Today we continue to shine a light on the many great actors who have called the Chicagoland area home. Whatever your favorite genre of film might be, chances are one or more of the many actors on our continuing list have played a role in them. From Oscar winners to fan favorites, our city by the lake has and will continue to produce some of the biggest talents to hit the small and big screen. So let’s take a look out our next batch of great Chicago actors while stay safe indoors.
Dennis Farina: Was there ever an actor who better embodied the essence of a Chicago tough guy in films than Dennis Farina? Born on Leap Day, February 29, 1944, Farina was raised in Chicago’s Old Town neighborhood at a home on North Avenue. After serving three years in Vietnam, Farina spent 18 years as Chicago Police Officer in the burglary division, before retiring in 1985. In 1981, while working as a police consultant on Michael Mann’s Chicago classic Thief, the director cast Farina in his first role in that film. Small parts in other films led to Mann giving Farina one of the leading roles in the TV series Crime Story, which ran form 1986 to 1988. Farina’s authenticity in playing tough cops and crime bosses made him a favorite amongst directors looking for an actor who could leap off the screen with a sense of realness that Farina owned through his experiences in Chicago. Films like Midnight Run, Get Shorty, Saving Private Ryan, and Snatch solidified Farina as the go-to-guy when it came to playing a genuine tough dude with razor-sharp delivery. Sadly, Farina passed away in 2013, but not without leaving audiences a memorable resume of characters undoubtedly enhanced by his Chicago roots.
Jack Benny: If you have enjoyed comedic sitcoms of the last 60 odd years, you can thank Chicago’s own Jack Benny for providing the tropes that virtually every comedy has come to rely on. Born on Valentine’s Day 1894 in Chicago and raised in Waukegan, Benny picked up the violin at an early age. His prowess on the instrument led to him running in the same vaudeville circles as the Marx Brothers by the age of 17. Benny’s humor and violin shtick soon led him to radio, where he hosted The Jack Benny Program, a huge success that ran from 1932 to 1948. Benny transitioned his radio show to television from 1950 to 1965. The setup merged from a sketch comedy show with music interludes into a more situational comedy using the show-within-a-show format utilized later in programs like 30 Rock, Frasier, and The Larry Sanders Show. Benny has quite the impressive film resume as well, appearing in To Be or Not To Be, The Hollywood Revue of 1929, and Charley’s Aunt, amongst many others. In his later years, Benny was a regular on the Dean Martin Celebrity Roasts of the 70s before passing away in 1974. Although he was eighty at the time of his death, Benny would probably say he passed away at thirty-nine. As fans undoubtedly know, one of Benny’s most beloved gags concerned his age, which never crept past the last year of his thirties no matter how many years went by.
Bruce Dern: With a face and presence on screen that is hard to forget, Bruce Dern’s career has spanned decades and shows no signs of slowing down. Although born in Detroit, Dern was raised in Kenilworth and attended New Trier Township High School in Winnetka, where he excelled in track and field. His great grandfather co-founded the Carson Pirie Scott department store, but Dern set his sights on acting. Dern’s first small roles included Alfred Hitchcock’s Marnie and Clint Eastwood’s Hang ‘Em High. The actor went on to star in more substantial roles in films like The Cowboys, The Great Gatsby, and Black Sunday. An Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor for 1978’s Coming Home showed that Dern was a powerhouse on the screen. Throughout the ensuing decades, Dern lent his talents to such films as Mulholland Falls, Nebraska, and Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained, The Hateful Eight, and Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.
That wraps up today’s list of unforgettable actors who got their start in and around the Chicagoland area. With most of us still staying home as much as possible, it’s a great time to check out these actors’ excellent work on YouTube, Netflix, or Prime.
ERIC KAPLAN AND DEAN’S TEAM CHICAGO