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September 29: Happy Birthday Zachary Levi and Madeline Kahn

0929levikahn

Zachary Levi turns 36 today.  He began acting in regional musical theater productions when he was very young.  His first major role was as Kipp Steadman on Less Than Perfect, which ran on ABC from 2002-2006.  Following that, he was cast in what would prove to be his best-known role to date, as a customer service worker at an electronics retailer who one day finds that he has the only copy of a massive CIA/NSA database embedded in his brain:

Levi’s gig as the title character on Chuck lasted five seasons; the show never had huge ratings but was a critical success.  During and after its run, he also appeared as Fandral in Thor: The Dark World and was heard as Eugene Fitzherbert/Flynn Rider in Tangled; his duet with Mandy Moore in the latter film, “I See The Light,” won a Grammy.  He made his Broadway debut in 2013 in the musical First Date, and was nominated for a Tony for starring opposite Laura Benanti in the 2016 revival of the musical She Loves Me.

In one of those little amazing coincidences that I’m constantly finding with these articles, the wonderful comic actress Madeline Kahn (1942-1999) also had the musical She Loves Me on her resume; she played the female lead in a series of 1977 concert performances at Town Hall, starring opposite Barry Bostwick.  Kahn began her career on the stage, making her Broadway debut in the revue Leonard Sillman’s New Faces of 1968, and receiving the first of her four Tony nominations for David Rabe’s 1973 play In the Boom Boom Room.  One year earlier, she made her feature film debut in a screwball comedy homage directed by Peter Bogdanovich:

After What’s Up Doc, Kahn woirked with Bogdanovich again on Paper Moon, winning a Best Supporting Actress nomination.  She received a second Oscar nomination for Blazing Saddles, her first of several films with Mel Brooks.  She continued to have a successful film, TV and stage career—winning a Daytime Emmy in 1987 and a Tony for the play The Sisters Rosensweig in 1993—until her death from cancer in 1999.

Robert Benton, who is 84 today, is an Oscar-winning director and writer.  He won Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay for Kramer vs. Kramer, and added Best Original Screenplay for Places in the Heart; he also co-wrote the script for What’s Up Doc.  Danish writer-director Nicolas Winding Refn became known in Denmark for the Pusher trilogy, branched into English-language film with 2008’s Bronson, and had his first Hollywood success with the contemporary noir Drive in 2011.  He celebrates his 46th birthday.  Molly Haskell turns 77 today; she is a film critic and scholar best known for her book From Reverence to Rape: The Treatment of Women in the Movies.

Sebastian Coe (these days it’s Baron Coe), who turns 60 today, was one of the dominant middle-distance runners in the world in the 1980s, winning Olympic gold medals in the men’s 1500 meters in 1980 and 1984.  After his retirement from sports he served in the British Parliament and currently is president of the International Association of Athletics Federations.  Kevin Durant turns 28 today.  The NBA star was the league’s MVP in 2014 and after spending nine seasons with the Seattle Supersonics/Oklahoma City Thunder (the franchise moved from Seattle in 2012), he signed a free agent contract with the Golden State Warriors.

Erika Eleniak, who celebrates her 47th, had a memorable scene in E.T., starred in TV’s Baywatch, and played Elly May Clampett in the film adaptation of The Beverly HillbilliesCindy Morgan, who is 62, played programmer Lora and her digital counterpart Yori in Tron.  At one point, Emily Lloyd, who turns 46 today, was considered a potential rising star.  But her career was derailed by her struggles with severe mental illness over much of the past 25 years.  British actor Ian McShane, who celebrates his 74th birthday, is best known for starring in the British crime comedy series Lovejoy and as Al Swearengen in HBO’s DeadwoodRoger Bart, who turns 54, is a versatile actor best known for his stage work.  He won a Tony for playing Snoopy in the 1999 revival of You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown and was nominated for a second in the musical adaptation of The ProducersAnaïs Demoustier turns 29.  The rising star in French film is a two-time Cesar Award nominee.

Singer-songwriter and pianist Jerry Lee Lewis, sometimes called “rock & roll’s first great wild man,” turns 81 today.  He had his greatest success in the late 1950s, with hits like “Whole Lot of Shakin’ Goin’ On,” “Great Balls of Fire,” and “Breathless.”  He reinvented himself as a country singer in the late 1960s and has continued recording and touring into the 21st century.

Greer Garson (1904-1996) was one of the most popular actresses of the 1940s, and a seven-time nominee for the Oscar for Best Actress (winning for Mrs. Miniver), but today her star seems to have faded some.  Her film debut, and first Best Actress nomination, was in Goodbye, Mr. Chips, while she was also noted for playing Marie Curie in Madam Curie and Eleanor Roosevelt in Sunrise at Campobello (both of which also brought her Oscar nominations).  Michelangelo Antonioni (1912-2007) was not a director who emphasized traditional narrative, and you don’t watch him for a normal movie-going experience.  One of his most famous films, the ironically titled L’Avventura/The Adventure, has been described as a “film where nothing happens.”  Other films he is known for include La Notte, L’Eclisse, Red Desert, Blowup and The Passenger.

Trevor Howard (1913-1988) starred in British dramas like Brief Encounter and The Heart of the Matter before settling into a lengthy career as a character actor, including an appearance in Superman as one of the Elders of Krypton.  American director and producer Stanley Kramer (1913-2001) was known for his films with a “message,” including Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, The Defiant Ones, High Noon and Judgment at Nuremburg.  He was a nine-time Oscar nominee.  Brenda Marshall (1915-1992) had a short career as a leading lady that included appearing as one of Errol Flynn’s most beautiful leading ladies in the 1940 swashbuckler The Sea Hawk.    Because of her looks, her smoky voice and her modeling background, Lizabeth Scott (1922-2015) often was considered a Lauren Bacall imitator, but she was an effective film noir leading lady in films like The Strange Love of Martha Ivers, Dead Reckoning, Too Late for Tears, and The RacketKen Weatherwax (1955-2014) played Pugsley Addams on television’s The Addams Family.

Gene Autry (1909-1998) was one of the first great singing cowboys of film and television, famous for his signature song “Back in the Saddle Again” and his recording of “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.”  He was the owner of baseball’s California Angels from 1961-1996.  Anita Ekberg (1931-2015) was one of the great sex symbols of the 1950s and ’60s.  She appeared in both Hollywood and European films, most famously in Federico Fellini’s La Dolce VitaStuart Kaminsky (1934-2009) was a mystery novelist; one of his several series was about a PI named Toby Peters who lived in 1940s Los Angeles, and regularly found himself investigating mysteries that affected various film stars and other celebrities.

Miguel de Cervantes (1547-1616) was one of the greatest writers of all time, the author of the classic novel Don Quixote.  The novel has been adapted to other media countless times, while Cervantes himself is a character in the musical Man of La ManchaHoratio Nelson (1758-1805) was perhaps the greatest naval combat commander of all time, famous for his victory over the French and Spanish fleet at the Battle of Trafalgar.  He has been portrayed on film by Laurence Olivier and Peter Finch, among others.

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.

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Posted on September 29, 2016, in Celebrity Birthdays and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 10 Comments.

  1. I liked Chuck a lot when it started. It went downhill as these shows tend to do. Any time you get involved in a Disney animated feature, there’s some chance at a form of immortality. I think Levi achieved that with Tangled. My kids liked it, but my three-year-old niece and nephew love it. I think that movie will endure.

    My first experience with Madeline Kahn was probably a heavily edited TV version of Blazing Saddles. Later, Young Frankenstein. I remember watching her TV show and wondering why it was so bland. Kahn was an immense talent but Hollywood didn’t seem to know what to do with funny women in the 20th century (Lucile Ball and Roseanne not withstanding). Thank goodness for Mel Brooks.

    Cindy Morgan wasn’t just in Tron. She was also Lacey Underall in Caddyshack. Those are easily her two most memorable roles. We have talked previously about poor Emily Lloyd. I hope this birthday finds her well. Having missed Deadwood, I was late to hop on the Ian McShane train. He sure does make a great bad guy. It’s a shame so many movies like Pirates 4 waste his talents.

    I remember in college going through a catalog of movies I could program at the university theater. That’s when I first came across a poster for La Dolce Vita. The image of Anita Ekberg made quite an impression.

    In case you are wondering, I did book the movie as part of our foreign film series.

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    • I’ve never watched Chuck, but it is on Netflix and I have considered watching it. How much of the series is worth watching? At what point does it start to decline? Is the first season of Chuck worth watching at least?

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      • It never got to a point where the show was bad. It just kind of went on longer than it should have. In the first season, Chuck was an everyman in over his head in a world full of intrigue and espionage. He was paired up with a gorgeous super spy who seemed to be way out of his league. After a few season, Chuck himself was a super spy and was dating the girl of his dreams. It was still a fun show, but a lot of the initial appeal had worn out. I’d say give it a look. It was never essential viewing, but it was a good time. There’s some WTHH guest stars like Linda Hamilton and Chevy Chase both of whom had recurring roles.

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    • If it weren’t for Mel Brooks and Peter Bogdanovich, I doubt that movie audiences would have ever had a chance to appreciate Madeline Kahn’s talents. Fortunately for her, she was also able to fashion a very nice stage career through the years.

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      • One thing I have learned doing WTHH is that theater is like this whole other world most of us aren’t paying attention to. A lot of times when you are wondering where a famous actor went, they are thriving on the stage.

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        • I see the same thing writing the birthday articles. You also find some people who have much bigger stage careers than they have on screen—people like Craig Bierko, who was in one of the birthday pieces about 4-5 weeks back. He’s almost always a supporting player in film and television, but in musical theater, he’s a major star.

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  2. some actors prefer stage over screen

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  3. I have the SNL episode in which the passing of Madeline Kahn was noted; it guest starred Christina Ricci, and is the only SNL I ever recorded.
    Cindy Morgan: she’s all right, nobody worry about her. I do like the character she plays in “Tron” vs, “Caddyshack” though, and from what I read from another one of those Sports Illustrated “Where Are They Now?” pieces, “Tron” was likely a less exploitive experience.
    I wonder how Gene Autry would feel now that his team is called The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim (yeesh). As an owner, his team was once one strike away from going to the World Series in 1986 & blew an 11 1/2 game lead in their division in 1995. Up until this season though, they’ve been a strong contender this millennium, and won the World Series (as the Anaheim Angels) in 2002.

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