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 Hour. Robert 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 Years. Peter 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 Goldbergs. Bryan 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 Express. Carrie 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 Gangster. Jack 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 Dog. Sylvia 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 Dylan Thomas, Ivan Reitman, John Cleese, Robert Picardo, Roberto Benigni, Ruby Dee, Sylvia Plath, Teresa Wright, Theodore Roosevelt. Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.