Since the first graduating class in 1931, City alumni have distinguished themselves in many fields. These are just a few of the many stars launched from LACC during the last 90 years.
Frank Gehry, Architect
Frank Gehry is a Canadian-American architect known for his use of bold, postmodern shapes and unusual fabrications. His iconic works include Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles, the Guggenheim Museum in Spain, The Museum of Pop Culture in Seattle, and more. Gehry came to Los Angeles in 1949 and enrolled at LACC before transferring to USC. In 1963, he founded his own firm, Gehry Associates. The avant-garde style of architects in Venice Beach influenced Gehry as he became known as one of the leaders in Deconstructivist style. Unusual materials, shapes, and gravity-defying architecture became his trademark.
Lawrence Klein, Economist
Lawrence Klein studied mathematics at LACC during the onset of World War II. He completed his undergraduate studies in economics and mathematics at UC Berkeley before earning his Ph.D. in Economics at M.I.T., studying under Paul Samuelson. He was awarded the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences in 1980 “for the creation of econometric models and their application to the analysis of economic fluctuations and economic policies.” The tools he created are still used by the Federal Reserve Bank and other central banks today.
Kerry James Marshall, Artist
Class of 1977
Kerry James Marshall is known for his paintings that portray working-class, African-American life. Born in Birmingham, Alabama, his family relocated to Watts, Los Angeles during the height of the Civil Rights Movement. After attending LACC, he earned his BFA from Otis College of Art and Design. His painting, “Past Times,” was sold for $21.1 million, the highest amount ever paid for a work by a living African-American artist.
Carolyn See, Professor and Author
Carolyn See was a professor of English at UCLA, as well as the author of ten books. After earning her associates degree from LACC, she earned her M.A. from CSULA. Her novel, The Waiting Game, won her the Samuel Goldwyn Creative Writing Contest in 1958. She taught English at Loyola Marymount and UCLA, and reviewed books for The Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, and Newsday.
Alvin Ailey, Choreographer
As the son of a single mother, Alvin Ailey moved from Navasota, Texas to Los Angeles at the age of 12. Ailey excelled in his educational pursuits, particularly in the areas of languages and athletics. He began studying modern dance in 1949. In 1958, Ailey founded the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre, which would go on to perform for over 20 million people worldwide.
Susan Ahn Cuddy, Officer
Class of 1935
Susan Ahn Cuddy was a Los Angeles native, born to the first Korean couple to immigrate to the United States. Her parents were activists, working to liberate Korea from Japanese colonization. Their family’s home, the Ahn House, became a safe haven for Korean immigrants in Los Angeles. While at LACC, Cuddy lead the women’s baseball team and the softball team. She transferred to San Diego State University before enlisting in the US Army following the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Not only was she the first Asian American woman in the Navy, but she then became the first female aerial gunnery officer. Later, she became a Lieutenant and worked for the US Navy Intelligence and the Library of Congress.
Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, Composers
Class of 1952
Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller were songwriter and producer partners, known for over 70 smash hits including “Houng Dog,” “Jailhouse Rock,” “Stand By Me,” and more. Stoller met Leiber in 1950 during his first year at LACC. They worked with Elvis Presley, Big Mama Thornton, the Clovers, the Drifters, and many more artists during rock and roll’s first decade. Their honors and awards include induction into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1985 and the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1987.
Diane Watson, Former US Representative
Class of 1954
Diane Watson served as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives from California’s 33rd district from 2001-2003. After attending LACC, she earned her BA in Education from UCLA, MS in School Psychology from CSULA, and her Ph.D. in Educational Administration from Claremont University. She worked as a teacher and school psychologist for LA Unified School District before running for the California State Senate in 1978.
Odetta, Folk Singer and Activist
Odetta Holmes earned a degree in classical music from LACC. After a trip to San Francisco in 1950, she learned an appreciation for folk music. She was known for a blend of folk, blues, ballads, and spiritual songs, inspired by the music of the Deep South. She moved to New York City later in the 1950s, and her career quickly took off. She became involved in the civil rights movement, singing at the March on Washington in 1963.
Murray Fromson, Broadcast Journalist
Class of 1950
Murray Fromson was an international news reporter and professor at the USC Annenberg School of Communication and Journalism at USC. As a longtime news correspondent and reporter, Fromson was an advocate for freedom of the press and journalistic integrity. He covered events around the world from the Korean and Vietnam Wars to the Civil Rights Movement in the US. For reporting on the fall of Saigon, he and his colleagues at CBS were awarded two Overseas Press Club awards. Fromson was one of the founders of the Committee for Freedom of the Press.
Lebo Morake (Lebo M.), Composer
Class of 1986
Lebo Morake is a South African producer and composer, most well-known for composing the score for The Lion King, as well as conducting the African choir and performing on the soundtrack himself. He came to the United States in 1979 and attended Los Angeles City College. He was later introduced to Hans Zimmer, who recommended him for The Lion King. The iconic Zulu chant won Lebo and Zimmer a Grammy Award for Best Instrumental Arrangement, Instruments and Vocals.
Gene Roddenberry, Television Screenwriter
Gene Roddenberry was originally from El Paso, Texas and moved to Los Angeles in 1923. He attended LACC to study political science, but developed an interest in aeronautical engineering. He enlisted in the United States Army Air Corps in 1941 and graduated in 1942, and was then commissioned as a second lieutenant. After being involved in a runway crash that killed two men, Roddenberry transitioned to a position as a plane crash investigator. After the military, Roddenberry flew for Pan American World Airways. After another crash that left him with two broken ribs, he resigned from Pan Am and pursued his dream of writing for television. Roddenberry wrote for several shows before creating Star Trek. The original series ran from 1966-1969.
Les McCann, Jazz Pianist
Les McCann’s first television appearance was on the Ed Sullivan Show after winning a Navy talent contest for his singing. He moved to Los Angeles and attended LACC in the late 1950s. McCann later signed with Pacific Jazz in 1960, becoming famous for his talent as a jazz pianist. In 1969, his performance of the anti-Vietnam War song, “Compared to What” by Eugene McDaniels became a pop chart success.
Nick Beck, Journalist
Class of 1953
Nick Beck was the editor of the LACC Collegian newspaper during his time at LACC. He started school with the goal of becoming a sports journalist, hoping to cover boxing matches at the Olympic Auditorium and Hollywood Legion Stadium. After transferring to what is now known as Cal State LA, he earned a master’s degree at UCLA. He went on to teach at CSULA while in graduate school at UCLA, earning a Ed.D. in history of education. He wrote about more than boxing during his journalism career, covering the Tokyo and Mexico City Olympics, the Watts Riots, and more.
John Branca, Entertainment & Corporate Lawyer
John Branca is a partner and head of the music department at Ziffren Brittenham LLP entertainment law firm. His clients include Aerosmith, the Beach Boys, Bob Dylan, the Doors, Dr. Dre, Fleetwood Mac, Elton John, Nirvana, and more. He is perhaps most well-known for working closely with Michael Jackson. After graduating from LACC in 1970, he Branca attended Occidental College. He then graduated from UCLA’s school of law in 1975.
Morgan Freeman, Actor
Morgan Freeman attended LACC after serving four years in the US Air Force in the early 1960s. While pursuing his education, he worked as a transcript clerk and took acting lessons at the Pasadena Playhouse. His Broadway career began in the 1968 all-black version of Hello, Dolly! His first film credit was for the 1971 movie Who Says I Can’t Ride a Rainbow? In the mid-1980s, Freeman began taking larger roles in mainstream films. He quickly became known as someone who played wise, fatherly characters. Freeman now has acting credit for over 50 films.
Mark Hamill, Actor
Mark Hamill, best known for playing Luke Skywalker, started school at LACC in 1969. He studied drama while working as a janitor to make ends meet. Hamill had a recurring role on General Hospital, as well as guest appearances on The Bill Cosby Show, The Partridge Family, and One Day at a Time before he landed the role in Star Wars through a routine cattle call audition.
Albert Hughes of the Hughes brothers studied Cinema/TV at LACC and graduated in 1991. The brothers are known for directing American Pimp (1999), Dead Presidents (1995), Menace II Society (1993), From Hell (2001), and Book of Eli (2010). Having studied the technical side of movie-making at LACC, he handled those aspects while his brother worked more closely with the actors.
Jerry Goldsmith, Composer
Jerry Goldsmith was a composer best known for his work in film and television scoring. Goldsmith began his music education at USC but dropped out in favor of attending Los Angeles City College, where he worked as an assistant conductor. He would go on to create scores for more than 300 movies and television programs, including Planet of the Apes, Chinatown, The Omen, The Twilight Zone, and Star Trek: The Next Generation. He was known for using unusual techniques to create unique sound effects. His awards include three Primetime Emmys and an Academy Award.
Alejandro Murguia is a writer known for his poems about the Mission District of San Francisco. He is a two-time winner of the American Book Award for his books Southern Front and This War Called Love. In Southern Front, Murguia recounts his experiences as an international volunteer in the Nicaraguan Insurrection of 1979. He is a founding member of the Mission Cultural Center for Latino Arts, a multicultural, multidisciplinary arts organization dedicated to Latino art forms.
After attending LACC, Terry McMillan earned a B.A. in journalism from UC Berkeley. Her first book, Mama, was published in 1987. It sold out its first printing after McMillan marketed the book herself, unhappy with the publicity it received from the publisher’s promotion. Her third novel, Waiting to Exhale, made the New York Times bestseller list and sold over 3 million copies. Two of her novels, Waiting to Exhale and How Stella Got Her Groove Back, have been adapted into successful movies.
Tony Valdez began working at KTTV Channel 11 in 1981. He had previously had stints in writing, producing, and reporting at KCET and KTLA. At the beginning of his 35 year run at KTTV, he was one of the very few faces of color on TV. Now that he is retired, he is happy to see that news reporters look more like the people watching at home. Valdez is the recipient of multiple Emmy, Golden Mike, and LA Press Club awards.
Esther Williams was a competitive swimmer and actress. Williams attended LACC in 1939 while working at a department store. She was discovered by Billy Rose’s assistant and joined his Aquacade show alongside Tarzan star Johnny Weissmuller. She planned to compete in the 1940 Olympics, but was unable to due to the outbreak of World War II. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer scouts saw Williams in an Aquacade show and decided she was what they were looking for. She starred in at least one top-grossing film each year from 1945 to 1949.
Tom LaBonge was a LA City Council member. He served from 2001 to 2015, representing the 4th district. He served on several committees including Arts, Parks, Health and Aging committee, the Transportation Committee, the Ad Hoc River Committee, and the Trade, Commerce, & Tourism Committee. Before serving as a councilman, LaBonge was the Director of Community Relations for the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power.
Richard Pink is the current co-owner of Pink’s Hot Dogs. The company started as a push cart in 1939, run by his parents, Paul and Betty Pink. Since then pushcart has expanded across the globe with locations in the Philippines, Las Vegas, Ohio, and Connecticut. True to its Hollywood roots, Pink’s has appeared in several movies and offers menu items named after celebrities, like the “Martha Stewart Dog” and the “Rosie O’Donnell Long Island Dog.” In addition to running Pink’s Hot Dogs, he is the president of Richard Pink & Associates.
John Williams, Composer
In a career spanning more than five decades, John Williams has become one of America’s most accomplished and successful composers for film and for the concert stage. He has served as music director and laureate conductor of one of the country’s treasured musical institutions, the Boston Pops Orchestra, and he maintains thriving artistic relationships with many of the world’s great orchestras, including the Boston Symphony Orchestra, the New York Philharmonic, the Chicago Symphony and the Los Angeles Philharmonic. Mr. Williams has received a variety of prestigious awards, including the National Medal of Arts, the Kennedy Center Honors, the Olympic Order, and numerous Academy Awards, Grammy Awards, Emmy Awards and Golden Globe Awards. He remains one of our nation’s most distinguished and contributive musical voices, and has composed the music and served as music director for more than one hundred films.