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Newsman releases second edition of Missouri Legends

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Former Fox 2 news anchor John W. Brown spoke with the Farmington Press about the recent release of the second edition of his book, “Missouri Legends: Famous People from The Show Me State.” in recognition of last year’s Missouri Bicentennial.

The 314-page softcover book offers brief and entertaining vignettes about Missouri’s many historical figures, politicians, business leaders, sports figures, actors and entertainers, and miscellaneous celebrities of all kinds — and there’s a lot more than you might expect.

Not long after serving as guest speaker for the Farmington Regional Chamber of Commerce, Brown — who is married to a Farmington native — returned with his family to Orlando, Florida, where he is once again working as a news anchor for Fox 35, the station he left in 2016 for St. Louis.

Asked why he decided to release the second edition of Missouri Legends, Brown said, “The first edition was in 2008. That was my very first book and the book that kind of put me on the map when it comes to Missouri history. I don’t know if any of your readers will remember this, but there was a warehouse fire in downtown St. Louis. My publisher texted me and said, ‘Hey, that fire that you’re talking about on the air right now — that’s all your books going up in flames.

“So, the first edition was starting to sell out anyway and then that fire tore through the warehouse where all of Reedy Press’s books were kept and that took out the last of them. As we were putting this book series together for the bicentennial, we said, ‘Let’s redo this one because there are so many new famous Missourians since 2008, and some of the ones in the first edition that have kind of fallen off the radar now. So, let’s do it again with the most famous Missourians in the first 200 years. That’s kinda’ how it all came about.”

Writing a book on the state’s many legends would require a great deal of time to research. According to Brown, the amount of research he put into the project is much greater than one might imagine.

“Because of all the places I’ve lived in Missouri growing up — 20 different places before I graduated college — I started making a list, even back then, of the famous people who are from all these small towns,” he said. “This was way before Wikipedia — before people could access a list of famous Missourians. I would show people this list of all these famous people from the small towns and all the places I’ve lived at, and everybody said, ‘This should be a book!’ I kept expounding, expounding — adding new people, looking into their backgrounds — and then in my role as a reporter, I was able to actually contact many of these famous Missourians or their descendants.

“So, when people ask, ‘How long did this book take you?’ I say, ‘Practically my entire life,’ because I’ve been working on this for years. I think that’s what sets it apart — that it’s not just a listing of famous people. It’s a lot of stories about people I’ve been able to interview and talk to their families and find out what it was about Missouri that made them tick and made them keep striving for greatness and rise to the top of their industry. That to me has been the most rewarding thing. People say, ‘Well, I had no idea this person was from my small town,’ and now they’re able to see this list from all over the state, all different industries, and people have achieved greatness from these small towns.”

Brown has been amazed at the number of famous, and sometimes infamous, people who are Missouri natives. In fact, he is always finding new names to add to the list.

“Even now that I’m back in Orlando, stories pop up all the time and I’m like, ‘Oh, they’re from Missouri,’” he said. “For example, a few weeks ago we had Josephine Baker getting a new honor. She was from Missouri. You have the CEO of Twitter stepping down from his role. Jack Dorsey is from Missouri. I mean, you just go down the list.

“Every week the list of people from Missouri who are making worldwide headlines is astronomical, so I do think it’s unique. I know every state has its famous people, but when you look at the list of people from Missouri, there’s no way you can say, ‘This is about average.’ It’s fascinating for me to see how many people who have literally changed the world have come from right here in Missouri.”

Is there something special about the state that makes it more likely that people from Missouri will tend to rise to the top? Brown believes there is.

He recalled, “One time early in my career I asked my TV agent, ‘Why are there so many famous Missourians on the national level — on TV and radio and in print, all sorts of broadcast areas?’ He said, ‘Because we don’t know where you’re from. You guys from Missouri are a perfect blend of everything. You’re a little bit north, you’re a little bit south, you’re a little bit east, you’re a little bit west. Why that’s important in the broadcast industry is because they want people on the national level who aren’t readily identifiable. They don’t have the southern drawl. They don’t have the East Coast accent. They don’t have the West Coast look. They want people that you can’t tell where they’re from. So, I started thinking about that and I’m like, ‘That is really interesting because that may also explain why we’ve had so much success in other industries — especially business.

“When you have someone like a J.C. Penney, a Dale Carnegie, a Sam Walton, the O’Reilly family, the Kauffman family — these are people who had to learn to deal with people in all different situations, and you get that right here in Missouri. You get the big towns, you get the small towns, you get the south, you get the north — you get everything wrapped up, and I think that’s one of our reasons for success. It’s because we’re exposed to a little bit of everything our entire life, so when we branch out onto the national level, we’re able to relate because we’ve already been there. When I heard that analogy, I said, ‘That makes sense, not only on the broadcast level but on every level as well because people from Missouri can relate to anybody.”

While the book is chock full of interesting stories about Missourians, Brown admits there are a few that stand out for him personally.

“One is Brad Pitt because I lived next to Brad’s family in Springfield, so we got to know the family pretty well,” he said. “To them and the people he grew up with at Kickapoo High School, he’s just an average guy. He’s just a guy who grew up next door, yet he is arguably the most famous actor in history. So, to see how people react to him on the national level, versus people who knew him growing up, has always been fascinating to me. But then also a Dale Carnegie — the guy who literally wrote the book on business success was from a small town in Missouri. How this guy changed the world coming from his upbringing has always been fascinating to me.

“The other one that sticks out at me is one of the first supermodels who was from the Parkland. What happened when I spoke at the chamber of commerce luncheon in Farmington blew me away because everybody seems connected. As I was giving that speech in Farmington saying, ‘There is one of the original supermodels — Evelyn Tripp — was from right here. She grew up in Flat River, I believe. Her sister was in the audience! You would think her family was long gone because she’s been gone for quite some time, but she had a younger, younger, younger sister who saw that I was going to speak, came and wanted to meet me.

“I said, ‘Good because I’ve got to make sure I’ve got my facts right.’ To me, that’s a Missouri story. You write about someone, and you hear, ‘Oh yeah, I went to high school with that person!’ or ‘I’m related to that person!’ Then you get 10 MORE stories. That just blows me away, what happened that day. Everybody who grew up in the 60s, 70s and 80s had a grandparent or parent who sewed and who had those Simplicity kits right there. So, we saw a woman from Missouri as perhaps the most famous early supermodel because our parents used the product all the time.”

Now that the state’s bicentennial celebration is over, Brown is ready to slow down a little bit.

“It has been a crazy last 16 months trying to put out four books in more or less a one-year span in honor of Missouri’s Bicentennial,” he said. “I don’t know that I ever want to work this hard again because I obviously have a day job. Putting these books together and the marketing and everything else that goes into it has given me a new appreciation for Missouri. Being on the road and talking to people in schools about the books has been rewarding as I’ve helped them get interested in Missouri history.

“The Missouri Timeline, the first that came out in the set of four this year for the bicentennial, when you hear the stories of the local state rep from Farmington who loved the book. He’s been pushing to get it into schools and into the state capitol. The governor and his chief of staff have the book. All these people who really know their stuff read it and say, ‘I really appreciated this. I didn’t know all the material.’ That to me is the most rewarding thing ever. To be able to write something that people have probably heard elsewhere, but I’ve put it in a way that helps them get excited about our state’s history. That to me is the most rewarding part of it all.”

The book is available for purchase at all major bookstores. If you would like a personally autographed copy, go to https://missourilegends.com/product/missouri-legends-vol-ii.

Kevin R. Jenkins is the managing editor of the Farmington Press and can be reached at 573-783-9667 or kjenkins@farmingtonpressonline.com

“It has been a crazy last 16 months trying to put out four books in more or less a one-year span in honor of Missouri’s Bicentennial.” – John W. Brown, author

John Brown on busy time releasing books
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