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El Paso: Where Talent Takes Root

It’s impossible to predict where talent comes from. However, in the case of El Paso, Texas, there may actually be something in the water – for this border town is the birthplace (or onetime home) of numerous celebrities. Here are a few famous folks who got their start deep in the heart of Texas:

  • F. Murray Abraham – Although born in Pittsburgh, the Academy Award-winning actor (for “Amadeus”) was raised in El Paso and graduated from El Paso High School. He also attended Texas Western College (later named the University of Texas at El Paso). In addition to his signature role as Antonio Salieri, Abraham has appeared in “All the President’s Men,” “Scarface,” “The Name of the Rose” and “The Grand Budapest Hotel.”
  • Don Bluth – A legendary director of animated films, Bluth was born in El Paso, where he used to ride his horse to the town movie theater to watch Disney films. As an adult, he worked on such Disney fare as “Sleeping Beauty,” “Robin Hood,” “The Rescuers” and the animated sequences of “Pete’s Dragon.” He eventually branched out on his own and directed such popular flicks as “The Secret of NIMH,” “An American Tail,” “The Land Before Time” and “All Dogs Go to Heaven.”
  • Laura Harring – This beauty queen turned actress was born in Sinaloa, Mexico, but settled in El Paso in her late teens. She won the title of Miss El Paso USA before going on to win Miss Texas USA and, ultimately, Miss USA 1985. Her filmography includes such diverse fare as “Little Nicky,” “The Punisher,” “Exit to Eden,” “Love in the Time of Cholera” and perhaps her best-known role in the David Lynch puzzler, “Mulholland Dr.”
  • Judith Ivey – A Broadway legend who’s won two Tony Awards (for “Steaming” and “Hurlyburly”), and has been nominated for two others. Born in El Paso, Ivey has gone on to appear in such films as “Brighton Beach Memoirs,” “The Woman in Red,” “In Country,” “The Lonely Guy,” “The Devil’s Advocate” and “Flags of Our Fathers,” and had a memorable part in the final season of the TV hit “Designing Women,” as B.J. Poteet.
  • John Cameron Mitchell – This multi-talented artist was the co-creator, director and star of the off-Broadway smash “Hedwig and the Angry Inch.” He also directed and starred in the film version, then won a special Tony Award when he reprised the role on Broadway in 2015. Born in El Paso, Mitchell has won numerous additional awards for his writing, acting and directing. In addition to “Hedwig,” he has directed the films “Shortbus” and “Rabbit Hole.”
  • Anthony Quinn – This winner of two Academy Awards (for “Viva Zapata!” and “Lust for Life”) was born in Chihuahua, Mexico, but grew up in El Paso. He was also nominated for two other Oscars – including one for his most well-known role, the title character in “Zorba the Greek.” In 1987, he received the Cecil B. DeMille Award from the Hollywood Foreign Press Association for “outstanding contributions to the world of entertainment.”
  • Debbie Reynolds – A star at the age of 19, thanks to her role alongside Gene Kelly and Donald O’Connor in “Singing in the Rain.” She has been nominated for an Oscar, a Tony and two Emmy Awards. She remains a popular cabaret performer (she scored a #1 single with “Tammy,” from the film “Tammy and the Bachelor”), and is a highly regarded collector of film memorabilia. In January 2015, she received the Life Achievement Award from the Screen Actors Guild, and in 2016, she will be presented with the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award – she is champion for mental health causes – at that year’s Academy Awards ceremony.
  • Alan Tudyk – Though the name might not be familiar, you’re sure to have seen him – or perhaps more likely heard him – on the big screen. He is a well-known voiceover artist, who created characters in “Wreck-It Ralph,” “Frozen,” “Big Hero 6” and “Ice Age.” This El Paso native co-starred in the TV series “Firefly” and “Suburgatory,” and had supporting roles in the films “42,” “3:10 to Yuma” and “Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story.”
  • Sam Donaldson – The highly regarded ABC News reporter and anchor was born in El Paso and, like F. Murray Abraham, attended Texas Western College (later UTEP). While there, he served as station manager of KTEP, the campus radio station. After a stint in the military, he got his first television job at KRLD-TV in Dallas.
  • Sherman Hemsley (pictured, with Franklin Cover) – Though raised in Philadelphia, the actor and musician spent his later years in El Paso. After spending time in the Air Force, he made his Broadway debut in “Purlie.” While he was with that show, producer Norman Lear called to offer him a role on his new sitcom, “All in the Family.” It took two years, but Hemsley finally accepted the role – the one which would define his career: George Jefferson. He played the role on “All in the Family” and its spinoff, “The Jeffersons” (and even reprised it in commercials and on “Tyler Perry’s House of Payne”). He was inducted into the Television Academy Hall of Fame in 2012.
  • Gene Roddenberry – Born in El Paso, Roddenberry grew up in Los Angeles. He flew combat missions in World War II, then worked as a commercial pilot before joining the police force. He then began to write for television, penning scripts for “Highway Patrol,” “Have Gun, Will Travel” and others, before creating his most lasting contribution to popular culture: “Star Trek.” He continued to consult on the subsequent “Star Trek” films and spin-off series until his death. In 1985, he became the first TV writer with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
  • Nora Zehetner – This El Paso-born actress is known for her recurring roles on “Heroes,” “Everwood” and “Grey’s Anatomy,” as well as for the award-winning independent film “Brick.” She also appears on the soundtrack to that film, contributing the song “The Sun Whose Rays Are All Ablaze.”

Everything is indeed big in Texas, particularly the talent pool. So, if you’d like to visit El Paso – the place that inspired so many popular celebrities – or any of our more than 40+ incredible destinations, drop us a line at


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