1. 17. Leona Helmsley
The “Queen of Mean” was a towering figure in the world of New York real estate, no more so after her conviction from income tax evasion in 1989 and subsequent 18 month stay in federal prison. When she died, she left $12 million to her dog, Trouble.
Completely American behavior.
2. 16. Michael “The Situation” Sorrentino
He parlayed his sudden fame from MTV’s monster reality TV hit Jersey Shore to the tune of a reported $5 million in 2010, mostly thanks to his oft-flashed abs.
Yup, totally American.
3. 15. Geraldo Rivera
A television mainstay for over four decades, Rivera won a Peabody Award in 1972 for his reporting; hosted a live special in which he opened what he thought was Al Capone’s buried vault but turned out to be an empty pile of broken bottles; had his nose broken in a fight with white supremacists on his daytime talk show; disclosed an Iraq War military operation on Fox News by drawing a map in the sand; and most recently publicly considered running for the U.S. Senate in New Jersey.
4. 14. Becki Newton
After landing her big break as a fashion-obsessed receptionist on ABC’s Ugly Betty, Newton is best known for a recurring role as the stripper girlfriend of Barney Stinson (Neil Patrick Harris) on CBS’ How I Met Your Mother. Meanwhile, Love Bites and The Goodwin Games, two shows built as vehicles for her, have both been burned off by their respective networks over the summer.
American through and through.
5. 13. Reuben “Rube” Goldberg
Goldberg’s cartoons depicting elaborate contraptions designed to enact often mundane tasks became so famous, such mechanisms are now universally known as “Rube Goldberg machines.”
Good gravy, is that American, or what?
6. 12. Horace Grant
Along with Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen, Grant helped lead the Chicago Bulls to a three-peat NBA championship between 1990 and 1993. He also played with the Orlando Magic, Seattle SuperSonics, and Los Angeles Lakers, where he played to another championship in 2001.
American, American, American.
7. 11. Eva Marie Saint
Not only has Saint appeared in two of the great classics of American cinema — 1954’s On the Waterfront (for which she won an Oscar) and 1959’s North by Northwest — but she played Clark Kent’s mother in 2006’s Superman Returns.
8. 10. Ron Kovic
After serving two tours in the Vietnam War, Kovic returned home paralyzed below the chest, and became one of the best known anti-war activists of the Vietnam era. In 1989, Tom Cruise played him in Oliver Stone’s Born on the Fourth of July, based on Kovic’s book of the same name.
9. 9. Gloria Stuart
A founding member of the Screen Actors Guild, Stuart starred in 1933’s The Invisible Man, 1982’s My Favorite Year, and 1997’s Titanic, for which she was nominated for an Oscar. She also took up politics, painting, antique book pressing, and the Japanese art of bonsai. She lived to be 100 years old.
Just brilliantly American.
10. 8. Stephen Foster
“Oh! Susanna,” “Camptown Races,” “My Old Kentucky Home,” “Jeanie with the Light Brown Hair,” “Old Folks at Home” (i.e. “Swanee River”), “Beautiful Dreamer” — they, along with hundreds of other songs, were all penned by Foster. He basically invented the notion of popular American folk music, and the very idea of being a professional songwriter — as well as the tragedy of being a popular musician who died young, at 37, with almost no money to his name.
Alas, in part because he was drawing from the pre-Civil War era tradition of minstrel music, the lyrics to at least one of his songs is incredibly racist.
Which, when you think about it, makes him prototypically American.
11. 7. Nathaniel Hawthorne
High school students nationwide know him as the author of the historical novel The Scarlet Letter, but Hawthorne also wrote several collections of short stories, and became such good friends with Herman Melville that Melville dedicated Moby Dick to him.
Super American, you guys.
12. 6. Bill Withers
The soulful singer-songwriter recorded a litany of hits like “Ain’t No Sunshine,” “Lean on Me,” “Lovely Day,” and “Just the Two of Us” — but not before serving nine years in the Navy.
That is just incredibly American.
13. 5. Calvin Coolidge
A believer in small government and a man of few words, Coolidge served in the Massachusetts House of Representatives and Senate, as the Governor of Massachusetts, as vice president under Warren G. Harding, and as the 30th President of the United States after Harding’s death.
14. 4. George Steinbrenner
During Steinbrenner’s 37-year tenure as the owner of the New York Yankees, the team won 11 American League pennants, and seven World Series championships. His reputation for outspokenness and micro-management earned him the nickname The Boss. Larry David played his voice on NBC’s Seinfeld.
To recap: Baseball + Yankees + Seinfeld = AMERICAN.
15. 3. & 2. Ann Landers and Abigail Van Buren
These identical twins — born Esther Pauline Friedman and Pauline Esther Friedman (no joke!) — both wrote enormously popular syndicated newspaper advice columns under assumed names for decades and decades.
The only place this could possibly happen is America, and these two women are sterling Americans.
16. 1. Neil Simon
The celebrated playwright cut his teeth writing for Sid Caesar’s TV variety series Your Show of Shows, before moving on to writing so many indelible works of theatre — The Odd Couple, Lost in Yonkers, Brighton Beach Memoirs, The Sunshine Boys, Laughter on the 23rd Floor, Biloxi Blues, Barefoot in the Park, and on and on — that he had Broadway theater named after him.
In every way, a total American.