Which famous women got their start in Fort Wayne? Here are two. Meet Zuzanna and Jill.

Fort Wayne has had more than its share of actresses and women in the media. The list includes the legendary Carole Lombard, Marilyn Maxwell, Dr. Nancy Snyderman, Shelley Long, Zuzanna Szadkowski, and of course Jill Bennett who have called Fort Wayne home. Recently, I spoke to the latter two via email about their Fort Wayne upbringing.

Zuzanna SzadkowskiZuzanna Szadkowski is best known for her role on as Dorota Kishlovsky in the CW series “Gossip Girl.” She also appeared on “The Sopranos,” “Law & Order: Criminal Intent,” “Guiding Light” and was voted No. 7 in Rolling Stone’s “50 Reasons to Watch TV.”

Of her time in Fort Wayne, Szadkowski said, “I moved to Fort Wayne from Warsaw, Poland, via Syracuse, N.Y., when I was 3. My father got a job at Indiana Tech. The Midwest was an adventure for us, an unknown.”

Szadkowski’s schooling in Fort Wayne affected her career choice. “My love of theater and acting was born from my experiences in school plays, both at Blackhawk Middle and Snider High. I learned a great deal and had tremendous acting experiences working at the Civic Arena Dinner Theater and at IPFW. There are incredibly talented and inspired artists working in Fort Wayne. Director Greg Stieber was a major influence.”

Voted “Most Likely to be Famous” her senior year, Szadkowski said of acting, “I knew I would pursue this career from my first moment onstage. It was almost like a happy curse. I get a kick out of having won that distinction at Snider. I certainly felt encouraged by my friends and the local community. It was a really warm environment.” She still has the award: “I have the plaque on my shelf.”

Of all of the things she misses about Fort Wayne she said, “I miss the Johnny Appleseed Festival. My most intense experiences in the Fort were as a teenager. I remember Snider football games and a lot of hanging out at Glenbrook Mall. I always think of the big Santa downtown during the holidays.

Although she seldom gets a chance to return to Fort Wayne, there are favorite places of hers she makes sure not to miss visiting when she does get to town: “Recently I came back for a couple of days. I immediately went to Casa for the salad and to Henry’s for drinks with old friends.” When asked what she’s doing now, she said “I am currently working on a new series to be released in the fall on Cinemax called “The Knick.” It is directed by Steven Soderbergh and stars Clive Owen.”

Jill BennettJill Bennett also has fond memories of her Fort Wayne upbringing, and attributes her success in part to it: “Being a Midwesterner instills a strong work ethic. We’re also not flaky people. I hate to stereotype, but people from the West coast tend to have a problem with that issue, whether it be career related, or personal. If I say I’m going to do something, I do it. I have follow through – again, a Midwestern trait.”

She tries to visit “home” once a year, and when she does, After Dark or Columbia Street are locations where she can likely be found. Fond memories of The Three Rivers Festival and the Johnny Appleseed Festival linger: “Both were highlights of my year! I also remember how amazing the fireworks were from the Coliseum on the 4th of July!”

Bennett has her own production company, Bent Path Productions. “Right now, I’m working on two new half hour comedies and two feature films – one is about the golden age of Hollywood, and the other is buddy road movie. I recently completed three full episodes of a sitcom called ‘Second Shot,’ which can be seen at www.SecondShot.tv.” Bennett created, produced, wrote and starred in them.

Bennett welcomes contact from fans: “…I’m always open to social interaction!”

She’s on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and has a website: www.jillbennett.com.

Perhaps there’s something in the water, or perhaps there’s just something about the Midwestern work ethic that Bennett alluded to, but Fort Wayne has been home to many talented women, of which these two are standouts.

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About Drema Drudge

Drema Drudge received her MFA in Creative Writing at Spalding University and has had her fiction most recently published in The Louisville Review, Mused, ATG, Mother Earth News, and Penumbra. She is a frequent contributor to the popular Chicken Soup for the Soul series. Drema is married to musician Barry Drudge. They have two grown children, Mia and Zack. Feel free to visit Drema's website where she explores her passion for writing about art at dremadrudge.com.

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