I’ll get to the details in a moment. But first, a preliminary thought: The PG’s presentation of the list carries a strong whiff of “all Pittsburghers obviously know these people, and loves them,” which carries an implicit “if you don’t know who these people are, then you’re not a Pittsburgher.” Here’s the line from the story: “Truly iconic Pittsburghers are known by everyone, from the city to the suburbs.”
The PG is trying to sell newspapers and page views, and most of its audience skews old – even older than me – which means that the PG may be punching exactly at its weight. But as a Pittsburgh immigrant, I read an echo of Border Guard Bob’s cousin. Border Guard Bob, many will recall, made a brief and inglorious (inglourious?) appearance in Pittsburgh years ago, locking up Allegheny County’s high school grads and college students to ensure that they wouldn’t take their talent to other places. BGB was supposed to be the plug in the alleged brain drain. His cousin faces outward; as geographers and demographers know, in-ward looking cities like Pittsburgh post sentries to block incursions from strangers. They communicate the message: Keep out; if you aren’t already one of us, you aren’t welcome here. Can you identify all of the people on the PG’s list? If not, you may not belong. Certainly that’s not the PG’s game plan. But there’s this “with us or agin’ us” echo.
I'm posting this from the San Francisco Bay Area, my home turf, where cultural "insider" and "outsider" are marked in their own but very distinct ways. In the Bay Area, the way to say "insider" is to know what's new and hip - not what's been around forever. San Franciscans can get as self-righteous as Pittsburghers, but San Francisco's current "characters" are, on the whole, children. Ask someone here to identify Herb Caen, or better - Miles Archer. If you know the answers, then you're past your prime. Clueless. Not part of the contemporary community.
Pittsburgh is the reverse: If you're too far ahead of the curve, then you're out of step with authentic Pittsburgh. Every city struggles with this problem in its own way.
Pittsburgh newcomers should steel themselves against the list below, but they can take heart: Pittsburgh – city and suburbs – is far less of a single cultural piece than traditionalists may think. I don't want to turn Pittsburgh into San Francisco, but a little out-with-the-old and in-with-the-new would lend the city some needed perspective.
Here are the details - the people included in the PG story. My reaction to the list is akin to Butch and Sundance’s reaction to the anonymous posse trailing them through the Rocky Mountain West: Who are those guys? My amateur knowledge of Pittsburgh's history and culture clearly has its limits. Who do you know?
- Vic Cianca: No idea. He passed away the other day and apparently was a traffic officer who entertained in the middle of the intersection.
- Sophie Masloff: Former Council President, Mayor, and now elderstateswoman of the Democratic Party machine.
- Ricki Wertz: Who?
- Lynn Cullen: TV talk show host maybe? Never seen her.
- Bob Prince: No idea.
- Chilly Bob Cardille: Ditto.
- Joe Hardy: 84 Lumber founder, spouse to younger women.
- Joe DeNardo: Weather guy? Not sure here; I rarely watch local TV news, but I think that I’ve heard his name.
- Dan Rooney: Ambassador to Ireland. Patriarch of one of the most beloved sports franchises in America.
- Michelle Madoff: I’ve never heard this name before.
- Cyril Wecht: I certainly know about this guy, and he is certainly a character. The title “Allegheny County Coroner” doesn’t begin to do him justice.
- Paul Shannon: Who?
- Bruno Sammartino: I’m in the dark.
- John Fetterman: Making noise as the Mayor of Braddock.
- Phat Man Dee: Heard of
himher, yes. (Corrected per Bram's comment; obviously, I haven't heard much.)
- John McIntire: Heard of him, too, but have never heard? read? him.
- Andy Warhol: Changed art. Maybe ended it.
- Tom Sokolowski: Warhol Museum director and a real character. Absolutely know him.
- Chuck Tanner: Need to be a baseball geek from a certain era to get this one, but I was reading the sports pages carefully and watching the sport on TV back in the 70s. Former Pirates manager.
- Mario Lemieux: Not a character, but a hero to hockey fans.
- Judge Jeffrey Manning: Nope.
- DJ Scott Paulsen. I assume that he’s on the radio. Stations still use DJs? I thought that they relied on comedy teams and “hosts.” The music comes from satellites.
- David Newell: Watched him and the Neighborhood gang in first-run.
- Sally Wiggin: Also a local TV person. In 12 years here, I have probably seen 12 minutes of her.
- Drummer Spider Rondinelli: A musician, I’m guessing, but I don’t know more.
- Paul O’Neill: Tried to bring sense to the Treasury. A titan at Alcoa and part of Pittsburgh’s Old Guard.
- Beano Cook: An unfortunate nickname (I assume that this is his nickname?). He has something to do with sports.
- Richard Mellon Scaife: Owns the Trib. Scion of the right wing, or its bête-noire, depending on your perspective. Major divorce battle still pending, AFAIK.
- Donnie Iris: Say it with me - “Dawnie.” Love is like a rock. Got this one.
- Bingo O’Malley: No idea.
- August Wilson: Love his work and loved it before I moved here and learned about his life in Pittsburgh.
- Billy Hillgrove: Sure, I listen to the guy on Sundays while watching the Steelers on TV. He’s an imposing and amusing presence in person. If he dialed back his schedule a bit, he might be a bit sharper. “Check that.”
- Steve Pellegrino: No clue.
- Teenie Harris: Yep. The history of Pittsburgh on film.
- Mike Lange: He shoots, he scores. The voice of the Penguins.
- Patrice King Brown: TV person. I don’t know why I know this.
- Ken Rice: Another TV person. He’s also my neighbor. Why are so many TV people on the list?
- Franco Harris: I’ve actually met Franco. I believe that I was watching the live TV broadcast of the Steelers/Raiders game in which he made “The Immaculate Reception.” At the time, I would have been cheering for the Raiders.
- The sports fan trio of Maurice “Mossie” Murphy , “Tiger” Paul Auslander, and Lawrence “Deuce” Skurcenski: I am at a total loss. What sport? More than one? Are these guys fans? Players? Something else?
Myron Cope: Well, of course. More than anyone else on the list in my view Cope epitomized “classic,” inside-the-Parkways Pittsburgh. Knowing the source, meaning, and proper application of “Yoi” (Double Yoi, and the save-for-tremendous-occasions Triple Yoi) really marks a certain generation of Pittsburgh residents, if not Pittsburghers themselves. Do you (or did you) “get” Myron? If so, traditionalists would say that you get to keep your card as a member of the Diaspora. I went to a screening of a Pittsburgh film at the Carnegie Science Center IMAX theater years ago, and after many minutes of beautiful sweeping views of the region the film ended with an uncredited but unmistakable voice that said, in the simplest Pittsburgh-ese, “Bye, Now.”
My list, a start:
I’ll add these folks, a completely incomplete and idiosyncratic list of Pittsburgh characters. Some are here because I think that they're fabulous people; some are here because their personal and/or professional distinction is just too compelling; some are here because they are – or were -- or are in the process of becoming -- “characters.” What they have in common is (and in some cases was) a willingness to challenge the status quo, to see the world on their own terms and not just ours. Do you recognize them? Then you might be a Pittsburgher. Or not.
Randy Pausch. The Last Lecture touched a lot of people, but the Entertainment Technology Center at CMU is his gift to Pittsburgh.
Herb Simon and Allen Newell: Ever wonder who that computer science building at CMU is named for? These guys. Legends.
Bob Brandom and John Norton. And all those folks in Philosophy and Philosophy of Science at Pitt. Absolutely the cream of the crop, and characters to boot.
John Murray. A lifetime of distinction and leadership, and a pretty fair teacher and scholar as well. If you ever have a chance to hear him deliver an address, go.
Eve Picker. Eve helped to reshape the Downtown residential real estate market over the last, say, decade, and her social entrepreneurship is pushing the city to rethink itself. Tireless advocate for cycling. (Why aren't there more women on this list?)
Carl Kurlander. My Tale of Two Cities filmmaker and tireless civic booster. Being from Pittsburgh isn’t enough. You have to come back.
Ralph Bangs and Larry Davis at Pitt’s School of Social Work. Shedding light on Pittsburgh’s under-studied and under-addressed problems at the intersection of race and poverty. (Notice a lot of Pitt people on the list? That’s no accident. People in the region have little idea what a phenomenal university Pitt has become over the last 15-20 years. )
Agnus Berenato. I get inspired just seeing her collect her luggage at the Pittsburgh airport. Playing hoops for her must be amazing.
Bill Strickland, at the Manchester Craftsman’s Guild.
Dennis Roddy. When he is on his game, he is the best writer at the Post-Gazette, and whether he’s on his game or not, he is a newspaperman’s newspaperman (and I use that gendered term on purpose; back in the day, they were newspapermen even if they were women). The Post-Gazette employs a bunch of talented characters (not as many as it used to, of course), but Roddy is tops.
Chad Hermann. This is inside baseball, I know (or inside ice hockey), but Chad is a wicked sharp writer (and a more acute critic than anyone writing above the Morning File hed, right, left, or center) who has essentially forced himself upon the Pittsburgh media scene – with enormous success, judging from what I understand to be his readership. I don’t always agree with him, and we even once settled our differences in the pages of the Post-Gazette. But if TV is a hot medium, then Chad is hotter.
PittGirl, now known as Virginia (Ginny) Montanez, at That’s Church. The tragedy in Haiti brought out her best.