September 24: Happy Birthday Brad Bird and Jim Henson


Brad Bird celebrates his 59th birthday today.  He worked briefly as an animator for Disney in the 1980s, and later was a creative consultant on The Simpsons.  In the late 1990s, he wrote and directed his first animated feature, The Iron Giant, which wasa box office failure in the US but a critical success, enough of one that Pixar was willing to produce Bird’s second feature, an animated film about a family of superheroes—in which Bird also had a voice cameo:

Bird won the Oscar for Best Animated Feature for The Incredibles, and then won the honor a second time for 2008’s Ratatouille.  His first live-action directing job was on Mission: Impossible—Ghost Protocol, one of the most successful in the franchise, and his second was Tomorrowland.  He is currently working on The Incredibles 2.

Jim Henson (1936-1990) first started working with puppets for a show he did for WRC-TV in Washington, DC.  He went on to involvement with Sesame Street and a series of sketches for Saturday Night Live, before he got funding from British producer Lew Grade for a television series—which, of course, was The Muppet Show.  In addition to begin the creative force behind the Muppets as a whole, Henson created, performed and voiced many of the characters, including Ernie , Rowlf the Dog, Waldorf, Swedish Chef, but most of all a lovable little green amphibian:

In the 1980s, Henson (with some help from Kermit) made two additional Muppets feature films, produced the new series Fraggle Rock, and also made the non-Muppets features The Dark Crystal and Labyrinth.  In late 1989 he began negotiations to sell his company, and the Muppets, to Disney, but his unexpected death in 1990 of a severe strain of pneumonia delayed that acquisition.

It is probably just an amazing coincidence that Steve Whitmire, who is 57 today, shared a birthday with Jim Henson.  Whitmire began working on The Muppet Show and other Henson productions in 1978.  In the 1980s, he performed characters including Rizzo the Rat, Miss Piggy’s dog Foo-Foo, and a number of Fraggle Rock characters.  When Henson died in 1990, his son Brian Henson asked Whitmire to take over the roles of Kermit and Ernie; he eventually added Statler to his repertoire as well.

Nia Vardalos turns 54 today.  She had a moment in the sun when she adapted a one-woman play she had written into the movie My Big Fat Greek Wedding, the surprise hit of 2002, which brought Vardalos Oscar and Golden Globe nominations, but not lasting stardom.  David Anspaugh, who is 70 today, seems to be Hollywood’s go-to man for directing inspirational, feel-good sports movies—his directing credits include Hoosiers, Rudy and The Game of Their Lives.  It’s worth noting, given the recent Molly Ringwald coverage here, that he also directed Fresh Horses.  B-movie horror director Bert I. Gordon, the creator of films such as The Amazing Colossal Man, Village of the Giants, and Empire of the Ants, turns 94 today.

Kevin Sorbo, who turns 58, was the star of Hercules: The Legendary JourneysJessica Lucas celebrates her 31st today; she is something a scream queen, having starred in Cloverfield and Evil DeadBen Platt turns 22; he played Benji in the Pitch Perfect movies and will appear on Broadway as the title character in the new musical Dear Evan Hansen.  Spanish actress Goya Toledo, who turns 47, appeared in the Oscar-nominated Amores Perros and is, appropriately, a 3-time Goya award nominee.  Gordon Clapp, who is 68 today, was an Emmy winner as Det. Greg Medavoy on NYPD Blue.

In sports, football great Charles Edward Greene, better known as Mean Joe Greene, turns 70.  He was one of the stars of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ legendary “Steel Curtain” defense of the 1970s, which brought them four Super Bowl championships.  He also starred in a legendary Coca-Cola ad:

Phil Hartman (1948-1998) got his start with The Groundlings in the late 1970s, where met Paul Reubens and helped the latter develop his Pee-wee Herman character and subsequent film and TV show.  Hartman moved on to Saturday Night Live, winning an Emmy during his eight years on SNL.  He was a voice actor on The Simpsons, and appeared in a variety of film and TV roles.  And then came the tragic morning when his wife Brynn shot him in the head, before committing suicide.

Fats Navarro (1923-1950) was a very talented jazz trumpeter, who played at times with Charlie Parker and Miles Davis, before dying young.  Blind Lemon Jefferson (1893-1929) was one of the pioneering blues singers of the early 20th century.  Voice actor Billy Bletcher (1894-1979) worked at Disney, where he voiced Mickey Mouse’s rival Pete and the Big Bad Wolf, and at Warner Brothers, where he was Papa Bear in Chuck Jones’ Three Bears cartoons.  Audra Lindley (1918-1997) was most famous for her role as Helen Roper, the landlady on Three’s CompanyJim McKay (1921-2008) was a longtime sports broadcaster for ABC, who received two Emmys for his central role in covering the hostage crisis at the 1972 Munich Olympics.  English singer-songwriter Anthony Newley (1931-1999) was Oscar-nominated for the score of Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.

Howard Hughes (1905-1976) was a pioneer in both the film and aviation industries.  As an independent producer he made early classics like Hell’s Angels and Scarface; later he purchased RKO Pictures and ran the studio for several years.  In later life he was known for his extremely eccentric and reclusive behavior.

F. Scott Fitzgerald (1896-1940) was one of America’s greatest writers, the author of classics like This Side of Paradise and The Great Gatsby (filmed several times, most recently Baz Luhrmann’s 2013 version).  His unfinished fifth novel, The Last Tycoon, was about the film industry.

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 24, 2016, in Celebrity Birthdays and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 9 Comments.

  1. My favorite Phil Hartman SNL sketches were his Anal;Retentive Chef sketches. He was so picky that he was never able to actually cook anything, lol. There was a Mother’s Day ARC sketch where Jan Hooks played his mommy, and she was driving him crazy. (If you haven’t seen those sketches, I highly recommend you watch them.)

    Speaking of Jan Hooks, she played the major role in Phil Hartman’s life as his best friend. They were like this 🤞. It’s no wonder she never recovered after his death because they did a lot of projects together since SNL.


  2. Jim Henson contributed so much to my childhood. I was the right age for Sesame Street and The Muppets. As Henson’s work matured, I kept pace with him up through about The Dark Crystal. When my younger siblings were watching Fraggle Rock, I was too old to be in the target demographic, but I didn’t mind watching it with them. The Muppets have never been the same since their creator’s passing.

    Speaking of childhood memories, I grew up with that Mean Joe Green commercial. I didn’t know him from sports. But that commercial ran forever.

    Brad Bird is certainly a talented animator. Iron Giant, The Incredibles and Ratatouille are all solid flicks. Sometimes, his message of exceptionalism veers a little too close to Randian objectivism for my tastes. I’m hoping Incredibles 2 won’t revisit that topic. After Tomorrowland, I’m hoping Bird has said all he has to say on the subject.

    My Big Fat Greek Wedding was definitely not for me. My wife loved it, but I found sitting through it on home video to be physically painful. I wasn’t surprised when Nia Vardalos’ career cooled, but I wish her a happy birthday all the same.

    I think we just might have a Phil Hartman fan among our readership… Great comic actor. Tragic loss.


  3. Hartman was a funny comic genius.Despite playing jerks he was a nice guy I just wish people would stop just association him with his death. His career is more then that. Before he went into to acting he designed cover albums for some bands. He is interesting. It also gets me upset people pin his whole death on andy dick. Not defending dick giving phil wife coke was a stupid move but it was not entirely his fault. It was her choice to use coke and was her choice to kill phil. For the most part she is to blame for making her orphans


  4. Jim Henson brought a lot of entertainment & joy with The Muppets; what a creation!
    I still think of Phil Hatman’s voice character of Troy McClure quite often: “Hi, I’m Troy McClure, you might remember from such dates as last night’s dinner”.
    I think Howard Hughes purchasing a bunch of hotel casinos in Las Vegas was a flashpoint in corporations deciding it was a good idea to become involved in such endeavors out there.


  5. I am old enough to have been around for the very earliest seasons of Sesame Street—Kermit, Ernie and Bert, Cookie Monster, Big Bird and even Oscar the Grouch are all part of happy childhood memories. I stuck with the Muppets through the mid to late nineties; I found Muppet Christmas Carol and Muppet Treasure Island to be pretty entertaining. Muppets Tonight is were I started to see some definite slippage, and Muppets from Space was where they lost me.

    I am also just old enough to have watched the 1972 Olympics, and to have fragmentary memories of Jim McKay’s coverage of the tragic events that unfolded them. The man really rose to the occasion.


  6. How’s this for random Jim Henson trivia: he actually had a hit single to his name. In 1970 the song “Rubber Duckie” – sung by Jim Henson as Earnie – was released as a single and it became a suprise radio hit peaking at #16 on the Billboard singles chart. Jim Henson…. pop star?


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