Arab-Americans: Making a Difference!

HOME by Casey Kasem

There are about 3 million Arab-Americans. As a community, we’ve been making a difference by demonstration our loyalty, inventiveness, and courage on behalf of the United State for over 100 years.

Among America’s activists who are making a great difference are the founder of MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving), Candy Lightner, and America’s --- and probably the world’s – foremost consumer advocate, Ralph Nader. Back in 1960, Ralph Johns, a key participant in the civil rights movement, encouraged the famous Woolworth ‘sit-in’ at a lunch counter in Greensboro, North Carolina.

Among business leaders is the founder of an international, billion dollar engineering firm, Jacobs Engineering Group, Dr. Joseph Jacobs. A former chemist with dozens of patents became Armand Hammer’s successor as Chairman of the Board, President and Chief Executive Officer of Occidental Petroleum – Dr. Ray Irani. The former head of the Federal Aeronautics Authority, Najeeb Halaby, was CEO of Pan-American Airlines. An internationally respected financial expert and economic forecaster is Dr. Ray Jallow. Paul Orfalea founded the world’s biggest international chain of copying service stores, Kinko’s, and Waleed and Malik Ali founded MPI, the world’s largest home-video distributor of documentaries.

Entrepreneur Tony Ismail founded the Alamo Flag Company in Dallas and Built it into the largest retailer of flags and related items in the US today. Wood-working furniture maker Sam Malouf, whose quality pieces are in demand, has had many of his creations exhibited in museums.

The Texas lawyer who won the biggest settlement in US history, on behalf of Pennzoil ($10 billion dollars!), is one of this country’s most successful attorneys, Joseph Jamail.

Some of the famous people you may know in the entertainment world are singer-songwriter Paul Anka who was one of America’s first pop teen idols. Ukelele-plucking, falsetto-singing Herbert Khaury became famous as "Tiny Tim." In the world of rock, there was the late, legendary Frank Zappa. On the West Coast, Dick Dale was the ‘King of the Surf Guitar.’ One of today’s superstars is singer-dancer Paula Abdul. The first teenage singer to have her first two singles hit Number One is Tiffany. Speaking of music, two of American’s landmark shows on radio were created by two Arab-Americans, Don Bustany and yours truly - - "American Top 40" and "American Country Countdown." Recently, I added "Casey’s Top 40" and "Casey’s Countdown."

On Broadway, playwright Fred Saidy wrote two classics, Finian’s Rainbow and Bloomer Girls. Opera prima donna Rosalind Elias hit the high notes at the Met. For avant-garde "Dancer of the Year" in 1992, The New York Times picked Elie Chaib, a 20 year male Broadway veteran with the Paul Taylor Company.

Turning to television, Lucie Salhany, chair of Fox Broadcasting Co., was the first woman to direct a television network. She now heads the United Paramount (TV) Network.

Among TV directors, two Arab-Americans have each helmed over 300 episodes for the network. Assad Kelada has done numerous pilots for series Like "Family Ties" and episodes of "The Fact of Life," "Who’s the Boss?" "WKRP in Cincinnati," etc. After directing Broadway hits like "Sweet Charity," "Mame," and "The Unsinkable Molly Brown," John Bowab switched to TV and has directed "Soap," "Benson," "Bosom Buddies," "The Facts of Life," and the last season and a half of the "The Cosby Show."

Did you know that the highest-rated episode in television history was the last episode of "M*A*S*H"? The actor who played the role of not-so-crazy Corporal Klinger for its entire 11-year run was the talented Jamie Farr.

On NBC-TV, "Saturday Night Live’s" bandleader for many years was G.E. Smith. His family’s Lebanese name, Haddad, means ‘blacksmith.’

The best known Arab-American was also the founder of St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital - - the late, great comedian and actor Danny Thomas. His daughter is Emmy Award-winning actress Marlo Thomas, and his son is a television and film producer and multi-Emmy winner for the "The Golden Girls" – Tony Thomas.

The leading man who starred in the movie Flashdance was Michael Nouri, more recently seen in TV’s "Love and War" sitcom. Actress Amy Yasbeck and actor Tony Shalhoub who currently plays Antonio are both featured in the TV series "Wings." Crusty but soft-hearted Mel in TV’s "Alice" was portrayed by the late Vic Tayback. One of the co-stars of the series "Empty Nest" was Kristy McNichol. Khrystyne Haje, who was picked by People magazine as one of the "50 most beautiful people in the US", was the star of TV’s "Head of the Class."

Two other fine movie and television actors who also starred in popular TV dramas are James Stacy, who played the title role in "Laramie" and M Michael Ansara, who played Cochise in "Broken Arrow."

Among the many other performers, and award-winning comic actress from San Diego recently scored a hit as a fun-loving nun in the Sister Act films, Kathy Najimy. The head of Carolco Pictures, handling the Rocky, Rambo, and Terminator films, among other, is "billion-dollar producer," Mario Kassar.

The producer who presented the epics the Message: The Story of Islam (a biography of Mohammed) and Lion of the Desert, not to mention all the blockbuster Halloween chillers, is Moustapha Akkad. The co-writer-director of the loony comedy hit Ace Ventura: Pet Detective is Tom Shadyac, who recently directed Eddie Murphy in the remake of the Nutty professor.

Fouad Said was the cinematographer who designed Cinemobile - - the first customized van for filming on locations while working on the TV series "I Spy." One of show business’s legendary talent managers was George "Bullets" Durgom. Who through the years, managed Jackie Gleason, Sammy Davis, Jr., and Marilyn Monroe, to mention a few. Mike Toney played ‘Fat Sally’ in Martin Scorsese’s film Casino.

Among Oscar winners: Best Actor for the movie Amadeus- F. Murray Abraham. Winner for Best Screenplay Adopted From Another Medium - - his novel, The Exorcist - - William Peter Blatty. The first woman to receive an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay for Thelma and Louise - - Callie Khouri.

For Best Song – "Last Dance" from Thank God, It’s Friday- composer Paul Jabara. Also, set decorator Emil Kuri, nominated for films like Mary Poppins, won the Oscar twice for The Heiress and Disney’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.

In the military world, US Air Force Col. James Jabara became the world’s first jet ace during the Korean War. West Point graduate and 4-star General George Joulwan commands both the US and NATO forces in Europe.

In World War II, Army officers like Maj Gen. Fred Safay fought alongside Gen. Patton, and Brig. Gen. Elias Stevens served on Gen. Eisenhower’s staff. In 1994, one of our Navy’s ships, the destroyer escort USS Naifeh, was named in honor of an Arab-American Navy Lt. Alfred Naifeh of Oklahoma.

In politics, US Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell (D-ME) has retired. A new Arab-American Senator is Michigan’s Spencer Abraham. New Congressman, Nick Joe Rahall II, and Congresswoman Pat Danner from Missouri. Today, the first Arab American ever appointed to a US Cabinet position is the Secretary of Health and Human Services, Donna Shalala.

One of CNN’s political commentators is the former White House Chief of Staff and Governor of New Hampshire, John Sununu. Then there’s American’s longest-serving White House chief of protocol, Ambassador Selwa Roosevelt. Her assistant, Thomas A. Nassif, also served as US Ambassador to Morocco. A special Presidential envoy was the late Ambassador Philip Habib. A 50-year veteran with United Press International is the dean of the White House press corps – feisty Helen Thomas, who’s covered eight Presidents since 1961.

Others who have served in high elective office include former US Senators James Abourezk and James Abdnor, both of South Dakota; former Congressional members Mary Rose Oakar of Ohio, George Kasem of California, Abraham Kazen, Jr. of Texas, and Toby Moffett of Connecticut. Victor Atiyeh was the popular governor of Oregon.

In sports, the Heisman Trophy-winner who threw the "miracle touchdown" pass for Boston College some years back was Doug Flutie, more recently the Canadian Football League’s Most Valuable Player. Also quarterback Jeff George of the Atlanta Falcons, and Philadelphia Eagles coach Rich Katite who now coaches the NFL’s New York Jets. Don’t forget former linebacker for the Chicago Bears and an NFL Hall of Famer, Bill George, or former Cleveland Brown Abe Gibran.

The former owner of the Miami Dolphins has a football stadium named after him – Joe Robbie. One of the owners of Baseball’s St. Louis Cardinals was Fred Saigh. In auto racing, Bobby Rahal won the Indy 500 in 1986 and is the all-time earnings champ among Indy car racers. Major League baseball player Joe Lehoud played with the Boston Red Sox. The founder of the Professional Bowlers Association is Eddie Elias. In the ring, Petey Sarron won the world feather-weight championship in 1936-1937; Zuhair "Steve" Mansour was weightlifting’s Gran 3-time U.S. National Chess Champion is Seattle’s Yasser Seirawan.

In the world of fashion, the prestigious CFDA Menswear Designer of the Year Award for 1990 and 1991 went to Arab-American Joseph Abboud. He’s the only designer to win the award tow years in a row. J.M. Haggar of Haggar Slacks manufactures more men’s slacks than anyone in the world. In addition, Farah Brothers manufactures men’s and women’s slacks; and Maloof Brothers manufactured Mod-O-Day women’s dresses.

Another inspiring success story was that of writer-lecturer on business and success, Nido Qubein. When he came to the United States as a teenager, he could barely speak English. He went on to become president of the National Speakers’ Association and the youngest member inducted into the International Speakers’ Hall of Fame.

In education, Jack Shaheen, Emeritus Professor of Mass Communications at Southern Illinois University, is also a film critic, consultant on the Middle East for CBS, and author of books like the TV Arab. Columbia University professor Edward Said is a will-known literary and social critic, as well as a respected music reviewer whose column appears in The Nation. David Adamany is President of Wayne State University in Detroit. The 1990 Pulitzer Prize for biography (Jackson Pollock: An American Saga) went to the author of three other national bestsellers as well – writer-publisher Steven Naifeh of South Carolina.

In science and medicine, one of America’s most famous pioneers is Houston heart surgeon, Dr. Michael DeBakey, who invented the heart pump. Today he’s Chancellor of Baylor University’s College of Medicine. The winner of the 1990 Nobel Prize for Chemistry is Harvard’s Dr. Elias Corey. Geologist George A. Doumani’s explorations helped prove the theory of continental drift; he has a mountain peak named after him in Antarctica. Another American geologist, Farouk El-Baz, helped plan all the Apollo moon landings and later pioneered the use of space photography to study the Earth. Finally, the courageous astronauts who lost their lives aboard the space shuttle Challenger included several racial and ethnic groups: African-American, Asian-American, Hispanic-American, Anglo-American, Jewish-American – and an Arab-American: a school teacher, Christa McAuliffe.

We’ve all heard this quote before, "ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country," a famous quote by an Irish American President, John F. Kennedy. These words, that inspired an entire generation, were first written by, among others, the Arab-American author of the Prophet, Kahlil Gibran, more than 60 years ago.