Mention Detroit to any music fan worth they’re salt and they’ll immediately think of Motown Records, the label that brought classic artists like Marvin Gaye and The Jackson Five to the attention of the world.
But Detroit was once at least as famous for its automobile industry – indeed, Motown is a contraction of ‘Motor Town’, and the US city used to be nicknamed Motor City for its prodigious output of motor cars, though the industry has slowed badly in recent years thanks to the general decline of American car manufacturing.
All of which leaves us no closer to learning about Detroit’s most famous citizens – and Detroit certainly has its fair share of characters. Take Larry Page, founder of web search engine giant Google, for instance – a pretty big mover and shaker by any stretch of the imagination.
Or how about Francis Ford Coppola, the movie director responsible for some of the most acclaimed films of all time, in the Godfather, the Godfather Part II and Apocalypse Now? In fact, Detroit has given rise to plenty of folk who would make it in Hollywood, with movie producer Jerry Bruckheimer responsible for hits like Beverly Hills Cop and Top Gun.
Neil LaBute prefers to create less bombastic fare, such as indie flicks like Nurse Betty and In the Company of Men, as well as less well received fare like a much maligned remake of The Wicker Man.
If you prefer less traumatic cinematic experiences, Sam Raimi is the director responsible for quality blockbusters like the Spider-Man trilogy, as well as cult classics like The Evil Dead and Army of Darkness.
As well as the people who work behind the scenes in Hollywood, though, there are also those who work in front of the camera. Perhaps best known of those is James Earl Jones, though it’s his voice that Jones is best known for – he lent his voice to Darth Vader in the Star Wars films, though it was the English actor David Prowse who actually played the malevolent villain of the piece.
Less well known, but no less talented is Selma Blair, who has appeared in a variety of movies including Hellboy and Legally Blonde, as well as guesting in TV shows like Friends (her character tried to seduce Chandler while he was working late).
Another renowned character actor, and one who popped up in many of the aforementioned director Raimi’s movies, is Bruce Campbell – he of the amusing cameos in the Spider-man films, as well as leading roles as the heroic Ash in the Evil Dead and Army of Darkness.
JK Simmons is another character actor favoured by Raimi, appearing as J Jonah Jameson in the Spideytriology, though he has also worked with the Coen brothers in Burn After Reading, and played a fearsome white supremacist in the dark prison drama Oz.
Then there’s Sherilyn Fenn, who lent a touch of glamour to Twin Peaks as the seductive young Audrey Horne – Fenn also featured briefly in David Lynch’s Wild At Heart, memorably portraying a dying car crash victim.
Arguably Detroit’s most famous acting son is Tom Selleck though, he of the moustache and Ferrari as he played the title role in eighties action show Magnum, P.I. Though Selleck has gone on to enjoy a long acting career, popping up in movies like Three Men and a Baby and more recent TV shows like Friends, it’s still Magnum for which he is best known.
If Selleck has the charm, Richard Kiel has the menace – he’s the guy who played Jaws in a couple of ropey James Bond movies in the late 70s and early 70s, facing off against Roger Moore’s slightly wooden 007. Detroit also counts the delectable Pam Dawber amongst its acting clan – you may remember her as the cute-as-a-button Mindy, from oddball alien sitcom Mork and Mindy.
And if feel-good US comedy aimed largely at children and stoned students is your bag, you may also be interested to learn that Casey Kasem also hails from Detroit; Casem achieved fame voicing everyone’s favourite crime-foiling hound, Scooby-Doo.
As alluded to earlier, music is a big part of Detroit, and they don’t come much bigger (figuratively) than Aretha Franklin, queen of soul. If you’re looking for something a little more modern, Eminem hails from Detroit, as does Madonna, while the city has also spawned such eclectic greats as Iggy Pop, Jack White, Smokey Robinson, Stevie Wonder, Kid Rock, Suzi Quattro – and perhaps best of all, Ray Parker Jr, the guy who did the Ghostbusters theme. Bustin’ makes me feel good, indeed.
Away from popular beat artists, the town has also given rise to the legendary boxer Sugar Ray Robinson, wrestler Terry ‘Sabu’ Brunk, and Alex ‘Fats’ Delvecchio, Ice Hockey Hall of Famer. Detroit also has more thoughtful sons in the shape of hard boiled crime author Elmore Leonard, and literary writer Jeffrey Eugenides, famous for writing the Virgin Suicides.
Oh, and Mitt Romney, prospective presidential candidate, also hails from Detroit. He seems to be the Republicans’ best hope, which tells you everything you need to know about those guys, I guess…