11 More People You Didn’t Know Have a UT Connection

Paula Pell and James Anderson

Paula Pell and James Anderson

Paula Pell and James Anderson (photo courtesy of Above Average /L/Studio)

Best known as: Writers for Saturday Night Live and creators of the web series Hudson Valley Ballers.

The dynamic comedy duo of Paula Pell (’86) and James Anderson (’85) were roommates at UT while they both studied speech and theatre. In 1995, Pell began as a writer for Saturday Night Live with Anderson joining her in 2001. Pell had a hand in some of the best-known SNL sketches over the last two decades, including the Culps, Spartan Cheerleaders, Debbie Downer, and Justin Timberlake’s Omeletteville. She’s written for movies like Bridesmaids and This Is 40 and contributed to TV’s Parks and Recreation and 30 Rock. Most recently, she wrote the movie Sisters, starring Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, which she says is taken from the pages of her childhood diary. The movie grossed more than $80 million at the holiday box office.

In December, Pell and Anderson premiered the second season of their web series Hudson Valley Ballers, in which they play ex-SNL writers (basically themselves) running a bed and breakfast in New York’s Hudson Valley. Guest stars have included big names like Paul Rudd, Tina Fey, Kate McKinnon, Cecily Strong, and Ana Gasteyer.

Lowell Cunningham

Best known as: Creator of The Men in Black comic book series

Lowell Cunningham’s six-issue run of The Men in Black comics was turned into the 1997 movie Men in Black, starring Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones. Two sequels (2002, 2012) and an animated TV series (1997–2001) followed the blockbuster movie. Plans for a fourth movie in the series were announced in 2015.

Cunningham came up with the idea for the comics while at UT. According to a 2012 WBIR story, Cunningham says he and a friend were in Fort Sanders when they saw a large black car drive past. The friend commented that the car looked like one that the “men in black” would drive. “I was fascinated and got him to share the folklore that goes back decades, if not even further,” said Cunningham, who earned a BA in liberal arts from UT in 1985. 

John Randolph Neal Jr.

Neal and Scopes

Former UT Law Professor John Randolph Neal Jr. (left) and his client John Scopes. (Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress)

Best known as: Lead attorney for John Scopes in the “Scopes Monkey Trial”

Once referred to as “the epitome of the absent-minded professor,” John Randolph Neal Jr. (UT Law professor 1909–1923) garnered a notorious reputation among his peers as one of the most eccentric figures the university had ever known. Neal’s eccentricities, such as rarely bathing, sleeping in his suits, and lecturing on current events instead of law, as well as his staunch advocacy for liberal causes, made him a sagelike figure among students and alumni. The true milestone of Neal’s career was in 1925, when he served as chief counsel for defendant John Scopes during the so-called “Scopes Monkey Trial,” though defense lawyer Clarence Darrow actually argued the case. Read more at tiny.utk.edu/neal.

Constance Shulman

Still of Constance Schulman from Orange is the New Black

Constance Shulman as Yoga Jones (Copyright: Netflix 2013, Source: IMDB.com)

Best known for: Netflix series Orange Is the New Black

Constance Shulman is an actor and producer who graduated with a BS in speech and theatre from UT in 1980. She has a recurring role as Yoga Jones on the popular series Orange Is the New Black, which will premiere its fourth season in summer 2016.

For almost anyone who grew up in the 1990s, Shulman is indelibly remembered as the voice of Patti Mayonnaise on the Nickelodeon (and later Disney) animated series Doug. The Johnson City native is also known for the role of Kathy Bates’s best friend, Missy, in the classic movie Fried Green Tomatoes.

Susan Kelleher

Susan Kelleher examines a tortoise

Susan Kelleher performing her initial physical assessment on Lady the tortoise. (Photo courtesy of National Geographic Channels/Michael Montero)

Best known for: Dr. K’s Exotic Animal ER

Veterinarian Susan Kelleher graduated from the UT College of Veterinary Medicine in 1995. She practices at Broward Avian and Exotic Animal Hospital in Florida. Kelleher and her practice can be seen on National Geographic Wild’s show Dr. K’s Exotic Animal ER. The second season premiered in fall 2015. According to Kelleher, she treats “everything but dogs and cats. If it will fit through the door, I’ll treat it!”

Ron Rice

Best known as: Inventor of Hawaiian Tropic

After earning a geography degree at UT in 1964, Ron Rice worked as a high school chemistry teacher and football coach for seven years. His life changed on a free trip to Hawaii, where he saw women on the beach using natural oils to protect their skin. He decided to create a product that would allow him and others to get a tan like native Hawaiians. He borrowed $500 from his father and set up a business in his garage. He mixed coconut, avocado, kukui, and other natural oils in a garbage can, bottled the formula, and set out to sell it.

By 2006, Hawaiian Tropic was the second-largest sun care company in the world, with sales topping $110 million. In April 2007, Rice sold the company for $83 million to Playtex Products Inc., which then sold it to the Energizer Corporation.

Clarence Brown

Clarence Brown

Clarence Brown (center) directing Gavin Gordon and Greta Garbo in “Romance” (1930). (Photo courtesy of Clarence Brown Papers, Special Collections, University of Tennessee Libraries)

Best known as: Director and producer, namesake of Clarence Brown Theatre

In 1910, at the age of nineteen, Clarence Brown graduated from the University of Tennessee with two degrees in engineering. After a short stint working with automobiles, he turned his sights toward the burgeoning movie industry. He directed movies for Universal and MGM. He made the transition from silent films to talkies with such classics as The Yearling, Intruder in the Dust, National Velvet, and Ah, Wilderness! Brown was the favorite director of Greta Garbo, and they worked together on several films, including Anna Christie, perhaps Brown’s most celebrated motion picture. His films earned a total of thirty-eight Academy Award nominations and nine wins. Brown himself was nominated for an Oscar six times as a director and once as a producer, but he never won.

With Brown’s generous support, the Clarence Brown Theatre was built on UT’s campus and dedicated in 1970. Brown passed away in August 1987 at the age of ninety-seven. 

John Rice Irwin

John Rice Irwin at the Museum of Appalachia

John Rice Irwin at the Museum of Appalachia. (Photo courtesy of the Museum of Appalachia)

Best known for: Founding the Museum of Appalachia in Clinton, Tennessee

It was at the suggestion of his grandfather that John Rice Irwin began collecting Appalachian artifacts with an eye toward opening a museum. He opened the Museum of Appalachia in Clinton, Tennessee, in 1968 to house and display the growing collection of items that he had obtained from all around the country. In May 2007, the museum became affiliated with the Smithsonian Institution’s Affiliations Program.

Irwin, who received a master’s degree in international law from UT in 1958, is the author of seven nationally and internationally distributed books. In 1989, he was one of twenty-nine people to be honored with a MacArthur Fellowship—also known as the “Genius Grant.” The prize is given to individuals who have shown “extraordinary originality and dedication in their creative pursuits and a marked capacity for self-direction.”

Wilma Dykeman

Wilma Dykeman Stokely

Wilma Dykeman Stokely (photo courtesy of UT Libraries)

Best known as: Author of The French Broad, The Tall Woman, and sixteen other books

Older Knoxvillians might remember Wilma Dykeman’s News Sentinel columns under the heading “The Simple Life” from 1962 to 2000. Many credit her for sparking environmental awareness in The French Broad (1955). As the official state historian, she wrote Tennessee: A History in 1974. A native of Asheville, North Carolina, and longtime resident of Newport, Tennessee, Wilma Dykeman (1920–2006) taught Appalachian literature and creative writing at UT from 1975­ to 1995.

Recently, the UT Libraries acquired her papers—some forty-four boxes of them—which are being processed by the Special Collections staff and will be available to scholars in the coming months. Among countless treasures, Dykeman’s papers include handwritten notes from her interviews in the early 1960s with civil rights leaders, including Medgar Evers just weeks before he was murdered. The collection also includes the manuscripts to all of her works, her correspondence with numerous literary luminaries, and materials from her husband James Stokely. In April, the UT Library Society and Friends of the Knox County Public Library will celebrate Dykeman with a lecture by Robert Morgan, a Dykeman-influenced poet and novelist, at the Bijou Theatre, April 7 at 7:00 p.m., followed the morning of April 8 by a panel of Dykeman scholars at John C. Hodges Library. 

Joel Katz

Joel Katz

Joel Katz. (Photo by Jim Fitts)

Best known as: Entertainment attorney

Joel Katz (’69) had never been further south than Washington, DC, when he decided to attend UT Law. The native New Yorker finished law school and set up a practice in Atlanta, where he has been for more than forty years. His client list has included James Brown, Jimmy Buffett, Willie Nelson, Justin Timberlake, Michael Jackson, Little Big Town (with fellow alum Kimberly Schlapman), and the Grammy Awards. Katz was named Billboard magazine’s top-ranked entertainment attorney in 2014 and 2015. He has been in the magazine’s Power 100—an annual list of the most powerful music executives—since 2012. The library at UT’s College of Law is named the Joel A. Katz Law Library in his honor.


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Cynthea Johnson Amason January 19, 2016 - 5:31 pm

These UT Connections are fascinating! Please keep them coming. Some I was aware of but not most. Thanks so much!

Jack H. (Nick) McCall, Law 1991 January 19, 2016 - 7:44 pm

Another one not featured yet–and a graduate with a state historical marker on UT’s campus (in front of the UT College of Law)–is Marine Corps Commandant Clifton B. Cates, from Tiptonvile, Tennessee, a UT-K graduate in Law in 1916. Until about 1997, his portrait hung in the UT Law Library.

Jennifer Howard July 15, 2023 - 11:04 am

This information is so interesting. Thanks for sharing


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