Owensboro claims its share of famous and aspiring actors and actresses. (To read about current actors and actresses from Owensboro, read this OwensboroLiving post.) But Owensboro Living wanted to recognize some actors and actresses from Owensboro in the “golden age” of Hollywood as well.
Long before Tom Ewell was acting alongside Marilyn Monroe in the film The Seven Year Itch, he was a charter member of Owensboro High School’s Rose Curtain Players in 1923. Eighty years later, Ewell was inducted into the OHS Hall of Fame in 2003. During those years in between, he had an amazing career spanning prestigious roles in both Broadway and film.
After moving to New York, Tom bounced between the Broadway stages and Western film sets. Following his service in WWII, he landed roles in comedies and musicals. His breakout role was in the Spencer Tracy/Katherine Hepburn comedy Adam’s Rib, followed by several movies in ’50 and ’51.
In 1952, Tom was cast in the Broadway version of The Seven Year Itch, which ran for three years. Ewell played the part over 900 times, ultimately earning a Tony Award for his comedic role. He was then cast in the film version and earned a Golden Globe Award, which assured him many more movie roles throughout the ‘50s.
Ewell added TV roles to his credits in the ‘60s, while still appearing in stage productions and several more movies. He had his own TV show, “The Tom Ewell Show” for one season, and won an Emmy award for his role in the TV series “Baretta.” His last role was in a 1986 episode of “Murder, She Wrote.”
Originally from Calhoun, Hal Riddle attended Murray State University and went on to have a very prolific career in TV and film. He appeared in more than two dozen movies and 400 TV shows. Riddle was a character actor and a member of the Screen Actors Guild. Although he never achieved top billing, he was a very familiar face and appeared in The Great Race, Save the Tiger, Johnny Dangerously, and four Elvis movies. His TV appearances included “Bonanza,” “Days of Our Lives,” “Gunsmoke,” “Green Acres,” and many more. He once roomed with Jack Lemmon and they became lifelong friends. In 1988, he was elected to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
[tw-divider]Christine Johnson Smith[/tw-divider]
Although most known for stage acting, Owensboro’s Christine Johnson Smith did appear in a movie, H.M.S. Pinafore. She was also Florence Henderson’s former voice teacher.
Christine was born in Hopkinsville, but she moved to Owensboro following her freshman year. After graduating from OHS in 1929, she studied voice at the Nashville Conservatory and then moved to New York City with her sights set on Broadway. She quickly found success singing at NBC’s Radio City Music Hall, CBS’s Columbia Symphony Orchestra, the Metropolitan Opera, and several other opera houses.
Smith’s biggest role came in 1945 when she was cast as the original Nettie Fowler in Rodgers and Hammerstein’s classic “Carousel.” Rodgers actually wrote the song “You’ll Never Walk Alone” specifically for Christine, and she played the part so well that she was nominated for a Tony for her performance. She starred in that show for hundreds of performances, sang on the original cast album, starred in the national tour, and continued the role in the 1949 Broadway revival of the musical.
After Carousel closed, Christine moved back to Owensboro and married her high school sweetheart, Dr. Robert Smith. Together they raised two daughters here, Robin and Nancy. Smith gave voice lessons for many years and later retired from Texas Gas. Christine died in 2010 at the age of 98.
Did you know that Owensboro was the backdrop for an MGM film The Kentuckian? Read more in this OwensboroLiving post from April 2014.