top of page
  • Writer's pictureCathryn Stanley

Actors, Authors, and a Director

Updated: Jul 9

This is a continuation of an earlier blog, "People You Should Know" about famous people with ties to Belmont County. Because so many athletes have ties to the county, this blog will focus on the actors and authors (including a famous illustrator), with another blog dedicated to famous athletes.


1. Mary Maurice

The "Grand Old Lady" of early silent films, veteran touring company actress Mary Maurice (born Birch on November 15, 1844 in Morristown, Ohio), spent nearly her entire 1910-1918 screen career with the New York-based Vitagraph company where, on and off the screen, she "mothered" everyone from the Talmadge sisters to Jean, "the Vitagraph Dog." She was especially effective as James Morrison's mother in the studio's great preparedness film The Battle Cry for Peace (1915). She appeared in 139 films between 1909 and 1918.

Mary Maurice, the "Grand Old Lady" of early silent films, was born n Morristown.

2. William Boyd "Hopalong Cassidy"

William Boyd, who played serial cowboy hero “Hopalong Cassidy” was born in Hendrysburg, Ohio. Although he acted in many other films, he is best known for his role as "Hoppy" in the serial films. Later, he purchased the rights to those films and when TV became popular, he introduced a whole new generation of kids to the films. (They are even available on Hulu now). Boyd also became the first national TV star and "Hoppy" merchandise included everything from lunch boxes to bedroom furniture and wallpaper. He also had a comic strip, comic book, and radio show. He grew up in nearby Guernsey County in Cambridge where a museum and a long-running festival in his honor were located (The festival was discontinued in 2015, and the museum suffered a fire in 2016). A display on Boyd from Laura Bates, the museum owner, is now in the Hendrysburg room of the Belmont County Heritage Museum in St. Clairsville. The exhibit includes merchandise, historic photos, and memorabilia from the Hopalong Cassidy Festival.

3. Kenneth Donovan "Ken" Clark

(June 4, 1927 – June 1, 2009) was an American B-movie actor. He appeared in movies in the United States and Europe, including the Secret Agent 077 trilogy. Clark was born in Neffs, Ohio. Originally contracted to 20th Century Fox, Clark's most prominent role in American film was Stewpot in South Pacific (1958), showcased in two musical sequences, "There Is Nothing Like a Dame" and an amateur Thanksgiving show in which he presents a strongman act.

Clark made many guest star appearances on a variety of American TV shows, including four appearances on Alfred Hitchcock Presents. In 1959, he made an unsold private investigator pilot Brock Callahan. During this period Clark was the lead in Attack of the Giant Leeches (1959) and 12 to the Moon (1960).

During the 1960s Clark,  like many other American actors, went to Italy appearing in several sword and sandal films, spaghetti westerns, and Europsy films beginning with Re Manfredi (1961).

4. Nora Dunfe

Belmont native Nora Dunfee was a dialect coach and actress on Broadway and in film, best known for her performance as the elderly southern lady on the bench with Tom Hanks in Forrest Gump (1994). Dunfee began her professional career at the Ogunquit Playhouse in 1939 where she was discovered by Sinclair Lewis, author of the American classic "Main Street," and cast in his production of Thornton Wilder's "Our Town. Dunfee taught privately in New York and California and coached numerous prominent performers for Broadway and film, including Mel Gibson, Jessica Lange, Diane Keaton, Sissy Spacek Barbara Hershey, Susan Sarandon, and James Earl Jones who had been her student at the American Theatre Wing in New York and continued to work with her throughout his career. Dunfee was a Master Teacher of Speech and Text at the Graduate Acting Program, Tisch School of the Arts, New York University, for 28 years, where her students included Billy Crudup and Marcia Gay Harden.


1. William Dean Howells

American author and journalist William Dean Howells was born on March 1, 1837, in Martinsville (now Martins Ferry), Ohio. In 1860, the Republican Party selected Howells to write a biography of their presidential candidate, Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln won the election of 1860 and rewarded Howells by appointing him the United States Consul to Venice, Italy. Howells remained in this position until 1865 when he returned to the United States and became an assistant editor with The Atlantic Monthly. He became the editor-in-chief of the journal in 1871. Howells remained with The Atlantic Monthly until 1881. Howells became a well-known novelist during the late nineteenth century. He published his first novel, Their Wedding Journey, in 1872. He authored 35 novels over the next 50 years. One of those books, The Leatherwood God, was written about a mysterious, but real historical figure in Salesville, Ohio. He also published numerous short stories, plays, and poems.

American author and journalist William Dean Howells was born on March 1, 1837, in Martinsville (now Martins Ferry), Ohio.

2. James Wright

Poet James Wright was born in Martins Ferry in 1927. He was frequently referred to as one of America's finest contemporary poets. Critics and fellow poets admired him for his willingness and ability to experiment with language and style and for his thematic concerns. Wright won a Pulitzer Prize in 1972 for his Collected Poems. One of his most famous poems is "Autumn Begins in Martins Ferry, Ohio".

He is honored at the James Wright Poetry Festival in Martins Ferry. A biography of Wright was published in 2017. Wright and his son, the late Franz Wright, were the only father and son to have both won a Pulitzer for poetry.

3. William Francis "Frank" Ver Beck (June 1, 1858 – July 13, 1933) was an American illustrator known for his comedic drawings of animals. He illustrated over 20 books, including Frank L. Baums’ “A New Wonderland” published in 1900.

Ver Beck was born in Richland Township in Belmont County, the son of a shoemaker. He studied art and woodcarving under Mansfield, Ohio artist Robert R. "Railroad" Smith and worked as a wood engraver.

In 1881 or 1882, Ver Beck moved to New York City. There he studied art and became a freelance illustrator for magazines including Scribner's, The Ladies Home Journal, and Collier's.

Illustrator Frank Ver Beck was born in Richland Township in Belmont County.

4. Francis Wallace

Bellaire native Francis Wallace was an American sportswriter, fiction writer, screenwriter, and commentator for radio and television broadcasts.

His first of 17 books, Huddle!, was published in 1930 by Farrar & Rinehart. Several of those stories and books became the basis for motion picture screenplays. Touchdown, his first of seven motion pictures, was released by Paramount Pictures in 1931. Kid Galahad was released by Warner Bros. in 1937 and was remade in 1962.

In 1937, Wallace launched what would become an industry with the release of annual college football predictions under the title of Pigskin Preview in the Saturday Evening Post and Annual Football Preview in Collier's. His prominence as a sportswriter led to jobs as a commentator for the CBS TV network and the ABC radio network.


Ellis R. Dungan was an important and influential director in Indian Tamil Cinema, from 1936 to 1950. 

A Barton native, Dungan attended St. Clairsville High School, where he was a quarterback on the football team. Dungan bought his first camera to use as editor-in-chief of the school yearbook. After graduating from the University of Southern California, he moved to India in 1935. He introduced many new techniques to Indian cinema despite the technical limitations of that period. Dungan is credited with introducing modern make-up, the mobile camera, and cabaret dance numbers to Tamil Cinema and moving it away from the influence of stage plays.

His last Tamil film was Manthiri Kumari in 1950. He returned to America and settled in Wheeling, West Virginia, in 1958. There he started "Ellis Dungan Productions" and for the next 30 years, he made documentary movies for the Hollywood producer Duke Goldstone.

In 2013, Indian filmmaker Karan Bali made a one-hour documentary on Dungan titled An American in Madras by consulting West Virginia State Archives and interviewing people who had known Dungan.

228 views0 comments


Post: Blog2 Post
bottom of page