Before Tiger Woods, Gloria Estefan, Pitbull or Ariana Grande, other celebrities called South Florida home.
They became icons in places like Margate and Lauderhill, Pompano Beach and Jupiter. Some helped developers attract snowbirds from up north, while others grew up here or chose South Florida for a quiet retirement.
Here’s a look at some of those bygone stars and their South Florida connections.
Kaye Stevens wasn’t an A-list star, but she was a popular actress and singer in the 1960s and 70s who hung around with Hollywood’s Rat Pack, toured with comedian Bob Hope and was a five-year cast member of the “Days of Our Lives” TV soap opera. She regularly appeared on TV game shows such as “Match Game,” “Password,” “Hollywood Squares” and “To Tell the Truth.”
Stevens bought a home in Margate shortly after its incorporation in the 1950s, considered to be the gateway to western Broward by developer Jack Marquesee.
Stevens became the city’s foremost promoter, appearing in commercials for the developer and having a “Hello Margate” sign next to her when she appeared on game shows. She lived in the city for 45 years and came to be known as the First Lady of Margate. She died in 2011.
There’s little remarkable about her first home at 1624 E. River Drive in Margate, other than she lived there, but that might be enough to make it historical now.
Broward County commissioners are expected designate the home one of the county’s historic resources in April because of the role Stevens played in developing the city. The city already has a neighborhood park named for her, which includes a statue of her at the entrance. A permanent exhibit about her is on display at the Northwest Focal Point Senior Center in the city.
But stars can fade.
“I had to look up who she was on the internet,” said Angela Glad, the home’s current owner, when told of the designation proposal. Her son, Ian Glad, is in the process of moving into the home again. He’d lived there during Hurricane Wilma in 2005.
The county designation would allow a plaque to be placed on the home. Anyone planning alterations, demolition, construction or other developments on the site would first have to get a Certificate of Appropriateness from the county’s Historic Preservation Board.
But the house already is nothing like what it was when Stevens lived there. The interior has had substantial updates, and the house took quite a beating during Wilma.
“The front overhang carport, the whole thing lifted up and detached from the house and landed in the front yard. We had to rebuild it,” Ian Glad said. The original wrought-iron decorative railings rusted away and had to be replaced, he said.
And away we go …
Probably no one did more than entertainer Jackie Gleason to put up-and-coming western Broward County in the public’s eye with his annual golf championship at Inverrary in Lauderhill in the 1970s and ’80s. Gleason bought a home there as well.
Gleason’s allure wasn’t limited to Lauderhill. He boosted the appeal of Miami Beach when he brought bus-driver Ralph Kramden and the rest of “The Honeymooners” show there in the 1960s. He also owned a home in Hialeah.
His Inverrary Classic golf tournament, now known as the Honda Classic, drew athletes and entertainers. The national exposure of the tournament — and Gleason’s larger-than-life persona — helped put Broward County on the nation’s radar. At one point, the city even contemplated changing its name to Inverrary.
Gleason died at his Lauderhill home in 1987.
Let the ‘Good Times’ roll
Esther Rolle was a South Floridian before she ever hit it big in the entertainment world.
The actress who played the role of Florida Evans in two TV sitcoms — “Good Times” and “Maude” — grew up in Pompano Beach along with her 17 brothers and sisters. The family was so big it was able to form its own drama troupe and perform at churches throughout Florida in the 1930s and 1940s.
Airing in the 1970s, “Good Times” is considered to be the first African-American sitcom. Rolle won an Emmy for her role in the TV movie “Summer of My German Soldier.”
The city renamed Northwest Third Avenue to Esther Rolle Boulevard in 1983. She died in 1998.
‘Let ‘er rip’
Leslie Nielsen didn’t seek notoriety when he retired to Fort Lauderdale, where he lived until his death in 2010. He could look out at the city from his condo on the 28th floor of Point of Americas next to Port Everglades.
The actor was best know for his spoof movies, such as “Airplane!” and “The Naked Gun,” which were filled with sight-gags and plays on words.
Nielsen perfected the comedic effect of a well-timed fart, or at least the sound of one. The epitaph on his tombstone in Fort Lauderdale’s Evergreen Cemetery reads, “Let ‘er rip.”
In 2002, Nielsen gave an audience a perspective of his life in South Florida:
“I have no goals or ambition,” he said. “I do, however, wish to work enough to maintain whatever celebrity status I have so that they will continue to invite me to golf tournaments.”
Smokey and the Bandit comes home
Burt Reynolds had deep roots in South Florida. His dad was the police chief of Riviera Beach and Reynolds played football at Florida State before embarking on his acting career.
He made a name for himself on the big screen in “The Longest Yard,” “Smokey and the Bandit” and “Semi-Tough.” He was the No. 1 box office draw between 1978 and 1982.
But he always returned to South Florida, where he turned his name into an institution with the Burt Reynolds Dinner Theater in Jupiter, the Burt Reynolds Institute for Film and Theatre in North Palm Beach and Burt & Jack’s Restaurant in Fort Lauderdale.
He died in 2018 in Jupiter.
lbarszewski@SunSentinel.com, 954-356-4556 or Twitter @lbarszewski