December 2: Happy Birthday Britney Spears and Maria Callas


Our headliners today have in common that they are both known for their singing.

Britney Spears is turning 35 today.  At the age of 11 she was selected to join the cast of The All-New Mickey Mouse Club; during her time on the show some of her cast mates included Christina Aguilera, Ryan Gosling, Keri Russell and Justin Timberlake.  After MMC was cancelled, Spears began auditioning for pop bands and circulating demo tapes; as a result, she was eventually signed to a deal with Jive Records, which released her first album and single in 1998.

By most estimates I can find, Spears has sold over 100 million records worldwide in her career.  She has been nominated for 8 Grammys, winning for Best Dance Recording in 2005 for “Toxic.”  Although her last couple of albums have not sold as well as in the past, she would have to make any list of the most important pop music stars of the last twenty years.

The Greek-American soprano Maria Callas (1923-1977) would make any reasonable list of the leading opera singers of the 20th Century.  While even her admirers would concede that other sopranos had lovelier voices, none matched Callas for her vocal acting and expressiveness, her ability to bring individual characters to life through her singing.  One of her most famous roles was the title role in Vincenzo Bellini’s Norma.  A short excerpt from that performance was heard during Avengers: Age of Ultron.

Lucy Liu, who is celebrating her 48th, currently stars as Joan Watson on Elementary.  She was an Emmy nominee for her work on Ally McBeal, and is known for her film roles as Alex Munday in the Charlie’s Angels films and as O-Ren Ishii in the Kill Bill movies.  Director Penelope Spheeris, who is 71 today, was the director of Wayne’s World as well as The Beverly Hillbillies and The Little Rascals.  She is also known for her three-part documentary series on life in Los Angeles, The Decline of Western Civilization.

Portuguese-American actress Daniela Ruah, who is 33 today, is best known for her role as Kensi Blye on NCIS: Los Angeles, and has also done a lot of Portuguese television work.  Cassie Steele, who turns 27, starred on Degrassi: The Next Generation for nine seasons as Manny Santos.  Brendan Coyle, who turns 53, has received Emmy and BAFTA Award nominations for playing John Bates on Downton AbbeySteven Bauer, who is 60 today, was a Golden Globe nominee as Manny Ribera in the 1983 version of Scarface and currently plays Avi Rubin on Showtime’s Ray DonovanCathy Lee Crosby, who is celebrating her 72nd, played the title character in the 1974 TV movie Wonder Woman.

Canadian singer-songwriter Nelly Furtado is celebrating her 38th birthday.  She won a Grammy for Best Female Pop Vocal for her hit single “I’m Like a Bird,” and her hit album Loose featured the #1 singles “Promiscuous” and “Say It Right.”

Sports birthdays today begin with Monica Seles, who turns 43.  Seles won eight women’s Grand Slam tennis championships from 1990-93 and had established herself as the #1 women’s player in the world while not yet 20 years old.  But after she was stabbed by a deranged spectator at an April, 1993 tournament, she was never the same.  Aaron Rodgers, who is 33 today, is one of the top quarterbacks in the NFL today; he has made five Pro Bowls and led the Green Bay Packers to a Super Bowl victory.  Another NFL great was Hall of Famer Willie Brown, who turns 76.  One of the greatest cornerbacks in the game, Brown starred in the Oakland Raiders’ win in Super Bowl XI, and then was on their coaching staff for two more Super Bowl wins.

Novelist T. Coraghessan Boyle, who is 68 today, has written 14 novels and won the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction for the novel World’s EndAnn Patchett, who celebrates her 53rd, is also a PEN/Faulkner Award winner for her novel Bel Canto.  Swedish writer John Ajvide Lindqvist, who is turning 40, is known for his horror fiction, particularly the novel Låt den rätte komma in/Let the Right One In, which has been adapted into Swedish and American films (the latter, titled Let Me In, starred Kodi Smit-McPhee and Chloe Moretz).

Warren William (1894-1948) was a popular leading man of the 1930s, often in early genre films.  He was the first actor to play the famous fictional attorney Perry Mason on screen, and also starred as fictional detectives Philo Vance and Sam Spade.  Charles Ringling (1863-1926) was one of the five Ringling brothers who started a circus back in 1884, which eventually became known as Ringling Brothers’ World’s Greatest Shows.  In 1907, the brothers acquired their biggest competitor, the Barnum & Bailey’s Greatest Show on Earth, and eventually merged the two circuses into one.  They are still in operation today.

Stage great Julie Harris (1924-2013) was a ten-time Tony nominee, winning five times.  Her winning roles included Sally Bowles in I Am a Camera (from the same source novel as the musical Cabaret), Joan of Arc in The Lark, Ann Stanley in Forty Carats, Mary Lincoln in The Last of Mrs. Lincoln, and Emily Dickinson in The Belle of Amherst.  She was also a three-time Emmy winner and won a Grammy for Best Spoken Word Album.

Adolph Green (1914-2002) was known for his major contributions to musical theater and film musicals, done in collaboration with Betty Comden.  The duo’s stage musicals included writing the lyrics (and in one case the book) for a pair of musicals with music composed by Leonard Bernstein, On the Town and Wonderful Town.  They also wrote the lyrics and/or book for other hit musicals including Bells Are Ringing, Applause, and On the Twentieth Century, and the 1954 musical adaptation of Peter Pan that starred Mary Martin.  Their film work included the screenplays for The Band Wagon and Singin’ in the Rain, and additional lyrics for the film version of On the Town.

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 December 2, 2016, in Celebrity Birthdays and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. I sparked some controversy in the Razzie articles for claiming that Christina Aguilera was more relevant today than Britney Spears. After I made those comments, Spears raised her profile a bit with a televised performance. For the most part, she seems to be staying out of the harsh public spotlight. But there’s no denying her impact from early in the 21st century. She was the closest thing this generation had to a Madonna, she just didn’t constantly reinvent herself the way Madonna did.

    I have been to the opera a couple of times, but I’m very much a novice. So Maria Callas seems vaguely familiar, but this is largely an introduction for me.

    Lucy Liu, I know from Kill Bill and Charlie’s Angels. Reportedly, she’s the reason Bill Murray opted out of the sequel. Penelope Spheeris also clashed with an SNL star. She claims Mike Myers had her fired from Wayne’s World 2. I knew Steven Bauer appeared somewhere in the WTHH series. He was married to Melanie Griffith from 1981-1989.

    The Cathy Lee Crosby Wonder Woman is kind of infamous due to the lack of resemblance to the iconic character:

    I remember Crosby from the 80’s show That’s Incredible! She also costarred with Michael Biehn in the teen sex/sports comedy, Coach.

    Seems like a big day for musical theater!


  2. One other note about Maria Callas—she was a celebrity in the modern sense, in that her private life was very intensely, and sometimes unfairly, scrutinized. Like many star sopranos, she was the subject of rumors about “diva” behavior, some of which at least were seriously exaggerated. When she lost a lot of weight in the mid-1950s, there was a small cottage industry that sprang up to theorize about how she did it, and how her weight loss could be connected to her vocal imperfections. She had a lengthy affair with shipping magnate Aristotle Onassis that began in the late 1950s and apparently continued, at least intermittently, after Onassis married Jackie Kennedy, which gave additional fodder to the scandal-mongers.


  3. I’m not a fan of Britney Spears but I cannot deny that she has been one of the biggest musical acts of the last 20 years, even if her career is now waning. Whatever happens, she already made her impact.

    I would say Lucy Liu’s best work was in Quentin Tarantino’s classic Kill Bill. I also enjoyed Shanghai Noon quite a bit even though hers was a bit part. Looking over her career further I forgot that she did voiceover work in the Kung Fu Panda films as Viper. Those are thoroughly enjoyable. Animated films rarely do much for an actor’s career but I’ll include them in the win column for her.


  4. With 33.4 million albums sold in the U.S., Britney Spears is the 17th-best-selling album artist since Nielsen began tracking sales in 1991. Among women, she’s fourth, after Mariah Carey (55 million), Celine Dion (52.6 million) and Shania Twain (34.7 million). After Spears, Reba McEntire rounds out the top five among women (30.5 million).


  5. I remember when I first found out about Britney Spears, it was the racy Rolling Stone cover in the late 199’s (1998 or 1999), and reading that issue while eating at a McDonald’s. Oh baby baby!
    Lucy Liu I first knew about from her stint in “Ally McBeal”; her character kind of cracked the whip on the show with her attitude (some of her persona disguises in “Charlie’s Angels” kind of had the same feel for me, especially the office & the masseuse disguises).
    Steven Bauer, I know him best as Manny in “Scarface”, a detective in “Gleaming the Cube”, and as the voice of The Sandman in the video game “Scarface: The World Is Yours”.
    Penelope Spheeris, I’m all about “The Boys Next Door” and “The Decline of Western Civilization” (quotations come in handy here, otherwise I sound like a perverted manifesto maestro).


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