September 18: Happy Birthday Frankie Avalon and James Gandolfini
Former teen idol Frankie Avalon turns 76 or 77 today (sources disagree about whether he was born in 1939 or 1940). Avalon was playing backup trumpet in a Philadelphia area band when he was discovered by producer Bob Marcucci. Before long the young man was churning out hits; over thirty charted singles from about 1958-62. His first #1 single may be the song most closely associated with him:
By 1962, Avalon’s string of hits was coming to an end, but he was able to pivot quickly and reinvent himself as the star of a series of fun, frothy “Beach Party” movies, where he usually co-starred with ex-Mousketeer Annette Funicello (usually, but not always, playing “Frankie” and “Dee Dee” respectively). Avalon no longer records but still makes periodic film and concert appearances.
About the time that Avalon’s music career was slowing down, James Gandolfini (1961-2013) was probably taking his first steps. Gandolfini worked for several years as a bartender and club manager in New York before going into acting. He had a few noteworthy supporting parts in the 1990s: in True Romance as the hitman Virgil, who gets his ticket punched by Alabama (tiny Patricia Arquette) in a memorable and very rough fight scene, and in Get Shorty as Bear, a stuntman turned enforcer. But he didn’t land his signature role until the very end of the decade, as mob boss who is in regular therapy:
Gandolfini won three Emmys and a Golden Globe as Tony Soprano, and was nominated for one or the other every season that the show aired. He also continued working in film, winning a lot of critical praise for his next-to-last role in Enough Said, and putting his past experience to work portraying bar manager Marv in The Drop, his final film, which was released after his death from a heart attack in June 2013.
Jason Sudeikis, who is 41 today, is yet another successful Saturday Night Live alum. Towards the end of his 10-year SNL run Sudeikis began getting some significant feature film roles, including Hall Pass and the Horrible Bosses films, and in 2013 had his first lead role in We’re the Millers. James Marsden (no relation to Jason Marsden), who turns 43, is best-known for playing Scott Summers in several X-Men films; he also had substantial roles in Enchanted, Hairspray and more recently The Butler. After getting her career started on NBC’s A Different World, Jada Pinkett Smith, who is 45 today, had a busy decade or so. From 1995-2004, she appeared in feature films like Set It Off, Scream 2, the two Matrix sequels, and Michael Mann’s Collateral. More recently she returned to TV, where she is currently seen in Gotham.
Alison Lohman, who celebrates her 37th, has been featured in films like White Oleander, Matchstick Men, and Drag Me to Hell. Aisha Tyler, who is 46, is the co-host of The Talk and the host of the revival of Whose Line Is It Anyway? She was a regular for one season of Ghost Whisperer and recently joined the cast of Criminal Minds. Spanish actress Pilar Lopez de Ayala, who celebrates her 38th birthday, is a five-time nominee for a Goya Award (Spanish Oscar equivalents), winning Best Actress for her performance in Juana la loca, also titled Mad Love, playing Queen Joanna of Castile.
Actor and comedian Fred Willard is 77 today. He is well-known to fans of Christopher Guest’s mockumentaries, such as Best in Show and A Mighty Wind, and also has been seen in the Anchorman films and on TV, receiving Emmy nominations for appearances on Everybody Loves Raymond and Modern Family. Holly Robinson Peete, who turns 52, had regular roles on TV on 21 Jump Street and Hangin’ with Mr. Cooper. Anna Deavere Smith, who turns 66, had a recurring role on The West Wing for six seasons and was a regular on Nurse Jackie. She is also a well-regarded playwright known for her one-woman shows such as Fires in the Mirror, and Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992. Mark Romanek, who turns 57, has directed nearly 50 music videos and the feature films One Hour Photo and Never Let Me Go.
Brazilian footballer Ronaldo celebrates his 4oth birthday. The striker, who should not be confused with his compatriot Ronaldinho or with Portuguese star Cristiano Ronaldo, was on the roster of two World Cup winners for Brazil, although in 1994 he did not see any action. After an uneven 1998 Cup, he returned to score 8 goals at the 2002 Finals to help Brazil lift the trophy for a record fifth time. At one point in time, Lance Armstrong, who is 45 today, seemed to be a great story of triumph over adversity—the man who came back from potentially fatal cancer to resume his career among the elite among road racing bicyclists, and won the Tour de France seven years in a row. Then the image crumbled with the discovery that he had systematically been using performance-enhancing drugs.
June Foray turns 89 today. She began her career as a voice actor in the 1940s and was still working as of a few years ago. Her most famous vocal characters were probably Granny in several Warner Brothers cartoons and TV productions featuring Tweety and Sylvester, and Rocky the Flying Squirrel in The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle (for which she also voiced Natasha Fatale). Jimmie F. Rodgers, who is 83 today, often used his middle initial in billing to avoid confusion with the “Singing Brakeman” whose birthday was covered earlier this month (and who, coincidentally, died the same year this Jimmie Rodgers was born). The younger Rodgers had a number of pop hits in the late 1950s, including “Honeycomb,” “Bimbombey,” and “Oh-Oh, I’m Falling in Love Again.”
Also turning 83 today is actor Robert Blake, who began his career in the Our Gang shorts and then as Red Ryder’s sidekick in over 20 B-Westerns, starring opposite Wild Bill Elliot and then Allan Lane as Red. As an adult, he was best known for his Emmy and Golden Globe winning role as Tony Baretta in ABC’s Baretta, but spent much of the 2000s dealing with charges that he murdered his wife—he was acquitted in a criminal trial but found liable in a civil lawsuit.
Documentary filmmaker Bud Greenspan (1926-2010) directed and produced films on almost every Olympiad from 1976 to 2008. He also produced and directed The Glory of Their Times, about the early days of professional baseball. Jack Warden (1940-2006) was a durable character who was a two-time Oscar nominee, for Shampoo and Heaven Can Wait. Eddie Anderson (1905-1977) became the first African-American to have a regular role on a radio series when he played Jack Benny’s valet, Rochester, on The Jack Benny Program. Anderson continued in the role when the show moved to television.
Dancer and choreographer Agnes de Mille (1905-1993) was the niece of producer and director Cecil B. DeMille. She began her career as a choreographer working on Aaron Copland’s Rodeo, but was then recruited by Rodgers and Hammerstein to choreograph the ballet sequence for their new musical, Oklahoma! The “Laurey’s Dream” ballet was a first—as Oklahoma! was a first in so many ways—for being integrated into the plot of the show. De Mille went on to choreograph for a number of other musicals of the 1940s and ’50s, including Carousel and Brigadoon, for the latter of which she shared the inaugural Tony for Dance Choreography (with none other than Michael Kidd, born the same day as Cecil B. DeMille.)
I’ll end today’s post with an undoubted legend. Greta Garbo (1905-1990) was one of the biggest stars in the early years of film. In about 1925, Louis Mayer of MGM viewed a Swedish film, The Saga of Gösta Berling, and was struck by the performance of one of the actresses. He invited the young Garbo to Hollywood, where she caught on almost at once. She transitioned smoothly to sound—her first talkie, Anna Christie, was marketed with the tag line “Garbo Talks!”—and was nominated for Best Actress three times in the 1930s. And then she shocked the industry by retiring at the age of only 36, but not before she made her first comedy and probably her greatest film, inevitably marketed with the phrase “Garbo laughs!”
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 18, 2016, in Celebrity Birthdays and tagged Anna Deavere Smith, Frankie Avalon, Fred Willard, Greta Garbo, Jada Pinkett Smith, James Gandolfini, James Marsden, Jason Sudeikis, Pilar Lopez de Ayala, Robert Blake. Bookmark the permalink. 18 Comments.