October 27: Happy Birthday John Cleese and Ivan Reitman


John Cleese celebrates his 77th birthday today.  His screen career began with a short-lived British television comedy series called The Frost Report; Cleese was one of the performers, while some others involved in various aspects of the show included Graham Chapman, Eric Idle, Terry Jones and Michael Palin.  In 1969, that quintet were joined by an American friend of Cleese’s, Terry Gilliam, in creating a sketch comedy series known as Monty Python’s Flying Circus.

In 1971, Monty Python released a movie that incorporated sketches from the first two seasons of their show, And Now for Something Completely Different.  It was sufficiently successful that they made a second feature, a sweeping historical epic centered around Britain’s legendary hero, King Arthur, and featuring a major role for the brave Sir Lancelot:

Monty Python and the Holy Grail is now recognized as one of the greatest film comedies of all time.  Cleese and Monty Python went on to make two more features, Life of Brian and The Meaning of Life.  In the late 1970s, Cleese co-wrote and starred in the British comedy series Fawlty Towers.

In 1988 Cleese and former Monty Python colleague Michael Palin combined with Kevin Kline, Jamie Lee Curtis and veteran director Charles Crichton to make another masterpiece of modern comedy, A Fish Called Wanda.  Cleese’s other film roles include playing an ape named “Ape” in George of the Jungle, Desmond Llewelyn’s assistant/replacement as Q in two James Bond films and Nearly Headless Nick in the first two Harry Potter films.

Just over a week after his son Jason’s birthday, Ivan Reitman turns 70.  Reitman’s career as a producer and director began when he produced Animal House; a year later, his first directing effort in Meatballs was also the first of several films he made with Bill Murray.  His second film with Murray became his first major hit as a director:

After Stripes, Reitman had a huge hit in Ghostbusters, along with several other very successful films up through about 1990.  As to what happened after that, well, we have a WTHH article to give you all the details.

Italian actor and filmmaker Roberto Benigni turns 64.  He won Oscars for Best Actor and Best Foreign Language Film for Life is Beautiful and has worked several times with indie director Jim Jarmusch.  Ted Wass, who also is turning 64, played Danny Dallas on Soap and Nick Russo on Blossom, and nowadays is a busy director on television.  Nanette Fabray, who turns 90 today, won three Emmys in the 1950s as Sid Caesar’s partner on Caesar’s HourRobert Picardo, who celebrates his 63rd, played The Doctor, also called the Emergency Medical Hologram, on Star Trek: Voyager, and was an Emmy nominee as Coach Cutlip on The Wonder YearsPeter Firth, who also turns 63, was a Golden Globe winner and Oscar nominee for the 1977 film Equus, and starred as Sir Harry Pearce on the BBC One’s Spooks for ten seasons.

David Walton, who turns 38, has had starring roles in four comedies on NBC in just over six years—100 Questions, Perfect Couples, Bent, and About a Boy—none of which lasted more than two seasons.  Troy Gentile, who celebrates his 23rd, plays Barry Goldberg on ABC’s The GoldbergsBryan Craig, who turns 25 today, is a Daytime Emmy winner as Morgan Corinthos on General Hospital.

Today’s music birthdays include Simon Le Bon, the longtime lead singer and lyricist of the new wave band Duran Duran, who turns 58.  The band has won two Grammys and had eleven top ten singles in the US.  Garry Tallent, who celebrates his 67th, is the bassist of the E Street Band and the only founding member, other than Bruce Springsteen himself, still with the band.  Scott Weiland (1967-2015) was the lead vocalist of the Grammy-winning alternative rock band Stone Temple Pilots.  Classical crossover violinist Vanessa-Mae turns 38; her pop arrangements of classical and other compositions have sold very well worldwide.  A famous violinist of the past was Niccolò Paganini (1782-1840), the greatest violin virtuoso of his time.  Also a noted composer, Paganini’s best known work is his set of 24 Caprices for Solo Violin.

In sports, baseball Hall of Famer Ralph Kiner (1922-2014) led the National League in home runs for seven consecutive seasons from 1946-52.  After a bad back stopped his playing career, he went into broadcasting, becoming the New York Mets’ longtime TV and radio announcer.  Swimmer Mary T. Meagher, who turns 52 today, was known as “Madam Butterfly” in the early 1980s for her dominance of that stroke.  In 1981 she set world records for the 100 and 200 meter butterfly that stood for nearly 20 years and she won 3 gold medals at the 1984 Olympics.

Teresa Wright (1918-2005) had the kind of career that, if it had happened in recent times, would have made her a WTHH candidate.  She received Oscar nominations in her first three film appearances, winning Best Supporting Actress for Mrs. Miniver.  By 1947, she had also starred in Hitchcock’s Shadow of a Doubt, Best Picture winner The Best Years of Our Lives, and Raoul Walsh’s Pursued.  But her film career fizzled in the wake of a contract dispute with Samuel Goldwyn.  She later had a successful television career, receiving multiple Emmy nominations.

Jean-Pierre Cassel (1932-2007) had a distinguished career in French cinema and is known to American audiences as King Louis XIII of France in Richard Lester’s The Three Musketeers and The Four Musketeers and as the conductor in Sidney Lumet’s Murder on the Orient ExpressCarrie Snodgress (1945-2004) made a big splash with her role in 1970’s Diary of a Mad Housewife, winning two Golden Globes for the same role and receiving an Oscar nomination, but then spent several years away from film caring for her son.  Ruby Dee (1922-2014) was a nine-time Emmy nominee, winning for her role in the TV movie Decoration Day, and an Oscar nominee for American GangsterJack Carson (1910-1963) was a longtime supporting player who got a crack at co-lead roles in a series of Warner Brothers musicals released in the late 1940s like April Showers and Two Guys from Texas.

In the literary world, today was the birthday of two very important but short-lived 20th century writers.  Dylan Thomas (1914-1953) was known for poems such as “Do not go gentle into that good night” and “And death shall have no dominion,” and for prose works like his story collection Portrait of the Artist as a Young DogSylvia Plath (1932-1963) wrote multiple volumes of poetry and a semi-autobiographical novel, The Bell Jar, which was published shortly before she took her own life at only 30 years of age.  Gwyneth Paltrow played Plath in a 2003 biopic.

Theodore Roosevelt (1858-1919) was the 26th President of the US.  A larger-than-life figure in his own time and a somewhat legendary one since, he has been played on film and television by actors such as Brian Keith, Tom Berenger and Robin Williams.

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 October 27, 2016, in Celebrity Birthdays and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. Around middle school, every kid I knew who played Dungeons and Dragons started reciting lines from Monty Python and the Holy Grail. That was my intro to Python and to Cleese. Eventually, I discovered more Python (Life of Brian is almost as good as Holy Grail) and of course I loved Cleese’s comedy caper, A Fish Called Wanda. I dabbled a bit in Fawlty Towers but it never connected with me the way it did for others.

    Ivan Reitman was responsible for some of my favorite comedies. Ghostbusters remains one of the few big budget special effects comedies that works. The remake, while decent, demonstrates what a hard trick that is to pull off. So does the sequel which proved Reitman himself wasn’t up to the task of repeating that success. Reitman continued a winning streak at the box office with Twins, but let’s face facts, Twins wasn’t a good movie. It was downhill from there.

    Prior to Star Trek, Robert Picardo had a long career as a character actor. He was one of those guys you would see and wonder “what have I seen him in before.” I was never a fan of Voyager. The Trek concept was being stretched too thin at that point. But Picardo’s character was a highlight of the series.

    When I was a kid, Duran Duran was the band the girls liked. Probably the closest thing we had to a One Direction at that time. I liked some of their songs, but didn’t know any of their names until Simon Le Bon uttered his in the video for A View to a Kill which was a perfect 80’s Bond song.

    When I was in high school my buddy and I were in the senior play, Arsenic and Old Lace. I played Mortimer and he played Teddy, an eccentric who thinks he is Teddy Roosevelt. Somewhere I think I still have a picture of him charging up the stairs.


  2. John Cleese, yeah, that Monty Python stuff is pure gold. I think he’s made an impression with cameos in projects not of the same caliber though (I’m thinking “The Adventures of Pluto Nash”).
    I still think Ivan Reitman is big time, even though until his article on here I didn’t know he hadn’t had a hit in a long time.
    Hey, Roberto Benigni was in 1986′ “Down By Law” too, and that’s a pretty good film. As the razzie article here stated, people got sick of that guy pretty fast.
    Ted Wass, sure, sure, I remember him as an actor from 1984’s “Sheena” (my goodness!), but yeah, I’ve seen his name in a lot of TV show directing credits through the years.
    Ralph Kiner: I liked his insight, and history shows he was a heck of a player.
    It Le Bon, Simon Le Bon! Yeah, I think Duran Duran’s self-titled “Wedding Album” is my favorite album of theirs.
    Scott Weiland, I think people had him dead a few times due to his apparently monstrous drug habit, then he was gone. The Stone Temple Pilots though, they were big for a time (I still have their first two albums; “Pretty Penny” is my favorite song of theirs). Back when MTV was music, they got a lot of air/visual play.
    Carrie Snodgress, I wonder what her career would’ve been like if she was able to continue after her first film. I do remember her in that small part in “Wild Things” too.
    Ruby Dee, she was in a ton of projects spanning many years (actually was a force in many artistic fields and advocation). She worked often with her husband Ossie Davis, and I thought they made a nice couple.
    Total respect for Dylan Thomas, and I feel sorry for Sylvia Plath. Really like their works.
    Throdore Roosevelt seemed like a real personality, kind of blazed his own trail. I always liked the story behind him & that Deadwood sheriff, and their friendship tower.


  3. John Cleese was a major contributor to two works of comic genius in Holy Grail and A Fish Called Wanda. Life of Brian is not quite at that level but very good. I never saw that much of Fawlty Towers, although I do remember my parents watching it at some point on PBS.

    Teresa Wright is one of my favorite Hitchcock heroines for Shadow of a Doubt; it’s too bad that her star faded by the time she was 30.

    Jean-Pierre Cassel is, as some readers surely know, the father of Vincent Cassel, who has done quite a bit of work in English-language films—Black Swan, Ocean’s Twelve and Ocean’s Thirteen, Jefferson in Paris, Elizabeth. I enjoy the work of both father and son.


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