“Who loves ya baby?” asked Telly Savalas, star of the hit 1970s television drama, Kojack. Savalas is just one of the many notables to call Garden City home. Savalas was born in Garden City and graduated from Sewanhaka High School. He attended Columbia University and served in World War II, where he received a Purple Heart. After the war, Savalas originally worked in the administrative end of the television business before going into acting and eventually landing the role that made him famous.
Savalas was a native who scored big in Hollywood and never looked back.
Another native who did come home again is the equally-legendary Susan Lucci, longtime queen of the soap opera. Lucci was born in Scarsdale, before moving with her family first to Elmont and then Garden City, where she graduated from high school in 1964. Lucci later lived in Forest Hills as her acting career took off. In time, Lucci and her husband, Helmut Huber, moved to Garden City to raise the couple’s two children.
Another native is John Tesh, the singer-songwriter. How fond is Tesh of his hometown? Well, in 1989, Tesh released an album simply titled Garden City in homage to his hometown. The album included a song with that same title. The old saw is that a place is never real until people write about it. Tesh did more than that. In 1995, he founded his own record company and called it Garden City Records.
Another singer-songwriter who grew up in Garden City is Elliot Murphy. Murphy began playing the guitar at age 12. When he was 17, his band, The Rapscallions, won the 1966 New York State Battle of the Bands. In the 1970s, Murphy released a string of critically-acclaimed albums before moving to Paris and beginning a prolific second act to his career, publishing fiction and poetry, while continuing with his songwriting efforts.
Steven Chu, a 1966 graduate of Garden City High School, has enjoyed monumental success in the world of physics. In 1997, he was a co-winner of the Nobel Prize for Physics for his work with the cooling and trapping of atoms with laser light. From 2009 to 2013, he served as the nation’s 12th Secretary of Energy.
Johnny Sylvester was a Garden City resident who holds a special place in baseball history. In 1926, as a youngster living in New Jersey, Sylvester was injured in a horseback riding incident. Doctors feared that he was near death. Sylvester was also a huge New York Yankee fan. Either the young man or his father sent a telegram to Babe Ruth, then playing for the Yankees in the 1926 World Series against the St. Louis Cardinals. The flamboyant Ruth promised Sylvester that he would “knock a homer for you on Wednesday,” meaning Game Four of the Series. Ruth went ahead and hit three home runs that day. The newspapers had a blast themselves with the story with tabloids claiming that Sylvester’s health improved significantly after The Babe’s heroics. Sylvester later served in the U.S. Navy during World War II. After the war, he was president of the Queens-based Amscomatic Inc., which manufactured packing machinery, while commuting from and to Garden City.
On the athletic front, many top New York sports figures have found Garden City a welcome refuge from their pressure-packed world. Legendary horse jockey Eddie Arcaro, winner of more American classic races than any other jockey in history and the only rider to have won the U.S. Triple Crown twice, called the city home for many years. As did Joe Namath, the Super Bowl-winning New York Jets signal caller. When Namath first signed with the Jets, his bachelor pad on the Upper East Side became as famous as his football abilities. Later in his career, Namath gave up on Manhattan and set up life as a country squire in Garden City. Other Jets who have called Garden City home are popular running back Curtis Martin and All-Pro center Kevin Mawae. Dave DeBusschere, NBA Hall of Famer and anchor of the New York Knicks “de-fense” of the 1960s and ‘70s, lived in Garden City while commuting to his stockbroker’s job on Wall Street. Denis Potvin, a key defenseman from the New York Islanders’ Stanley Cup champions of the 1980s, also found a respite from the ice rink with a home in the village.
On the literary front, Long Island is home to The Hamptons, where the literati gather each summer for fun and work. Nelson DeMille, the popular and prolific novelist, has preferred to call Garden City home. Bill Moyers, the award-winning journalist lived in Garden City while editing Newsday during the 1960s.
Walter Hines Page, United States Ambassador to England during World War I, and co-founder of Doubleday, Page and Co. Publishing, lived in the village for many years. Page was a native of Cary, NC. He founded the State Chronicle newspaper in Raleigh. In time, he moved north and worked on several newspapers, including the New York World and The Evening Post. He was the editor of The Atlantic Monthly and literary adviser to Houghton Mifflin, before becoming a partner in Doubleday, Page and Co. in 1900. In 1913, Page retired from publishing to serve as U.S. Ambassador to Great Britain under the administration of Woodrow Wilson. As ambassador, he defended British policies and helped to shape a pro-Allied slant in the administration and in the public at large. Page was also an educator who “believed that a free and open education was fundamental to democracy.” His 1902 book, The Rebuilding of Old Commonwealths, emphasized that class, economic status, race or religion should not be a barrier to education in the new century.