Celebrity watchers were in for a treat a couple of years ago when a team of prominent entertainers who learned their craft at the University of Houston returned to take part in an alumni event called “An Afternoon with the Artists.” Onstage were Dennis Quaid, Cindy Pickett, Robert Wuhl and Brett Cullen.
While that was certainly an impressive lineup of talent, with such TV and screen credits as “Batman,” “Ferris Bueller,” “Arli$$,” “West Wing” and “The Right Stuff” among their accomplishments, it was hardly comprehensive.
Those particular “artists” might have been joined by ...
“Big Bang Theory” super-geek Jim Parsons … Brent Spiner, best known as Data from “Star Trek: Next Generation” … That other Quaid, Randy … His former comedy partner and “Raising Arizona” star Trey Wilson …Fresh from “House of Cards,” Derek Cecil … Loretta Devine, from “Dreamgirls” stage fame and “Grey’s Anatomy” … and TV veterans Larry “Hogan’s Heroes” Hovis and Peter “Big Valley” Breck, to mention a few.
On the musical side, notable Cougar alums range from country stars like Larry Gatlin to hip-hop luminaries like Paul Wall and Grammy-winning Chamillionaire. Falling somewhere in between was Townes Van Zandt, who became a folk music icon, along with jazz and cabaret standouts Billy Stritch and Sharon Montgomery. Of course, leading this list would be Kenny Rogers, who studied at UH before a tremendous music career filled with hits like “The Gambler,” “Lucille” and many others. And, for the technically inclined, you could include the incomparable Lyle Lovett, who received an honorary degree from UH in 2010.
Deserving a category of his own is Tommy Tune, the multi-talented Broadway performer who has won a long string of Tony awards as actor, choreographer, dancer, singer and director of seemingly countless productions on the New York stage.
From a literary perspective, along with the renowned Donald Barthelme, UH can also lay claim to such successful writers as Thomas Cobb (“Crazy Heart”), sci-fi standout Gene Wolfe (“Book of the New Sun”), William J. Cobb (“Goodnight, Texas”), crime writer Kathryn Casey (“Singularity”), Alice Sebold (“Lovely Bones”) and the highly respected poet Vassar Miller.
On the artistic front, perhaps the highest profile alumni would be Julian Schnabel, who combined his success as an avant-garde painter with forays into moviemaking, directing such films as “Basquiat” and “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly.” And The Art Guys (Jack Massing and Michael Galbreth) have built a reputation based on simultaneously spoofing and saluting the world of fine arts.
Showbiz buffs and culture aficionados can rattle off dozens of others, of course … such as comedian Bill Hicks ... “All the President’s Men” producer Walter Coblenz … Songstress Sally Mayes … Best-selling self-help author Brene Brown … Sax man Tony Campise … Opera singer (and “America’s Got Talent” runner–up) Barbara Padilla … Fashion designer Victor Costa … Composer Christopher Theofanidis … Romance novelist Shane Bolks … Poet Pattiann Rogers … Rapper Lil’ Wayne … Animated voice actor (“Spongebob Squarepants”) Greg Baldwin … Pianist Yvar Mikhashoff … Architect and fashion designer Laura Bennett …
As UH continues to produce Creative Coogs, it is a list that grows longer every day.