September 14: Happy Birthday Melissa Leo and Jessica Brown Findlay


On a day when we don’t see a lot of really big names celebrating birthdays, our headliners are a pair of actresses, one with a well-established reputation and two Oscar nominations to her name, the other a new face with a strong “up and coming” vibe.

Melissa Leo is celebrating her 56th birthday.  Her acting career began with a stint on All My Children in the mid-1980s, during which she won a Daytime Emmy.  She built her profile when she was cast in a main role on the critically acclaimed NBC series Homicide: Life on the Street.  But I doubt that very many people seriously expected her to emerge as a star in her late forties, when she was cast in an indie film called Frozen River:

Leo’s Best Actress nomination for Frozen River was only part of the flood of critical acclaim she received.  She followed up by winning both an Oscar and a Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actress for the 2010 film The Fighter.  Since then she has received three Primetime Emmy nominations over the last six years, winning Outstanding Guest Actress for an appearance on Louie.

Jessica Brown Findlay turns 27 today.  After she trained for several years in ballet, she had to abandon a dance career when surgery on her ankles went wrong, and turned to acting.  Her first feature role was as a lead in the coming-of-age story Albatross.  At about the same time, she was cast in a new ITV series called Downton Abbey, in the role of Lady Sybil Crawley, the independent-minded youngest daughter of an aristocratic family:

Brown Findlay appeared on the first three seasons of the well-received and popular series.  Since then she has appeared in films such as Winter’s Tale, adapted from Mark Helprin’s novel, and the upcoming This Beautiful Fantastic.  She has also made her West End stage debut, appearing in productions of Aeschylus’s The Oresteia and Chekov’s Uncle Vanya.

Sam Neill, who turns 69 today, was born in Northern Ireland but grew up in New Zealand.  His first major film role was in My Brilliant Career in 1979.  At one point in the 1980s, he was considered as a possible James Bond, while also being nominated for a Golden Globe for playing a different spy in the miniseries Reilly, Ace of Spies.  Some of his best-known films over the years have included the thriller Dead Calm, The Hunt for Red October (where he was a more convincing Russian than Sean Connery), Jurassic Park and The Horse Whisperer.

Mary Crosby (daughter of Bing), who turns 57, played Kristin Shepard on Dallas.  In the summer of 1980, the question that America pondered endlessly was “Who Shot J.R.?”—anyone remember those days?—and the answer turned out to be Kristin Shepard.  Crosby also starred a bit of a sci-fi cult classic, The Ice Pirates.

Star Trek fans who remember Walter Koenig as the young Ensign Chekov may not believe that he’s 80 today.  Andrew Lincoln, who stars as Rick Grimes on The Walking Dead, celebrates his 43rd today.  Michelle Stafford, who is 51 today, won two Daytime Emmys for playing Phyllis Summers on The Young and the Restless and stars in her own web series, The Stafford ProjectFaith Ford, who celebrates her 52nd, was a five-time Emmy nominee for her work on Murphy Brown and starred in ABC’s Hope & Faith (as Hope Shanowski, ironically).  Robert Ben Garant, who with his creative partner Thomas Lennon created the Comedy Central series Reno 911! and wrote the Night at the Museum screenplays, turns 46.

Dilshad Vadsaria, the Pakistani-American actress who was a lead on ABC Family’s Greek, turns 31 today; she was recently a lead on the short-lived series Second ChanceKimberly Williams-Paisley, who turns 45, made her film debut in Father of the Bride in 1991 and was a regular on According to Jim for its first seven seasons.  Logan Henderson, who celebrates his 27th, was a star on Nickelodeon’s Big Time Rush and a member of the pop band of the same name.

Martina Gedeck, who turns 55, is a major star in German film.  American audiences may know from The Lives of Others, which won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film, and from English-language films like The Good Shepherd and Night Train to LisbonAya Ueto celebrates her 31st.  She is a Japanese pop star who also starred in several films including Azumi and Thermae Romae.  Norwegian singer Morten Harket turns 57 today.  He has had a fairly successful solo career but is best known as the lead singer of A-ha.  Their 1985 hit “Take on Me” reached #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 and they then did the title song for The Living Daylights, Timothy Dalton’s first outing as James Bond.

Clayton Moore (1914-1999) starred in a number of serials and B-westerns, and was TV’s The Lone Ranger from 1949-51 and again, after a contract dispute was settled, from 1954-57.  Jack Hawkins (1910-1973) could always be counted on to portray stiff-upper-lip Britishness in films like The Cruel Sea and The Bridge on the River KwaiHarve Presnell (1933-2009) was a classically trained baritone who made a successful transition to musical theater as Leadville Johnny in The Unsinkable Molly Brown.  Primarily a stage performer for several decades, he revived an indifferent film career as Wade Gustafson in FargoNicol Williamson (1936-2011) had a great career on the English stage; one of his best-known film roles was as Merlin in John Boorman’s ExcaliburMichel Auclair’s (1922-1988) long career in French film also included roles in two English-language films, Funny Face and The Day of the Jackal.

Hal B. Wallis (1898-1986) was head of production at Warner Brothers from 1933-44, a period when the studio had 15 Best Picture nominees, including The Adventures of Robin Hood, The Maltese Falcon and Casablanca (which won).  He left Warner Brothers in a dispute with Jack Warner and formed his own production company, continuing to work in the industry until the 1970s.

Amy Winehouse (1983-2011) had a music career that lasted less than a decade.  Her first of only two studio albums, Frank, came out in 2003 and was a modest success; her second, Back to Black, was a huge international success and the foundation for Winehouse’s winning five Grammys in 2008.  But Winehouse also had issues—the fact that two of her Grammys were for a single called “Rehab” was an ominous foreshadowing of her death at only 27 of alcohol poisoning.

If today is your birthday, congratulations on sharing your big day with these notable names.  Birthday wishes to everyone celebrating a big day today.  Come back tomorrow for more celebrity birthdays.


Posted on September 14, 2016, in Celebrity Birthdays and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 8 Comments.

  1. Walter Koenig was the NPR celebrity birthday of the day. And no, I don’t want to think about the fact that the Enterprise crew member who was inspired by The Monkees is turning 80. Yikes. I think most folks know Sam Neill from Jurassic Park, but he’s been so good in so many things. I think I first took note of him in Dead Calm.

    As a regular viewer and commenter on The Walking Dead, I frequently give Andrew Lincoln a hard time. Some English actors can convincingly pull off a Southern accent. Lincoln isn’t one of them. It’s easy to criticize his acting on the show, but frankly I don’t think any actor could convincingly pull off what TWD writers demand of Lincoln. His dialogue is ridiculous and his character changes from scene to scene. Sometimes he will reverse himself mid-sentence.

    Oh man, Clayton Moore. I remember being very up in arms when he wasn’t allowed to wear his mask any more.


    • I did a bit of a double take when I saw that Walter Koenig was 80; that means that when he was on TOS, he was past 30—although he looked like a college kid as Chekov.

      When it comes to British performers (Scottish, in this case) pulling off a Southern accent, for my money the best job ever was Kelly Macdonald in No Country for Old Men. She’s from Glasgow, which means her natural accent can be very strong (think Billy Connolly), yet there’s not a trace of it in the Texan Carla Jean’s speech. She even drew praise from Texan Tommy Lee Jones for it.

      So, who else remembers the “who shot J.R.?” hoopla?


      • I remember the hoopla all right. I was a kid at the time and certainly wasn’t allowed to watch Dallas. But I remember everyone speculating about it. It was unavoidable. We did a school play one of the students wrote that was a riff on the Dallas Whodunnit.


  2. My dearly beloved Sybil! Happy birthday to her! And to Chekov and the Lone Ranger, characters from 2 of of my top 3 favorite shows of all-time.


    • I have never been into Downton Abbey, but as I was researching this article, it certainly seemed that Sybil was one of the show’s most popular characters.


  3. I happened to catch an early film Melissa Leo Was in, 1985’s “Streetwalkin’ on HBO the previous decade. Pretty sadistic film and overall the material is subpar (without the cheekiness of 1984’s “Angel”), but she was good as the young hooker with a little brother to take care of. She was also in a season 5 episode of “Miami Vice”, in which she played a feisty barmaid who became a hostage to two prison escapees.
    I remember “Who Shot J.R.?”, because it was constantly talked about before and after. Heck, it’s a big television moment, and essentially where the concept of TV series cliffhangers were born (thanks for nothing, “Dallas”:-)


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