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Portland People and Their Accomplishments

Portland, Oregon, is a city known for many things, from its arts scene to its cuisine, from the major corporations headquartered there to the diverse culture of its residents. But whatever the combination, the city has had a great influence on people – both those who were born there, and those with some other connection to the city – many of whom have gone on to do amazing things.

  • Television – Pretty much any discussion of famous Portland people has to start with Matt Groening, the creator of “The Simpsons,” the animated sitcom that, in 2009, became the longest-running scripted American primetime television series of all time. Many of the show’s characters are named after streets and spots in Portland. Actress Lindsay Wagner, best known for playing the title character on the 1970s series “The Bionic Woman,” lived in Portland as a teen. Actress Sally Struthers, who gained fame as Gloria on “All in the Family,” and later had a recurring role on “Gilmore Girls,” was born in the city, as was Mitch Pileggi, who played FBI Assistant Director Walter Skinner in “The X-Files” TV series and films. Meanwhile, Carrie Brownstein, the actress, writer and musician who co-created and stars in the series “Portlandia” – named after the copper statue that is a symbol of the city – calls Portland home.
  • Music – Brownstein is also a co-founder of the rock band Sleater-Kinney, a seminal group associated with Portland. Other artists with a Portland connection include: Hole founder Courtney Love, who spent part of her childhood there and took classes at Portland State; singer-songwriter Elliot Smith, who lived in Portland for much of his life, and earned an Oscar nomination for his song “Miss Misery”; and The Kingsmen, who found success (and some controversy) with the song “Louie Louie.” Well-known for its music scene, Portland has also produced such acts as Paul Revere and the Raiders, The Dandy Warhols, Everclear, The Shins and The Decemberists.
  • Film – Academy Award-nominated director Gus Van Sant is a longtime Portland resident, and set two of his early films (“My Own Private Idaho” and “Drugstore Cowboy”) there. Actor Sam Elliott, known to cult movie fans as “The Stranger,” who narrates the Coen brothers’ classic “The Big Lebowski,” attended David Douglas High School in Portland.

Sam Elliott Trivia

Sam Elliott has been married to actress Katharine Ross since 1984. Elliott made his film debut in the 1969 classic “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,” in which Ross starred. However, the two did not meet until nearly 10 years later!

  • Literature – Popular author Chuck Palahniuk (“Fight Club”) moved to Portland after attending journalism school at the University of Oregon. One of his books, “Fugitives and Refugees,” is an offbeat guidebook of Portland. Children’s author Beverly Cleary lived in the city as a child and gave her most famous characters – “Beezus” and Ramona Quimby – an address on Klickitat Street in northeast Portland. The city has honored her by naming schools after her and dedicating a sculpture garden to her. Chef and food writer James Beard, known as the “the dean of American cookery,” was born in Portland. Jean Auel, author of “Clan of the Cave Bear” and other works of pre-historical fiction, attended the University of Portland.
  • Sports – Two athletes whose names are inextricably linked with their respective sports were born in Portland. Dick Fosbury won a gold medal at the 1968 Olympics in the high jump, but it was his technique – a back-first jump that became known as the “Fosbury Flop” – that revolutionized the sport, and has been adopted by virtually all competing athletes. Known as “Mr. Red Sox,” having been associated with that team for 61 of his 73 years in baseball, Johnny Pesky was a shortstop and third baseman (and later manager and coach) with three different teams between 1942 and 1954. A light-hitting lefty, he was consistently among the league leaders in on-base percentage (and retired with a .307 batting average). Yet in 4,745 major league at-bats, he only managed 17 home runs. Because of his lack of power, Pesky became associated with sneaking a home run around the right field foul pole at Fenway Park, which stood just 302 feet from home plate. As a result, Red Sox broadcaster (and Pesky’s former teammate) Mel Parnell began referring to the foul pole as “Pesky’s Pole,” or the Pesky Pole – a name which stands to this day.
  • Miscellaneous – Russian-born artist Mark Rothko, an abstract expressionist who is considered one of the top three (with Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning) postwar American artists, lived in Portland as a child and attended Lincoln High School. Although he traveled extensively, he visited Portland frequently. Double Nobel laureate Linus Pauling, considered one of the greatest scientists of all time, was born in Portland. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1954 for his scientific work. Then, in 1962, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his peace activism. He is one of only two people to be awarded Nobel Prizes (the other being Marie Curie) in different fields.

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