MONTCLAIR 150: Neighbors, then and now
By Kelly Nicholaides
for Montclair Local
A peek into Montclair’s past provides insight into people who put the township on the map from the late 1800s through the mid-20th century. Working class and professional individuals included artists, composers, athletes and tradesmen who built legacies through creativity, hard work, benevolence and values.
George Inness SR. (1830–1894)
The artist known for his tonal realism in landscape paintings appeared at the practice of Samuel C.G. Watkins, Montclair’s first dentist, on North Fullerton Avenue in 1889 on a hot day, perspiring and covered in dirt from the dust, kicked up walking through roadways that lacked sidewalks. The two men formed a friendship, and Watkins often visited the artist’s studio where Inness would paint with a ferocious intensity and pace. “He was placing his soul on that canvas,” Watkins wrote in his book “Reminiscences of Montclair.”
“I have seen him stand in front of a picture and paint, with every nerve under tension, every muscle up under strain; he would be in a half squatting position in front of the picture, painting like a boy at play, and quickly jump back about five or six or eight feet, bend down in a crouching position and again rush forward, brush in hand and strain his eyes at the picture with such intensity that they would bulge from his head and his hair would stand on end,” Watkins wrote.
Critical of his own work, Inness thought one day a painting was grand only to change his mind weeks later and declare it “perfect rot.”
“I have seen him paint eight pictures on one canvas, and when each one was finished, he had the feeling that it was as good as he ever did, but yet, after a few days, or a few weeks, when he would look at it in a different mood, his feeling would be that it was trash. Instantly the brush would pass over it and destroy it,” Watkins wrote. George Inness Sr. (his son George Inness Jr. was a painter too), was born in 1830 and died in 1894. He moved to Montclair in 1885, and lived in a home called The Pines on Grove Street, renovating the barn for a studio. Inness Sr. was one of the most known artists in the Montclair Art Colony. The George Inness Annex of Montclair High School is named for him, and his art hangs in the Montclair Art Museum.
Benjamin Moore (1855-1917)
The co-founder of Benjamin Moore & Co. Paints with brother Robert in 1883, Benjamin was born in Ireland and emigrated to America in 1872. He lived in Upper Montclair. The Moore brothers founded the company in Brooklyn with one product, “Moore’s Prepared Calsom Finish,” and sold their paints only through independent retailers. In 1913, the New York Times reported a roast for Moore: “About 30 members of the Upper Montclair Country Club, drove up to [Benjamin’s] home in automobiles and capatured him. Mr. Moore was taken to the club, where he was made the guest of honor at a dinner.” He and his wife left the next day on a boat for an extended visit to Europe.
Herman Hupfeld (1894-1951)
The lyricist who wrote “As Time Goes By,” featured in the classic film “Casablanca,” lived at 259 Park St. Parts of the song are painted on the beam of the living room ceiling. Hupfeld’s mother was the organist at Watchung Congregational Church, said township historian Mike Farrelly. “He wrote ‘As Time Goes By’ in 1931. It was not a hit. Rudy Vallee recorded a version and it [initially] flopped. In 1943 when Sam Dooley sang it in ‘Casablanca,’ the song gained great popularity and success,” Farrelly said.
Hupfeld spent World War I playing saxophone in the Navy band before making a living as a composer after a “random bolt of perfection” with the song, according to a 2005 New York Daily News article. Reporter David Hinckley noted that “the song began with three stanzas of wordplay that sounded like a poor man’s Ira Gershwin. When it got to the chorus, happily, it turned simple and elegant. But one good chorus wasn’t enough to sell critics on the show.” Hinckley noted that singer Frances Williams performed the song in “Everybody’s Welcome,” a musical for the Shuberts. The Great Depression hit record sales hard, but the song survived after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor and Warner Brothers was looking for patriotic war-related prospects and bought it.
Frank Bunker Gilbreth, Jr., (1911-2001)
Ernestine Gilbreth Carey (1908-2006)
“Cheaper by the Dozen” authors Frank Bunker Gilbreth, Jr. and Ernestine Gilbreth Carey lived in Montclair with their 10 other siblings children. The book is a semi-autobiographical novel about growing up with 12 children in the family; it mentions Montclair, referencing the Bullock School and the Wellmont. It was published in 1948. The bestselling book was later adapted into a feature film by 20th Century Fox in 1950 and followed up by the sequel, “Belles on Their Toes” (1950), which was adapted as a 1952 film. “Cheaper by the Dozen” is the Montclair Public Library’s first Community Read, in 2018.
Donald l. Miller (1923-1993)
Artist Don Miller painted the iconic Martin Luther King Freedom mural — now at the Martin King Jr. Memorial Library in Washington, D.C. — in his studio at 180 Bloomfield Ave. after being commissioned by the National Library in Washington, D.C., for an unveiling during the first observance of Dr. King’s birthday as a national holiday. “Much of Mr. Miller’s work reflected the spirit of the emerging civil rights movement,” read hie New York Times obituary. “His magnum opus, the King Mural, depicts the life and work of Dr. King. Seven feet high and 56 feet long, it was commissioned by the library and was unveiled in January 1986 for the first observance of Dr. King’s birthday as a national holiday.” Several of the historic figures portrayed in the mural came to Montclair to meet with Don Miller in person, including Rosa Parks, the heroine of the Montgomery bus boycott; Dr. Caroline Goodman, the mother of the slain CORE worker Andrew Goodman; the Rev. Ralph D. Abernathy; Dorothy Cotton from the Southern Christian Leadership Conference; Atlanta’s Mayor Andrew Young; the Rev C.T. Vivian and the Rev. Wyatt Tee Walker.
Anne McCaffrey (1926-2011)
Best known for the “Dragonriders of Pern” science fiction series, the writer became the first woman to win a Hugo Award for fiction and the first to win a Nebula Award. Her book “The White Dragon” was one of the first science-fiction novels to make the New York Times Best Seller list. She graduated from Montclair High School before attending Radcliffe College. With a career spanning nearly five decades, McCaffrey also served a term as secretary-treasurer of the Science Fiction Writers of America. She emigrated to Ireland in 1970, where she continued to write.
Buzz Aldrin (1930- )
Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin was the second man to walk on the moon. Aeronautics ran in his family: his father, Edwin Sr., was an aeronautical engineer. Buzz got his nickname because his older sister had trouble pronouncing the word “brother,” according to “Legendary Locals” by Elizabeth Shepard and Mike Farrelly. Aldrin served in the Korean War as a pilot, and flew 66 missions. In 1963, Aldrin joined NASA’s Astronaut Group 3.
He successfully proved that astronauts could work outside spacecraft, setting a record for extravehicular activity on the Gemini 12 mission, spending five hours outside the ship. On July 20, 1969, Aldrin flew on the Apollo 11 mission as Lunar Module Pilot, and he and Neil Armstrong were the first two human beings ever to set foot on the moon on July 21. After 21 years of service, Aldrin retired in 1972 from active duty, working in the Air Force in managerial roles. In his 1973 autobiography “Return to Earth” and his 2009 autobiography “Magnificent Desolation,” Aldrin describes his struggles with depression and alcoholism. In December 2016, Aldrin became the oldest person ever to visit the South Pole, visiting the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station with a tourist group. He fell ill and was evacuated. Among his many awards are the Air Force Distinguished Service Medal, 1969; being honored on a United States postage stamp, 1994; the highest honor from the Space Foundation, the General James E. Hill Lifetime Space Achievement Award, 2006; the Congressional Gold Medal, along with Apollo 11’s Neil Armstrong and Michael Collins, 2011. In 2016, Mount Hebron Middle School in Montclair, which Aldrin attended, was renamed the Buzz Aldrin Middle School.
Olympia Dukakis (1931- )
The actress lived on Mountain Avenue with her husband Louis Zorich and their three children. Dukakis is best known for winning an Academy Award in 1987 for her role in “Moonstruck.” She had already logged more than 30 years in acting and joked, “So much for overnight anything,” in her 2003 memoir “Ask Me Again Tomorrow.”
According to a 2016 article in New Jersey Monthly magazine by Montclair writer Jacqueline Mroz, Dukakis was at the Whole Theater, the company she founded in Montclair, when she learned that she had been nominated for an Oscar. She and her husband had moved to the township for a quiet place to raise a family and to start their own theater company with other actors. For 17 years, the theater company produced five plays per season, and included actors such as Samuel L. Jackson and Blythe Danner, according to a 2003 New York Times article. She lived in Montclair from 1971 to 1999. The township gave her a parade after her Oscar win, and she was honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2013.
Aubrey Lewis (1935–2001)
One of the most outstanding football players and athletes in the history of Montclair High School, Aubrey Lewis continued to achieve great things at the University of Notre Dame. He was named captain of the track team there, becoming the first African American to be so honored. narrowly missed making an Olympic team after he stumbled over the last hurdle during trials, according to his New York Times obituary in 2001. He also played as the Notre Dame football team’s halfback from 1955 to 1957, and was drafted by the NFL’s Chicago Bears. While his playing career was halted by ankle injuries, Lewis had made his mark: the Newark Evening News named him the “offensive football player of the century” in the 1960s, and the Star-Ledger followed suit in 1999.
Lewis accomplished all he did while concealing a heart murmur. When he arrived for a physical, the doctor noticed that Lewis’ heart was beating too quickly. Lewis’ excuse was that he ran all the way from home. He was an All-American halfback for the Mountie football team; on the track, Lewis set state records in the 100-yard dash, the 200 and the discus. He also played on undefeated basketball teams.
After football, Lewis taught in Newark, Montclair and Paterson, where he also coached football and track. The FBI recruit ed him in 1962 as one of the first African Americans to go through their training academy and become an agent. Five years later, Woolworth offered him a job as an executive recruiter. “Seven years earlier, a sit-in at a segregated Woolworth lunch counter in Greensboro, N.C. was a signature moment of the civil rights movement,” the obituary states.
Lewis also went on to serve as commissioner of the New Jersey Sports & Exhibition Authority while that organization developed the Meadowlands sports complex in the 1970s, according to the Times obituary.
Christopher Durang (1949- )
The playwright was born in Montclair and fell in love with theater when he saw his first musicals at Paper Mill Playhouse in Millburn. His 1979 play “Sister Mary Ignatius Explains It All For You” won an Obie Award, and is often considered the playwright’s break-out work.
Known for his outrageous comedy, Durang won a Tony Award for Best Play in 2013 for “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike.” His writing deals with issues of child abuse, Roman Catholic dogma, and homosexuality. Durang lives in Pennsylvania with his husband, actor and playwright John Augustine.
Pamela Redmond Satran (1953- )
The author published “Younger” in 2005, and the book was the basis for the TV series that debuted in 2015 on TV Land. In June 2018, the show was renewed for a sixth season.
She lived in Montclair from the 1980s until 2015. While living in London, she co-authored books on naming in England and Ireland. Satran is also the co-author, with Linda Rosencrantz, of several baby-naming books, including “Beyond Jennifer and Jason” (1988) and “The Baby-Naming Bible” (2007), and runs the baby-name website Nameberry. Satran wrote the famous essay “30 Things Every Woman Should Have and Should Know By The Time She’s 30,” which has been attributed to Maya Angelou, among many others.
Stephen colbert (1964- )
The host of the CBS talk show “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert” since 2015, Colbert came to national fame as a correspondent for “The Daily Show” on Comedy Central from 1997 to 2004, then on the same network with his show “The Colbert Report,” a satirical comedy where he played a right-wing ideologue, from 2005 to 2014. The show was so popular he was asked to perform at the White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner in 2006. Colbert is from Charleston, S.C., and studied acting at Northwestern University.
He first performed professionally as an understudy for Steve Carell at Second City Chicago. Among his many awards are nine Primetime Primetime Emmys two Grammys and two Peabody Awards. Colbert is a practicing Catholic, from a large Catholic family (the youngest of 11) who used to teach Sunday school in Montclair. Married to Evelyn “Evie” McGee-Colbert, he has three children. He is on the Advisory Board of Montclair Film, and often heads their fundraisers and interviews stars such as Ethan Hawke, John Turturro, Rachel Weisz, Richard Gere, when they appear at the Montclair Film Festival. In 2009, NASA named a treadmill on the International Space Station for him, the “Combined Operational Load-Bearing External Resistance Treadmill (COLBERT),” after Colbert took an interest in it and urged his viewers to vote for him in the naming census. No other living human being has a piece of NASA-engineered equipment named for him.
Duncan Sheik (1969- )
Sheik was raised by his parents in Montclair and his grandparents in South Carolina. His grandmother taught him piano. The singer-songwriter and composer found success with his 1996 debut single “Barely Breathing” and earned a Grammy Award nomination for Best Male Pop Vocal Performance. He won multiple Tonys and a Grammy for the 2008 musical “Spring Awakening.” Sheik studied semiotics at Brown University before moving to Los Angeles, where he continues to write..
Gwen Orel and Jaimie Winters contributed reporting to this article.
Sources: Benjaminmoore.com; Christopherdurang.com; “Donald L. Miller, 69, Painter and Illustrator.” New York Times: Feb. 10, 1993.; Farrelly, Mike.; Goldstein, Richard. “Aubrey Lewis, 66, Athlete Who Was an F.B.I. Pioneer.” The New York Times: Dec. 13, 2001. Grammy.com; Hinckley, David. “Play it again. Herman Hupfeld’s Greatest Hit.” The New York Daily News: May 9, 2005; June 20, 2000; Mroz, Jacqueline. “A Storied Life.” New Jersey Monthly: February 2016. Nameberry.com; Nash, Margo. “Olympia Dukakis and Memories of Montclair.” New York Times: Aug. 10, 2003; “Legendary Locals of Montclair.” Arcadia Publishing: 2013; Watkins, Samuel C.G. “Reminiscences of Montclair.” A.S. Barned and Company: 1929; Wikipedia.com.