Notable Immigrants M--Z

Immigrants came through Ellis Island ready to start a new life in a new country or to continue a career in a new country. Read on to learn more about some of the Notable Immigrants who pass through the island.

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Claude McKay
Claude McKay
Claude McKay, Writer and Poet, September 15, 1889 – May 22, 1948

Claude McKay was born Festus Claudius McKay in Clarendon, Jamaica.His parents were affluent farmers and Claude received an excellent education.In 1912, he published his first book of poems, Songs of Jamaica. He would go on to become one of the central figures of the Harlem Renaissance. McKay moved to the United States in 1912 where he attended college and moved to New York in 1914. In 1922, he published Harlem Shadows, a book of poetry.In 1928, he published his first novel in the United States, Home to Harlem, which won the Harmon Gold Award for Literature.He would go on to write novels, collections of short stories, autobiographical books, and non-fiction, including among others, Banjo (1929), Banana Bottom (1933), Gingertown (1932), A Long Way from Home (1937), and Harlem: Negro Metropolis (1940.) Early in his career, McKay became attracted to socialism as an avenue toward black self-determination. While living in Harlem, he became co-editor of a socialist monthly, The Liberator. While living in London in the early 1920s, McKay also wrote for a socialist paper.
Alan Mowbray, Stage, Film, and Television Actor, August 18, 1896 - March 25, 1969

Alan Mowbray was born Alfred Ernest Allen in London England on August 18, 1896. In 1923, he sailed from London aboard the S.S. President Adams arriving in New York on May 22. He was temporarily detained on Ellis Island due to the quota limits that had been imposed by Congress in 1921. Once settled in the United States, he continued a stage acting career begun in England. Between 1923 and 1929 he toured the United States with the Theater Guild, a traveling acting group. Mowbray began his film career in 1931. Starting with God's Gift to Women (1931), the first film for which he received credit, he went on to play roles in movies such as Sherlock Holmes (1932), A Study in Scarlet (1933), Charlie Chan in London (1934), My Man Godfrey (1936), Topper (1937), That Hamilton Woman (1941), My Darling Clementine (1946), Ma and Pa Kettle at Home (1954), The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956) and A Majority of One (1961). His television appearances ran from the 1950s through the 1960s and the shows include The Red Skelton Hour (1957), The Bob Cummings Show (1958), The Gale Storm Show: Oh, Susanna! (1960), Maverick (1960), The Patty Duke Show (1963) Mister Roberts (1966), The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (1966), The Beverly Hillbillies (1968), and The Flying Nun (1969). With over 180 film and television credits to his name, Mowbray became one of the most successful and recognized character actors in film history.
Pola Negri
Pola Negri, Actor, January 3, 1894 – August 1, 1987

Pola Negri was born Apolonia Chalupiec in Lipno, Poland. From an impoverished beginning she worked her way into performing arts through acceptance into the Imperial Ballet Academy of Warsaw and the Warsaw Imperial Academy of Dramatic Arts. She appeared in her first film, Slave to Her Sense, in 1914. She continued making movies for the Warsaw film industry and during this time she had the opportunity to meet some of the most well-known Polish artists. Her newly discovered prominence allowed her to go to Berlin, where she took on the role of a dancing girl in a revival of Max Reinhardt's Sumurun. In the German capital she met the legendary director Ernst Lubitsch. The two of them traveled to Hollywood. Forbidden Paradise (1924) and Hotel Imperial (1927) were her two most successful films during this period. With the advent of sound films and the establishment of the Hayes Office, Ms. Negri's fortunes changed. Her sultry, seductive style was now considered too risqué and audiences had a hard time with her strong Polish accent. Paramount Pictures did not renew her contract in 1928. She returned to Europe, working in film in England and Germany. Nazi oppression made Negri flee Europe and she returned to America in 1941. Immigration authorities barred her from entering the country and temporarily held her overnight on Ellis Island. The July 28, 1941 edition of the Miami Daily News explained that she was detained because "her five-year permit has lapsed and has not been renewed."
Mayor William O'Dwyer, Politician, July 11,1890 - November 24, 1964

William O'Dwyer, New York City's 100th mayor, was born in Bohola County, Mayo, Ireland. After dismissing the idea of becoming a priest, he left from Cherbourg, France on June 20, 1910 aboard the S.S. Philadelphia for the United States. He arrived at Ellis Island on June 26, 1910 and was temporarily detained on legal issues. Once in the United States, O'Dwyer worked as a laborer, then as a New York City policeman. At night he studied law at Fordham University and received his degree in1923. In 1939, O'Dwyer won the election for Kings County (Brooklyn) District Attorney and was nationally recognized for prosecuting members of the infamous organized crime gang, "Murder, Inc."He was elected Mayor of New York City in 1946. During his tenure, his accomplishments included setting up a traffic department, establishing the Office of City Construction Coordinator, and settling labor disputes. He also worked hard to ensure that Manhattan became the permanent home of the United Nations. O'Dwyer was re-elected Mayor in 1949, however, a police corruption scandal forced him to resign on August 31, 1950. President Truman quickly appointed him the United States Ambassador to Mexico. In 1951 questions were asked about his relationship with organized crime and he resigned as Ambassador the following year, although he remained in Mexico until 1960. He died in New York City in 1964.
Warner Oland, Actor, October 3, 1879 - August 6, 1938

Warner Oland, was born as Johan Verner Olund in Nyby, Vasterbotton, Sweden. Oland, listed as Jonas V. Olund, his mother, Marie, and 4 siblings sailed from Christiana (Oslo after 1925), Norway in November, 1892 aboard the S.S. Thingvalla and arrived in NY/Ellis island on November 26. Oland began his career as a set designer, stage actor and translator of Johan August Strindberg's plays. In 1912, he obtained his first acting position in the silent movie Pilgrim's Progress. Perseverance and good fortune led to his role as Al Jolson's cantor father in the Jazz Singer. In the late 1920s, Oland played Asians in several movies until he got the part of the principle character in The Mysterious Dr. Fu Manchu. This character led to his being cast as detective Charlie Chan in a series of films beginning with Charlie Chan Carries On in 1931.
Joe Penner, Comedian, Actor, November 11, 1904 - January 10, 1941

Joe Penner was born József Pintér in Nagybecskerek, Austria-Hungary (now Zrenjanin, Serbia). He came to the United States with his family as a child in 1907. The Depression era public identified Joe Penner, the successful comedian of burlesque, vaudeville, radio and motion pictures with his two favorite phrases "Wanna buy a duck?"and "You naaaaasty man!" Penner began his career in New York burlesque and vaudeville, but his popularity soared after popular entertainer and radio host Rudy Vallee introduced the comic to a radio audience. Penner went on to have his own radio program, one of the first to be broadcast on a regular basis from Los Angeles. He also became a minor leading man in "B" movie musicals such as College Rhythm (1934), Collegiate (1936) and Mr. Doodle Kicks Off (1938). His most memorable role was in The Boys From Syracuse (1940) based on the Broadway musical.
Frank Puglia, Actor, March 9, 1892 - October 25, 1975

Frank Puglia was born Francesco Guiseppe Puglia in Sicily and came to the US in 1907 with his father and two brothers. As a young teen in Italy, Puglia had appeared in Italian opera. Once in America he joined a New York Italian theater troupe. His first motion picture, Orphans of the Storm in 1921, resulted from filmmaker D.W. Griffth seeing him on stage. Puglia went on to star in such films as Captain Blood (1935), Bulldog Drummond's Revenge (1937), Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939), Now Voyager (1942), For Whom the Bell Tolls (1943) The Road to Rio (1947) and Casanova's Big Night (1954).
Hyman G. Rickover
Admiral Hyman G. Rickover, Naval Innovator, January 27, 1900 - July 8, 1986

Hyman G. Rickover, the "Father of the Nuclear Navy" was born Chaim Rikower in Makow, Russia (now Poland) and came to the US through Ellis Island in 1906. Rickover graduated from the US Naval Academy in 1922, became a qualified submariner in 1930 and during WW II headed the electrical section of the Bureau of Ships.As early as 1947, he believed in the possibility of nuclear-powered submarines. In 1954, his design for the first nuclear submarine, the U.S.S. Nautilus, turned into a reality. The Nautilus became the first commissioned nuclear powered ship in the US Navy.Decommissioned in 1980 and designated a National Historic Landmark, the U.S.S. Nautilus, is now part of the Submarine Force Museum in Groton, Connecticut.
Edward G. Robinson, Actor, December 12, 1893 - January 26, 1973

Edward G. Robinson was born Emanuel Goldenberg in Bucharest, Romania. His father, Moritz Goldenberg immigrated in 1903. In 1904 Edward followed with his mother, grandmother, and two brothers. They arrived on Ellis Island on February 21 and were detained until February 23 because they did not have the necessary doctor's certificates. While attending City College in New York, Robinson abandoned plans to become either a rabbi or lawyer and decided to study acting. The American Academy of Dramatic Arts awarded him a scholarship and he began his stage career in 1913. He debuted on Broadway in 1915 and moved into films by the 1920s. Robinson's first credited film role was in the 1923 film The Bright Shawl. His last screen appearance occurred in 1973 when he played the role of Sol Roth in Soylent Green. In total, he acted in 101 films, including The Little Giant (1933), Barbary Coast (1935), Kid Galahad (1937), The Amazing Dr. Clitterhouse (1938), Dr. Ehrlich's Magic Bullet (1940), The Sea Wolf (1941), Scarlet Street (1945), The Stranger (1946), All My Sons (1948), Key Largo (1948), and The Ten Commandments (1956). Robinson also made numerous television appearances in such programs as Night Gallery, Batman, Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In, The Lucille Ball Show and Zane Grey Theater. Despite his wide range of roles and unparalleled body of work, Robinson never received an Academy Award for his acting. The Academy of Motion Pictures did award him an honorary "Oscar" in recognition of all that he had accomplished.Although he knew about the honor, he died two months before the ceremony at which he was to receive the award.
Knute Rockne, Football Coach, March 4, 1888 - March 31, 1931

Knute Rockne was born in Voss, Norway and came with his mother and two sisters to the U.S. through Ellis Island in 1893. They were meeting his father in Chicago. Rockne studied chemistry at the University of Notre Dame and played football while a student there. After graduation, he began to coach football at the university. During thirteen years as the head fooball coach at Notre Dame, Rockne led the team to 105 victories and only 12 losses (and five ties). The teams he coached went on to win three national championships. One of the most famous players Rockne coached was the legendary George "Gipp" Gipper who was Notre Dame's first All-American and was the inspiration for Rockne's immortal "Win one for the Gipper" speech.
Onorio Ruotolo
Onorio Ruotolo
Onorio Ruotolo, Sculptor, Poet, March 3, 1888 - December 18, 1966

Onorio Ruotolo was born in Cervinara, Italy and studied at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Naples before arriving on Ellis Island in January, 1908. He was listed on the steerage manifest as a 19-year old "carver." Although Ruotolo struggled in poverty for many years on Manhattan's Lower East Side, this hardship gave him insight into the struggles of the immigrant community,which he expressed in poetry and art. Rutolo made many busts of well known people including including Helen Keller Caruso and Toscannini. In 1914, he co-founded the magazine Il Fuoco, a publication dedicated to politics and the arts. In 1923 he founded The Leonardo Da Vinci Art School, a school for educating immigrants on the Lower East Side.One of his students was Isamu Noguchi, later a prominent artist and designer.
Nicola Sacco, Political Activist, April 22, 1891 - August 23, 1927

Nicola Sacco was born in Torremaggiore, Italy and arrived in the United States via Ellis Island in 1909. In 1920, Sacco and an acquaintance, Bartolomeo Vanzetti, were accused of participating in an armed robbery of a shoe factory in Braintree, Massachusetts in which two security guards were killed. Although they maintained their innocence, a trial culminated in their conviction for murder and they were sentenced to death in the electric chair. The case drew worldwide attention and many across the world, including American liberals and intellectuals, called for a new trial. Supporters of the two men believed that the judge, jury, and prosecution were biased by the fact that Sacco and Vanzetti were adherents of a militant anarchist philosophy and that new evidence was not considered. Despite worldwide protests and pleas by such people as Upton Sinclair and George Bernard Shaw, Sacco and Vanzetti were executed on August 23, 1927. Their execution led to legal reform in Massachusetts that assured individuals convicted of capital crimes an impartial review of their cases and allowed for verdicts to be overthrown on the basis of these reviews. In 1977, Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis issued a proclamation absolving the two men of the crime. Over the years, evidence has been put forth supporting and refuting Sacco and Vanzetti's innocence. There have been some assertions that Sacco was guilty, but Vanzetti was not. What seems clear is that their verdicts resulted more from their anarchist politics than any confirmed evidence of their guilt for these particular crimes.
John H. Secondari, Television Documentary Producer, November 1, 1919 - February 8,1975

John Secondari was born Hermes Secondari in Bevagna, Umbria, Italy. He came to the United States with his mother aboard the S.S. Providence which sailed out of Naples in May 1924. They were briefly detained on Ellis Island because they were in "excess of quota" meaning that the legislatively established limits for Italian immigrants had been reached. They were allowed to depart Ellis Island on June 4. In 1939, Secondari obtained a Bachelor of Arts from Fordham University and in 1940 he received a Master of Sciences from Columbia University.In 1941 he enlisted in the United States Army. After the war he started working for CBS and then served until 1951 as Chief of Information for the Marshall Plan in Italy. For the next six years he dedicated himself to writing and wrote, among other works, four books of fiction. His 1952 Three Coins in the Fountain became a film in 1954 and won an Academy Award. Taking his writing skills with him to the ABC television network news, Secondari took charge of producing documentaries for the network's Bell and Howell Close-Up! (1960-63). Other notable series that he produced were Open Hearing (1957-58), and The Saga of Western Man (1963-66). The specials he produced include Highlights of the Coronation of Pope John XXIII (1958), Soviet Women (1963), The Ballad of the Iron Horse (1970) and Champions (1972). Secondari was awarded the Radio Television Daily's Television Writer of the Year Award in 1963 and Italy's Guglielmo Marconi World Television Award in 1964. He earned a total of twenty Emmy Awards and three Peabody Awards.
Erich von Stroheim, Actor, Director, September 22, 1885 - May 12, 1957

Erich Oswald Stroheim was born in Vienna, then part of Austria-Hungary, and entered the United States through Ellis Island in 1909. At least one source suggests that Stroheim portrayed himself to Ellis Island officials as a Prussian military nobleman.In actuality, he had Jewish parents and his father worked in Vienna as a hat maker. In the years leading to the United States entry into World War I, anti-German sentiment grew.In this atmosphere, von Stroheim built an image of the pitiless German aristocrat. People began to associate him with the phrase "the man you love to hate." Initially he took small film roles, but eventually he worked his way up to director. After World War I, von Stroheim wrote, directed and starred in Blind Husbands (1919). He quickly became known for his despotic, overbearing manner, a style that tended to distance himself from the people with whom he immediately worked. Additionally, the excessive cost and lengths of his psychologically complex films alienated his Hollywood studio bosses. Perhaps Von Stroheim's greatest movie was the 9 ½ hour film Greed. Although Stroheim cut it to 4 hours, studio bosses removed him from the film and had another writer edit it to under 2 ½ hours. The rest of the film was destroyed accidentally, but many film critics believe this was a lost masterpiece. In the 1930s, he returned to acting. His performances include Jean Renoir's La Grande Illusion (1937) and Five Graves to Cairo (1943). He earned an Oscar nomination for Sunset Boulevard (1950), where he played the role of Gloria Swanson's devoted servant.
Yma Sumac, Soprano, September 13, 1922 – November 1, 2008

The legendary soprano Yma Sumac was born Zoila Augusta Emperatriz Chavarri del Castillo in the seacoast city of Callao in Peru. Sumac had a remarkable singing voice with a range that spanned more than four octaves. She began her recording and radio career in Argentina and then came to New York City in 1946. She and her husband, Capitol Records signed a contract with her in 1950 and she went on to make a series of very successful lounge music records that utilized Incan and South American folk motifs. At the height of her career she appeared in the films Secret of the Incas (1954) and Omar Khayyam (1957). In July 1954 authorities briefly detained Sumac at Ellis Island as she returned from a tour in Europe. Newspapers suggested that she was held on suspicion of subversion, although she and her husband may actually have been held for failure to pay United States taxes. After a hearing on Ellis Island, Yma was admitted to the United States.
Arthur Tracy, Singer/Actor June 25, 1899 - October 5, 1997

Arthur Tracy was born Abba Avrom Tracovutsky in Kamenetz-Podolsky, Russian Empire (now Ukraine), In 1906 at the age of seven Arthur and his family fled the pogroms to come to the United States. Internationally known as "The Street Singer," Tracy was well known in the 1930s and 1940s as a radio, theater, and film performer. He began his career in New York vaudeville and got his start on radio on CBS in 1931. Shortly thereafter, he appeared in the movie, The Big Broadcast (1932) along with other famous radio greats, such as Bing Crosby, Kate Smith and the Boswell Sisters. In the mid-1930s Tracy appeared in a number of British films including, Backstage (1937), The Street Singer (1937) and Follow Your Star (1938). In 1940 he returned to the United States.His last film role was in 1988's Crossing Delancey, in which he had a cameo playing himself.
Pauline Trigère, Fashion Designer, November 4th, 1908 - February 13, 2002

Pauline Trigère was born to Russian-Jewish parents, her father a tailor and her mother a dressmaker, in the Pigalle district of Paris. She came to the United States with her husband, Lazare Radzinsky, also a tailor, and their two sons in 1936 when her husband became concerned about the rise of Fascism in Europe. They sailed out of Le Havre, France on December 18, 1936 aboard the Normandie, and arrived in New York on December 24, 1936. In New York, Trigère opened a small tailoring business with her husband and brother. She quickly became a well-known designer of clothing and accessories, including scarves and jewelry. "Fashion is what people tell you to wear. Style is what comes from your own inner thing." is one statement she used to describe her philosophy. In a career that spanned 50 years, she pioneered the use of "common" fabrics such as cotton and wool for evening wear, was the first name designer to use an African-American model and produced clothes that were worn by such women as Mrs. John Hay Whitney, Beverly Sills, and Evelyn Lauder. Ms. Trigère received many awards in her career, including the Coty American Fashion Critics Awards, Neiman Marcus Award, Filene Award, the National Cotton Award and the Silver Medal from the City of Paris. "People always say to me, 'Aren't you French?' and I say 'No. I am American,'" she said. "I found in this country everything I wanted. This country made me Pauline Trigère."
Rudolph Valentino
Rudolph Valentino
Rudolph Valentino, Actor, May 6, 1895 - August 23, 1926

Rudolph Valentino was born Rodolfo Alfonzo Raffaelo Pierre Filibert Guglielmi di Valentina d'Antonguolla in Castellaneta, Italy. He arrived in the U.S. through Ellis Island on December 23, 1913. For a time he remained in New York, finding work doing odd jobs, including waiting on tables, gardening, and working in dance halls. In 1917 he made his way to Hollywood and eventually stared in popular silent films such as Virtuous Sinners (1919), The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (1921), The Sheik (1921), The Eagle (1925) and The Son of the Sheik (1926). He was adored by female fans and became one of the first "movie stars." Valentino died in 1926 from peritonitis developed after surgery for appendicitis and gastric ulcers. His New York funeral attracted an estimated 100,000 mourners.
Johnny Weissmuller
Johnny Weissmuller
Johnny Weissmuller, Athlete / Actor, June 2, 1904 - January 20, 1984

Johnny Weissmuller was born Peter Johan Weissmuller in Freidorf (Szabadfalu), Austria-Hungary (today Romania). He and his family left Rotterdam on January 14 and entered the United States through Ellis Island on January 26, 1905. The man we have come to identify with the movie character Tarzan initially made his impact through his swimming ability. In the 1920s he won five Olympic gold medals, fifty-two National Championships and sixty-seven world records. (According to his son, Johnny's parents had actually named him Peter. Since he was not an American citizen and could not represent the United States in the Olympics, he took his younger brother's name, Johnny, to compete in the Olympics. His American-born younger brother was a citizen.) Starting in the 1930s he performed in a string of movies, including Tarzan the Ape Man (1932), Tarzan and His Mate (1934), and Tarzan Escapes! (1936). In 1948 he made his twelfth and last Tarzan film, Tarzan and the Mermaid. However, he did not stop acting and continued primarily with the Jungle Jim series of films and television shows.
Senor Wences, Entertainer, April 17, 1896 - April 20, 1999

Born Wenceslao Moreno in Salamanca, Spain, the comic ventriloquist Señor Wences traveled to the United States in either 1934 or 1935. Government officials briefly detained him at Ellis Island in 1936 because they had questions about his vaudeville bookings. Wences was known for his virtuosity in ventriloquism and his most famous characters, "Johnny" and "Pedro" were popular with audiences for years. Johnny was composed of Wences' hand on top of a doll's body and Pedro was a "head" in a box who responded "S'awright" when his box was tapped and he was asked if he was "Awright?" Wences entertained millions of people from vaudeville in the 1920's through the 1980s with multiple appearances on The Ed Sullivan Show, The Muppet Show and other television shows.

Last updated: August 19, 2016

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