[sign]Many students don’t think Hollywood while filling out their applications for MSU, but the history of the campus is filled with numerous famous names in many arenas, including art and athletics. From as early as the 1930s, the area around Lansing has been producing many of the movers and shakers of this century. These superstars have left MSU and have gone on to create legacies of their own. From NBA basketball to the silver screen, some select MSU alumni have gone on to accomplish feats known on a national scale, but that can be traced back to this very campus.
“I think MSU has played a key role in the success of many people; when you look at the body of achievement by alumni, it is a very impressive institution,” said Bob Bao, editor of the MSU Alumni Magazine for the past 24 years and alumni of MSU with a masters in business administration. “I have covered a lot of achievement stories, and there is definitely a correlation between success and experience.”
A high-profile example of this success is in the profession of filmmaking. When watching the famous action thriller Spider-Man, few students know the director is a former MSU student who once walked the same snow-packed paths to class everyday. Director Sam Raimi was born in Royal Oak, Mich. in 1959, and he enrolled at MSU in the fall of 1977 as a humanities major. Together with older brother Ivan, contributing writer to the first two Spider-Man movies, and Ivan’s roommate Robert Tapert, the trio began their quest to make movies. Their elementary filming took place early in the fall, and they titled their first full-length film The Happy Valley Kid. With Sam Raimi directing, his brother producing and Tapert starring, much of the filming took place in Wonders Hall, Wells Hall and along the Red Cedar River bridge behind the Main Library.
Raimi’s success has sparked much interest in the MSU film program and his story is familiar to current film studies students. “I think he has opened up other areas of study that can still apply to filmmaking,” said Matt Bendure, a film studies, telecommunication and theatre sophomore. “It\’s no longer necessary to go to the big film schools like USC [University of Southern California] or NYU [New York University].”
[downtown]However, Raimi didn’t graduate from MSU; he dropped out halfway through the spring semester of his sophomore year in March 1979. His Happy Valley Kid production played on campus for 24 screenings and was viewed by more than 1,000 students. The film truly set him on the road to major filmmaking, and the following 1978 production Within the Woods, a homemade horror flick, was viewed by prospective investors. From this film, Raimi was able to earn enough to start production of the famous thriller The Evil Dead.
“I definitely respect the fact that [Raimi] lived in Michigan and made it huge in Hollywood,” said Jeff Allen, a telecommunications information studies and media and film studies senior. “It\’s always inspiring to know that someone from your area, interested in your field, has been wildly successful in it.”
After graduating from MSU in 1978, Ivan Raimi continued to co-write and produce for Sam Raimi with the sequels Evil Dead II and Army of Darkness. Since the release of The Evil Dead, Sam has directed such blockbuster hits as The Quick and the Dead, with Sharon Stone and Leonardo DiCaprio, and For Love of the Game, with Kevin Costner. He was also executive producer of the popular television series Xena: Warrior Princess and Hercules: The Legendary Journeys. [web]
“I do know that many of the filmmakers around campus and the Lansing area do know that he went to MSU and obviously that he is successful, so I think that his achievements are proof that Michigan can produce quality filmmakers,” Allen said.
Seeing someone from the area rise to success impacts both the students and the larger Lansing community. “I think these celebrities affected East Lansing similarly to how they affected me; they brought encouragement…even years after they are long gone, to those who did not personally know them,” communications sophomore Kyle Lappin said.
Although many current Spartans might not know about Sam Raimi’s claims to fame, one would be hard-pressed to find a current student who hasn’t heard the story of Magic Johnson. Gregg Skopczynski, an MSU communications student from 1978-1980, played intramural softball with the famed athlete. Skopczynski witnessed the Magic mania as he attended many of Johnson’s games during his freshman year.
“You just knew that every time he came onto the court there was a possibility of some kind of unbelievable plays and passes,” Skopczynski said. “They were just so exciting and stimulating to watch. I became a huge college basketball fan that year.”
[jenison]Hailing from Lansing, Earvin Johnson, Jr., received his nickname “Magic” from local sports reporter Fred Stabley, Jr. while leading his high school basketball team, the Everett Vikings, to a state high school championship in 1977. After high school graduation, he chose to stay close to home and play for the Spartans. Johnson’s first season with the Spartans was marked with incredible success as he led the Spartans to a 1978 Big Ten Conference title. Johnson’s head coach Jud Heathcote is quoted in the 1978 edition of The Red Cedar Log: “He has brought excitement and interest to Jenison Fieldhouse and the campus through his talent.”
Johnson’s sophomore season was one of MSU’s biggest basketball seasons to date, as the Spartans won the 1979 NCAA National Championship game against acclaimed basketball star Larry Bird and Indiana State University.
“That season I think everywhere he was, people knew it,” Skopczynski said. “He was recognizable and likeable. He never thought he was better than anyone else. He was a regular guy and didn’t think that he was anything special.”
After ending his college career in 1979, Johnson was drafted in the first round to the Los Angeles Lakers. Toward the end of his professional career, in 1991, Johnson received more national media attention when he announced that he was HIV-positive.
“It has to be hard to handle such detrimental news, but Magic accepted it and still played the game he knew best,” biosystems engineering and chemical engineering sophomore Andrew Corrion said. “Coming from a tightly knit community…helped Magic through those times; he always knew he could come home, and the East Lansing community would still be just as proud.”
[magic]Soon after his final retirement from professional basketball, Johnson founded the Magic Johnson Foundation in order to raise AIDS awareness and prevention for inner-city communities and to raise funds for HIV/AIDS research.
“Celebrity itself doesn’t mean much; Magic is so much more than a celebrity,” Bao said. “He has developed a business empire serving undeserved markets. He is a real achiever.” [magician]
Gov. Jennifer Granholm established Earvin “Magic” Johnson, Jr. Day in Michigan, to be celebrated on May 13 in honor of his achievements in Michigan and Los Angeles.
“I think East Lansing affected these celebrities much like any hometown of a college community would: it instilled a sense of pride and personality for their alma mater and helped shape who they became as human beings,” Lappin said.
The fact that celebrities such as Sam Raimi and Magic Johnson called MSU their home is an inspiring message for all years and majors alike. These are stimulating stories redefine the average college student’s “American dream” and give everyone encouragement to achieve such greatness. We all start out in the same boat as bewildered, aimless freshman, but these success stories give us something to shoot for: a professional sports career or success as a director…or whatever path you might choose.

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