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Prairie Personalities: Famous people who had ties to North Dakota

Boris Karloff as Frankenstein. Photo from Wikimedia Commons

Some big names have come out of the state of North Dakota, such as Carson Wentz and Josh Duhamel, but there are some other famous names out there who had ties to the state. Here are a few celebrities who weren’t born in North Dakota, but had lived there at some point in their lives.

Dewey Williams

Dewey Williams was a catcher for the 1945 Chicago Cubs, which was the last year the team appeared in the World Series until 2016. After being bounced around in the minor leagues for six years after playing for the Cubs, Williams was released and he moved to Williston, N.D. Once there, he played for the Williston Oilers in the ManDak (Manitoba-Dakota) League. In 1957, he got married and decided to settle in Williston, where he would spend the rest of his life until his death in 2000.

James H. Critchfield

James H. Critchfield was born in Hunter, N.D., and he attended North Dakota Agricultural College — now North Dakota State University — where he participated in the ROTC program. He graduated in 1939 and went on to join the military. After becoming one of the youngest colonels to serve in North Africa and Europe during World War II, Critchfield joined the CIA in 1948 in the midst of the Cold War. With the help of Adolf Hitler’s former master spy, Reinhard Gehlen, Critchfield trained more than 5,000 anti-Communist agents who spied on the Soviet Union.

Boris Karloff as Frankenstein photo from Wikimedia Commons

Boris Karloff

Boris Karloff was best known for bringing monster movie characters such as Frankenstein’s monster and The Mummy to life. Before he got his big break as those characters, Karloff was a part of an acting troupe who performed at the Jacobson Opera House in Minot in 1914. The troupe performed for over a year at the opera house, and Karloff played 106 different parts during that time. He lived with very little money and supposedly learned how to fry an egg with an inverted flatiron. After he left Minot, Karloff performed with the Billie Bennett road company, which made its first stop in Los Angeles in 1917.

Satchel Paige photo from Wikimedia Commons

Satchel Paige

Satchel Paige was one of the most influential pitchers in baseball. Before going to the major leagues, Paige played for a semi-professional team in Bismarck in 1933, where he had a 7-0 record and helped lead the team to a championship. In 1935, he played for Bismarck again, this time posting a 30-2 record and another championship win. Paige didn’t return to North Dakota again until 1950, when he signed with the Minot Mallards of the ManDak League. He only pitched three games for Minot, but in each game, he pitched three shutout innings. After Minot, Paige went to the major leagues and signed with the Cleveland Indians in 1948. He made his first major league start in July of that year at the age of 42, becoming the oldest rookie in MLB history. He was elected into the Pro Baseball Hall of Fame in 1971.

Albert “Happy” Chandler

Albert “Happy” Chandler started his semi-pro baseball career in Grafton, N.D., in 1920. The following summer, he played in Hallock, Minn. After his playing career was over, Chandler became an executive for Major League Baseball in the 1940s. In 1945, he was appointed commissioner of the league, and he was one of the key players in integrating Major League Baseball with the Negro Leagues. When it came time for Chandler’s contract as commissioner to be renewed, many of the owners wouldn’t forgive him for allowing African American players in the league, and his contract was not renewed. Because of this, Chandler returned to his home state of Kentucky, where he would practice law and later become governor of the state in 1955.