To coincide with the book release of Historical Heartthrobs, by our own Kelly Murphy, she rounded up a few of Brooklyn’s own darlings who made a name for themselves in the 20th century and beyond. In the book, heartthrobs are chosen based on a broad range of attractive features—wit, charisma, hourglass figures, even just sheer power. But much like these Brooklyn babes, they all used that allure to shape history in some way, from the ciphers of hip-hop to the back rooms of the mob. Take a trip down memory lane with these (sexy) BK natives and learn a little bit about the figures who helped make our borough the cultural stomping ground it is today.
Mae West (actress, 1893-1980)
Born Mary Jane West in Greenpoint at the turn of the 20th century, the actress and singer took the spirit of the Roaring Twenties by storm, boldly embracing her sex symbol status. From her early frisky vaudeville days to her Hollywood success with Paramount to her later days as the queen of camp, West’s vivacious performances simply couldn’t be censored.
Quotable: “There are no good girls gone wrong – just bad girls found out.”
Raymond Scott (inventor of the electronic instrument, 1908-1994)
Born to Russian-immigrant parents who owned a music shop, Raymond Scott was deterred from his engineering ambitions by his brother, who paid his tuition to Juilliard (then Institute of Musical Art). As a composer and inventor of the Electronium, the instrument eventually used in early electro music, Scott made his name scoring dozens of Warner Brother cartoons, including Bugs Bunny and Porky Pig.
Quotable: “Instantaneous composition-performance machine” — Raymond Scott’s description for his instrument, the Electronium
Rita Hayworth (actress, 1918-1987)
Born Margarita Carmen Cansino to a Spanish dancer father and a chorus girl mother, the bombshell actress lit up the silver screen in Charles Vidor’s film noir Gilda. Though she underwent a serious whitewashing of her Latin heritage, Hayworth managed to cement herself as an early 20th century feminist icon travelling publicly with her not-yet-husband, Muslim Prince Aly Khan, and posing shamelessly as a pin-up girl for troops overseas.
Quotable: “All I wanted was just what everybody else wants, you know, to be loved.”
Red Holzman (New York Knicks coach, 1920-1998)
A Jewish immigrant who was born in Germany and moved to Brownsville at age seven, Red Holzman led the Knicks to two NBA championships with his defense-oriented strategy and was named NBA Coach of the Decade in the 70s. With 613 team wins, his reputation as the best Knicks coach ever was immortalized on a jersey in the Madison Square Garden rafters in 1990.
Quotable: “If you play good, hard defense, the offense will take care of itself.”
Shirley Chisholm (politician, 1924-2005)
This Bed-Stuy/Crown Heights native scaled the ranks of U.S. politics to become the first black congresswoman in 1968, later becoming the first major-party African American candidate to run for president. Running on the slogan “unbought and unbossed,” the liberal educator-turned-Representative returned to teaching after her political career.
Quotable: “I’ve always met more discrimination being a woman than being black.”
Alfred Gottschalk (Reform Judaism leader, 1930-2009)
After losing several family members to the Holocaust in Germany, Alfred Gottschalk’s family escaped to Brooklyn when he was still a child, and the soon-to-be scholar began developed new ideas about his Jewish faith. As the eventual head of Reform Judaism’s major institution of higher learning, Gottschalk ordained the first female, gay, and lesbian rabbis in the United States.
Quotable: “I once thanked President Reagan for teaching me English — he was in all the movies at that time.”
Jackie Loughery (Miss USA, 1930-present)
Rising from modest pretty-girl beginnings as 1949’s Miss Rockaway Point, Brooklyn’s Jackie Loughery went on to become the first Miss New York USA. The redheaded Loughery was then crowned the first Miss USA after a first-place tie and starred in several Hollywood movies as part of her esteemed prize package.
Henry Hill Jr. (mobster, 1943-2012)
East New York born and raised mobster Henry Hill Jr. and his affiliation with the Lucchese crime family are so infamous that his life inspired the classic Scorsese film Goodfellas. Before ending up in the Witness Protection Program as an FBI informant, Hill ensured he’d go down in Mafia history with the largest single cash robbery in U.S. history, at JFK Airport.
Quotable: “I shot at people. I busted a lot of heads, and I buried a lot of bodies.”
Jean-Michel Basquiat (artist, 1960-1988)
From his graffiti artist years in NYC with SAMO to his innovative painting canon, Jean-Michel Basquiat made a rock star-esque name for himself in the visual art community with his experimental mash-up of words, symbols, and stick figures. The Haitian American’s star-studded rise to fame peaked with an Andy Warhol collaboration, and his drug overdose death led to his legendary status in New York today. Basquiat is buried in South Brooklyn’s Green-Wood Cemetery.
Quotable: “The country makes me more paranoid, you know? I think the crazy people out there are little crazier.”
The Notorious B.I.G. (rapper, 1972-1997)
Born Christopher George Lator Wallace, Biggie ushered in a new era of respect for the East Coast rap game with 1994’s Ready to Die produced by P. Diddy. The Bed-Stuy icon achieved hip-hop martyr status when he was murdered in 1997, three weeks before Life After Death hit stores.
Quotable: “Please, all you MCs out there, all you fans out there, don’t think Big gonna make a record dissing Tupac or the West Coast because it’s not going down like that. I cant even see me wasting my time or my talent to disrespect another black man.”