North Carolinians in New York

North Carolinians in New York
September 2003

The People

By Cade Metz



IN 1959, DICK JENRETTE PASSED UP THE CHANCE to meet Greta Garbo. The world's most famous recluse kept an account at the venerable New York bank Brown Brothers Harriman, which had hired Jenrette out of Harvard Business School in 1957. A few months after Brown Brothers put him in charge of the account, he arranged to meet Ms. Garbo for lunch at the bank's offices in lower Manhattan.

"Brown Brothers was famous for its lunches," he says. "We always served a glass of sherry in an oak-paneled room." Then, just days before Ms. Garbo's arrival, Jenrette told his superiors he would soon be leaving the bank, intent on starting a new investment firm with two Harvard classmates. The lunch fell to someone else.

The sacrifice was worthwhile. The two Harvard classmates were Bill Donaldson and Dan Lufkin. No one had started a new investment firm on Wall Street since the Depression, but the firm of Donaldson, Lufkin, and Jenrette survived to become, in 1970, the first brokerage house to sell its own shares to the public. Fifteen years later, Dick Jenrette oversaw DLJ's sale to Equitable, the 125-year-old New York insurance company, and after taking over as Equitable CEO in 1991, he led the company's great turnaround, from net losses of $898 million that year to profits of $350 million in 1995.

Richard Hampton Jenrette was born on April 5, 1929, in Raleigh, North Carolina. He grew up at 2611 Fairview Road, 10 houses down from Oberlin Road, and each morning, from the age of six, he would walk the mile to Glenwood Avenue and the Hayes Barton School, the old Myrtle Underwood school. In his early teens, he organized a neighborhood sports team called the Hayes Barton Bears, archrivals of the Budleigh Eagles. They played baseball on a pebble-strewn field known affectionately as "Rock Diamond." Basketball games were played in the backyard of US Senator Willis Smith.

His next door neighbor was Charlie Park, whose uncle owned the Raleigh Times, and in the ninth grade, Jenrette suggested they lobby for summer jobs on the sports desk. They were soon hired by the managing editor, Jesse Helms. Jenrette also worked for The News and Observer, wrote for the Needham Broughton High School paper, The High Times, and majored in journalism at the University of North Carolina. But newspapers were never his ambition. After graduating Phi Beta Kappa from UNC, he followed his father into the insurance business, taking a job in Raleigh with New England Life.

He might have seen out his career selling life insurance, but in 1953, the National Guard called him to active duty. After basic training, as two-thirds of his regiment left for the war in Korea, he was tapped for the Army's Counter Intelligence Corps. He trained in the arts of surveillance and interrogation at Fort Hollenberg in Baltimore-"I even got a trench coat," he says-but he was most impressed by the people he met in the Corp, Ivy League graduates with the sort of worldly experience he'd never had. On his return to Raleigh, he applied to Harvard. "I decided I didn't want to spend my life selling insurance," he says, "little knowing that 30 years later I'd head one of America's largest insurance companies."

He would gain every bit of the experience he craved. As he went from success to success with DLJ and Equitable, he became an avid collector of 19th-century art and antiques and one of the great advocates of historic homes, restoring residences across the United States and beyond. In addition to a Manhattan town-house on East 93rd Street, he keeps homes on the Hudson River in upstate New York, on the battery in Charleston, on an antebellum plantation in Millford, South Carolina, on an old Indian trading path in Hillsborough, North Carolina, and on the island of St. Croix in the Caribbean. In 2000, he published a memoir called Adventures with Old Houses. His Royal Highness, The Prince of Wales, wrote its foreword.

Jenrette was chairman of the Classical American Homes Preservation Trust, director of the Duke Endowment, and a trustee with the Rockefeller Foundation. He received honorary degrees from UNC, Hamilton, the Citadel and the College of Charleston. In 1993, he accepted the American Assembly's Service to Democracy Award and Dwight D. Eisenhower Medal. In 1996, he was made Chevalier of the Legion of Honor by the President of France. All that's missing from his resume is lunch with Greta Garbo.

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AFTER GRADUATING FROM HARVARD BUSINESS SCHOOL in 1970, one of only 30 women in her class, Reba White Williams applied for a job at the Wall Street management firm Mitchell Hutchins. Impressed with her resume, the firm's director of research, Jack Rivkin, phoned to set up an interview, but only because he failed to realize she was a woman. "Mitchell Hutchins employed only male analysts at the time," she says. "And those were the days before a country singer made my name famous."

When she picked up the phone, Rivkin had little choice but to carry through with the interview and Williams made the most of a slim opportunity. The firm soon hired her as a securities analyst. Over the next three decades, she would not only carve out a successful career on Wall Street, but also work her way into the upper echelons of the New York art world. She and her husband, Dave Williams, took over the $5 million management firm Alliance Capital in 1977 and turned it into a multi-billion dollar operation, all the while building the world's largest private collection of American, British and Mexican prints. She wrote a regular column for the Wall Street monthly Institutional Investor and served as president of the New York City Art Commission.

Reba White Williams first developed her ambitious streak while she was still a teenager growing up in Lillington, North Carolina, the little town on the banks of the Cape Fear River. Her mother's family of Scotch Presbyterians had lived in Lillington for generations, but Williams wanted out of Harnett County, insisting on a transfer to boarding school. "I had wonderful teachers in Lillington," she says, "but I needed a broader curriculum." Though her parents disliked the idea, she soon enrolled at St. Mary's in downtown Raleigh.

After studying English at Duke University, where she shared a dormitory with Elizabeth Dole, she again defied her parents' wishes and boarded a train for New York, carrying no more than $500. Her father said she'd never be able to support herself in the city. "He told me I wouldn't get a penny from him as long as I lived in New York," Williams remembers. "I was supposed to call him for a plane ticket when I decided to move back home." But soon after arriving in Manhattan, she was hired as a corporate librarian at the Wall Street firm McKinsey and Company, where she spent nine years rising through the ranks, eventually becoming the assistant to the chief of staff. In 1968, the day after McKinsey hired its first female analysts, recruiting all three from Harvard Business School, Williams sent Harvard an application.

She met Dave Williams at Mitchell Hutchins, and they were married in 1975. When Dave moved to Alliance Capital, the firm frowned on the idea of a woman working in the same office as her husband, so Reba helped rejuvenate the firm from home, without pay, even as she was freelancing for other brokerage firms and writing for Institutional Investor. Soon, she was officially hired as an executive. "Reba was instrumental in the firm's international expansion," her husband says, "helping us create investment management business in places like Japan, South Africa and India."

Reba was also the inspiration behind their print collection. "Most people on Wall Street think about nothing but Wall Street," she says. "Early on, I told Dave we needed another interest." By 2001, they owned more than 5000 prints, including works from disparate artists including Thomas Hart Benton, Frida Kahlo, Andy Warhol and Lucien Freud. As the collection grew, Williams started taking art history classes at Manhattan's Hunter College, eventually completing both masters and doctorate degrees. By the mid-'90s, she was serving on the New York City Art Commission and Governor George Pataki's New York State Council for the Arts.

You can't help but marvel at the multi-faceted career of Reba White Williams. In 1999, she ran for New York City Council. She wrote a first novel after retiring from Alliance and recently started a second. But her accomplishments are even more impressive when you consider the opposition she faced along the way. Thirty years after she first arrived in New York, her father was still expecting her to make that phone call and ask for a plane ticket home.

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When Ben Brantley first moved to New York in 1977, just out of Swarthmore College, he interviewed for a reporting job at the fashion newspaper Women's Wear Daily. At one point, John Fairchild, the paper's publisher in those days, threw him the sort of high-flying question you so often hear during job interviews. If you could have any job in New York, Fairchild asked, what would it be? "I immediately said, 'theater critic for The New York Times,'" Brantley remembers, "but it wasn't something I ever thought would happen."

It happened in 1993, and three years later he went one better, taking over from Vincent Camby as the paper's chief theater critic. You could call Brantley the most influential arts critic in the country. The fate of a movie, book or CD never rests with one person's opinion, but, very often, Brantley's words can make or break the multi-million-dollar shows staged on Broadway. "He carries as much clout as every other New York and national theater critic combined," says Amy Jacobs, a Tony voter and general manager of the Broadway musical Mamma Mia!

Brantley hails from Winston-Salem, North Carolina, but his parents grew up closer to the coast. His father is from Zebulon, just east of Raleigh, and his mother was raised in Wake Forest, a few miles north. The two met at the old Wake Forest College and eventually followed the school to Winston-Salem, his father heading the school's news bureau for many years before moving on to the president's office.

Brantley's childhood playground was the Wake Forest library, where he first felt the pull of Broadway theatre. "Almost as soon I could read, I'd find my way into the stacks and go through old copies of Theatre World," he says. "My heroes were Lunt and Fontanne." He kept a poster of the New York skyline on his bedroom wall. If the drama department needed a child for the student play, he was the first to volunteer. Then, at 15 he saw his first Broadway show, the original production of Stephen Sondheim's Follies, and a critic was born. "Even then," he admits, "I had a problem with the book."

The only irony is that Brantley didn't seek out his job at the Times. When the paper hired him, he'd never worked as a theater reviewer. John Fairchild gave him that reporter's job at Women's Wear Daily, and after a two-year stint in France as the paper's Paris bureau chief, he wrote features for Tina Brown at Vanity Fair and The New Yorker. All the while, he was moonlighting as a movie reviewer for Elle-as a child, he spent many more hours in the Wake Forest library reading about the age of silent film-and his editor at the magazine happened to be Alex Witchel, the wife of Frank Rich, then the Times' chief theatre critic. When the Times needed a new second-string critic in '93, Brantley got the job-not because he asked for it, but because Witchel recommended him.

As the Times chief critic, he has a free ticket to every notable show in New York, from celebrated Broadway productions like John Water's Hairspray and the recent revival of Eugene O'Neill's Long Day's Journey Into Night to the more daring productions off-Broadway. Twice a year, he crosses the Atlantic to review the latest shows on the London stage. And in 2001, he edited The New York Times Book of Broadway, a look back at the greatest plays of the last century. If your childhood heroes were Lunt and Fontanne, it's the sort of job you dream about.

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IN 1998, GODFREY CHESHIRE WAS ELECTED CHAIRMAN of the New York Film Critics Circle, the organization whose annual movie awards represent the oldest surviving rival to the Oscars. John Huston, the Oscar-winning director of The Maltese Falcon and Treasure of the Sierra Madre, once called his Film Critics award "the greatest honor that anyone in my profession can receive."

Prior to the awards ceremony that December, Cheshire tracked down a forgotten collection of audio recordings from ceremonies past. As he welcomed the likes of Martin Scorsese, Terrance Malick, and Steven Spielberg to the black-tie event, held in the dining room atop the World Trade Center, he played them a treasure trove of acceptance speeches from the golden age of film: John Ford receiving the 1935 Best Director award for The Informer, Alfred Hitchcock calling from London when he won for The Lady Vanishes in 1938, Orson Welles collecting the 1941 Best Picture trophy for Citizen Kane. "There I was listening to Hitchcock with Scorsese," he says. "It was a dream come true, a culmination of my life's study."

The Raleigh native started his career as film critic and arts editor for The Spectator, the weekly Triangle newspaper that flourished in the 1980s and early '90s, and would go on to write about cinema for the New York Press, The Village Voice, Newsweek and The New York Times. He reported from the Cannes Film Festival for Variety, covered the rise of Iranian cinema for Film Comment, and traveled to Beijing for a story on the making of the modern classic, Farewell My Concubine.

The great-great-grandson of Joseph Blount Cheshire III, North Carolina's Episcopal bishop in the early 1900s, Godfrey Cheshire grew up on Raleigh's Wake Drive, just behind the Carolina Country Club. He was a childhood friend of those Wall Street success stories, Zack and Louis Bacon. After 10 years in Raleigh public schools, he transferred to Virginia Episcopal School in Lynchburg, where he first wrote about film, occasionally dropping movie reviews into his weekly column for the school newspaper.

In the late 1970s, after studying radio, television and motion pictures at the University of North Carolina and opping up movie culture in London and Paris on a post-college trip to Europe, he returned to Raleigh with dreams of becoming a professional critic. As luck would have it, he soon met Bernie Reeves. Reeves, now editor and publisher of Metro, was just about to launch The Spectator. "We were a perfect match," Cheshire quips. "I had no experience, and he had no money."

He spent 13 years with the paper, reviewing movies but also reporting on the celebrated Southern rock and roll scene that blossomed through the late '70s and '80s. Then, in 1991, seeking a bigger stage, he left the Triangle for an apartment in New York's West Village. Within days, he was hired as the chief movie critic for New York Press, a Spectator-like weekly that caters to the residents of downtown Manhattan. This, in turn, led to regular assignments for Variety, Film Comment and other national publications.

In 1992, Film Comment asked him to cover an Iranian Film Festival at New York's Lincoln Center, and he soon developed a particular expertise in Iran's post-revolutionary cinema, making four separate trips to the country in five years. Recently, he signed a contract with the London publisher Faber and Faber to write a book on the subject. But his time in the Middle East has also inspired a project that could soon turn his career upside down.

While in Iran, Cheshire learned of an early 20th-century American expatriate named Howard Baskerville, whose role in a failed revolution against the Shah in 1906 would make him an Iranian national hero. "He's their Lawrence of Arabia," Cheshire says. "They were still paying tribute to him while holding American hostages in 1979." After leaving New York Press in 2001, he turned Baskerville's story into a screenplay and now hopes to produce a film. It's a story that has particular resonance amid current conflict in the Middle East. You never know. We may see Godfrey Cheshire on the other side of that New York awards ceremony.

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NOT LONG AFTER MOVING TO MANHATTAN IN THE LATE 1960s, Eli Evans found his way into New York City folklore: He had lunch with Willie Morris. Morris, well into his quixotic reign as editor-in-chief of Harper's Magazine, was already famous for his lingering midtown lunches with the likes of William Styron, Arthur Miller, and Norman Mailer, a who's who of the city's cultural elite.

Sitting with Morris at a tiny French restaurant on Madison Avenue, Evans started telling stories about growing up Jewish in the very Southern town of Durham, North Carolina. As the hours passed, he described his family's long history in the state, from the day in 1904 when his grandparents bought a dry-goods store in Dover to his father's six terms as mayor of Durham in the 1950s and early '60s. "It was one of those legendary Willie Morris meals," Evans says, "where you start out at lunch and wind up at dinner." The Mississippi-born Morris was so enthralled he immediately hired Evans to write a series of articles for Harper's on the lives of Jewish Southerners and would soon sign him to a book contract with the fledgling Harper's Magazine Press.

Willie Morris resigned from Harper's before Evans put pen to paper, but Atheneum quickly purchased his contract-"I think they got me for two linebackers and some cash," he says-and his seminal history of Jews in the South, The Provincials, was published in the fall of 1973. He would go on to publish two other books on the same theme: Judah P. Benjamin, a biography of the Confederacy's Jewish secretary of state, and The Lonely Days Were Sundays, a collection of essays. When Lonely Days debuted, Israeli diplomat and historian Abba Eban said, "the Jews of the South have found their poet laureate."

As flattering as they are, Eban's words only begin to describe the exploits of Eli Evans. After picking up an English degree from UNC and a law degree from Yale, he spent several years in politics, both in North Carolina and in Washington. He was part of Richardson Pryor's 1964 gubernatorial campaign, worked hand-in-hand with former governor Terry Sanford to compile a 1967 study on the future of state government, and served on the White House Staff for two years as a speech writer for President Lyndon Johnson. "When they beefed up the Office of Education," he says, "I wrote the first draft of Johnson's speech."

After his move to Manhattan, even as he was building one career as a book writer, he built another as a philanthropist. Working on the Sanford study, a project funded by the Ford and Carnegie Foundations, Evans realized he could do more good from outside the world of politics. "I suddenly saw foundations as places where you could really make things happen, really get ideas into the American mainstream." He moved to New York, not to find a publisher but to take a job with the Carnegie Foundation, and a decade later, he became the first president of the Revson Foundation, the charitable organization started by Charles Revson, the founder of Revlon. The Foundation has made grants of more than $127 million involving urban affairs, Jewish causes, education and medical research.

Eli Evans likes to talk about his "dual identities." He's a writer who heads a foundation. He's a Southerner from a Jewish family. But he's also a wonderful mix of New Yorker and North Carolinian. Almost 35 years have passed since he moved to Manhattan, but when he sees a scrap of trash on the sidewalk, he still bends down to clean it up. When his son Joshua was born at New York University hospital, he carried a vial of Chapel Hill dirt into the delivery room, so the boy would "know his roots." He patterned his Provincials narrative, one of the great North Carolina histories, after The City Game, Pete Axhelm's look at New York City basketball. Eli Evans is a beguiling individual, the sort of person who used to lunch with Willie Morris

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...God wanted me to be a preacher too, not a medical man. I would still do healing, but it would be of the spiritual kind."

In the spring of 1996, Baylor University compiled a list of the 12 most effective preachers in the English-speaking world. Based on interviews with nearly 350 seminary professors and editors at popular religious periodicals, the list showed up in Newsweek, along with a three-page feature about the 12 and their secrets of the trade. Of the three preachers Newsweek called "obvious choices," two were from North Carolina. One was Billy Graham. The other was James Forbes, the senior minister at Manhattan's Riverside Church, the interdenominational parish founded in 1927 by John D. Rockefeller Jr.

James Forbes comes from a long line of eastern North Carolina ministers. In 1935, the year Forbes was born, his father was pastor of a Pentecostal church in the little town of Burgaw, about 25 miles north of Wilmington. Two years later, the family made a brief stop in Goldsboro, but Forbes spent most of his childhood in Raleigh, where his father became a Pentecostal bishop, overseeing the Providence Holy Church at the corner of Bloodworth Street and Bledsoe Avenue.

After graduating from the old Washington High School on Fayetteville Street, Forbes took up chemistry at Howard University, intent on making the leap to medical school. "I had a particular fascination with my high school science teacher," he says, "and I figured she'd be very impressed if I were a doctor." But, by the end of his junior year, his plans had changed. "I had a religious experience," he explains. "It convinced me that, just as my father and grandfather were preachers, God wanted me to be a preacher too, not a medical man. I would still do healing, but it would be of the spiritual kind."

A year later, after completing his chemistry degree, he applied to the Divinity School at Duke University in Durham. He was not accepted. "I received a letter saying, 'We regret to inform you that we do not accept colored students at the present time, and we do not anticipate doing so in the foreseeable future,'" he remembers. So he applied to a divinity school of even greater standing, the Union Theological Seminary in Upper Manhattan. Union conferred his Master of Divinity degree in the spring of 1962.

Newsweek credits Forbes with inspiring a gradual co-mingling of black Christian traditions with white, calling him the "leading crossover figure" among American preachers. When named senior minister of Riverside Church in 1989, he became the first African American to oversee its famously interracial congregation. But he sought such integration from his earliest days as a preacher. The summer he graduated from Union, he joined a National Council of Churches program that put black preachers in white churches and white preachers in black churches, accepting a position at the Olin D. Binkley Baptist Church in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. One of his parishioners was the new basketball coach at the University of North Carolina, Dean Smith.

Following stints at Pentecostal churches in Wilmington and later Richmond, Virginia, Forbes returned to Upper Manhattan and the Union Theological Seminary, where for 13 years he taught homiletics, the art of preaching. Moving from Union to Riverside Church was a natural transition. The two sit on opposite sides of Claremont Avenue, just north of 120th Street. But they also share a liberal approach to Christianity. Not only is Riverside interracial, it was built specifically to unite disparate denominations.

In explaining the talents of the 12 preachers short-listed by Baylor University, Newsweek describes one of Forbes's most famous sermons. During his early days at Union, he took to the pulpit with a pair of tuning forks. Holding them up for all to see, he showed off his gift for the pregnant pause. (Even during everyday conversation, in classic North Carolina style, James Forbes seems to pause after every word.) He then struck one of the forks against the pulpit. As it sang, he slowly touched it to the other. The two forks, singing together, were a metaphor for the ideal relationship between his parishioners and their God. But the image could also illustrate the work of James Forbes. He unites black and white, Pentecostal and Baptist, North Carolina and New York.

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FOR MORE THAN 20 YEARS, NORTH CAROLINIANS have been at the very heart of Wall Street's hedge fund industry, that high-stakes financial playground where money managers bet on everything from stocks and bonds to currencies and commodities. As Raleigh native and Wall Street veteran Dick Jenrette says, "A single North Carolina family spawned two of the most successful hedge fund businesses ever built."

Salisbury-native Julian Robertson ran Tiger Management, which controlled assets of $22 billion in the mid-1990s. Louis Bacon, the Raleigh-born stepson of Robertson's sister Blanche, oversees Moore Capital, the $9.4 billion firm sitting atop today's market.

But a North Carolinian also heads the first and most prominent hedge fund consultancy, advising individuals who invest in funds like Robertson's and Bacon's. Lee Hennessee, who grew up on Raleigh's St. Mary's Street, just around the corner from Bacon, started the Hennessee Hedge Fund Advisory Group in 1987 as a division of E.F. Hutton, later moving it to Shearson Lehman, Republic National Bank, and the investment firm Weiss, Peck and Greer.

Then, in 1997, along with her husband, Charles Gradante, she transformed the operation into a stand-alone company, the Hennessee Group LLC. Today, when a leading news organization needs a hedge fund expert, whether it's The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, CNN, or CNBC, it turns to Grandante and Hennessee.

Hennessee's parents, William and Mary Frances, met in the mid-1940s at a North Carolina debutante party. William was from Salisbury, a contemporary of both Julian Robertson and Elizabeth Dole. Mary Frances lived in Raleigh, where her father, Grover Dillon, and his brother C.A., ran the massive Dillon Supply Company just off Morgan Street. After they married in 1948, William went to work for Dillon Supply and soon moved his family, including daughter Lee, to his wife's childhood home at 1918 St. Mary's Street.

Like her mother, Lee Hennessee spent a year at Raleigh's Needham Broughton High School before transferring to the St. Mary's boarding school a few blocks away. Like her grandmother Hennessee, she graduated from the Randolph Macon Women's College in Lynchburg, Virginia. But, soon after, she made a clean break from family custom.

Returning to Raleigh after college, she asked for a job with Dillon Supply. Though the company always hired the men of the family, even the in-laws, she was refused. "They told me that, if I was a good girl, they'd appoint me to the board when I turned 30," she says. "I'd get a healthy salary, and I wouldn't have to show up for meetings because everyone else would vote for me." That summer, much to her family's chagrin, she packed her bags for Boston.

Hennessee had grown up hearing stories about Elizabeth Dole-for 55 years, Dole's mother ran a Salisbury book club with grandmother Hennessee-and her plan was to complete her masters at the Harvard School of Education, where Dole studied in the late 1950s. But, after a few unhappy months in Boston, she gravitated, like so many other ambitious souls, to New York.

Though she arrived in the city without even the prospect of a job, she knew she had a gift for selling. "The one year I sold Girl Scout cookies, I sold more than anyone in Wake County," she says. "I sold more shoes than anyone when I worked at Pappagallo." In New York, a Pappagallo-sized commission wasn't nearly enough to live on, so she walked down Wall Street and applied to the leading brokerage firms. Within weeks, she was selling IRAs and mutual funds for Thomson McKinnon Securities.

After 11 years with Thompson, Lee Hennessee moved to E.F. Hutton and founded her hedge fund practice. Since then, she has risen, in more ways than one, to the top of an exclusive Manhattan community. From her office on 42nd Street, she has a panoramic view of the city, including both the East River and the Hudson. In 1998, The New York Times ran a story about her penthouse on Sutton Place at the edge of the East River, overlooking Roosevelt Island. But, like so many North Carolina expatriates, she longs for the comforts of home. She recently opened a new hedge fund business in Raleigh, and if she can sell the idea to her husband, a native New Yorker, she may even move back to the Old North State. "I have one plot at a cemetery in Salisbury," she says, "and another in Raleigh at Oakwood.

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IF YOU LOOKED BACK OVER THE PAST 15 YEARS AND MADE A LIST of Broadway's most popular musicals, it would read a lot like William Ivey Long's resume. His credits as a costume designer include the sleek, black leotards worn by Ann Reinking and Bebe Neuwirth in the recent revival of Chicago, the canary yellow dress at the heart of Contact, and the candy-colored gowns and boas stretched across Harvey Fierstein in Hairspray.

In June, the epic kitsch of Long's Hairspray costumes won him a fourth Tony Award. The first came in 1982 for his work on the original Broadway production of Nine, a show that starred Durham native Anita Morris. Two others followed in 1992 and 2001, for Crazy For You and The Producers. "It's scary how successful he is," says Michael Wilson, the Winston-Salem native who recently made his Broadway directorial debut with Enchanted April.

Long is the end product of a North Carolina family that dates back to the 17th century. After fighting with Bacon's Rebellion at Jamestown in 1676, his ninth-great-grandfather, Arthur Long, settled in Seaboard, North Carolina, just below the Virginia border, and the family has been there ever since. "I'm about as North Carolinian as you can get," Long says, "if you leave out the Croatoan Indians."

His father, the youngest of 11 children, left Seaboard in the 1930s to study at the University of North Carolina and soon fell in with the state's fledgling theatre community. Long grew up, quite literally, on the stage. For the first three years of his life, while his father worked as technical director at the Raleigh Little Theatre, he lived in a dressing room just off stage left. "If I put one foot outside my front door, I'd be on the stage," he remembers. "My father would be there building scenery, and I'd play with the sawdust."

When his father returned to UNC, working with the school's repertory company, the Carolina PlayMakers, and teaching in the department of dramatic art, Long passed many an hour at the feet of Irene Smart Rains, the PlayMakers' costume designer, fashioning doll-sized costumes from her extra scraps of fabric. Each summer, he left Chapel Hill for Manteo, joining the cast and crew of The Lost Colony. With his father handling tech direction and his mother starring as Queen Elizabeth, little William played one of the colony's ill-fated children.

After high school, he took a detour outside the theater world, studying American history at the College of William and Mary and later architectural history in the graduate program at UNC. But, during this return to Chapel Hill, as he fell back into friendships with Irene Smart Rains and other PlayMakers, his childhood memories resurfaced, and he soon abandoned those architectural studies, enrolling in the celebrated Yale Drama School to study costume and set design. His first Broadway show was The 1940s Radio Hour, an expanded version of a summer cabaret he worked on at Yale. His second was Nine.

In much the same way they planted the seeds of his success on Broadway, Long's childhood memories would eventually pull him back to the simpler pleasures of the North Carolina stage. When he returned to Manteo for the 50th anniversary of The Lost Colony in 1987, he was so captivated by the production-"I was totally blown away," he likes to say-that he soon agreed to take over as costume designer. Within five years, he was overseeing the sets as well.

No one straddles the divide between New York and North Carolina quite like William Ivey Long. He splits his time between a brownstone in Chelsea on the west side of Manhattan and a farm house on the family property in Seaboard. He's friends with Wendy Wasserstein, and he belongs to the Order of the Long Leaf Pine. "He does The Lost Colony and he does Hairspray," says Michael Wilson. "What more do you want?"

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In the fall of 1998, just five years after his first New York acting job, Marc Johnson landed an audition with Woody Allen. As he walked into the film-maker's Park Avenue offices and sat down in the waiting room, he witnessed one of those rapid-fire casting calls Woody Allen is so famous for. Actor after actor walked into Allen's personal screening room for a one-on-one audition and, almost instantly, walked out. "It seemed like they were going through the curtains, turning around, and coming straight back the other way," Johnson says.

Johnson, a native of Elizabeth City, North Carolina, was the last actor called, and as he parted the curtains to the screening room, there was Woody Allen, standing inches from the doorway. "We were practically nose to nose," Johnson remembers. After reading a few short lines of dialogue, he assumed the audition was over, but Allen wanted more information, asking if it was true that he played the drums. Johnson said he'd been a drummer since his school days, and before he knew it, they were deep into conversation about Woody Allen's other great passion, jazz.

As the audition stretched to record lengths, Johnson grew more and more comfortable with the filmmaker, and suddenly spit out a question that was obviously weighing on his mind. "Woody," he said, "why is it that your movies never include a black character unless he's serving drinks or shining shoes?" Johnson insisted that, after years of playing New York jazz clubs, Allen must know plenty of African Americans who could inspire more nuanced characters. Allen agreed with him, saying he'd done exactly that with his latest script. "Well, I'm not serving any drinks," Johnson replied, and as he walked out, he knew he'd gotten the part. That fall, he worked alongside Sean Penn, Uma Thurman, and Samantha Morton in Woody Allen's Sweet and Lowdown.

Marc Johnson traces his acting career back to an Elizabeth City drama teacher named Betty Dunn. She had such belief in his talent that, the year he graduated from high school, she paid his way into a summer acting program at the North Carolina School of the Arts in Winston-Salem. The following year, he won a scholarship to the school and soon enrolled as a college student.

In 1993, a week before his School of the Arts graduation, he flew to New York for a series of school-sponsored auditions, including a tryout with Joseph Papp's Public Theater, famous since the 1950s for performing Shakespeare in Central Park. Hours after he returned to Winston, the Public called his apartment, saying they'd love to see a second reading. "I had no money. I had no way of getting back to New York. I hadn't packed the apartment I was moving out of. I hadn't even graduated yet," Johnson says, "But I told them I'd be there."

The School of the Arts bought his ticket to Manhattan, and he won a role in the Public's new production of Measure for Measure. Four days later, after yet another return to Winston for graduation, he was standing on a New York rehearsal stage, eating morning bagels with Kevin Kline.

Over the next decade, Johnson's credits would include feature films, theater and New York's leading television shows. He played a college professor in the recent Kirk and Michael Douglas film It Runs in the Family. He did a trio of Shakespeare plays with The Acting Company, the 9th Avenue theatre founded by actor and producer John Houseman. He landed guest roles in The Sopranos, Law & Order, Third Watch, and 100 Centre Street. Three years after Sweet and Lowdown, Woody Allen cast him in a short film about New York and September 11.

Set during the Depression, Sweet and Lowdown concerns a fictional jazz guitarist named Emmet Ray, played by Sean Penn. Early in the movie, when Ray performs at a roadside jazz club in Chicago, his audience includes a group of tuxedoed musicians. Minutes later, during one of the film's funnier scenes, the group drives Ray across town for a private jam session. Omer, the one who gleefully taps away at the drums that night, is played by Marc Johnson. He doesn't serve any drinks. When we first see him on screen, someone else is serving drinks to him.

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When Alexander Julian left Chapel Hill for Manhattan at the age of 26, his goal was to win a Coty Award before his 30th birthday. He met that deadline with two years to spare and would go on to win the Oscar of the fashion industry four more times, becoming the youngest designer inducted into the Coty Hall of Fame. But his proudest moment came in 1991, when he answered the telephone during a business trip to London. Dean Smith was on the line, and he wanted to known if Julian would design new uniforms for the Carolina basketball team. "It was like God calling," Julian says, "asking you to make new halos for the archangels."

Alexander Julian's father, Maurice, graduated from the University of North Carolina in 1938. In 1942, he opened the Franklin Street mainstay, Julian's Men's Shop. Born six years later, Alexander remembers little of his childhood save the endless afternoons he spent playing in the shop with his sister Missy. "We played with swatch books instead of building blocks," he says. "We built castles out of Scottish cashmere and English tweed." By his early teens, he was helping customers match ties and jackets. Before leaving high school, he was running the store on his own.

Though his father insisted he study medicine at Carolina, Julian, class of 1969, was determined to be a clothier. Just after turning 21, while his parents were away on vacation, he opened his own boutique on the other side of Franklin Street, borrowing several thousand dollars from his father's line of credit. He called the shop Alexander's Ambition.

He was disinherited for three days-"that was a record," he says-and years would pass before his father fully accepted his career in the clothing business. When Alexander won his second Coty Award, Maurice suggested he go to law school. But his talent was obvious from the very beginning. He started selling his own designs in the new shop and was soon persuading other stores to sell them as well. "Through my father, I already knew the owners and buyers of the best men's stores in the country," he explains, "and I'd pitch them my ideas when we all went to New York during the buying season."

During one New York visit, he took an afternoon walk up Madison Avenue with Bob Pollack, who was already selling a few Julian specials from a men's shop in West Hartford, Connecticut. As they crossed 37th Street, Pollack gave him the sort of advice that changes lives, insisting he was talented enough to close his Chapel Hill store and become a full-time designer. The next season, Julian rolled out his first complete collection of men's wear. Within the year, after catching the eye of a Bloomingdale's VP, it was on sale at 60th Street and Lexington Avenue.

Over the next 30 years, he would build a truly eclectic design house. In 1981, he branched out from men's couture into the ready-to-wear market, introducing Colours by Alexander Julian. Before dressing the Tar Heels in argyle, he fashioned uniforms for the Charlotte Hornets and NASCAR drivers Mario and Michael Andretti. In 1992, he served as costume designer for The Player, Robert Altman's film about the cruelties of Hollywood. Two years later, he introduced his own line of furniture.

Julian spent a decade living in New York City, and since the widespread success of Colours, he's made his home in Fairfield County, Connecticut, a short train ride from his trio of Manhattan showrooms. But there's little doubt where his heart lies. At his Connecticut farmhouse, known as "Chapel Hill North," a UNC flag flies from the roof and there's always North Carolina barbecue in the freezer. Not a day passes without several phone calls to his sister, who still runs the old Julian's Men's Shop. And he's always on hand when God says the halos need a little polishing.

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IF YOU OPEN UP LAUREN KENNEDY'S DEBUT CD, a collection of theater-inspired songs from Broadway composer Jason Robert Brown, you'll find a short note from Trevor Nunn, the British director best known in America for staging Cats and Les Miserables. "As a director of musical theatre, you yearn to find that seemingly impossible conjunction of an extraordinary voice with acting talent of the very highest order," Nunn writes. "You want the songs themselves to be inhabited, sung through character, thought and felt in dramatic as well as musical detail." You want a performer, he goes on to say, like Lauren Kennedy.

The Raleigh native first worked with Nunn at the age of 19 when he cast her in the American premiere of Andrew Lloyd Webber's Sunset Boulevard. After Sunset's nine-month run in Los Angeles, he brought her east for the show's New York opening, and at 20, just three years out of Raleigh's Needham Broughton High School, she shared a Broadway stage with Glenn Close.

In those days, Kennedy sang with the ensemble, but she would soon make the leap to leading lady. In 2001, Nunn cast her as Nellie Forbush in his revival of Rodgers and Hammerstein's South Pacific at the Royal National Theatre in London. This spring, she played Fantine during the stretch run of Les Miz, her first starring role on Broadway.

Lauren Kennedy caught the theater bug from her parents, K.D. and Sara, high school sweethearts from Wilson, North Carolina, who migrated to Raleigh in the mid-1960s. "In one of my earliest memories," Kennedy says, "I'm sitting in the front row of the Raleigh Little Theatre, watching them sing on stage." Soon, she and her sister Katherine were auditioning for the North Carolina Theatre, landing children's roles in musicals including Annie, Gypsy and Cinderella. By her teenage years, she was taking the stage as Eva Peron in Lloyd Webber's Evita and Florence Vassey in the Cold War musical Chess, receiving star billing at Raleigh's Memorial Auditorium.

More than a training ground, the North Carolina Theatre gave Kennedy a tantalizing peak into that exclusive world behind the Broadway footlights. Many of her early Raleigh shows were directed by Terrence Mann, the North Carolina School of the Arts graduate who became one of Broadway's biggest names during the '80s and '90s, starring in Cats, Les Miz and Disney's Beauty and the Beast. At 15, when Kennedy first saw Les Miz, during one of her family's annual theater-filled New York vacations, Mann took her backstage to meet the cast. "If there was any doubt about my becoming an actor," she says, "that was the end of it."

After graduating from Broughton, she enrolled at the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music, but her stay was short-lived. During her sophomore year she sang for a visiting Broadway agent, and the following summer he called her to New York for a pair of auditions. Two were all she needed. One was for Miss Saigon, the other for Sunset Boulevard.

Sunset was a springboard in more ways than one. Working on the show, she met her future husband, Alan Campbell, who starred opposite Glenn Close's Norma Desmond as the down-on-his-luck screenwriter Joe Gillis. But her part in the ensemble also provided a direct route to the meatier roles that would put her name in lights. Having understudied the role of Betty Schaeffer on Broadway, she made it her own when Sunset toured the country. After another Broadway stint in the 1997 musical Side Show and a starring role in The Rhythm Club at Arlington, Virginia's Signature Theatre, she landed the lead in the Chicago premiere of Jason Robert Brown's The Last Five Years. This, in turn, led to her first solo CD.

Kennedy reached a new peak with her Nellie Forbush at Royal National Theatre. "Kennedy's Nellie glistens and gleams," reads Benedict Nightingale's review in the Times of London. "She ends up making you feel that, yes, love can conquer prejudice." Trevor Nunn writes of the "tear-stained thousand whom she so deeply moved and richly entertained." But there was something even more gratifying about her return to Broadway in Les Miz this past spring, a twist of fate that brought her life full circle. As Fantine, she starred opposite the original Javert: Terrence Mann.

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ENCHANTED APRIL, ONE OF THE YEAR'S LONGEST-RUNNING BROADWAY PLAYS, owes much of its success to a pair of Morehead scholars. Michael Cumpsty, a Morehead from South Africa, UNC class of 1983, plays the role of Mellersh Wilton, the stodgy English solicitor who follows his wife and her newfound friends from the gloom of 1920s London to the sunny paradise of a castle on the Italian Rivera. He nearly steals the show when, during the comic centerpiece of the second act, he tumbles on stage wearing nothing but a towel.

But the real creative force behind the play, the man who orchestrated its original production at the Hartford Stage in Connecticut and engineered its move to Broadway, is director Michael Wilson, the Winston-Salem native who won the Morehead four years after Cumpsty. Following his stint as an assistant on the 1992 Broadway musical The Who's Tommy and his trio of credits Off-Broadway, Enchanted April marks Michael Wilson's full directorial debut on the Great White Way. In June, it was nominated for a Tony Award as Best Play.

Wilson's parents grew up just outside Winston-Salem, his father in the little railroad town of Spencer a few miles south, his mother in Yadkinville at the foot of the Blue Ridge Mountains. In the late 1940s, a man from Spencer ran the concessions at Chapel Hill's Kenan Stadium, and Wilson's father was one of the Spencer boys who would pile into a truck on fall weekends, ride east and sell peanuts during UNC football games. "Those were the days of 'Choo Choo' Charlie Justice," Wilson says. "My father grew up with an intense love for Carolina, and I was born straight into that." There was little doubt that, after leaving R.J. Reynolds High School, Wilson would enroll at UNC. The Morehead was a bonus.

He gravitated to the Carolina Playmakers, UNC's 60-year-old theater company, in much the same way. In the fourth grade, after learning of the so-called Lost Colony, the English settlement that disappeared from Roanoke Island in 1590, he developed a fascination with the famous play about the colony. "I was so intrigued by the idea that someone had taken this piece of history," Wilson says, "and turned it into theater." The Lost Colony was written by Pulitzer Prize winner Paul Green of Harnett County, one of the early Carolina Playmakers.

When he followed Green into the Playmakers, working with Michael Cumpsty for the first time, Wilson became the company's jack-of-all-trades. He wrote. He acted. He chipped in with the production team. He even interned at the company's business offices. Then, at the end of his four years, he followed the path of another early PlayMaker, Thomas Wolfe, enrolling at Harvard to study literature and writing plays.

By the end of the summer, he was lured back into hands-on theatre work by Robert Brustein, the artistic director of the American Repertory in Cambridge, MA, whose books of theatre philosophy were so inspiring during his undergraduate days. For three years, he was the company's house manager. This, in turn, led to a more creative role at the Alley Theatre in Houston, Texas, assisting artist director and former PlayMaker Greg Boyd. Within months, he'd written a new stage version of Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol, which ran for 10 years at the Alley, and directed his first play, Jerry Sterner's Other People's Money.

In 1994, he showed up in Manhattan with a small safety net of Christmas Carol royalties. After landing that first New York job with Tommy, he went on to direct Tony-award winner Elizabeth Ashley at the WPA Theatre in Chelsea, then Broadway and Hollywood veteran Lois Smith at the American Place Theatre on West 37th Street. By 1998, he was named artistic director of the Hartford Stage, where he first produced Matthew Barber's Enchanted April.

For the new Broadway production, Wilson surrounds Cumpsty, his fellow Morehead, with an ensemble cast of rare quality, including Jayne Atkinson, who won a Tony nomination and an Outer Critics Circle Award for her role, Elizabeth Ashley, in her second Michael Wilson play, and Michael Hayden, another recent Tony nominee. Together, they put on a master class in the lost art of romantic comedy. "It is old-fashioned in the most vine-ripened way, harking back to the kind of theater that once made Broadway a civilized place," John Simon writes of Enchanted April in his New York Magazine review, "cannily directed by Michael Wilson and delectably acted by all." Old John Motley Morehead would be proud.

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Charlie Rose was once a New York banker. When he first came to the city more than 30 years ago carrying a law degree from Duke University, he took a job with Bankers Trust working in mergers and acquisitions. But he was never comfortable on Wall Street. "I felt more at home with journalists and writers than I ever did with bankers or lawyers or insurance people," he says. His wife at the time, North Carolina native Mary Rose Taylor, was a researcher with CBS Reports and 60 Minutes, and he was soon inspired to try his hand at television, seeking freelance work at local stations in Manhattan.

While putting together a story on President Lyndon Johnson, he hoped to land an interview with Bill Moyers, the PBS television journalist who once worked as Johnson's press secretary. "Being me," Rose says, "I called more than once." The calls were not returned. But days later, by sheer coincidence, his wife was seated next to Moyers at a city luncheon, and the two quickly realized their connection, Moyers giving assurances he would answer Rose's calls.

When Charlie Rose finally met the celebrated newsman, he landed more than an interview. On the spot, Moyers offered him a job. Within two years, Rose received a Peabody Award as the executive producer of USA: People and Politics, the weekly PBS series on the political campaigns of 1976. From there, he would become one of the most recognizable faces in television news. For the last decade, his nightly interview show, Charlie Rose, has aired on PBS affiliates across the country, and since January of 1999, he's been a correspondent with the weekly CBS news magazine 60 Minutes II.

Rose was born in Henderson, North Carolina, five days into 1942. Two years later, his father was drafted into the Army and joined American forces in Europe, fighting in France and Germany and the Battle of the Bulge. While he was away, Rose and his mother moved to Warren Plains, a tiny town 20 miles northeast where her family owned the town's country store.

When Rose's father returned from the war, he bought the store and soon purchased a second in Henderson. As he ran one, his wife handled the other. "It's a real Southern thing," Rose says. "Just as Jimmy and Rosalyn Carter ran a peanut business together, mother and dad ran our two stores." For 12 years, Rose lived above the store in Warren Plains, sharing a room with his grandmother.

Then, in 1954, his father sold the Warren Plains business and moved the family back to Henderson. Rose played on the basketball team at Henderson High and, according to local legend, was scouted by UNC coach Frank McGuire. "I was in Chapel Hill to play for Henderson one night and McGuire was there," Rose remembers. "But I was not a very good ball player, and by that time, he ran a one-way train bringing players from New York."

Rose always wanted to ride in the other direction, from Carolina to New York. There was a railroad line outside his window in Warren Plains, and he would watch the trains rolling north. "New York was where things were happening. It had a magic for me," he explains. "For reasons unknown, I was a Yankee fan. My earliest hero was Mickey Mantle." After spending his undergraduate years at Duke, not UNC, and staying on for law school, he finally took one of those trains, soon landing in the offices of Bill Moyers.

He was Moyers' "aide de camp" for two years and then moved to Washington, DC, serving as a news correspondent with NBC. After co-hosting the daily talk show AM/Chicago in the Windy City, he hopped to Dallas, where he hosted the first Charlie Rose Show, conducting one-on-one interviews much as he does today. An early guest was fashion designer and Chapel Hill native Alexander Julian. By 1981, he was back in Washington, anchoring Nightwatch, the first late-night news broadcast from CBS.

In 1987, he won an Emmy Award for his Nightwatch interview with Charles Manson, and a second followed in 1992 for a Discovery Channel special, One on One With Roger Payne. By then, he was back in New York starting work on the show that would make him a household name.

When asked about the beginnings of his career, Rose says he was lucky-lucky that Mary Rose happened to meet Bill Moyers, lucky that Moyers offered him a job. "There's a certain X factor to success," he says. But his success owes more to diligence and a raw knack for journalism than to luck. Charlie Rose was born to be a television host, not a banker.

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IN NEW YORK, MORE THAN ANY OTHER PLACE, YOU CAN KNOW SOMEONE simply by walking through a front door. Space is at a premium in the city-one and a half million people live in Manhattan, an island that's 12 miles long and three miles wide-and even the largest apartments are small by ordinary standards. When you walk through a front door, a good part of that person's life is right there in front of you.

Tarboro native Frances Schultz lives in an apartment on Manhattan's Upper East Side. When you walk through her front door, you see an end table covered with Eiffel Towers and a magazine rack holding the latest gossip from London. You see the names Plato, Thackeray and Thoreau on one bookshelf, Halston, Hepburn and Chanel on another. You see a listener's guide to Wagner and a seemingly endless collection of cookbooks.

A table is set with painters' palettes doubling for placemats, each with fork, knife and napkin pushed through its thumbhole. There's modern art and classical sculpture, candelabras and bird cages, ceramic rabbits and gilded mirrors, track lighting and red-striped wallpaper. The bedroom reminds you of 17th-century Europe, the study of 1950s North Carolina. And, somehow, from the very moment you walk in, all this ties neatly together into one, perfect package.

When people talk about Frances Schultz, they invariably call her the "Southern Martha Stewart." She's written about design, culture, style, food and entertaining for Richmond's Style Weekly and the Atlanta-based Veranda. She's authored two books along the same lines, Atlanta at Home and Atlanta at Table. She's appeared on The Today Show and The Discovery Channel's Christopher Lowell Show. And, for the last three years, she's hosted Southern Living Presents, the centerpiece of the cable television network Turner South.

Like Lee Hennessee, the Raleigh native who made her name on Wall Street, Schultz is a member of the Colonial Dames, not just a daughter of the American Revolution, but the descendant of a revolutionary officer. Her family settled in Tarboro in the 18th century, and she belongs to the last of five generations to attend the St. Mary's School in Raleigh. "Mind you, some of them were good and some of them were bad," she says. "We had a few valedictorians, but we also had a few who were expelled for things like beer bottles in their laundry bags."

After graduating from St. Mary's, she enrolled in the foreign affairs program at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. "I've always had travel in my blood," she explains. Her New York apartment is littered with the tiny sketch books she carries through Europe, making line-perfect drawings of her favorite locales: Monet's lily pond, Mont St. Michel, the coast of Capri. But, during her senior year at UVA, she took a course on magazine writing and decided to be a journalist.

The month she graduated, she sold a story to Modern Bride. "I threw an idea over the transom," she says. "I wrote a query letter, and they said OK." She soon moved to Richmond, and after working briefly in the sales department at Richmond Lifestyle, she was hired as a writer and editor at Style Weekly. Following a move to Atlanta, she landed at Veranda.

While in Georgia, she developed a second career as a public speaker, and one weekend during a leadership retreat in Aruba, she found herself on the same bill as Peggy Kennedy, editor of House Beautiful. Hearing Schultz speak, Kennedy told her she was a natural for television. "She made some phone calls," Schultz says. "And pretty soon I was doing The Today Show and Christopher Lowell," By 2000, she was a regular on Southern Living Presents.

That same year, she moved to New York, working as Veranda' s Manhattan-based correspondent. Even while selling freelance stories to city glossies such as Quest and Town and Country, she continues to host her Turner South show and recently completed a book with Christopher Lowell, due out in 2004. You get the impression that, with Frances Schultz living in the capital of American media, we'll soon see even more of that Tarboro charm. The Northern Martha Stewart is preoccupied.

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RANDY WRAY HAS ALWAYS BEEN A SCULPTOR AS WELL AS A PAINTER, but for many years he kept his sculptures hidden from the public eye. "They were just for me," he says. He describes these sculptures as "three-dimensional Rorschach tests." Made from disparate materials such as ceramics, toothpicks, papier-mch, lobster claws and popsicle sticks, they look, at first, like nothing you've ever seen, but then they appear to take on familiar shapes, slowly reminding you of a sea creature you once saw at the aquarium or a plant in your neighbor's backyard.

By the mid-1990s, while the sculptures were still in hiding at his Brooklyn studio, he was inspired to use them as a jumping-off point for a new series of abstract paintings. "I realized that, as a painter, I could use my sculptures as a source of imagery that no one else had access to," he explains. Later that year, when the canvases were exhibited at an art gallery in downtown Manhattan, he was approached by Malcolm Morley, the London-born painter who rose to fame in the 1960s. "You're doing exactly what Salvador Dali always advised me to do," Morley told him, "to find an object no one has ever seen and paint it."

Twenty-first century Surrealist Randy Wray was born in Reidsville, North Carolina. He grew up playfully drawing, painting, sculpting, and even knotting macram, but he didn't entertain thoughts of becoming a professional artist until his senior year of high school, when he won a scholarship to the North Carolina School of the Arts in Winston-Salem. "I was only there for a year, but the school informed everything I did from then on," he says. "It made me think I could move to New York and become a legitimate artist."

Following this seminal year in Winston-Salem, he moved on to the College of Art at the Maryland Institute in Baltimore, where he received his Bachelor of Fine Arts degree. Then, in 1990, he embarked on a summer residency at the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture in Maine, where he studied under painter Ross Bleckner. In the fall, he finally made that move to New York, renting a $700-a-month loft in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, and taking a job as Bleckner's studio assistant.

By Wray's own admission, the job never had his complete attention. "All I wanted to do was make my own art," he says. He also spent a few months in a low-paying position at a Manhattan gallery, but he quickly built up the nerve to work on his own art full time. "I realized I could make almost as much money just being an artist as I could working some crappy job," he explains. "The only difference was that the money I got from selling art was so unsteady." He started exhibiting his paintings at makeshift shows around Williamsburg and was eventually noticed by Bill Arning, the curator of the West Village gallery White Columns. In 1993, the gallery gave Wray his first single-artist show.

Since then, his work has been exhibited across New York and beyond. In Manhattan, he's presented one-person shows at galleries such as Kagan Martos, Jack Tilton and Feature Inc. The Derek Eller Gallery in Chelsea put on two Randy Wray shows in the space of two years. He's also exhibited at the Christopher Grimes Gallery in Santa Monica, California, the Galeria Camargo Vilaa in So Paulo, Brazil, and the Kunstraeume auf Zeit in Linz, Austria. In April 2002, he received the John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship-the arts, humanities and sciences grant that, since its inception in 1925, has been awarded to such names as Ansel Adams, Aaron Copland, Vladimir Nabokov, Linus Pauling and Eudora Welty.

By the late 1990s, the sort of sculpture-based painting that so impressed Malcolm Morley had become a hallmark of the Randy Wray style. Then, after a few years of exhibiting only the paintings, he finally decided it was time to lift the veil on the sculptures that inspired them. In the spring of this year, with his first major show back in North Carolina, he exhibited paintings and sculptures side by side. At the Witherspoon Gallery in Greensboro, just 40 miles south of his hometown, he gave the public a window into his creative process, showing, at least in part, how his three-dimensional Rorschach tests give rise to the equally-mesmerizing images he puts on canvas. Somewhere, Dali is smiling.

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