Queen Latifah, Tony Bennett inducted into NJ hall

Queen Latifah thanks her family after being inducted into the N.J. Hall of Fame as her mother Rita Owens looks on during the induction ceremony at New Jersey Performing Arts Center in Newark, N.J., Sunday, June 5, 2011. ((AP Photo/Rich Schultz))

June 5, 2011 7:25:45 PM PDT
A who's who of luminaries from entertainment, sports and the arts - from Queen Latifah to Joe Theisman to Mary Higgins Clark - were inducted into New Jersey's Hall of Fame on Sunday night.

John Travolta, Tony Bennett, Martha Stewart and former New Jersey Gov. Brendan Byrne were also among the 13 members of the latest Hall of Fame class - although not all were in attendance at the induction ceremony.

"New Jersey pride has now become part of the state's culture, and we're happy to have it," Byrne said as he walked the red carpet leading into the New Jersey Performing Arts Center in Newark, where the induction ceremony was held.

Onlookers gathered behind the ropes holding cellphone cameras as inductees past and present entered the venue, stopping to speak to the media or greet fans and friends.

Rounding out the hall's latest class are World War II heroes John Basilone and Admiral William "Bull" Halsey, Theisman and fellow football great Franco Harris, actor Bruce Willis, novelist Higgins Clark, jazz great John "Bucky" Pizzarelli, and businessman and former Jets owner Leon Hess.

The hall honors New Jerseyans who have made their mark in the fields of history, entertainment, enterprise and sports. There's also a general category for educators, military leaders and politicians.

Previous inductees include Bruce Springsteen, Albert Einstein, Thomas Edison and Yogi Berra. Jack Nicholson, Danny DeVito, Les Paul, Count Basie and Carl Lewis were inducted in May.

Nominees must have lived in New Jersey for at least a 5-year period and must have "made a signature contribution to New Jersey and beyond," according to organizers.

Organizers told The Star-Ledger that lifestyle guru Stewart was out of the country on Sunday and Willis and Travolta were working on films. They will be inducted next year, the newspaper reported.

Many inductees were born or raised in the Garden State; some still live here or have other significant ties to New Jersey. Travolta was born and raised in Englewood, for example. Higgins Clark is active in several New Jersey charities. Hess, who died in 1999 and was inducted posthumously, once owned the Jets professional football franchise.

The hall, which had existed virtually, mounted its first exhibit on the boardwalk at Asbury Park last fall. Items on view included Nicholson's second-grade report card and an Edison High School cheering jacket that once belonged to inductee Susan Sarandon.