Remembering Some Famous Chattanoogans

Tuesday, November 06, 2007 - by John Shearer
Ted Turner at McCallie in the 1950s
Ted Turner at McCallie in the 1950s

Going away to the University of Georgia made me appreciate Chattanooga more.

As a result, when I returned after graduating in 1983, I began wanting to boast about my hometown. One of the best ways, I learned, was to point out some of the well-known people who have lived here.

When I began working at the then Chattanooga News-Free Press in 1984 and started writing local history stories, I naturally focused on some of these people.

I later included many of them in a small book I put together called Chattanooga Trivia.

One of the more memorable stories for me was writing about the late Hugh Beaumont, who had played father Ward Cleaver on the popular “Leave It To Beaver” television show.

Although I was already familiar with Baylor School’s history and some of its graduates, I was surprised to learn in an article in the Chattanooga Times that he was an alumnus.

That started some research, and I found out that he had graduated from Baylor in 1930. I was able to track down a couple of his classmates, and even figured out that he had lived in a couple of still-standing apartment buildings near McCallie Avenue.

I also located his son in South Carolina, and he told me that going to Baylor had been a high time in his father’s life.

Previously more familiar to me had been the fact that Jim Nabors, who starred on “Gomer Pyle” and “The Andy Griffith Show,” had once worked for Channel 3 and had lived in a home in Shepherd Hills.

As a journalist interested in the civil rights movement, I also became fascinated and proud to learn that civil rights advocate Ralph McGill, who won a Pulitzer Prize as a columnist for the Atlanta Constitution, had lived in Soddy-Daisy and Highland Park and went to McCallie. I remember tracking down his old residences out of a city directory at the library and driving by them.

I also had an opportunity to interview Samuel L. Jackson when he was just starting to become well known as an actor, and he recalled going to Riverside High. I also had an enjoyable interview with his mother in her older downtown home next to the Unum parking lots.

Actress Susan Hayward’s brother-in-law, William Chalkley, lived in Chattanooga, and I once interviewed him about his memories of her visiting the Scenic City. She also had a son who lived in Northeast Alabama, and he and his wife showed me her Oscar Ms. Hayward had won.

I also one time overheard Free Press editor Lee Anderson tell someone that the nationally known Congressman Lee Hamilton from Indiana had lived in Chattanooga. I was able to get an interview with him, and he fondly recalled going to Missionary Ridge Elementary and playing sports at the now-razed YMCA on Georgia Avenue.

He was in the national news spotlight again recently as co-chairman of the committee presenting the report on the Iraq War.

I also learned by chance that actor Montgomery Clift had ancestors with Chattanooga connections. His father and aunt, for example, attended Baylor.

Playwright Tennessee Williams’ grandfather and great-grandfather also lived here.

I was also fascinated to know that noted singer and actress Grace Moore’s parents and siblings lived in Chattanooga. I enjoyed writing multiple stories about her. I once had a delightful interview with the former Mrs. Jim Moore Sr. about her famous sister-in-law as well as her daughter, the Grace Moore who had been May queen at Girls Preparatory School in 1958 and was tragically killed in a 1960 automobile accident in North Carolina.

Of course, Chattanooga is large enough to have produced numerous people who have enjoyed more than 15 minutes of fame. Although the list seems almost endless, I have always been interested in noting each one as I learn about him or her.

Others who lived in Chattanooga included members of the Impressions and Confederate Railroad singing groups, noted early 20th century African-American singers Bessie Smith and Roland Hayes, guitarist Gary Alexander of the Association, opera singer Monte Jaffe, pop singer and actor Usher, and actor Dennis Haskins,

Also, former Tennessee Gov. J.B. Frazier lived in Chattanooga, as did former Secretary of the Treasury William Gibbs McAdoo, former Postmaster General David Key, U.S. Sen. and former vice presidential candidate Estes Kefauver.

Other well-known residents or former residents include Memoirs of a Geisha author Arthur Golden, Newsweek editor Jon Meacham, New York Times publisher Adolph Ochs and football star Reggie White.

Media mogul Ted Turner, religious broadcaster Pat Robertson, and U.S. Sens. Bill Brock and Howard Baker attended McCallie, as did current U.S. Rep. Zach Wamp. Baylor, meanwhile, produced former Alabama Gov. Fob James and the late Georgia congressman Charlie Norwood. Of course, U.S. Sen. Bob Corker is also a Chattanoogan.

Some well-known people lived in the Scenic City only briefly. Dwight Eisenhower and World War I Gen. John “Black Jack” Pershing were stationed in the area during wartime, as were future presidents Ulysses Grant and James Garfield during the Civil War. Such baseball players as Willie Mays also played professional baseball here.

NFL quarterback Peyton Manning has moved to Chattanooga as an adult, and pro baseball player Todd Helton married an Ooltewah girl.

I also learned once that Margaret Mitchell was inspired to finish Gone with the Wind after visiting the Civil War sites around Chattanooga.

And who can forget that Liz Taylor and Eddie Fisher honeymooned at the hotel on Lookout Mountain that later became part of Covenant College? I have never been able to find much information on their visit, but it is one fact that many Chattanoogans seem proud to know.

Jcshearer2@comcast.net


James County Historical Society Meeting is August 3

The James County Historical Society will meet Sunday, August 3, at 2:30pm in the Ooltewah Methodist Church in the Sunday School addition.   The program will be presented by Larry Williams; its topic will be the “The Re-birth of a Model T Ford”.  The program will relate to old cars and to roads of the Old Jim County era. If you use email, please send your email address ... (click for more)

Signal Mountain Genealogical Society Meeting is August 5

The Signal Mountain Genealogical Society will meet at the Walden Town Hall, 1836 Taft Highway, on Tuesday, August 5, 2014 at 1:00 pm. Refreshments will be served, followed by a short business meeting and program.   The speaker for the meeting will be  Jim Dodson who will deliver a presentation entitled,  "Letters from Mississippi  1860 - 1868. ”   ... (click for more)

Harr Outlines $40 Million Plan For Chattanooga Light Rail System

Outgoing Chamber of Commerce President Ron Harr on Monday outlined a $40 million plan for a Chattanooga light rail system that would serve not only downtown, but also the Airport and the Enterprise South Industrial Park. In a speech to the Chattanooga Engineers Club, Mr. Harr said most cities looking at such an ambitious plan "would be facing costs of over a billion dollars." ... (click for more)

Chattanooga Choo Choo Adding Clubs, Restaurants In $8 Million Renovation

The historic Chattanooga Choo Choo is adding clubs and restaurants in a $7 million renovation, it was announced in front of the South Market Street landmark on Monday morning. The Comedy Catch will be moving from its longtime home in Brainerd and there will be a new 500-person music venue that will be in addition to Track 29. The new venue, managed by Track 29, will feature a ... (click for more)

Senator Bob Corker: An Open Letter To Tennesseans

We are incredibly fortunate to live in a state in which companies worldwide are clamoring to establish a presence. Many attribute it to our pro-business culture, well-prepared workforce, low tax environment, right-to-work policies, and engaged citizenry.  That is why the announcement by Volkswagen to build its midsize sports utility vehicle and establish the South’s ... (click for more)

Roy Exum: Wamp Refuses To Stoop

With less than two weeks before the Aug. 7 th election and the last week of early voting now underway in Hamilton County, Congressional challenger Weston Wamp sounded upbeat and relaxed early yesterday afternoon. “I’m pleased to say that I believe we are right where we need to be … maybe even more than we had hoped.” Wamp, who is challenging two-term incumbent Chuck Fleishmann ... (click for more)