October 31: Happy Birthday Peter Jackson and Michael Landon
Sir Peter Jackson is 55 years old today. He was interested in making movies since he was a boy, and for many years he lived with his parents to save money so he could spend on film equipment. He made his first film, a horror comedy called Bad Taste, on a minute budget, with many of the cast being friends of his who worked for free. A reasonably positive reception to that led to him gradually getting bigger budgets for subsequent films: Meet the Feebles, a musical black comedy with Muppet style puppets; Heavenly Creatures, a psychological thriller starring a pair of talented young actresses named Kate Winslet and Melanie Lynskey; and the horror comedy The Frighteners, his first film on a Hollywood-sized budget.
And then, after prolonged negotiations to secure the rights to the books and then to get backing from a studio, he began filming J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings:
When the trilogy came to a conclusion, Jackson won or shared three Oscars for The Return of the King—Best Picture, Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay. Jackson’s main subsequent efforts have been an epic-scale remake of King Kong, an adaptation of Alice Sebold’s The Lovely Bones, and the stretching of Tolkien’s The Hobbit into another trilogy by adding lots and lots of padding and filler.
For a period of about 30 years beginning in 1989, it was very rare for a season of network, prime-time television programming to not feature a show starring Michael Landon (1936-1991). Landon began acting in the mid-1950s; one of his first major roles was as the title character in I Was a Teenage Werewolf. Then, at a time when the TV schedule was packed with Western series, Landon was cast on one, about a widower-rancher with three sons:
Bonanza, which at its peak was the #1 show on television, went off the air in 1973. Within a year Landon had returned to prime time in Little House on the Prairie, following which he starred on Highway to Heaven. On the latter two shows, he was also heavily involved in directing and producing. Little wonder that his 22 appearances on the cover of TV Guide is second only to Lucille Ball.
Barbara Bel Geddes (1922-2005) is probably know today as Miss Ellie Ewing from Dallas, but she had a long acting career. Highlights included two Tony nominations, one for originating the role of Maggie “The Cat” in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof on Broadway, and playing the voice of reason in Hitchcock’s Vertigo. A lowlight was being put on the Hollywood blacklist for several years by anti-communist witch-hunters. Another blacklist victim was Lee Grant, who is somewhere from 87 to 91 today (her reported year of birth varies). Grant was an Oscar nominee for the 1951 film Detective Story, but then ran afoul of the House Un-American Activities Committee. Not until the mid-1960s did she get steady work again; she went on to win two Emmys, as well as an Oscar for Shampoo.
David Ogden Stiers, who turns 74, first became well-known as the skilled but pompous Major Winchester on MASH. He has done quite a lot of voice work, especially in Disney features, such as voicing Cogsworth in Beauty and the Beast. More recently he was seen on USA’s The Dead Zone as Rev. Purdy. Stephen Rea, who is 70 today, was nominated for Best Actor for his role in The Crying Game, but most of his career has been in character and supporting roles, in films such as Interview with the Vampire, Michael Collins, and V for Vendetta. He recently won a BAFTA award for the BBC miniseries The Honourable Woman.
Rob Schneider, who turns 53, is a Saturday Night Live veteran who starred in the Deuce Bigalow films and The Hot Chick. Also turning 53 is Dermot Mulroney, a frequent leading man in romantic comedies such as My Best Friend’s Wedding and The Wedding Date. Mike O’Malley, who starred on Yes, Dear and was Emmy-nominated for his role on Glee, turns 50 today. Robert Van Winkle, who performs and records as Vanilla Ice, turns 49. His 1990 single “Ice Ice Baby” was the first hip hop single to reach #1 on the Billboard Hot 100. Deidre Hall, who turns 69, has been a regular on Days of Our Lives as Marlena Evans for 40 years.
Eddie Kaye Thomas, who turns 36, played Finch in several American Pie films and is currently starring on CBS’s Scorpion. Piper Perabo, who starred in films like Coyote Ugly and Imagine Me & You, and on the USA Network’s Covert Affairs, celebrates her 40th. Vanessa Marano, the star of Freeform/ABC Family’s Switched at Birth, turns 24 today. Scott Clifton, whose current role on The Bold and the Beautiful has brought him two Daytime Emmys, turns 32.
Brian Stokes Mitchell turns 59. He has had a respectable TV career—he starred on Trapper John, M.D. for its entire run, and currently plays recurring character Scott Knowles on Mr. Robot. He has also been one of Broadway’s top leading men for over 20 years, primarily in musical theater. He is a four-time Tony nominee, winning for playing Fred Graham in the 1999 revival of Kiss Me Kate:
John Candy (1950-1994) came out of the Second City comedy troupe, and before his death of a heart attack at 43 starred in films like Stripes, Spaceballs, and Planes, Trains and Automobiles. Ollie Johnston (1912-2008) was one of Disney’s “Nine Old Men,” the core animators who created Disney’s classic animated features. Johnston joined Disney in 1935 and worked on features from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs to The Fox and the Hound. Dale Evans (1912-2001) was the wife and long-time costar of singing cowboy Roy Rogers; they appeared together in several B-Westerns in the late 1940s and on television on The Roy Rogers Show (for which Evans wrote the theme song, “Happy Trails”).
In the world of the written word, Dick Francis (1920-2010) spent over a decade as a professional jockey, and after retiring from that began writing novels, taking advantage of his experience to set them in the world of h0rse-racing. Katherine Paterson, who turns 84, is a prominent author of children’s literature. She has won two Newberry medals and two National Book Awards for her work, and her novels Bridge to Terebithia and The Great Gilly Hopkins have been adapted into feature films. Andrew Sarris (1928-2012) was one of the most influential American film critics of the 20th century. In his 1968 book The American Cinema, as well as in other writings, he introduced the auteur theory into the US. In his short life, the Romantic poet John Keats (1795-1821) wrote some of the most beautiful and admired poetry ever composed in the English language. Ben Whishaw played Keats in the 2009 film Bright Star.
Finally, folksinger and songwriter Tom Paxton turns 79 today. Paxton has been writing, recording and performing since the late 1950s; his songwriting output has included children’s songs like “The Marvelous Toy;” edgy political songs like “What Did You Learn in School Today” and “On the Road from Srebrenica;” what Paxton calls “short shelf life” songs that are generally topical and humorous, like “I Am Changing My Name to Chrysler;” and ballads like “The Last Thing on My Mind” and “Ramblin’ Boy.” I’ll give him the last word today:
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 31, 2016, in Celebrity Birthdays and tagged Andrew Sarris, Barbara Bel Geddes, Brian Stokes Mitchell, Dale Evans, David Ogden Stiers, Dick Francis, Lee Grant, Michael Landon, Peter Jackson, Piper Perabo, Tom Paxton. Bookmark the permalink. 11 Comments.