After a long day, I like to relax by doing a Google search on famous people and their connections, however tenuous, to Utah. It seems like anyone who has accomplished anything in life has some tie to Utah. Try it out yourself: Key in Utah and famous dentists, Utah and famous murderers, Utah and famous beauty-pageant winners, Utah and famous ventriloquists. You’ll be proud to call Utah your home.
It was nice to see that someone over at the Deseret News shares my interest in famous people and their ties to Utah. I already knew The Salt Lake Tribune kept on top of famous people and their connections to Utah: Most notably, back when O.J. Simpson was arrested for murdering his wife, the Trib had a front-page story with a subhead proudly heralding the fact that the football great and beloved Hertz rental spokesman had not only been recruited to play football for the Utes, but had even flown in for a tour of the campus. The Deseret News is keeping up the great tradition of noting the connections of famous people to the Beehive State. Recently, the D-News published an article with the headline, “Eleven Actors & Actresses With Utah Ties.” Many are internationally famous, like Wilford Brimley, the distinguished endorser of Quaker Oats, and Roseanne Barr, the wisecracking actress and acclaimed singer of “The Star Spangled Banner.”
Others are almost constantly in the news, like Mireille Enos, BYU grad and Big Love featured actress; Chelsea Hightower, the Orem gal who hit it big in Dancing With the Stars; Aaron Eckhart, BYU alumus, returned missionary and star of Thank You for Smoking; and Mary Elizabeth Winstead, the Sandy native who won fame appearing with Donny Osmond in Joseph & the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.
It was a shock to read that Robert Redford, one of the great dreamboats of the silent screen before talkies came along, apparently spends a lot of time in Utah skiing. As exhaustive as the Deseret News article was, the writer overlooked some of the most illustrious of the stars of stage and screen who had, or still have, ties to Utah. It is inexcusable, for instance that the D-News passed over Gadde Watanabe, the Ogden kid who made an indelible splash as Long Duk Dong in Sixteen Candles.
And how about the curvaceous Utah-born Edy Williams (Edwina Beth), who gained fame in The Beverly Hillbillies and went on to star in Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, directed by husband Russ Meyer of nudie-flick fame? Ms. Williams has had a long and durable career, appearing in both Playboy and The People’s Court, where she was featured as “The Star Who Wouldn’t Pay.”
A glaring oversight in the Deseret News article was the Utah tie of Marilyn Monroe, who at the time of her Utah connection to former astronaut Jake Garn was known as Norma Jeane Baker. In the book Liberty Park Days, on page 57, there is a black & white photo of Norma Jeane and Jake riding the carousel. They spent a blissful, but innocent, summer together when Jake worked as a lifeguard at the swimming pool and Norma Jeane served hot dogs at the refreshment stand.
And if the Deseret News had done just a little more research, it would have come across other Utah ties of famous actors and actresses: Scarlett Johansson once represented Kamas in the Miss Utah Pageant, winning the talent competition with a dramatic reading from the Pearl of Great Price while clogging; George Clooney, whose father was a local TV anchor, earned spending money during summer vacation by selling shoes at Mr. Mac; Emma Stone stopped for gas once in St. George; Sofia Vergara, as a girl in Barranquilla, Colombia, listened to the first discussion from a Mormon missionary named Elder Smoot from Panguitch, Utah; and Sophia Loren, on a flight to Hollywood to film Houseboat with Cary Grant, was awakened from a snooze by the pilot’s announcement that the plane was flying south of Utah.
I used to think that folks in Utah sometimes stretched things to find connections with famous people. But thank God for Google, where you will find connections with Utah that will blow your mind and leave your mouth agape with astonishment. If you don’t believe me, do a Google search on holy man Mahatma Gandhi, famed knuckleball pitcher Phil Niekro, historian Pliny the Elder, Latin American strongman and dictator Rafael Trujillo, and Russian novelist Leo Tolstoy.
D.P. Sorensen writes a satire column for City Weekly.