Missouri and Ozarks History

Information and comments about historical people and events of the Ozarks region and surrounding area.

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I'm a freelance writer specializing in the history of the Ozarks and surrounding region. I've written fifteen nonfiction books, two historical novels, and numerous articles. My latest books are Bushwhacker Belles, Wicked Women of Missouri, and Yanked Into Eternity: Lynchings and Hangings in Missouri.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Famous Springfield Entertainers

Last time I wrote about some of the people from Joplin who went on to become well known in the entertainment industry. So, this time I thought I might mention a few people or groups from Springfield who have likewise become famous as singers, actors, and so forth.
One well known singer associated with Springfield was Brenda Lee, who lived in Springfield for a few years in the 1950s when she made regular appearances on the Ozarks Jubilee and became a popular recording artist. The Ozark Mountain Daredevils are country rock group from Springfield who gained their greatest fame in the early to mid 1970s with hits like "If You Want to Get to Heaven" and "Jackie Blue." Country singer Slim Wilson was very famous regionally and marginally famous nationally during the 1950s and 1960s, when he had his own TV show, which, I think, was broadcast nationwide for at least a year or two.
Bob Barker, who was host of the game show The Price Is Right for many years, was from Springfield and attended Drury University there.
Perhaps the most famous actor from Springfield is Brad Pitt, who graduated from Kickapoo High School in 1982. Another well-known actor from Springfield, one I was not aware of until recently, was William Garwood, who was a famous star in and director of silent films during the 1910s or thereabouts. Other actors associated with Springfield include John Goodman, who graduated from Missouri State University (then Southwest Missouri State) in 1975. One of his best known roles was opposite Roseanne Barr on the Roseanne TV show. He has also made numerous movies and is known for his guest appearances on Saturday Night Live. Kathleen Turner also attended Missouri State in the early to mid 1970s. In fact, she was born in Springfield but grew up mostly overseas, since her father worked for the Foreign Service. She became famous in the 1980s with roles in such movies as Body Heat, Romancing the Stone, and Prizzi's Honor.
Another well-known actress with Missouri State connections that I've always had a particular interest in is Tess Harper (photo below). She grew up in Mammouth Springs, Arkansas, and graduated in 1972 from Missouri State, where she was very active in theater. In the spring of 1972, she and I did our student teaching at the same time and under the same supervising teacher at Greenwood, the university's laboratory school, she in speech and drama and I in English. (I had previously taught a year on a temporary certificate, been to Vietnam, and was back in school finishing up my master's degree and my teaching accreditation, while she was just graduating.) I recall that she was very irregular in her attendance and didn't seem to care whether she did well in her student teaching or not. One day I said something to her about her missing a lot of days or made a similar observation, and her reply was that she didn't care if she made a poor grade in student teaching or not because she wasn't going to be a teacher, she was going to be an actress. I remember thinking at the time, "Yeah, sure," but I didn't say anything to dispute the notion. And sure enough, ten years later or so I saw her name in the Hollywood limelight when she starred opposite Robert Duvall in Tender Mercies. Later, I believe, she received an Academy Award nomination for best supporting actress for her role in Crimes of the Heart, which starred Sissy Spacek, Jessica Lange, and Diane Keaton. One of her more recent roles was in No Country for Old Men.
John Goodman's time at Missouri State overlapped both Tess Harper's and Kathleen Turner's, and he worked with each of them at separate times, I think. However, I believe Tess Harper was already gone from MSU by the time Kathleen Turner arrived.

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