8 Milwaukeeans Who Have Gotten the Hollywood Treatment

A handful of Milwaukee’s own have appeared as characters in films and television.

If you want to see Milwaukee on the silver screen, you’ve got more than a few options.

You can bask in the glory of old County Stadium with Major League. You can watch Johnny Depp rob the Milwaukee County Historical Society in Public Enemies, or you can soak in early-90s era downtown in the Charles Bronson vehicle A Family of Cops (a deep cut, but it’s worth searching out).

But you can also see a number of famous Milwaukeeans depicted through a Hollywood lens, if you know where to look. Here are eight of the Cream City’s own who had been portrayed on film:

1) Jim Lovell

One of just three people to fly to the moon twice, Lovell was a Cleveland native who later relocated to Milwaukee and graduated from Juneau High School. Lovell was famously portrayed by Tom Hanks in 1995’s Apollo 13, but has also been played by Tim Daly and Orange is the New Black’s Pablo Schreiber.

2) Golda Meir

The fourth Prime Minister of Israel grew up and worked as a teacher in Milwaukee. 1982’s TV movie A Woman Called Golda follows Meir as she returns to Milwaukee and recounts her early life. Ingrid Bergman’s portrayal of Meir won her an Emmy and a Golden Globe. Both were awarded posthumously as she died shortly after completing the film.

3) Jeffrey Dahmer

There’s no real need to expand on Dahmer’s infamy here. A handful of films have portrayed the serial killer over the years, ranging from 1993’s The Secret Life: Jeffrey Dahmer, which starred z-list horror film player Carl Crew (he also wrote the screenplay) to 2002’s Dahmer, which was considered the break-out role for two-time Academy Award nominee Jeremy Renner.

More recently, Milwaukee’s own Andrew Swant played Dahmer in the excellent 2012 documentary The Jeffrey Dahmer Files, and Disney star Ross Lynch played a young Dahmer in 2017’s My Friend Dahmer.

4) Kato Kaelin

A Milwaukee native and bit actor whose dopey demeanor made him one of the many minor celebrities to emerge from the O. J. Simpson murder trial, Kaelin was played with an empty-headed brilliance by Billy Magnussen in the Simpson season of American Crime Story.

5) Happy Felsch

One of eight members of the 1919 Chicago White Sox banned from baseball for life for conspiring to throw the World Series, life-long Milwaukeean Happy Felsch was a key character in the 1988 film, Eight Men Out. Felsch was portrayed by Charlie Sheen, who followed up the role by playing hard-throwing Rick Vaughn in 1989’s Major League.

6) Billy Mitchell

Born to one of Milwaukee’s most prominent families, Mitchell grew up in what is now West Allis. He had a legendary military career, rising to the rank of general and becoming known as the “father of the Air Force.” Mitchell’s 1925 court martial for severely (but justly) criticizing his superiors was made into a film in 1955. Directed by Otto Preminger, The Court Martial of Billy Mitchell cast Gary Cooper in the lead role.

7) Liberace

One of the highest-paid entertainers of his era, “Mr. Showmanship” was a West Allis native. Andrew Robinson, of Hellraiser and Dirty Harry fame, played the lead in the 1988 made-for-TV Liberace. Michael Douglas won a Golden Globe and Emmy for his portrayal of Liberace in the 2013 HBO series, Behind the Candelabra.

8) Lawrencia Bembenek

Bembenek was a former Milwaukee police officer who was convicted of murdering her husband’s ex-wife in 1982. The cold-blooded nature of the crime was shocking enough, but the involvement of Bembenek – a former model and Schlitz Brewing calendar girl – made the case truly sensational. When Bembenek escaped from prison in 1992, she became something of a folk hero. A pair of low-grade made-for-TV movies were released after “Bambi” was recaptured in 1992. The first, Calendar Girl, Cop, Killer? Starred Lindsay Frost as Bembenek. The other, Woman on the Run, cast Academy Award-winner Tatum O’Neal in the lead. Of Calendar Girl, Entertainment Weekly wrote, “[it is] the worst ripped-from-the-headlines sweeps-period TV movie this year.”