There are so many ways to know Vanessa Williams. First there’s the singer, who serenaded us with song during the 1990s. Hits such as Dreamin‘, Saved The Best For Last, Comfort Zone and the Oscar-winning Colors of the Wind were huge.
There’s Broadway, where her musical theater background paid off in Kiss of the Spider Woman and Into The Woods, also the movies, Soul Food and Eraser with Schwarzenegger.
Then television, where she’s done both miniseries and series, including Ally McBeal, (the TV version of) Bye Bye Birdie, The Jacksons, An American Dream, Henriette DeLille: The Courage to Love.
She was the perfect mixture of comedy, farce and satire in her Emmy-nominated role of Wilhelmina Slater in Ugly Betty. She followed this up by becoming a desperate housewife on Desperate Housewives‘ last two seasons where she played self-serving Renee Perry. However one first heard of her, it’s clear that she’s become exactly what she set out to be, a star.
Despite scandal (Williams resigned as Miss America 1984 after nude photos were published), high-profile divorce (NBA basketball’s Rick Fox), she’s never let it get in the way of performing.
Born in Tarrytown, New York and raised in Millwood, New York, to parents who were both music teachers, she studied piano and French horn, took an interest in songwriting and starred in high school play productions. She enrolled as a musical theater major at Syracuse University after getting a scholarship and remained there until she entered the Miss America pageant.
She has long since returned to her roots, living in the nearby hamlet of Chappaqua, mere miles from Millwood. Her eyes light up as she fondly reminisces with AStarWasBorn.com about growing up there.
18th-century Philipsburg Manor in Sleepy Hollow, New York (formerly the northern part of Tarrytown, New York)
ASWB: And this is Millwood, NY. This is upstate NY?
VW: It’s Westchester County.
ASWB: What was it like growing up in your hometown?
VW: It was a very small town about 35 miles north of New York City.
I grew up on an acre and a half of land; I used to ride my bike all over the place and play outside until the sun went down, so it was a very kind of idyllic small town.
ASWB: Any favorite foods you remember from childhood?
VW: My parents had a vegetable garden, so my favorite summertime meal was fresh tomato sandwiches on toast; fresh tomatoes from the garden and a little bit of salt and pepper and mayo. We also had corn, but tomato sandwiches really meant summer to me.
ASWB: Did you have any favorite teachers and how did they influence your acting career?
VW: Oh, yeah, tons of them….Mr. Heart in 4th grade, Mr. Hill in third grade, Mr. Samsa in eighth grade. Mr. Stewart was my first acting teacher in 9th grade through high school and they were all people that inspired me. They were all teachers that made you feel that you were taking a college course from a professor. You felt like you were older than what you were and you wanted to learn.
ASWB: Travel books all have “must-sees”, what is your “must-see” for your hometown?
VW: It’s a small town. We’ve got a Watermarkers’ store, one Italian restaurant, a nail salon, and two gas stations. We do have a nice bicycle trail that runs through the town. A lot of people park their cars and ride through – and a ball field.
What used to be northern Tarrytown is now the village of Sleepy Hollow, named for the author of “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow”, Washington Irving, who lived in Tarrytown and is buried in the Sleepy Hollow Cemetery (pictured below).
ASWB: Do you personally have any particular place that you like in your hometown?
VW: The one go-to place is Rocky’s (in Millwood). Rocky’s is a deli that has been there my whole life and as soon as my brother gets off a plane, he goes to Rocky’s and he gets a wedge, which we call heroes or subs. I usually get a turkey with lettuce and tomato, salt and pepper, it’s great.
ASWB: Are you still in touch with friends from high school?
VW: Ah, yes, lots of friends. One of my best friends, I’ve known since second grade. I just saw my friend Mara from fifth grade.