These acclaimed artists and entertainers all claim ties to La Crosse. Follow the links to short biographies compiled by former UW-L English professor Richard Boudreau.
Ford Sterling, actor | 1883-1939
The son of a city councilman, George Stitch ran away from home at age 12 to join the circus. While maybe not the traditional career path, it led the La Crosse native to Hollywood, where he made his name – as Sterling Ford – in the Keystone Kop movies. Though he never achieved their fame, Ford starred alongside Fatty Arbuckle and Charlie Chaplin and earned a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Howard Mumford Jones, writer/historian | 1892-1980
Most famous for his trilogy on American history — the first volume, “O Strange New World” won the 1965 Pulitzer prize for nonfiction — Jones was a product of La Crosse’s public schools, graduating from Central High in 1910 and then spending two years at the Normal School before moving on. He spent most of his career teaching at Harvard and authored more than 30 books, including a 1979 autobiography that referenced his early years in La Crosse.
Joseph Losey III, film director | 1909-1984
Though his grandfather, an early settler of La Crosse, had a major street named for him, Joseph Losey III made a bigger name for himself in Hollywood, where he directed a series of films noir — including “M” and “The Big Night” — before being blacklisted when he refused to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee. Losey, who died in 1984 at age 75, lived the rest of his life abroad but returned to film; “Time Without Pity” and “Modesty Blaise” are among the 35 films to his credit.
Robert Moevs, composer | 1920-2007
After serving with the Army during World War II, this La Crosse native stayed in Europe, where he married a Rumanian princess and studied music in Paris. A composer of contemporary classical music, he taught at Rutgers University.
Percy Bentley, architect | 1885-1968
Though he never completed his formal education in Chicago, Bentley picked up enough of the Prairie School architecture popularized by Frank Lloyd Wright to put his mark all over his hometown in the 1910s and ’20s. Bentley designed numerous Prairie style homes — with strong horizontal lines and jutting eaves — that account for much of the Cass-King historic district. Bentley later expanded his territory to include the Upper Midwest before moving to Oregon after the death of his partner in 1935.
Guy and Eloda Beach, actor/entertainers | 1887-1952 (Guy), 1890-1964 (Eloda)
While not originally from La Crosse, this husband-wife team settled between the bluffs in the 1920s and used La Crosse as a base for their traveling vaudeville act. The Beaches brought plenty of flash, with Eloda’s monogrammed Cadillac and the lively parties they hosted at their Spanish revival home at 205 N. Losey Boulevard. Both moved away after their 1931 divorce (she claimed “cruel and inhuman treatment”), though Guy returned for a few years before ending his career in Hollywood.
John Toland, writer/historian | 1912-2004
Toland, who won the 1971 Pulitzer Prize for his book “The Rising Sun,” didn’t stay long in his hometown. His family moved to Connecticut when he was just 6, but he later said his interest in history sprang from watching D.W. Griffith’s film “Intolerance” at the Casino Theater at Third and Main streets.
Alonzo Hauser, sculptor | 1909-1988
Born in La Crosse in 1909, Hauser graduated from Central High School and spent a year at the Normal School before moving to New York at age 21, where he honed his skill as a stone carver. He later settled in the Twin Cities, founding the art department at Macalester College. Though much of his work is in Minnesota, Hauser sculpted several limestone panels for Trinity Lutheran Church in La Crosse.
Nicholas Ray, director | 1911-1979
Born Raymond Kienzle in Galesville, Ray attended La Crosse’s Central High School before heading off to study at the University of Chicago and later under architect Frank Lloyd Wright. Ray worked in a New York theater with Elia Kazan before heading to Hollywood, where he made his biggest mark directing James Dean in the 1955 film “Rebel Without a Cause.”
John Solie, illustrator | 1937-
Primarily a painter, some of Solie’s best known works are his Hollywood movie posters — more than 200 of them, including many of the blaxploitation classics of the 1970s. Solie’s work has also appeared on magazine covers, record albums and book jackets. His portrait of the seven astronauts who died in the 1988 space shuttle explosion may be his most widely reproduced work.
Sister Thea Bowman, writer/educator | 1937-1990
The daughter of a physician and granddaughter of a slave, Thea Bowman grew up in Mississippi, but her attraction to the La Crosse-based Franciscan sisters persuaded her to convert, at age 9, to Catholicism. Bowman came to La Crosse when she was 15 and joined the order in 1956. A Faulkner scholar, she later taught English at Viterbo University. Bowman, who died in 1990, was honored by President Ronald Reagan with the American Cancer Society’s Courage Award.
Elmer Petersen, sculptor | 1928-
Unlike most of the artists profiled here, Petersen wasn’t born in La Crosse but settled here (Onalaska actually) as an adult. The sculptor, whose works can be seen throughout the area — perhaps most notably the eagle in Riverside Park — first made his mark in 1959 with a 60-ton steel and concrete buffalo that towers 26 feet over Jamestown, N.D. Petersen also crafted the statue of King Gambrinus for the old Heileman brewery and the life-size sculpture of Indians in a game of lacrosse that sits next to the Radisson (a replica marks the Rose Street entrance to the city).
Weekley and Arganbright, musicians | 1933-, 1936-
Though not natives, Dallas Weekley and Nancy Arganbright joined the UW-L music department in 1964 with the intention of teaching for a year. It was nearly three decades until the couple, known for their four-handed piano concerts, left for warmer climates and to focus on performing and publishing.
Walter Ristow, cartographer | 1908-2006
Though his brothers were perhaps better known around La Crosse (Harold was postmaster; Fred was comptroller for the Tribune), Walter Ristow rose to the top of his profession during a 31-year career at the Library of Congress, where he began working after World War II and retired as chief of the geography and map division.
Egid Hackner, sculptor | 1856-1952
Born in Bavaria, Hackner followed his brother, a priest, to La Crosse, where he began working as a wood carver and established an altar workshop that supplied churches across the country. Hackner’s work can be seen in the Maria Angelorum Chapel in La Crosse.
Arthur Kreutz, composer | 1906-1991
This La Crosse native won the Prix de Rome for one composition and composed a ballet for Martha Graham.
Sandor Landeau, painter | c. 1864-1924
This Hungarian-born painter made his home in La Crosse for several years in the late 19th century, painting and sleeping in a studio in what is now the State Bank building at Fourth and Main streets.
John Judson, writer | 1930-
Judson, who taught at UW-L from 1965 to 1991, wrote poetry and fiction and published the work of other poets through his imprint, Juniper Books.
Charles Dierkop, actor | 1936-
Best known as a mustachioed and flat-nosed bad guy from numerous 1970s and 1980s television shows, this character actor, who dropped out of Aquinas to join the Marines, also had star turns in big screen classics including “The Hustler,” “The Sting” and “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.”
Don Herbert, television personality | 1917-2007
Born Donald Kemske, this Central High School graduate is best known as Mr. Wizard, host of the popular shows that introduced kids to science with common household items.
Minnie Dupree, actress | 1873-1947
While evidence is scarce, this Broadway actress claimedLa Crosseas her birthplace.
George W. Peck, writer/politician | 1840-1916
A New York native, Peck came to La Crosse to run the La Crosse Democrat, one of several early daily papers. He went on to bigger things, though, serving two terms as governor of Wisconsin.
Frank “Doc” Powell, writer/politician/charlatan | 1847-1906
This snake oil salesman and La Crosse mayor put his name on dozens of “dime novels” though his actual authorship is doubtful.
Poetry ran in the blood of two 19th century La Crosse women whose daughters also became poets.