Originally published in Business Digest, August 1998

Famous Vermonters, Part II

They came from Vermont ... more or less

by Craig C. Bailey

Click For Part One

In playwright John Guare's "Six Degrees of Separation," characters philosophize that everyone on the planet can be connected to everyone else by no more than six associations. It's a notion put to use by some frat boys who devised a game called Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon, wherein players attempt to connect every human in history to that non-Vermont actor by way of six associations -- and probably more than a little barley and hops. (By the way, Williamsville screenwriter and Emmy winner Ernest Kinoy co-wrote "White Water Summer," a 1987 film that starred Bacon: Score point with five degrees left over.)

Six degrees would be stretching it, but we did take some liberties in compiling the second part of our list of famous Vermonters While some were native Vermonters who spent their entire lives building their legacy here in the Green Mountains (Wilson "Snowflake" Bentley), others breezed through for a period of time (Sinclair Lewis), some grew up here and promptly moved away (Rudy Vallee), while others joined our ranks by way of retirement (Bob Keeshan).

No matter how they got here or how long they stayed, here's a look at some folks with ties to Vermont and claims to fame. It's either a testament that from little states, big names come -- or that with a little research, it's easy to make a green mountain out of a mole hill.

Wilson "Snowflake" Bentley (1865-1931)
Born in Jericho Center on Feb. 9, 1865, Bentley began sketching snowflakes he observed under his microscope as a teen-ager before he graduated to photographing them. In a lifetime spent in Jericho, Bentley made more than 5,300 photos of snowflakes. He is buried in Jericho Center, and a bronze plaque at Jericho Corners honors him.

Jeff Danziger (1943- )
Danziger's a syndicated political cartoonist, whose work regularly appears in a couple of hundred publications. A native New Yorker who moved to Plainfield in 1966, he spent time teaching high school English in East Montpelier until 1983, and worked for The Christian Science Monitor for a decade until January 1997. He lives in New York City where he's working on his second novel, and still owns land in Vermont.

Algonquin Round Table
Neshobe Island in Lake Bomoseen played weekend escape to members of New York's elite literary set, who met weekly at Manhattan's Algonquin Hotel, and their friends from the mid 1920s to early '40s. Ethel Barrymore, Irving Berlin, Vivian Leigh, Harpo Marx, Laurence Olivier, Dorothy Parker and other celebrities frequented literary critic Alexander Woolcott's 7-acre island retreat, which was sold in February 1998 for $675,000 to a New York family that intends to live there year-round.

Warren Austin
A Burlington lawyer and U.S. senator, Austin was appointed the first U.S. delegate to the United Nations by President Harry S. Truman in 1945.

Tantoo Cardinal
A native of Anzac, Alberta, Cardinal moved from Los Angeles, Calif., to Lyndonville in the mid '90s shortly after finishing work on the Vermont-made "Where the Rivers Flow North" (1994). The actress has appeared in nearly 20 films, including "Dances with Wolves" (1990) and "Legends of the Fall" (1994).

Bob Keeshan
For more than 30 years, Keeshan was known to legions of children as Captain Kangaroo, the longest-running character in TV history. The original Clarabelle the Clown on Howdy Doody, Keeshan is also the author of several children's books, a lecturer and children's advocate. The captain has retired from active duty, lives in Norwich, and lends his support to the Vermont Children's Trust Foundation.

John Ciardi (1916-1986)
Born in Boston, Ciardi was poetry editor at the Saturday Review/World from 1956 to 1972, and taught at Harvard and Rutgers. He published 40 books of poetry and criticism including a translation of Dante's "Divine Comedy," and spent 30 years lecturing on poetry at the annual Bread Loaf Writers Conference in Middlebury, a program he directed for many years.

Jacques Cousteau (1910-1997)
Born in St. André de Cubzac, France, Cousteau went on to become a world-famous diver, inventor, filmmaker and author. He learned to dive at the age of 10, when given the unenviable task of clearing the lake bottom under the springboard of branches while attending a summer school at Harvey's Lake in West Barnet.

John Deere (1804-1886)
Yes, that John Deere. Born in Rutland on Feb. 7, 1804, he grew up in Middlebury. In 1837 Deere produced the first commercially feasible, self-scouring steel plow from a broken saw blade, before establishing a company in Moline, Ill., which manufactured farm implements. It became Deere and Co. in 1868.

Jody Williams
Jody Williams of Putney won the Nobel Peace Prize in October 1997 for her work as coordinator of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines U.S.A. She's since moved out of state.

Andrew Ellicott Douglass (1867-1962)
Douglass was an archaeologist and astronomer best known as the father of dendrochronology, the method of dating events by analyzing the rings of trees. In 1937 he founded the University of Arizona's Laboratory of Tree Ring Research in Tucson, the largest such institute in the world. Douglass was born July 5, 1867, in Windsor.

Phineas Gage (1823-1860)
Gage's accident outside Cavendish while constructing the Rutland and Burlington Railroad secured his place in medical history. On Sept. 13, 1848, an explosive charge Gage was preparing detonated prematurely, driving a three-foot-long tamping iron through his left cheek and out the top of his head, landing a distance behind him. Not only did he survive -- standing up and speaking moments later, legend has it -- but he returned to work several months later and lived another 12 years. The personality change Gage exhibited after his accident was science's first glimpse at the relationship between the brain and personality. Neurologists mark the 150th anniversary of the incident in September with a symposium at the Okemo Mountain Resort, several miles from Cavendish.

Ernest Kinoy
Kinoy has written Broadway musicals and several screenplays, including films that starred Sidney Poitier and Harry Belafonte. His television writing has earned him two Emmy Awards and two Christopher Awards. Kinoy lives in Williamsville.

Veronica Lake (1922-1973)
Lake acted in nearly 30 films mostly in the 1940s, and is remembered for her blonde locks that created the "peek-a-boo" style craze. She died in Burlington of hepatitis at age 50 on July 7, 1973, and was cremated in St. Johnsbury.

Aleksandr Isayevich Solzhenitsyn (1918- )
Born in Kislovodsk, Russia, Solzhenitsyn served prison time in the '40s for remarks made against the state. Deported to West Germany in 1974, he later settled in Cavendish, where he lived in exile for some 20 years until the mid '90s. Winner of the Nobel Prize in literature (1970), he's the author of "The Gulag Archipelago."

Ernest Thompson (1950- )
Thompson's an actor, writer and director whose works include "1969," "Sweet Hearts Dance" and "Star 80." His screen adaptation of his play "On Golden Pond" won him an Oscar and Golden Globe for best screenplay in 1982. Born in Bellows Falls, only because there was no hospital in Walpole, N.H., Thompson lives in New Hampshire.

(Harry) Sinclair Lewis (1885-1951)
Dorothy Thompson (1894-1961)
A native of Sauk Center, Minn., Lewis was educated at Yale University before becoming a celebrated novelist. His works include "Babbitt" (1922), "Arrowsmith" (1925), and "Elmer Gantry" (1927). In the late 1920s and '30s Lewis lived on a 235-acre Barnard estate dubbed Twin Farms, now an inn. "I have traveled through 36 states and have lived in eight or 10," he said, "but Vermont is the first place I have seen where I really wanted to have my home." He was married to journalist Dorothy Thompson (New York Evening Post, Cosmopolitan, Ladies' Home Journal) from 1928 to 1942. In 1930 he became the first American to receive the Nobel Prize for literature.

Frank Miller
One of the hottest properties in the comic book world, Miller's best-selling "Batman: The Dark Knight Returns" (1986) is credited with influencing the character and style of Tim Burton's Batman films. Miller was the first artist/writer to enjoy complete creative control of a major comic book series, Ronin, which introduced Japanese and French styles to American readers. His other projects include Daredevil, the gritty crime series Sin City and others. Miller wrote two sequels to the 1987 film "Robocop." He grew up in Berlin, graduated from U-32 High School in 1975 and lives in Virginia with wife/collaborator Lynn Varley. He plans to move to New York City later this year.

Elisha Graves Otis (1811-1861)
A Halifax native, in 1853 Otis invented the safety elevator in Yonkers, N.Y. Four years later, he designed and installed the country's first passenger elevator in a New York City store, which signaled the dawn of the skyscraper era. The Otis Elevator Co., founded on his patent for a steam-powered elevator, is the world's largest elevator company: It has more than 1.2 million elevators in operation worldwide.

Cyndi Lauper (1953- )
Brooklyn native Lauper spent time in Vermont taking art classes at Johnson State College from 1973-1974 and working at a kennel, before moving to New York City. She won the 1984 best new artist Grammy, and has had eight top 10 singles. She lives in Connecticut and Manhattan with her husband, actor David Thornton.

Joseph Smith (1805-1844)
Born in Sharon, Smith published, "The Book of Mormon" and founded the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 1830 after his family moved to a farm in upstate New York. By the time the church had moved to Commerce, Ill., Smith was one of the most famous men in the West. Opposition to the church focused on its practice of polygamy -- Smith is believed to have had nearly 30 wives -- led to his assassination in Carthage, Ill., on June 27, 1844. The Joseph Smith Memorial (pictured) is in Royalton.

Brigham Young (1801-1877)
Born in Whitingham on June 1, 1801. Young was elected the second president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons) in 1847, shortly after leading the group from Illinois to Utah, where he founded Great Salt Lake City.

David Dellinger
Dellinger is one of the Chicago Seven, a group eventually acquitted of charges it conspired to incite violence at the 1968 Democratic National Convention in the Windy City. He's lived in Peacham for years.

Rudy Vallee (1901-1986)
Born Hubert Prior Vallee in Island Pond on July 28, 1901, Vallee became a band leader, vocalist and radio star. He appeared in more than 40 films from 1929 to 1976, including "How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying" (1967).

Maria von Trapp
Maria and Baron Georg von Trapp's 1938 escape from Austria into Switzerland with 10 children inspired the 1959 Broadway musical and 1965 film "The Sound of Music." The family settled in Stowe more than 50 years ago, and the Trapp Family Lodge has become a town landmark. Von Trapp died in 1987 at age 82.

Nettie Maria Stevens (1861-1912)
Stevens discovered that chromosomes -- specifically, X and Y chromosomes found in sperm -- determine sex. The Bryn Mawr College-based geneticist published her discovery in 1905, at approximately the same time Edmund Beecher Wilson, a Columbia University biologist, made the same observation. Stevens was born in Cavendish.

Go to "Famous Vermonters, Part I," published in February 1998