How the N.J. Hall of Fame inducted celebrities in a pandemic

Ed Harris looked into the camera, casting a serious but familiar expression.

With the creases of his distinct face and those searching blue eyes, he’d done the same for any number of roles in his long career, from “The Right Stuff” to “Apollo 13,” “Pollock” and “Westworld.”

But this time the Englewood native beamed in from home, flanked by what appeared to be a copy of “The Secret Life of Pets 2.”

“I hope you and your families are healthy, staying safe and relatively sane during this unprecedented period of time,” said Harris, 69, somehow managing to ratchet up the intensity at the first virtual induction ceremony for the New Jersey Hall of Fame.

The hall opted to go with a pared-down, pre-recorded presentation Sunday for its 12th ceremony rather than cancel the event altogether because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Dionne Warwick

Dionne Warwick, a member of the New Jersey Hall of Fame’s 2013 class, inducts her aunt, Cissy Houston, to the hall of fame.New Jersey Hall of Fame

Over the years, iconic New Jersey figures like Bruce Springsteen have appeared and performed at the inductions, infusing some pep into what could otherwise be a flat run of speeches. For the last few years, inductions have taken place at the Paramount Theatre in Asbury Park — a stately seaside venue possessed of a tangible air of ceremony. (The hall currently has no permanent physical home, but one is in the works at the American Dream complex in East Rutherford.)

Ed Harris, a four-time Oscar nominee who grew up in Tenafly, joined a smattering of inductees in the hall’s 2019 class to talk about their Jersey roots.

“Tenafly was a great town to grow up in and I’ve always taken great pride in my home state,” said Harris, 69, wearing a Tenafly Tigers hat for the occasion. After wishing health and happiness to everyone watching, the actor, who will appear in the upcoming film “Top Gun: Maverick,” reminded everyone to vote.

Jason Alexander

Jason Alexander hosted the New Jersey Hall of Fame ceremony, which was pre-recorded and broadcast online and on TV Sunday.New Jersey Hall of Fame

“Seinfeld” actor Jason Alexander, who was inducted last year at a ceremony that featured a joint performance from Jon Bon Jovi and Southside Johnny, hosted the remote ceremony, noting that Danny DeVito had been the hall’s first pick.

“They went to the next short, bald guy they could think of,” he said.

The ceremony was a family affair for inductee Cissy Houston, the Grammy-winning gospel singer who was inducted by her niece Dionne Warwick. Warwick had been inducted as part of the class of 2013 alongside her cousin, Whitney Houston, who died in 2012.

*** Read our interview with John Amos on the New Jersey Hall of Fame, ‘Coming 2 America’ and ‘Good Times’ ***

“It’s an honor to be inducted into the New Jersey Hall of Fame,” Cissy Houston, 87, said in a short appearance. “Thank you so very much.”

Wyclef Jean’s sister, the Grammy-nominated singer Melky Jean, introduced his performance of the song “Distance,” which he wrote this year in response to COVID-19 (you can watch that performance and the whole ceremony in the video below). Wyclef was inducted into the hall as part of the 2016 class.

“Even with the distance, I feel so near,” he sang. “Even with the separation of space, you’ll be right here.”

Also performing at the ceremony was “Stranger Things” star Gaten Matarazzo, who lives in Little Egg Harbor and sings in the band Work in Progress with his sister. AirPods in ear, Matarazzo sang the 2001 Five for Fighting song “Superman (It’s Not Easy)” as a tribute to health care workers. He also helped to induct former Giants quarterback Eli Manning into the hall.

“Playing quarterback for the Giants these past 16 years has been a true joy and a privilege,” said Manning, 39, who lives in Summit. “And living in New Jersey and raising my family here has been the same.”

Eli Manning

Former Giants quarterback Eli Manning speaks at the virtual New Jersey Hall of Fame induction ceremony. Now, he mused, people can put to rest all those questions about the “hall of fame.”New Jersey Hall of Fame

Manning, who retired as a football player in January, mused that the debate is now over about his worthiness for the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Another sports inductee was C. Vivian Stringer, the head coach of the Rutgers women’s basketball team. (“A game I can’t play at a college I didn’t get into,” Alexander said, introducing Stringer.)

*** Read our interview with Eli Manning on the New Jersey Hall of Fame ***

Stringer was the first African American coach in college basketball to win 1,000 games as well as the first coach in basketball to take three college teams to the Final Four.

“The greatest gift that I’ve had is the ability to do something that I really care (about) and love,” Stringer said, accepting the honor.

“To everyone that has been a part of this journey with me, I say thank you for helping me live my dream,” she said.

C. Vivian Stringer

C. Vivian Stringer, head coach of the Rutgers women’s basketball team, is inducted into the New Jersey Hall of Fame.New Jersey Hall of Fame

Actor John Amos, known for “Good Times” and “Roots,” was also inducted into the hall. Jason Alexander said he first saw Amos on TV as weatherman Gordy Howard in “The Mary Tyler Moore Show.” Later, he went on to co-star with Amos and direct him in the 1995 “For Better or Worse.”

Amos, 80, spoke fondly of his New Jersey education. He grew up in East Orange and played football for East Orange High School.

“New Jersey’s a melting pot of diversity and opportunity,” Amos said. “It is that unique foundation that helped me to reach above and beyond my dreams. It’s that strong sense of character that reaches from the schools and teachers to the neighborhoods and the culture that creates a sense of community.”

John Amos

Actor John Amos speaks at the virtual New Jersey Hall of Fame induction ceremony. He’ll return as Cleo McDowell in the “Coming to America” sequel “Coming 2 America” in December.New Jersey Hall of Fame

The Emmy-nominated actor will reprise the role of Cleo McDowell in the upcoming “Coming to America” sequel “Coming 2 America.”

Oscar nominee Annette Bening was on hand to induct Danny Aiello, who died in 2019, at 86.

Aiello, who broke through in Spike Lee’s 1989 classic “Do the Right Thing,” lived in Ramsey, then Saddle River. His granddaughter also spoke at the ceremony.

Gov. Phil Murphy and first lady Tammy Murphy introduced nominees in the arts and letters category, including writer Fran Lebowitz, 69, who grew up in Morristown and did not appear as part of the ceremony.

Annette Bening

Annette Bening inducts Danny Aiello into the New Jersey Hall of Fame. Aiello died in 2019.New Jersey Hall of Fame

Also inducted in the category: Mort Pye, the editor-in-chief of The Star-Ledger from 1963 to 1995 who died in 1997, at the age of 79.

Joining Pye in the group of posthumous arts and letters inductees were Charles Addams, the cartoonist and creator of “The Addams Family,” who lived in Westfield; Stephen Crane, the author of “The Red Badge of Courage,” who hailed from Newark; and Joyce Kilmer, the “Trees” poet who was from New Brunswick and lived in Mahwah.

Gen. Martin Dempsey, a retired Army general who served as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff during the Obama administration, from 2011 to 2015, joined the hall in the public service category. At the ceremony, Dempsey, who is also known for his singing, spoke highly of Bayonne, his hometown.

Gov. Phil Murphy and Tammy Murphy

Gov. Phil Murphy and first lady Tammy Murphy at the New Jersey Hall of Fame induction.New Jersey Hall of Fame

“In my career, I hope that I have contributed back a fraction of what I took from my childhood in New Jersey,” said Dempsey, 68.

Tommy James, another member of the New Jersey Hall of Fame — though he hails from Michigan, he moved to the state in the 1970s — performed his 1968 song with Tommy James & the Shondells, “Crystal Blue Persuasion.” He closed out the ceremony with the 1971 hit “Draggin’ the Line.”

Here is a list of other 2020 inductees to the New Jersey Hall of Fame’s 2019 class (those not mentioned above).

Arts and entertainment

Flip Wilson: The Grammy and Emmy-winning comedian and host of “The Flip Wilson Show” was born in Jersey City and died in 1998, at the age of 64.

Ernie Kovacs: The Emmy-winning comedian, writer and actor from Trenton was a TV comedy pioneer who died in 1962, at the age of 42.

The Nelson Family (Ozzie, Harriet, Ricky and David): Ozzie Nelson was born in Jersey City and grew up in Ridgefield Park. He appeared alongside his wife Harriet and their sons, Ricky and David, in the long-running radio and TV sitcom “The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet.” The family lived in Tenafly. Ozzie died in 1975, Harriet died in 1994, David died in 2011 and Ricky, who was born in Teaneck, died in 1985.

Cissy Houston

Cissy Houston spoke briefly at the virtual New Jersey Hall of Fame induction ceremony.New Jersey Hall of Fame

Public service

Dr. Virginia Apgar: The anesthesiologist, who grew up in Westfield, invented the Apgar score, a way to gauge the health of newborn children. She died in 1974, at the age of 65.

Sister Jane Frances Brady: The former president and CEO of St. Joseph’s Health in Paterson.

Alfred Driscoll: The 43rd governor of New Jersey, who grew up in Haddonfield, was president of the pharmaceutical company Warner-Lambert and died in 1975, at the age of 72.

Milton Friedman: The Noble Prize-winning economist grew up in Rahway and died in 2006, at the age of 94.

Gen. Martin Dempsey

Gen. Martin Dempsey at the New Jersey Hall of Fame induction ceremony.New Jersey Hall of Fame

Sports

Rick Barry: The NBA Hall of Famer, 76, grew up in Roselle Park and played for the San Francisco Warriors, Oakland Oaks (which then became the Washington Caps), New York Nets, Golden State Warriors and Houston Rockets.

Gerry Cooney: The retired professional boxer, 64, twice vied for the world heavyweight title and lives in Fanwood.

Robert Mulcahy III: A former athletic director at Rutgers University who grew up in Millburn. Mulcahy, a chairman of the board of the state Casino Reinvestment Development Authority, also previously served as CEO of the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority and as mayor of Mendham. Though a Rutgers report found no wrongdoing, Mulcahy, 84, was fired from his athletic director post in 2008 following a series of Star-Ledger stories that reported hundreds of thousands in off-the-books spending.

Tommy James

Tommy James performs at the induction ceremony for the New Jersey Hall of Fame.New Jersey Hall of Fame

Enterprise

The Borg family: Former publishers of The Record. The family owned the newspaper from 1930 to 2016.

Linda Bowden: Regional president of PNC Bank and chairwoman of the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce, from East Brunswick.

Fairleigh Dickinson: The benefactor of Fairleigh Dickinson University and co-founder of medical technology company Becton Dickinson died in 1948, at the age of 81.

Steve Kalafer: Chairman of Flemington Car and Truck Country, chairman emeritus of the Somerset Health Care Foundation, member of the board at RWJBarnabas Health and New Jersey Manufacturers Insurance.

Joseph Simunovich: Former freeholder director for Hudson County, former chairman of the New Jersey Turnpike Authority and former co-chair of the Hackensack Meridian Health board of trustees, who died at 80 in 2019.

Unsung heroes

The crew of the Battleship New Jersey: The 55,000 sailors and marines who served as crew members from 1943 to 1991.

Bill Lavin: An advocate who represented more than 5,000 firefighters, EMTs and dispatchers as former president of the New Jersey Firefighters Mutual Benevolent Association. Lavin founded the Where Angels Play Foundation, which built 26 playgrounds in areas destroyed by Hurricane Sandy.

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Amy Kuperinsky may be reached at akuperinsky@njadvancemedia.com.

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