philly, he is one of the many famous faces who appear on the South Philly Musicians Remix Mural at 1532 S. Broad St. Eddie Fisher, Fabian Forte, Bobby Rydell, Jerry Blavat, Al Martino, Chubby Checker, James Darren and Danny Cedrone — all part of this famous 70 crowd — also appear in the vibrant work.
Greco, who called the 2000 block of South Chadwick Street home, can truly say music was his ticket around the world. One of his more noteworthy trips came during the 1960s when he was part of the First Command Performance with the Beatles at the Prince of Wales Theatre. Greco had more than 60 albums to his name, with “The Most Beautiful Girl in the World,” “The Lady is a Tramp,” which sold more than a million copies, and “Around The World” being a few of the hits. The singer/pianist also spent four years touring with the Benny Goodman Band. Greco also performed for Queen Elizabeth II.
Lang made such a lasting impression that an Eddie Lang Day takes places once a year at the Kimmel Center. Known as the “father of the Jazz Guitar,” he trained for 11 years on the violin, but soon switched to guitar. The native of 7th and Clymer streets went on to become an accomplished accompanist on guitar and banjo, and worked with the likes of Louis Armstrong, The Dorsey Brothers and Bing Crosby, whom he worked with on records, live performances, radio and films. He died in 1933 at the age of 30 due to complications from tonsillectomy surgery. Today, there is an Eddie Lang scholarship program ensuring children’s future in music and arts.
This tenor, born Alfredo Arnold Cocozza in 1921, accomplished a lot during his 38 years, making many successful recordings and film appearances. He even portrayed his operatic idol Enrico Caruso in 1951’s “The Great Caruso,” which would was the top grossing film in the world that year. His singing career was equally as impressive, as Lanza was the first artist under the RCA Victor Seal label to win a gold disc. He died in Rome in ’59, possibly from a heart attack, while preparing for a film, but his name remains alive and well today around the neighborhood via the Mario Lanza Park on Queen Street between Second and Third along with a mural at the corner of South Broad and Reed streets.
The man Alfred Cima never took a singing lesson during his childhood, and it seems he didn’t need them. The former resident of 15th and Tasker streets was the first American to hit №1 on the British singing charts. Martino made his debut in 1952 with the song “Here in My Heart,” which went on to sell more than a million copies. “I Love You Because,” “Mary In The Morning,” “Tears and Roses” and “I Love You More and More Every Day “ are a handful of the songs which would hit the top of the charts, some became top-20 hits, while others cracked the top five. “Spanish Eyes,” which was released in 1965, went as high as №15 on the Billboard charts, and earned gold and platinum honors. Of course, any brief mention of Martino needs to include a plug for “The Godfather” as he played the singer Johnny Fontane.
Martino has been playing at jazz clubs since the age of 15, and earned several honors along the way. In 2002, he earned a Grammy nomination for Best Jazz Instrumental Album and Best Jazz Instrumental solo. He received an additional nomination the following year for Best Jazz Instrumental Album. Last year, he was presented with a Pennsylvania Jazz Legacy Award from state Sen. Vincent Hughes. He also earned a spot on the Philadelphia Music Alliance Walk of Fame in 1996. He still performs regularly at local clubs, including last week’s performance at Chris’ Jazz Cafe in Center City, as well as around the world. Martino will be doing a European tour in April, making stops in London, Germany and Spain.
Nate Morris and his Grammy Award-winning group Boyz II Men made such a big impact in the music world that earlier this year a portion of South Broad Street was renamed Boyz II Men Boulevard (it happens to be outside of The High School for Creative and Performing Arts where they attended high school). The group recently celebrated 25 years in the music industry, a run that has included winning four Grammy Awards, nine American Music Awards and three Billboard Awards. We’re talking about a group that has sold more than 60 million albums, with a catalog of hit songs that include “End of the Road,” “I’ll Make Love to You,” “One Sweet Day” and “Motownphilly.” Their newest album, “Under The Streetlight,” came out earlier this fall. Morris and fellow group members Wanya Morris and Shawn Stockman continue to enjoy a residency at the Mirage in Las Vegas.
“Mr. Saturday Night” may not have the national and international recognition that several others on this list have achieved, but what he has accomplished as a disc jockey is something few can match. Earlier this year he celebrated the 40th anniversary of the Bob Pantano Dance Party, something the Bishop Neumann grad started in 1977. The show can be heard exclusively on 98.1 WOGL and simulcast on Jersey Shore area stations. In terms of individual honors, he has been named the Person of the Year by the Broadcast Pioneers Hall and inducted into its Hall of Fame. The special year also included Pantano being inducted into the Philadelphia Music Alliance’s Walk of Fame.
When talking about South Philly’s most famous faces, Bobby Rydell’s name typically appears at the top of the list. Part of Dick Fox’s Golden Boys with fellow list members Frankie Avalon and Fabian, he developed a national following thanks to his voice as several of his records went gold, including his 1959 hit “Kissin’ Time” that transformed him into a teen heartthrob. “We’ve Got Love,” “Volare,” “Wildwood Days” and “That’s All” are just some of the others that followed. On the big screen, he appeared in the 1962 Oscar-nominated movie “Bye Bye Birdie” as Hugo Peabody. More recently, he penned an autobiography entitled “Bobby Rydell: Teen Idol on The Rocks: A Tale of Second Chances.” The recipient of multiple South Philly Review Readers’ Choice Awards, he made such a lasting impression in South Philly that the 2400 block of South 11th Street where he grew up is also known as Bobby Rydell Boulevard.
The rap artist born Dwight Grant just happened to grow up on Sigel Street, in case you were wondering where the name change came about. He made his mark early on as he was part of the Jay Z Roc-A-Fella record label, which released Sigel’s first album “The Truth” in 2000. He has released several albums since, including 2009’s “Broad Street Bully.” He was also the star of the ’02 film “State Property.”
Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson
Thompson continues to enjoy an extremely successful career as a drummer as he, along with Tariq Trotter (see below), formed The Roots, a group with several Grammy Awards to their name. The 2011 Grammy Awards were a very successful one for the group as they walked away with Best R&B Album and Best Traditional R&B performance accolades. Like his buddy Trotter, he is seen five nights a week on NBC as The Roots are the house band for “The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon.” Like Trotter, he attended the High School For Creative and Performing Arts.
Tariq “Black Thought” Trotter
Trotter, along with fellow Roots member Questlove, are the only two people on this list who can say they are part of a ride at Universal Studios Florida. Before taking off on Jimmy Fallon’s Race Through New York, Trotter raps the safety instructions as the riders, wearing their 3D glasses, prepare to take off on a wild journey that even includes The Roots performing on the moon. But he is best known for being the emcee and co-founder of The Roots, the multi-time Grammy Award-winning band. Those who watch NBC’s “The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon” are well aware that this former Point Breeze resident, who attended the High School for Creative and Performing Arts, and his group serve as the house band.
We interrupt this Joel Embiid and #TrustTheProcess season to talk about one of the greatest basketball players to ever come out of Philly. This former St. Monica grade school student accomplished it all on the basketball court. Arizin was one of the stars of the 1956 Philadelphia Warriors title squad, averaging 25.6 points and 7.9 rebounds per game. During the NBA’s 50th anniversary season, he was named one of the league’s 50 greatest players of all time along with the likes of Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Wilt Chamberlain and Bill Russell. He finished his career with 16,266 points and 6,129 rebounds. He was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1978. What makes Arizin’s story stand out even more is the fact that he went from attending Villanova University without a scholarship to being a 10-time NBA All-Star.
The 2300 Arena has gone through its share of names over the years, including the famous ECW Arena. It’s where Brian Heffron, aka the Blue Meanie, made regular appearances with the likes of Stevie Richards and Raven — even at one time forming the Blue World Order (their version of World Championship Wrestling’s popular New World Order). The faction even had its own T-shirt. He also did a brief stint with World Wrestling Entertainment, and included a fued with JBL. These days, fans can catch the blue guy on the Indy scene.
“Joltin’” Jeff Chandler was one of the greatest bantamweights in boxing history, compiling a career mark of 33–2–2 with 18 knockouts. He held multiple championships during the course of his career, with the biggest being the world bantamweight title he won in 1980 via a 14th-round knockout over Julian Solis. Nine successful title defenses followed. Chandler capped off his career with a 2000 induction into the International Boxing Hall of Fame.
Jacksonville, Fla., loss is South Philly’s gain. Before becoming a Hall-of-Fame basketball coach, this former Point Breeze resident made his mark as the Philadelphia Public League Player of the Year in 1951. He briefly joined the Harlem Globetrotters and played in the Eastern Pro League for a decade, but his work on the sidelines is what earned the former college basketball coach a spot on this list of elite South Philadelphians. He led Cheyney State College, a Division II school, to a championship in 1978. Chaney went on to become a legend at Temple University, leading the Owls to 17 NCAA Tournament trips, including five straight in the 1980s and 12 more between ’90 and 2001. Temple earned a No.1 national ranking to finish the 1987-’88 regular season. These accomplishments brought Chaney two Division I Coach of the Year awards and a total of 516 wins for the Owls before he retired in ’06.
The cover of Sports Illustrated. Appearances on talk shows across the country. Yep, that was Mo’ne Davis from 24th and Oakford streets who broke into the national spotlight as a result of her history-making performance with the 2014 Taney Dragons Little League World Series team. Besides being the first African-American girl to pitch in the prestigious event, Davis added to her remarkable story by pitching a shutout against Nashville — another first. But this athlete’s story is far from finished as she plays basketball and softball at Springside Chestnut Hill Academy. For those wondering if Davis, who also played for the Anderson Monarchs, still has what it takes to hang with the boys, the answer is absolutely, yes as earlier this year she traveled to Cincinnati as a member of the Phillies Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities World Series team. She finished with a 1.40 earned run average in 9.1 innings of work. Davis’ story is far from finished.
What do former world champions Muhammad Ali, Sugar Ray Leonard, George Foreman and Carmen Basilio have in common? That’s right, they all had Dundee in their corner at one point in their storied careers. In all, the 1992 inductee to the International Boxing Hall of Fame trained 15 world champions. When mentioning the former Angelo Mirena, he is best known as the man responsible for molding “The Greatest of All Time” into a world champion. No further elaboration is needed when talking about this native of the 800 block of Morris Street.
This former pugilist, who called Lower Moyamensing home, is bronzed for life. Seriously, there is a bronze statue of this former middleweight champion of the world, at the corner of Mifflin Street and East Passyunk Avenue. What did Giardello do to earn it, you ask? Being middleweight champion of the world from 1963 to ’65 and registering a career mark of 101–25–7 has a little something to do with it. He fought at Convention Hall, Madison Square Garden and California’s Cow Palace over the course of his career. In 1993, the man born Carmine Tilelli, secured another permanent spot in boxing history with induction into the International Boxing Hall of Fame.
Anyone who earns the name “Mr. Basketball” is worthy of being on this list. He made such a lasting impression, in 2014, South Philadelphia High honored the former student, who graduated in 1921, by unveiling a historical marker outside of the building at 2101 S. Broad St. Gottlieb is also a member of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame and Philadelphia Jewish Sports Hall of Fame. Besides being the founder, coach and owner of the South Philadelphia Hebrew Association, which played its games at 7th Street and Snyder Avenue, he left his mark on the NBA as the former owner and coach of the Philadelphia, now Golden State, Warriors. They were part of the former 11-team Basketball Association of America. Gottlieb is also the guy credited with drafting some guy from Overbrook by the name of Wilt Chamberlain. He also coached fellow list member Paul Arizin. The NBA Rookie of the Year trophy is known as the Eddie Gottlieb trophy.
Louis “Red” Klotz
If this list were based on career records, there is no chance Klotz, the former coach and player of the Washington Generals, would have made the cut. However, there is a little asterisk next to his more than 14,000 defeats as all of those losses came against the Harlem Globetrotters. Klotz was a member of the South Philadelphia High Rams 1939 and ’40 City championship teams and was named Player of the Year twice. His lone win came in 1971 in Tennessee thanks to a last-minute shot by Klotz, who is a member of the Philadelphia Jewish Sports Hall of Fame. His №3 jersey is retired by the Harlem Globetrotters.
Litwack is another name that needs to be included when talking about the best basketball coaches ever to come out of South Philly. When the 1925 South Philadelphia High graduate left the sidelines at Temple University in 1973, he was the winningest basketball coach in school history with a career mark of 373–193 over 21 seasons. His accolades earned him a ’76 induction into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. Temple honored the coach posthumously several years later with his Hall of Fame banner added to the Liacouras Center rafters. Of course, fellow hall-of-famer John Chaney, who also appears on this list, surpassed Litwack in the top spot.
Like the other pugilists on this list, Loughran is a former world champion, holding the light heavyweight title, and a member of the International Boxing Hall of Fame. He won the title in 1927, winning via decision over Mike McTigue and made six successful title defenses. The former resident of the 1600 block of Ritner Street fought 172 times, 94 of which he won (17 via knockout). Loughran was twice named Fighter of the Year by Ring Magazine. The man also known as the “Philly Phantom” was honored posthumously with a historical marker at 17th and Ritner streets.
Hard to believe that John Marzano has been gone for close to a decade as he passed away in 2008 at only 45 years old. Prior to his death, however, he made a lasting impression on the baseball diamond. Besides being a standout star at Central High School and Temple University, where he earned All-American status, he was a key member of the 1984 U.S. Olympic baseball team with the likes of Mark McGwire, Barry Larkin and Will Clark. He was the starting catcher for the gold medal-winning squad. Marzano was drafted by the Boston Red Sox in 1984, and arrived in the Major Leagues three years later. He also spent time with the Texas Rangers and Seattle Mariners. Following his playing days, he went on to become a successful analyst for Comcast SportsNet and served as co-host of “Leading Off” on MLB.com’s baseball channel.
Earl “The Pearl” Monroe
Like Arizin, Monroe left a lasting NBA mark that included scoring 17,454 career points and winning the 1973 NBA championship as a member of the New York Knicks. The man who once called Grays Ferry home was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1990 and followed it up with a spot on the league’s 50th anniversary team in ’96. Both teams he played for — the Knicks and Baltimore Bullets — retired his jersey. For those who want to learn more about Monroe, his autobiography “Earl the Pearl: My Story” offers a play-by-play of his life. He remains active today through various community and business ventures.
Matthew Saad Muhammad
Another member of the International Boxing Hall of Fame, Muhammad went from being abandoned on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway to light heavyweight champion of the world. The former WBC champ made eight successful title defenses and finished one victory short of 50. He retired in 1992 with a career record of 49–16–3, 35 knockouts. His championship run began with an eighth-round knockout of Marvin Johnson, which went on to become a featured bout on ESPN’s Classic Fights. His title run ended in 1981 when he lost to Dwight Muhammad Qawi via 10th round knockout.
Pearl Perkins Nightingale
In a different era, this former gymnast would have likely been a serious contender to win an Olympic medal. The year was 1936, and this former South Philadelphia High School for Girls student earned one of the eight spots on the U.S. women’s gymnastics team. But the Summer Olympic Games were taking place in Berlin, Germany, where Adolf Hitler had just risen to power. Her parents, who were Russian Jewish immigrants, did not allow their daughter to attend due to the Nazis’ anti-Semitic culture. Nightingale won several national championships during her time as a gymnast, and was recognized for her accomplishments as a member of the Philadelphia Jewish Sports Hall of Fame.
When talking about the greatest female basketball players to ever come out of St. Maria Goretti, and now Neumann-Goretti, the former All-Catholic’s name immediately jumps to the top of the list. She was the star of the Lambs 1976 and ’78 Catholic League championship teams, and went on to be named to the Parade and Street & Smith magazines and McDonald’s All-American teams. Olkowski continued her playing career as a member of the Rutgers University Scarlet Knights where she became a member of the 1,000-point scoring club, and in the process, co-captained the ’82 Associated Intercollegiate Athletics for Women National Championship. Olkowski joined the Division-I coaching ranks, which included being the head coach at Butler and Northwestern universities. Goretti honored its former star 20 years after her graduation by retiring her No. 45 jersey.
When talking about the winningest college basketball coaches of all time, Phelan’s name belongs in the conversation as a result of his extremely successful run at Mount St. Mary’s College that was highlighted by 830 career wins. The elite 800-win club includes the likes of Dean Smith, Adolph Rupp and Jim Calhoun. The former St. Monica’s student was inducted into the Philadelphia Sports Hall of Fame in 2010. Phelan also led his team to 15 Division II NCAA Tournament appearances, with the biggest being Mount St. Mary’s 1962 National Championship season. Phelan was also a two-time Division II Coach of the Year.
Jerome “Pooh” Richardson
Richardson, who grew up in South Philly, is another standout whose talent on the hardwood took him to the NBA where he was the first-ever draft pick of the Minnesota Timberwolves in 1989. Richardson wasted no time showing off his passing skills in the form of 1,973 career assists with the squad, which at the time was a team record. The mark still stands third best all-time behind Kevin Garnett and Ricky Rubio. The guard also played for the Indiana Pacers and Los Angeles Clippers. Following his retirement, Richardson was hired by the Harlem Globetrotters to help with scouting, coaching and player development. Richardson played college basketball for UCLA. His career at Benjamin Franklin High School wasn’t too shabby either as the All-City guard led his team to a Philadelphia Public League Championship victory over Murrell Dobbins Tech with a team best 17-point performance.
43. That is the number of seasons Sandusky spent in the NFL as both a player and coach. Many of those years involved working alongside Hall-of-Fame coach Don Shula in Baltimore and Miami. He also spent three seasons as a member of the Philadelphia Eagles coaching staff. The former offensive and defensive lineman played for seven seasons, five of which were in Cleveland. The South Philadelphia High Athletic Hall of Fame inductee also earned that coveted prize that Eagles fans so desperately desire — a Super Bowl ring. He earned it in Super Bowl V when the Baltimore Colts defeated the Dallas Cowboys 16–13.
There will never be another South Philadelphia High boys basketball player to wear the №22. It belonged to this former Public League Player of the Year who graduated with a school record 1,539 points. But he was just getting started. The 6-foot-7 forward, better known as the “L-Train,” turned an even more eye-catching performance at La Salle University in the form of 3,217 career points, which was third best in NCAA history. John R. Wooden Award and Naismith College Player of the Year honors followed. Simmons would go on to be a lottery pick of the Sacramento Kings, and he capped his first season with an All-Rookie First Team honor.
The former resident of 19th and Carpenter streets holds the distinction of being the lone South Philadelphian to play alongside LeBron James in Cleveland. The Cavaliers made him the fourth overall pick in the 2012 NBA Draft, and Waiters has gone on to enjoy a steady career with the Cavaliers, Thunder and Heat. The guard is averaging 31.6 minutes and 15.1 points per game as a starter for the Heat. Waiters has averaged 13.2 points, 2.7 rebounds and 2.7 assists per game in his five NBA seasons. He will be back in town on Feb. 2 to face the 76ers at the Wells Fargo Center.
Also known as “The Gentle Don,” the former head of the Philadelphia crime family was the boss for 20 years. He was killed with a shotgun blast to the back of the head in 1980 in front of his home. Being a successful crime boss who steered away from violence may not match the accomplishments of the other prestigious names on the list, but Bruno made a big enough mark to have a Hollywood A-lister portray him in what is expected to be a blockbuster movie. The great Harvey Keitel will play Bruno in next year’s “The Irishman” being directed by Martin Scorsese.
You know those coins you have in your pocket? Well, Gasparro designed the tails side of the Lincoln cent in 1958. He was the 10th chief engraver of the United States Mint. The coin would remain fashioned for 50 years and, along with the reverse portion of the John F. Kennedy half-dollar and both sides of the Susan B. Anthony and Dwight D. Eisenhower dollars, propelled the former Bella Vista resident to a successful 16-year stint. The South Philadelphia High grad joined the the federal agency as a junior engraver in 1942 and earned a promotion from President Lyndon B. Johnson, who, along with each head of state through Ronald Reagan, received a commemorative medal from Gasparro. After leaving the Mint, he crafted honorary coins for John Wayne and baseball legends.
While other people on this list have streets and parks named after them, Girard has an entire neighborhood — Girard Estate. The former French sea captain arrived in Philadelphia in 1776, and worked as a merchant banker and farmer. Girard was a wealthy individual who assisted the city on numerous occasions as he built hospitals, purchased the national bank and helped with the yellow fever epidemic that killed thousands of residents in 1793 and loaned more than $8 million to finance the War of 1812. He also owned a large parcel of land in what was known as Passyunk Township and a farmhouse, which just so happens to sit in what is now known as Stephen Girard Park at 2101 Shunk St. Before his passing in 1831, Girard made it clear that he wanted to help others well beyond his years on Earth. The majority of his estate was left to the City, with a requirement that the funds be used for a school for “poor, white male orphans.” The school is Girard College. Since the city was not allowed the farmhouse on Shunk Street, it built rental homes in the Girard Estate community, which today includes schools, businesses, restaurants and its own community group.
With all the great restaurants around the neighborhood, it comes as no surprise that a chef has made it really big — we’re talking name in lights on the Las Vegas Strip big. The Martorano’s brand started in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., which grew to two, along with two in Las Vegas and one close to home at Harrah’s Atlantic City. Meatball and salad and eggplant stack are just a couple of the popular items. He has two books, including “It Ain’t Sauce, It’s Gravy…How Food Saved My Life” (fitting for a South Philly chef) and his own Yo Cuz apparel line. Martorano even makes an occasional appearance on “Jimmy Kimmel Live!,” where he prepares a variety of dishes with the host.
Many credit Oliveiri for putting the Philadelphia cheesesteak on the map. The Pat’s King of Steaks website even includes the words “The originator and inventor of the steak and cheesesteak sandwiches.” The funny thing is, when he opened in 1930 along the famous South 9th Street corridor, 9th and Wharton streets, Oliveri specialized in hot dogs — cheesesteaks wit or wit’out were not on the menu. One day, he decided to throw chopped meat from the butcher on the grill, top it with some onions and put it in an Italian roll. We all know decades later what happened next — Pat’s King of Steaks established itself as a South Philadelphia landmark that draws customers from across the country and around the world.
The sultans of strut might be a Philly thing, but we cannot ignore the success story behind America’s longest standing New Year’s Day tradition — the Philadelphia Mummers Parade. Love them or hate them, every year, crowds line up along Broad Street for hours to watch the different groups perform a routine they have been working on for months. Many of the clubhouses are based out of South Philadelphia. We are talking about a tradition that is approaching 118 years. South Philly is also home to the post-parade celebration on 2nd Street.
It seems whenever someone mentions Rizzo’s name these days, it triggers a debate on whether to remove his statue from its often vandalized Center City location. Love or hate Rizzo, the former mayor of Philadelphia secured his spot on this list a long time ago. The native of the 2300 block of South Rosewood Street served as Philadelphia police commissioner from 1967 to ’71 and as the city’s 93rd mayor from ’72 to’80. Rizzo may have left South Philly behind, but his mural in the famous South 9th Street Italian Market remains, at least for now.
This author, who previously called the 1100 block of Daly Street home, has a made a career of keeping readers glued to the pages of her novels — all 29 of them. We are talking more than 30 million copies sold in 35 countries. It should come as no surprise that Scottoline is a New York Times bestselling and Edgar Award-winning author. They have been described as a series of humorous memoirs while others are emotional thrillers. “I Need a Lifeguard Everywhere but the Pool” is her recent work, while “After Anna” is scheduled to be released in the spring.
Philadelphia is known as the cheesesteak capital of the world, and Vento had a major role in putting the city on the foodie map. Believe it or not, he opened Geno’s Steaks, 1219 S. 9th St., in 1966 with get this — $6 in his pocket, two boxes of steaks and a few hot dogs. While the founder died five years ago, the institution he created celebrated its 50th anniversary last year. Like neighbor Pat’s, people continue to line up around the corner all times of day. President Donald Trump even stopped by for a sandwich during his 2016 presidential campaign. He is one of many celebs who make getting a cheesesteak from Geno’s part of their Philly visit — just check out all of the pictures at the establishment. His son Geno continues to keep his late father’s creation going strong.