The homes where Omaha's stars got their starts - Omaha.com
Published Saturday, June 8, 2013 at 1:00 am / Updated at 1:24 am
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The homes where Omaha's stars got their starts

You've heard of the Hollywood “homes of the stars” tours. Maybe you didn't know you could take one in Omaha.

Harold Lloyd, Fred Astaire, Marlon Brando, Montgomery Clift, Henry Fonda, Dorothy McGuire, Jane Fonda, Peter Fonda and Nick Nolte all lived for a time in Omaha before becoming such big stars that they were in the running for Academy Awards — and sometimes winning them.

Bill Hutson, a Creighton University theater professor and an award-winning actor on local stages, has known this for years. He takes acting students on a star tour through older sections of Omaha. This time, we're along for the ride.

Ladies and gentlemen, please fasten your seat belts. And enjoy the views.

Harold Lloyd

We begin at the World-Herald Building, which stands on what in 1911 was the Chatham, a residential hotel at 110 S. 13th St. That was one of several homes, none around today, for Harold Lloyd. Star of such classics as “Safety Last” and “The Kid Brother,” Lloyd ranks with Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton among silent-film comedy greats. He received an honorary Oscar in 1953.

Born in Burchard, Neb., in 1893, a teenage Lloyd sold newspapers and popcorn on trains running out of Omaha, among other odd jobs between 1907 and 1911. In 1912, the family relocated to California after a beer truck hit his dad and he received an injury settlement.

Other Lloyd addresses included 2836 Burt St. in 1909. Today, Hiland Dairy sits there, near Creighton University's campus.

Fred Astaire

From The World-Herald, we head down 10th Street, to 2326 S. 10th, in the Deer Park neighborhood. That's where Johanna and Friedrich Austerlitz (“Ann and Fritz”) lived when their son, dancing great Fred Astaire, was born in May 1899. Friedrich worked for Storz Brewing. The little white house with a porch and a bit of gingerbread trim is the farthest north in a string of four identical houses.

Johanna decided her children's dancing talent could be her ticket out of Omaha. Fred and sister Adele became a vaudeville act, and the family moved to New York City in 1905. Fred cracked Broadway in 1917, then, in 1933, Hollywood, where he paired with Ginger Rogers at RKO in “Flying Down to Rio.” They made 10 dance pictures together, and Fred danced with many leading ladies on film into the 1960s. He's considered one of film's most influential, groundbreaking dancers.

His only Oscar nomination came for a non-musical role, “The Towering Inferno,” in 1974. He won an honorary Academy Award for his dance artistry in 1949.

Montgomery Clift

Back in your seats, please. We're moving west a bit to 2101 S. 33rd St., the big brown stucco house just south of Hanscom Park where Montgomery Clift and his twin sister, Roberta, lived in 1923. The house at 3527 Harney St. where they were born in October 1920 no longer exists.

Their father, William Brooks Clift, was vice president of Omaha National Trust Co. He and wife Ethel (“Sunny”) moved the family east in 1924. Monty lived in the Jackson Heights section of Queens in New York City until he got his break on Broadway at age 15 in 1936.

Rumor has it that Clift came back to visit the 33rd Street house at some point, but the owner, who didn't recognize him, shooed him away.

Clift's first movie was John Wayne's “Red River,” shot in 1946. He got Oscar nominations for “The Search” in 1948, “A Place in the Sun” in 1951, “From Here to Eternity” in 1953 and “Judgment at Nuremberg” in 1961. He never won. He was best pals with Elizabeth Taylor until he died of a heart attack in July 1966.

Marlon Brando

A short hop north brings us to 1026 S. 32nd St., a big yellow house on the corner with a green roof and white trim a couple blocks south of Leavenworth Street. Marlon Brando lived here as a boy, not far from the Gerald Ford Birthsite.

After he won an Oscar for “The Godfather,” Brando knocked on the door here unannounced in July 1973 and asked to tour his childhood home. Then-owner Joel Shapiro showed him around. Brando reminisced about a backyard tree house and said it was his first visit to Omaha in 20 years.

Marlon was born to Marlon and Dorothy Pennebaker Brando in April 1924 at the Omaha Maternity Hospital, which once stood at 22nd Street and St. Mary's Avenue. His father manufactured pesticides and chemical feed. His mother appeared on stage at the Omaha Community Playhouse in its earliest days.

When Marlon was a baby, the family lived at a much smaller house at 3135 Mason St., just two blocks from the yellow house. They moved to Illinois in 1935.

Marlon's method acting was a major influence in film history. He earned Academy Award nominations for “A Streetcar Named Desire,” “Viva Zapata,” “Julius Caesar,” “Sayonara,” “Last Tango in Paris” and “A Dry White Season.” He won for “The Godfather” and “On the Waterfront.” He died in July 2004.

Dorothy McGuire

Brando was practically a neighbor of Dorothy McGuire, the only child of Thomas and Isabelle McGuire. Tom was an attorney. Born in June 1916, Dorothy Hackett McGuire lived at 602 S. 38th Ave. in the Blackstone neighborhood.

The house no longer exists, replaced by an apartment building. But just north, at 524 S. 38th Ave., is a brick house very much like the one in which Dorothy lived from 1923-31. She launched her acting career at age 13, opposite Henry Fonda in the 1930 Omaha Community Playhouse production of “A Kiss for Cinderella.”

In 1938, McGuire was understudy to Martha Scott in the original Broadway production of “Our Town.” Her next stage role, in 1943's “Claudia,” launched her as the newest leading lady in films.

Starring roles followed in “The Enchanted Cottage,” “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn” and “The Spiral Staircase.” She snagged an Oscar nomination for “Gentleman's Agreement,” opposite Gregory Peck, in 1947. Known for playing grounded, dependable women, such as the mother in “Old Yeller,” she died in 2001, at age 85, shortly after falling and breaking a leg.

Henry Fonda

Let's head north again, this time on 40th Street, glimpsing 4016 Farnam St. near the University of Nebraska Medical Center. That's where the first Omaha Community Playhouse productions were staged. What then was the Mary Cooper Dance Studio now is an empty office building with a National Indemnity sign on the door. Henry Fonda began his acting career here.

Born in Grand Island in May 1905, Henry Jaynes Fonda was the son of printer William Brace Fonda. His mother's maiden name was Herberta Jaynes. The family moved to Omaha in 1906.

Our tour guide had been taking his Creighton students to what he thought was Henry's childhood home, 5106 California St., as listed in early city directories. But the house numbers changed at some point, and what once was 5106 now is 5108 California St., confirmed by the Douglas County Register of Deeds. Henry lived at 5108, just east of Memorial Park, from about 1912 to 1917. When he began acting, in 1925, the family lived at 4907 Chicago St., which was later demolished. Apartments stand there now.

Marlon Brando's mother encouraged Henry to audition the first time, for “You and I” at the Playhouse. He headed east, against his father's wishes, in 1928, and he and Jimmy Stewart were starving-actor roommates in New York City. “The Farmer Takes a Wife” was Fonda's breakthrough Broadway role and first movie, in 1935.

An Oscar nomination followed in 1940 for “The Grapes of Wrath,” but he lost to pal Stewart (“The Philadelphia Story”). Fonda won best actor in 1981 for “On Golden Pond.” He won a Tony as best actor in 1948 for “Mister Roberts,” starring in the movie version as well. He's widely recognized as one of the Hollywood greats from its classic era.

Jane and Peter Fonda

Though Henry left Omaha for good in 1931, he sent daughter Jane and son Peter here to live with his sister, Harriet Fonda Peacock Warren, for summer breaks or in their school years. Both Fonda kids acted at the Playhouse.

Harriet lived at 5205 Izard St., also in the Memorial Park area, mere blocks from her childhood home on California. It was from the Izard Street home that Peter studied acting at the University of Nebraska at Omaha and went to Playhouse rehearsals.

Peter's most noted movie role was in 1968's “Easy Rider,” a counterculture biker tale of alienation. He got a best-actor Oscar nomination for “Ulee's Gold” in 1997.

Jane, who visited Omaha last July, fondly recalled her summers “in the saddle shoe and sock-hop era,” cruising Dodge Street as a teenager. She could have walked there from Aunt Harriet's house on Izard.

Jane, who continues to make movies at age 75, won Academy Awards for best actress in “Klute” (1971) and “Coming Home” (1978). Her Oscar nominations include “They Shoot Horses, Don't They?” (1969), “Julia” (1977), “The China Syndrome” (1979), “On Golden Pond” opposite father Henry (1981), and “The Morning After” (1986).

Nick Nolte

Born in February 1941 in Omaha, Nicholas King Nolte is the son of Franklin Nolte, an irrigation pump salesman, and his wife, Helen, a department store buyer. His dad was an All-American football player at Iowa State University.

Nick was a kicker on the football team at Benson High School when the family lived nearby at 2301 N. 56th St. in the late 1950s. But he was dropped from the team just before his senior year (he was caught smoking), so the family moved. When he graduated from Westside High in 1959, the Noltes lived at 1150 S. 94th St. in Sunset Hills.

He got a football scholarship to Arizona State University, and lettered in football (tight end), basketball (forward) and baseball (catcher) at Eastern Arizona College in Thatcher. He worked at Falstaff Brewery in Omaha during his college years but never earned a degree.

His acting career began at the Pasadena (Calif.) Playhouse and Stella Adler Academy in Los Angeles, after which he did regional theater and modeled. He gained national acclaim in “Rich Man, Poor Man,” a 1976 TV miniseries. He's made dozens of films since, snagging Oscar nominations for “The Prince of Tides” (1991), “Affliction” (1997) and “Warrior” (2011).

Paul Williams

Composer Paul Williams' parents, Paul Hamilton Williams and Bertha Mae Burnside Williams, lived at 2024 N. 16th St. in the Conestoga neighborhood when he was born in September 1940 and for a few years after. He later lived in Bennington, Neb. After his father, an architectural engineer, died in a car crash when he was 13, he moved to Long Beach, Calif.

Williams won an Oscar with Barbra Streisand for composing the song “Evergreen.” He also was nominated for writing “The Rainbow Connection” for “The Muppet Movie.”

He and John Williams were nominated for another song, “You're So Nice to Be Around.” He notched scoring nominations for three films, “Phantom of the Paradise,” “Bugsy Malone” and “The Muppet Movie.”

He also acted in a number of films, most notably the “Smokey and the Bandit” franchise. Pop hits Williams wrote include the Carpenters' “We've Only Just Begun,” and Three Dog Night's “Old-Fashioned Love Song.” He now is president of ASCAP, a music publishing rights organization, and lives in New York City.

And that concludes our Omaha star tour, ladies and gentlemen. Watch your step as you exit the bus. We decided to leave Oscar winners Alexander Payne, Mike Hill and Mauro Fiore in peace from the curious, as they currently dwell in our midst and deserve a modicum of privacy.

If you're a superfan, you also can research the former homes of Oscar winners Hilary Swank in Lincoln (3335 Portia St., Apt. 2C), Sandy Dennis in Hastings, Neb., producer Darryl F. Zanuck in Wahoo, Neb., producer Leland Hayward in Nebraska City and composer Ken Darby in Hebron, Neb., plus Oscar nominee James Coburn in Laurel, Neb.

Contact the writer:

402-444-1269, bob.fischbach@owh.com

Contact the writer: Bob Fischbach

bob.fischbach@owh.com    |   402-444-1269

Bob reviews movies and local theater productions and writes stories about those topics, as well.

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