You think you know the big-deal Kentuckians — the Clooneys, Jennifer Lawrence, the Judds.
But Kentucky has seen a raft of lesser-known characters who have put an indelible dent in the American psyche, including Florence “Carol Brady” Henderson, one of the Marines in the iconic Iwo Jima flag-raising photo and iconic jazz musician Les McCann.
Let’s count down a few of them:
▪ Franklin Sousley, who appeared in the iconic photograph of U.S. Marines raising the American flag on Iowa Jima on Feb. 23, 1945, was born in Fleming County.
He was killed in action on Iwo Jima after being shot by a Japanese sniper on March 21, 1945. He was 19.
▪ Groundbreaking early film director Tod Browning, who directed the 1931 film “Dracula” with Bela Lugosi and the controversial film “Freaks” in 1932, was born in Louisville in 1880. Browning’s movies paved the way for the blooming of future horror movies.
Fellow Kentuckian and director D.W. Griffith (originally from Oldham County) first gave Browning acting work on single-reel silent comedies.
▪ Les McCann, the jazz pianist, vocalist and composer, was born in 1935 in Lexington. His producer once said he left the Bluegrass in the mid-’50s “like a bullet from a gun.”
In a 2013 Herald-Leader interview in advance of a performance at the Lyric Theatre, where he once worked, McCann said the theater is where he first got hooked on music like that from Dizzy Gillespie, Wynonie Harris and Tiny Bradshaw.
▪ You probably know that writer Robert Kirkman and artist Tony Moore are “Walking Dead” hometown royalty in Cynthiana for creating that iconic comic series that gave us Rick, Negan and Daryl.
But did you know that Melissa McBride, who plays the increasingly ruthless Carol, the Machiavellian cookie baker, was born in Lexington?
She left town at 6 months old, but she returned for the Lexington Comic & Toy Convention in 2013. In an interview with the Herald-Leader, she said Lexington “is a part of me that I am very anxious to breathe in again and reunite with after all this time.”
▪ Actor Steve Zahn — known for HBO’s “Treme,” the “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” movies and many, many other roles — lives in Lexington. The Minnesota native moved here with his wife, Robyn Peterman Zahn (daughter of clothier John Peterman) and together they co-direct the local theater troupe The REP.
In an interview in June, he said he tells other actors, “‘You have no idea where I live. It’s paradise.’ I’ve been all around the world. I’ve lived in cities for months at a time, and I’ve really got to say, this is a gem here.”
▪ Oscar-nominated actor Michael Shannon, lately the morally questionable sheriff in “Nocturnal Animals” and Life magazine photographer Grey Villet in “Loving,” was born and raised in Lexington. He even appeared in the 2006 movie “Bug” with Ashley Judd, making that movie even more of an underappreciated Kentucky-related gem.
His Academy Award nomination, for best supporting actor, was for the 2008 film “Revolutionary Road,” in which he starred with Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio.
▪ Florence Henderson, the actress best remembered as Carol Brady in “The Brady Bunch,” graduated from St. Francis Academy in Owensboro in 1951. She died in November at age 82.
▪ Director Gus Van Sant is responsible for “Good Will Hunting” (1997, launching the career of Matt Damon, who won an Oscar for co-authoring the screenplay with Ben Affleck), “To Die For” (1995, the movie that sent Nicole Kidman to stardom) and “Milk” (2008, starring Sean Penn in an Oscar-winning turn). Van Sant was born in Louisville, but his family moved frequently when he was a child.
▪ Nick Lachey, singer with the boy band 98 Degrees and more recently an advocate for the failed 2015 cannabis legalization initiative in Ohio, was born in Harlan. He is more often associated with Cincinnati, and with having once been married to Jessica Simpson.
▪ Louisville R&B artist Bryson Tiller is a rising star: His song “Exchange” is a Grammy nominee for best R&B song. The tune he co-wrote with Michael Hernandez name-checks UK-area haunts including Two Keys and Tin Roof.