Lara Flynn Boyle, Mae Jemison, Hugh Hefner, Herbie Hancock

Lara Flynn Boyle

Lara Flynn Boyle Actor
Chicago Academy for the Arts, Chicago (1988)
Teen Drama: With a TV miniseries (Amerika) already under her belt by age 17, Lara Flynn Boyle was too busy with professional gigs to participate in high-school productions. Then again, the Chicago Academy for the Arts is no regular high school; with a curriculum more Fame than formal, most students sign on in pursuit of careers in the arts. In such a competitive environment, was working actress Boyle popular with her peers? “She was such a good time, people just liked being around her,” says her old acting teacher Matt DeCaro. “Of course, people get incredibly jealous, but that was their problem.”

Sculptor and fellow Class of ’88 alum Merrilee Cleveland agrees. “She was working on one of the Poltergeist movies [in her senior] year, so she wasn’t always in school, but I don’t think anyone minded too much.”

Practice for The Practice: DeCaro says it was Boyle’s sense of humor that won over her classmates and teachers. “For one assignment, I was trying to help the kids be a little more disciplined in their approach, and I demanded each come to class with a three-minute monologue memorized. If they didn’t do it, I was going to give them a failing grade,” he recalls. “Lara did this amazing monologue about a witness on the witness stand. It was funny, it was moving, it was poignant; it triggered tears. This was an extraordinary piece of work for a 15- or 16-year-old. But I couldn’t place the play or movie it was from. I questioned Lara about it, and she did a little prevaricating, and then she said: ‘I just made it up! On the spot! I got ya!’ But, you know, I was always such a softie, I gave her an A anyway.”

True Hollywood Story: The day after graduation, Boyle and her mother quit Chicago for L.A., where, just four months later, Boyle scored her breakthrough role as Donna Hayward in Twin Peaks.  –J. W.

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jemison

Mae Jemison Former astronaut and first African American woman in space
Morgan Park, Chicago (1973)

The Smartest Kid in the Room: Mae Jemison’s go-getter drive nearly cost her a high-school social life. “She danced; she choreographed musicals; all of the boys were going crazy because she’s gorgeous; she sewed; she was smart,” says former classmate Lynda Bundrage Bradford. “What self-respecting high-school girl would like her?” Fate intervened. An English teacher paired the two on a class project (“which I asked to be excused from; who could take Mae as a partner?” Bradford recalls) and the girls ended up best friends.

“She’s 13 percent Asian, so I tease her that’s why she was good in math,” says fellow alum Sheila Wang, who, along with Jemison, regularly showed up at school at 7 a.m. for special calculus tutoring since Morgan Park didn’t offer the advanced class.

Harbingers: Despite a healthy range of extracurriculars (homecoming parade organizer, student council president), Jemison had one telltale egghead habit: “We used to be Trekkies,” says Bradford. “We would watch Star Trek every day after school. One day, she shared with me that she was going to do ‘that.’ I said, ‘What, be a TV star?’ And she said, ‘No, I’m going to be like [character] Lieutenant Uhura; I’m going into space.’”

Junior Achievement: By her junior year, Jemison had demonstrated a serious proclivity for the sciences (she would go on to an undergraduate career at Stanford and medical school at Cornell), but a little friendly competition from her physics classmates might have upped the ante. “The class she was in had seven girls who were so much better than everybody else,” says Roy Coleman, who retired in 2005 after teaching physics for 41 years at Morgan Park. “Anything I threw at them, they’d come running back and say, ‘Is that all you want?’” Coleman apparently made quite an impression on Jemison, who gave him an interstellar shoutout during her 1992 Spacelab mission. –J. W.

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heffner
heffner art

Hugh Hefner Playboy founder
Steinmetz, Chicago (1944)

For Want of a Hayride: Was the Playboy empire founded because Hugh Hefner got snubbed for a high-school hayride? “After that, he changed his image,” recalls Jane Borson Sellers, one of a group of girls who organized that fall 1942 get-together—and left Hefner off the guest list. “He came to school in real sharp clothes: white cords, a very neat shirt. He started calling himself Hef. Before that, it was almost as if his mother picked out his clothes: blue suit, briefcase.” Hefner’s scheme worked; his makeover nabbed him a spot in the close-knit group he called “the gang.”

Still, “Hef was no dreamboat,” Sellers says. “He definitely wasn’t a jock,” agrees fellow classmate (and Most Athletic Boy) Tom Mills. “He wasn’t in with the sportsmen at all; we used to give him a hard time.” Hef’s gang was “an innocent group,” recalls Sellers, which led to some shock when Playboy appeared. “I was surprised,” she says of the subject matter. “We didn’t drink; we didn’t smoke. There was not any sex, not that I knew of. We were so wholesome.”

“I never was aware of Hef being that girl-crazy,” agrees another former classmate, Betty Conklin Slaven. “But he was a pretty good dancer; he had good rhythm.”

Nerd-Chic: Hef racked up an impressive list of extracurriculars: various jobs, from feature writer to cartoonist, on the school newspaper, the Steinmetz Star; staffer on the yearbook, the Silver Streak; vice president of the drama club; member of the creative writing club; president of student council; student court attorney; and general comedian-about-campus with his best friend and foil Jim Brophy.

“I always felt Hef was headed for something special,” says Sellers, who kept every letter Hefner sent her during high school, nearly 700 pages of cartoon-illustrated correspondence. She wasn’t the only one who fell prey to Hefner’s nerd-chic charisma. Forty-third in a class of 215 (and on his way to the University of Illinois), the future media magnate was voted Class Humorist, as well as a runner-up for Most Likely to Succeed, Most Popular Boy, Best Orator, Best Dancer, and Most Artistic. –J. W.

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herbie hancock

Herbie Hancock Music legend
Hyde Park, Chicago (1956)

Harbingers: Classmates from Hyde Park High School probably weren’t terribly surprised when Herbie Hancock picked up his first Grammy in the early 1980s (he’s since won nine more and an Oscar). The young man who would become an American music icon was an extremely focused teenager. Trained in classical music (he made his début with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra at age 11, performing the first movement of Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 5 in D Major), Hancock was drawn to jazz and eventually to electronic music, which may explain his double major at Grinnell College in Iowa: electrical engineering and music. In high school, besides being in the senior orchestra, Hancock was a member of the Boys Chorus, the A Cappella Choir, and the dance band. “If you were talking to him about music and there was a piano in the room, he would sit down and start playing some ideas,” says an orchestra mate, Richmond Jones. “He’d say, ‘It would go something like this.’ He had music in him.”

A Winning Combo: In a school where African Americans were still a minority, Hancock, an honor student, was elected class president in his sophomore year and went on to become president of the student council—twice. “It is hard to think of him in a lighthearted way because he was a very serious and thoughtful guy when he was in high school,” says Stephen Treffman, another orchestra mate who often ate lunch with Hancock. “He is not an accident.” In February of his senior year, he was profiled in the student newspaper, The Hyde Parker, which identified him as a “sesquipedalian or a user of long words.” The article also lauded Hancock as a precocious musician who enjoyed “composing and arranging piano, or ‘combo’ numbers”—exactly the thing that would make Hancock famous when coupled with his pioneering ways in electronic music. –M. A.

Introduction

Lara Flynn Boyle, Mae Jemison, Hugh Hefner, Herbie Hancock

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