[Editor’s note: This is the first of two stories covering Kokomo’s many famous locals. Next week, reporter Scott Smith will showcase Tavis Smiley, Steve Kroft, Rupert Boneham and more.]
If you’ve ever watched a Paul Newman or John Wayne movie, character actor and Kokomo native Strother Martin is a familiar face.
Martin is best known for his role as the warden in the Newman classic “Cool Hand Luke” where he uttered the still famous line, “What we’ve got here is … failure to communicate.”Martin was born March 26, 1919 in Kokomo, and was a member of the University of Michigan diving team and a swimming instructor for the U.S. Navy during World War II. He was inducted into the Howard County Hall of Legends in 2011.Martin appeared in movies from 1950 through 1979 and also made numerous appearances on television shows.He appeared in several movies with Newman including, "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid" and "Slap Shot." Martin made six movies with John Wayne which including, "The Horse Soldiers," "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance," "McLintock!," "The Sons of Katie Elder," "True Grit" and "Rooster Cogburn."Martin once described the characters he played in western films as “prairie scum,” according to the IMDb website.His trademark was playing grimy, unlikeable villains, such as his role as one of Lee Marvin’s sidekicks in "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance."Martin died Aug. 1, 1980, of a heart attack, at what was considered the peak of his career.
Alicia BernecheAlicia Berneche was born Jan. 1, 1971 in Kokomo, and attended Kokomo High School, where she played violin and starred in school plays, according to her website. She intended to major in acting and poetry composition in college, but at the last minute decided to take voice lessons.
She is a lyric coloratura soprano singing leading roles in operas throughout the U.S. Berneche has performed at the New York Metropolitan Opera, Lyric Opera of Chicago and operas in Kentucky, Arizona and Orlando.Norman BridwellBridwell is world renowned for his children’s books featuring “Clifford the Big Red Dog.”He was born in Kokomo and started his illustrating career while he was still a student at Kokomo High School, drawing illustrations for the high school yearbook.After high school, Bridwell studied first at the John Herron Art Institute in Indianapolis and then moved to New York to study at Cooper Union for two years.While working as a commercial artist in New York, Bridwell decided in 1962 to put together a portfolio and approach publishers of children’s books. An editor at Harper & Row suggested he put together a story to go along with his drawing of a baby girl and a horse-sized bloodhound.Scholastic Magazine wanted to publish the story and that led to the publication of more than 40 books about “Clifford”. There are more than 44 million copies of his books in print and many have been translated into other languages, according to the Scholastic website.John O’BanionJohn O’Banion was born Feb. 16, 1947 in Kokomo, and started performing at the age of 13 with local bands Hog Honda and Chain Guards. He hosted his own radio show on WIOU at the age of 15 and a television show at 20.
He went on to become the lead singer for Doc Severinsen’s band, Today’s Children. He appeared on "The Johnny Carson Show" five times and also made appearances on Merv Griffin and Mike Douglas’ shows.
O’Banion was seen on "American Bandstand," "Solid Gold" and was the winning singer of the pilot episode of "Star Search," according to the Internet Movie Database.His song “Love You Like I Never Loved Before” reached No. 24 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in 1981. He also appeared in film with Charles Bronson, Sophia Loren and Billy Dee Williams.O’Banion died two days before his 60th birthday after being hit by a car in New Orleans, where he was performing at the time.Jack PurvisJack Purvis was born Dec. 11, 1906 in Kokomo, and was best known as a trumpet player and composer of “Dismal Dan” and “Down Georgia Way,” according to the allmusic.com website.
He was one of the first to incorporate the musical innovations of Louis Armstrong and also played the trombone.Purvis was in and out of trouble with the law his entire life. He was sent to reform school in 1912 where he discovered a musical talent and started performing professionally.He was allowed to leave reform school and return to high school. At one point, Purvis played with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.Purvis toured the nation with several bands starting in the 1930s, learned to fly a plane and traveled to Europe.He was arrested in 1937 for involvement with a robbery in El Paso and was sentenced to jail time in Huntsville Prison. While there he directed the Rhythmic Swingsters, which was featured on local radio. He was pardoned in 1940, but broke parole and served six more years in prison.Purvis died March 30, 1962, in San Francisco.Richard BennettBennett was one of the first matinee idols in motion pictures. His career began in 1891 and ended in 1944.Born near Kokomo on May 21, 1870, he made his stage debut in Chicago, eventually going to New York.He appeared in a silent movie in 1914. Once talking pictures appeared on the scene, he found his niche as a character actor.Bennett is known for his role as Major Amberson in the Orson Welles adaptation of “The Magnificent Ambersons”, the IMDb website said.Bennett died on Oct. 22, 1944 in Los Angeles.