Saranac Lake Walk of Fame grows

Leslie Hoffman grins next to her Saranac Lake Walk of Fame plaque on the Hotel Saranac after its unveiling on Thursday. Hoffman, a Saranac Lake native, had a prolific stunt career in Hollywood and pioneered work for women in labor unions for stuntpeople. (Enterprise photo — Aaron Cerbone)

SARANAC LAKE — The village unveiled three new Walk of Fame plaques on Thursday — for Leslie Hoffman, William Morris and the New York Giants.

The Saranac Lake Walk of Fame started over a decade ago. The village usually adds one new plaque a year, but this year, it added three to catch up for time lost during the coronavirus pandemic. There are now 19 plaques around town, with at least nine more names on the waiting list.

Outgoing village Mayor Clyde Rabideau said was he walking in Memphis on Beale Street when he was struck with inspiration, seeing the plaques lining the sidewalk there. So he brought a similar walk here to the village.

Trustee Kelly Brunette said she plans to continue this tradition on the new village board, and advocate for funding for it in the village budget each year. Each bronze-coated plaque costs around $1,000, Rabideau said.

Hollywood connection

Leslie Hoffman, a Saranac Lake native who made a career in Hollywood as a prolific stuntwoman and labor leader, was at the Hotel Saranac for the unveiling of her plaque, along with a slew of friends and fellow residents of the Saranac Village at Will Rogers, where she lives.

After graduating from high school here in the 1970s, she took on a job in Hollywood, leaping from high heights, diving away from explosions, and getting punched and shot. Her stunts can be seen in some major films and television shows, including M.A.S.H., Nightmare on Elm Street, Naked Gun, Love Boat, Clue and, of course, Star Trek.

Hoffman was the first stuntwoman elected to the Screen Actors’ Guild Board of Directors in the 1980s. She broke through the “glass ceiling,” a fitting action for a stuntwoman.

In her union role, Hoffman fought for better health coverage for stuntpeople and for women to get more stunt roles.

“It’s good to be home and I’m extremely honored by the village,” Hoffman said as her plaque was unveiled in the middle of the pouring rain.

She returned to Saranac Lake in 2016.

“I should do what they do at the Academy Awards, not the longest speech, but the shortest speech,” Hoffman said. “Thank you all.”

Gail Wrenn, a fellow resident of Will Rogers, circulated a petition to have Hoffman inducted into the Walk of Fame last year. On Thursday, Wrenn said the Oscar ceremony should add a stuntwoman category. There are currently no Oscar awards for stunt workers.

Hoffman had wanted her plaque on the Hotel Saranac and was grateful Fred Roedel, co-owner of Roedel Companies which owns the Hotel Saranac, agreed. The Roedel family even helped fund a portion of the cost of the plaque.

“The hotel has been a major part of the Hoffman family,” Hoffman said.

She got her start acting and dancing at the Odd Fellows Hall on Main Street, where the Hotel Saranac parking area is now.

Her earliest memory at the hotel was visiting the barber Gus Nyberg in his ground floor barbershop. Throughout the years, she celebrated her brothers’ bar mitzvahs there and saw her father, an avid bridge player, play with his club at the hotel.

Brunette said Hoffman is a “legendary woman” and her plaque is on a “legendary building.”

“I have two young daughters that are able to walk by this plaque and dream big,” Brunette said. “Saranac Lake is a decidedly different community and this is a perfect example of that.”

A place to play

William Morris’ plaque was unveiled at the Adirondack Carousel on the corner of Bloomingale Avenue and Church Street, where the theatrical agent and philanthropist had founded a nursery years ago.

Morris is most well known for founding a talent agency called the William Morris Agency — now renamed Endeavor — which represented big names like Will Rogers and Charlie Chaplin back in the day and is still around.

In 1902, he came to Saranac Lake to heal from tuberculosis. He lived at the Algonquin Hotel for three years and returned often after moving back to New York City.

He built camps in the area and his wife, Emma, also founded the Saranac Lake Milk Fund. The Morrises founded and led numerous national and local organizations.

Morris narrowly cheated death on multiple occasions — beating tuberculosis in Saranac Lake and cancelling trips on the ill-fated Titanic and Lusitania ships — but eventually died in 1932 of a heart attack while playing pinochle with friends in New York City.

Shawn Boyer said he remembers playing in the park. His mother, Diana, was the park attendant for many years. Boyer said he hopes the park will hold events like it used to.

Rabideau pointed out that Morris helped found the Will Rogers Memorial Hospital, a home for actors suffering from tuberculosis, which is now the community where Hoffman lives.

The New York Giants

The plaque for the New York Giants at the Downhill Grill commemorates the season in 1949 when the NFL team trained in Saranac Lake.

For three years, the Philadelphia Eagles had a training camp at Petrova Field in the village. A plaque for the Eagles was added to the walk in 2017. One year, the Giants leased the camp.

“When they arrived by train on Depot Street, 1,500 people greeted them,” Rabideau said.

The Enterprise reported at the time that the train was an hour late, but no one left to go about their business until the fifty-or-so players arrived. For the month of August, Saranac Lakers treated the G-Men like royalty.

Phil “Bunk” Griffin said he remembers watching the Giants throwing the ball around and said the players took the time to show the youngsters how to hold the football.

Rabideau said two names on the 1949 Giants roster stood out to him — tackle Carl Butkus, who Rabideau said was not related to the legendary linebacker Dick Butkus, and fullback Joe Sulaitis, the only player who didn’t play college ball.

Other names on the Walk of Fame include Bill Demong, Andrea Kilbourne-Hill, Chris Mazdzer, Bela Bartok, Edward Livingston Trudeau, Christy Mathewson, Herb Clark, Maurice Kenny, Larry Doyle, Robert Louis Stevenson, Faye Dunaway, Philadelphia Eagles, Garry Trudeau, Albert Einstein and Rene Joyeuse.


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