For saratoga living‘s 20th anniversary, we decided to compile a list of the most recognizable faces who actually hail from Saratoga Springs, the Capital Region and beyond. Below, we take a deep-dive into these dive individuals—Saratoga native David Hyde Pierce; Jimmy Fallon, a graduate of The College of Saint Rose; Lake Placid’s Lana Del Rey; Schenectadian Mickey Rourke; and Lake George’s Rachael Ray. (Art by Robert Risko exclusively for saratoga living.)
David Hyde Pierce
Frasier’s little brother is Saratoga’s favorite son.
By Will Levith
I remember when simply watching television was considered an event. There wasn’t a smartphone alarm or DVR to set; you had to make time in your calendar to watch a show—and if you didn’t catch it at that exact date and time, you were out of luck. You had to either tape it (which was incredibly tedious), fake it through the water-cooler conversation or sheepishly admit to your friends that you’d dropped the ball.
One of the first shows that I had a weekly date with was Frasier, the spin-off to mega-hit Cheers. First airing in 1993, it had that memorable, jazzy theme song (“Tossed Salad and Scrambled Eggs”) and an ensemble cast that seemed like it had been stripped right from my childhood, which was spent knee-deep in the stilted egos of academia. My two favorites were the constantly-at-odds, über-educated brothers, Drs. Frasier and Niles Crane—played by Kelsey Grammer and newcomer David Hyde Pierce, respectively—who would lob witticisms at each other like hand grenades. Sure, it helped that Frasier inherited Cheers’ Brobdingnagian network audience, but right out of the gate, there was a different kind of intelligence to its dialogue and humor, and the chemistry between its characters was palpable—which had a lot to do with Pierce’s presence.
Prior to his turn as Niles, Pierce had appeared in a mishmash of mostly forgettable fare, and to the average viewer, he was just another “anybody.” Overnight, Frasier turned him into a star. Pierce, apparently, didn’t even have to audition for the role; he tells me it was handed to him by the show’s three creators. “They told me, ‘We’re thinking about having a brother for Frasier, and all we know is, since Frasier went to Harvard, his brother would go to Yale, and since Frasier is a Freudian, his brother would be a Jungian.’” Soon after, he was offered the part—and it’s safe to say that he exceeded all expectations: Over the next decade-plus, Pierce was nominated for a Best Supporting Actor Emmy 11 times in a row—a record-setting feat (he was 4-for-11, by the way).
Rewind the highlight reel a bit further, and you get the David Hyde Pierce that grants him inclusion in these pages. Born in 1959, Pierce grew up on Fifth Avenue in Saratoga Springs, attending Caroline Street Elementary School and eventually landing at Saratoga Springs High School—also my alma mater—where he excelled in the arts and won the coveted Yaddo Medal as a senior. “I was in the drama club and the choir, and I played the piano for the orchestra,” says Pierce. He’d gotten serious about the arts in a particularly fortuitous and hilarious way: As a sophomore, he was skipping gym class to play the piano in one of the school’s practice rooms. Music teacher Jeff Vredenburg happened to be within earshot, and instead of sending Pierce to the principal’s office, asked him if he’d be interested in accompanying the choir. “Now, looking back, I can’t tell you how important that moment was,” Pierce says.
While Frasier could’ve easily been any actor’s creative peak (it wrapped in 2004), Pierce stayed busy on the small and silver screens—as well as on his first love, the stage. You can find him in the film Wet Hot American Summer and its Netflix TV reboots, doing guest spots on critically acclaimed drama The Good Wife, and reprising a Niles-like role opposite Grammer’s Sideshow Bob on The Simpsons. And most recently, he’s been part of the stellar cast in the 2017 Broadway revival of Hello, Dolly!, which landed him a Tony nomination. “We’re bringing it to a close this August,” he says of the musical. “I’ve had many one-of-a-kind moments in my career, but this was certainly one that is to be remembered and cherished.”
Pierce has also remembered his roots, making his way back to Saratoga often. In the last decade, he’s played organ at the Bethesda Episcopal Church, lent his name to a Home Made Theater benefit and appeared at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center with the Philadelphia Orchestra. “I’m looking forward to the next chance I get to come back home,” Pierce says.
I think I can speak for my fellow Saratogians in saying that we’re all eagerly awaiting that day, too. (Read the full-length interview with David Hyde Pierce here.)
How the king of late night started it all at The College Of Saint Rose in Albany.
By Richard Pérez-Feria
The first time I met Jimmy Fallon, more than a decade ago, about a dozen of us were sipping champagne and listening to Madonna’s Confessions On A Dance Floor softly playing in the interior cabin of an impressive yacht docked in Paradise Island, The Bahamas, moments after an epic fundraising concert by Patti LaBelle (to be more specific, the song “Hung Up” was playing on repeat). It was an epic night made even more memorable when Fallon, fresh from announcing his departure as a Saturday Night Live regular, joined our small group and immediately started joking around. Fallon was impossibly funny, unbelievably kind and as cool as you remember your best buddy from college being. And that, precisely, is his brand personified: Jimmy Fallon is everyone’s best friend from college.
Ah, college…After leaving The College of Saint Rose in Albany a semester before graduating to pursue comedy full-time, the affable host of The Tonight Show impressively finished his degree in 2009, some 14 years after leaving.
It shouldn’t be surprising that some of Fallon’s most successful career highlights include him as part of a brotastic duo with his megawatt pal, Justin Timberlake. In other words, the man sure knows how to be a friend. Fallon’s true genius lies in the fact that not only does he look like a guy who’d be your best friend, but he also is that guy. And Saint Rose graduates can proudly claim him as one of their own. So, yeah, Jimmy Fallon’s our kind of friend.
Lana Del Rey
How the girl from Lake Placid conquered the music world. In style.
By Jeffery Dingler
In my humble opinion, Lana Del Rey’s Born To Die is one of the greatest albums about heartbreak ever written. Its hit single, “Summertime Sadness,” I’m not ashamed to admit, became a personal anthem after a certain breakup (yes, it was a summer breakup, too). But attached to all the heartache in these songs—in the sultry lyrics and smoke-filled atmosphere—is a vivid depiction of the wanderlust, confusion and longing that often comes with the territory of one’s early 20s.
You wouldn’t necessarily guess from her name and music that Del Rey’s a local girl. Born Elizabeth Woolridge Grant, the daughter of two former NYC advertising workers, she was raised in Lake Placid—site of the 1980 Winter Olympic Games—and grew up singing as the cantor in her church choir. “It’s not really somewhere I’ve spent a lot of time, not since I was 14,” Del Rey told GQ in 2011 of Lake Placid. “It’s beautiful. It’s a vacation destination. Olympics. It’s small, 2,800 people…it’s very different from [New York City].” (Three years later in Rolling Stone, she said it was “really, really quiet,” comparing it to the town in the TV show Twin Peaks.) She and her family also spent some time in Miami, where she picked up a little Spanish and started thinking about a different, more exotic stage name. Raised Catholic in a tiny town, Del Rey rebelled, picked up a drinking habit at 15 and was sent to Kent School, a boarding school in Connecticut. It was there, influenced by its proximity to the music scene in the Big Apple, that she began her transformation into Lana Del Rey (her first stage name was Lizzy Grant).
Since releasing her “eponymous” debut album in 2010 (it’s actually titled Lana Del Ray, not Rey), Del Rey’s released a string of critically acclaimed albums, sold millions of records worldwide (three have been certified platinum), collaborated with artists such as Fleetwood Mac’s Stevie Nicks and pop powerhouse The Weeknd and been nominated for a quartet of Grammys. Her most recent album, Lust For Life, debuted last year at No. 1 on the Billboard 200. I think we can comfortably say that Lana Del Rey gives the “Miracle On Ice” a run for its money in the Best Of Lake Placid category.
From Schenectady to Hollywood, the star of 9½ Weeks and The Wrestler has been through it all.
By Will Levith
When I was a teenager, my parents unwittingly allowed me to rent the director’s cut of 9½ Weeks from the Drive In Movie Store on South Broadway in Saratoga Springs (RIP). Had they known the lurid contents of the VHS tape, they might’ve thought twice about renting it for me. Confession: I was watching the 1986 film for Kim Basinger’s racy love scenes—but had I given the movie a fair shake, I would’ve realized what a solid actor the young hunk playing opposite her was. That was Mickey Rourke, who’d go on to play a broad range of rough-around-the-edges characters before having a career-defining moment in 2008, when he won a Best Actor Golden Globe for his turn as Randy “The Ram” Robinson in The Wrestler opposite Academy Award-winner Marisa Tomei (he also got an Oscar nomination for the role).
Long before Rourke became one of Hollywood’s most notorious bad boys, he was a kid from Schenectady. Born Philip Andre Rourke, Jr., in 1952, he was the son of a carpenter/bodybuilder. Rourke told host James Lipton on Inside The Actors Studio that his mother had nicknamed him “Mickey” because she hated his father—who had the same name. His parents divorced when he was six, and eventually, his mom remarried a police officer and moved Rourke and his two siblings to Miami (according to the actor, his stepfather physically abused him and his younger brother for a decade). Years later, in order to summon the proper emotional state for an audition at New York City’s famed Actors Studio, Rourke traveled back to the Electric City and reconnected with his estranged father. “We spoke for about seven hours,” Rourke told Lipton. “He gave me $50 and bought me pork chops and mashed potatoes and sauerkraut, and he had 22 screwdrivers, and that was the last I ever saw him.” Needless to say, he nailed the audition, and the rest is cinematic history.
How the girl next door from Lake George took television by storm.
By Natalie Moore
When I returned home from a whirlwind, two-day trip to New York City—during which I experienced a $25 margarita, my maiden voyage through the subway system and a meeting with superstar chef/philanthropist/designer Rachael Ray (quite a change from a day in my typical Upstate life)—my mom wanted to know what the Lake George native was like. “Blunt,” I said. “But in the best way.” It’s true. Ray’s a to-the-point, no-nonsense force to be reckoned with; a boss. She says what she means without offending, follows her passions until they’re realized and manages to balance an Emmy Award-winning show, a furniture line, two nonprofits and cookware and pet-food lines, all while leaving time to buy thoughtful gifts for her coworkers and pose for the cover of saratoga living.
Born in Glens Falls, Ray moved to Lake George when she was eight. There, her mother managed the local Howard Johnson’s restaurant, the chain’s last surviving outpost. After a stint working in New York City in her 20s, Ray returned to Upstate New York, where she managed Mr. Brown’s Pub at The Sagamore and then worked as a buyer at Cowan & Lobel, a gourmet market in Albany. There, she began teaching her “30 Minute Meals” classes, which got her discovered by the local CBS TV affiliate, Today and eventually, The Food Network.
On Saratoga Springs, Ray says, “I consider it my backyard.” Her go-to spot here is Lyrical Ballad, the cavernous bookstore on Phila Street. “I love music and I read actual books, and Saratoga is where you go to get that stuff.” Though she admires Saratoga for the arts, Ray tends to steer clear of the racetrack. “I love horses,” she says. “I’m always deathly afraid that one of them will get injured, and they’ll have to shoot it like in Marnie.” This sentiment’s certainly not uncommon, even among track lovers. Ray’s just not afraid to say it. And I, for one, respect her even more for that. Like a boss.