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December 11: Happy Birthday Rita Moreno and Hailee Steinfeld

1211morenosteinfeld

Our two headliners for today have in common that they each had their first major acting role at the age of 13.

Rita Moreno, who turns 85 today, made her Broadway debut a few weeks prior to her 14th birthday, in a play called Skydrift (she was billed as “Rosita Cosio”).  It’s hard to find out much about the play, but apparently Moreno made an impression, because she soon found herself working in film.

Moreno has described many of the roles she was offered in her first decade in film as “stereotypical Latina roles.”  Exceptions included some appearances in film musicals—she played the small part of Zelda Zanders in Singin’ in the Rain, the major supporting role of Tuptim in The King and I, and then had another major supporting part in the film version of a musical that won Best Picture:

Even after winning an Oscar for West Side Story, Moreno found herself dissatisfied with the roles she was offered.  She took much of the 1960s off from film and TV work (for part of the time working on Broadway), and since then has been somewhat selective about her roles.  In addition to her Oscar, she has won a pair of Emmys (one for guesting on The Muppet Show), a Grammy for an album she made while appearing on PBS’s The Electric Company, and a Tony for Terrence McNally’s play The Ritz.  She is one of only two people to have won a pair of unofficial “awards,” an EGOT and a Triple Crown of Acting (Helen Hayes is the other).

Hailee Steinfeld celebrates her 20th today.  She began acting with a few television guest appearances and commercials, as well as an award-winning short film called She’s a Fox.  Her breakthrough was when she was cast, at the age of 13, in the Coen Brothers’ remake of the classic Western True Grit:

Steinfeld received an Oscar nomination for her portrayal of Mattie Ross—for Best Supporting Actress, although she is clearly the lead of the film.  Since then, she has been keeping busy with a variety of films.  With the exception of co-starring in Ender’s Game—a venture into at least borderline dystopian sci-fi that seems almost obligatory for young stars these days—Steinfeld has stayed away from big budget films.  She has become part of the ensemble cast of the Pitch Perfect films, done not one but two action thrillers featuring father-daughter duos (3 Days to Kill and Term Life), made a silly-but-fun action comedy (Barely Lethal) and a quasi-Shakespeare adaptation (the 2013 version of Romeo and Juliet).  Her latest film, The Edge of Seventeen, is currently in theaters.

Teri Garr, who turns 69 today, began working in film as a background dancer in a bunch of early 1960s films.  She had a number of major roles in 1970s films like The Conversation, Young Frankenstein, and Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and was nominated for Best Supporting Actress for Tootsie in 1982.  Early in the last decade she was diagnosed with MS, which has severely curtailed her career since then.  Jean-Louis Tritignant, who turns 86, is a distinguished French stage and screen actor who has been working since the 1950s.  He starred opposite Brigitte Bardot in And God Created Woman and made his first English-language film, Under Fire, in 1983.  He is a five-time Cesar Award nominee who won for the first time in 2012 for the romantic drama AmourLynda Day George, who celebrates her 72nd, may be best known for her years on Mission: Impossible and for the films she made with her husband, Christopher George.  Donna Mills, who is 76 today, starred opposite Clint Eastwood in Play Misty for Me and played femme fatale Abby Cunningham on Knots Landing in the 1980s.

Actress and comedian Mo’Nique, who is turning 49, won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress for Precious and was an Emmy nominee as Ma Rainey in Bessie, the HBO biopic of blues legend Bessie Smith.  Yasiin Bey, better known as Mos Def, is 43 today.  The rapper/actor was an Emmy nominee for the HBO film Something the Lord Made, has been in films like The Italian Job, Cadillac Records, and Life of Crime, and releases four successful hip-hop albums.  Rider Strong, who celebrates his 37th, is known for playing Shawn Hunter on Boy Meets World and Girl Meets World.  Fans of sci-fi from the 2000s will remember Ben Browder as John Crichton on Farscape and Cameron Mitchell on Stargate SG-1; Browder is 54 today.  Sandra Echeverría, who celebrates her 32nd, is a well-known actress in Mexican television and film who has worked in Hollywood as well, appearing in Oliver Stone’s Savages and in guest roles on The Bridge and Criminal Minds.

Composer Rachel Portman, who is 56 today, is known best for her work in film.  She is a three-time Oscar nominee, winning for Best Score—Musical or Comedy, for the 1996 adaptation of Emma. She also has an Emmy for her work on Bessie.  Pop and rockabilly singer Brenda Lee, who is 72 today, had several top 10 hits and made a famous recording you might here in the next few weeks of “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree.”  Nikki Sixx, who celebrates his 58th, was the co-founder, main songwriter and bass player of Mötley Crüe.  Jermaine Jackson, of the musical Jackson family, turns 62 today.    David Gates, who is best known for his work with the soft rock band Bread, turns 76.  American composer Elliott Carter (1908-2012) was remarkably productive all his life; he published over 40 original compositions between the ages of 90 and 100, and another 20 after he turned 100.

The biggest musican name born today was Hector Berlioz (1803-1869).  One of the first great Romantic composers, Berlioz liked to do things in a big way; he sometimes conducted concerts involving as many as a thousand musicians.  Among his best works are the opera Les Troyens, the concert drama The Damnation of Faust, the Symphonie Fantastique, and the symphony-in-all-but-name Harold in Italy.

Italian producer Carlo Ponti (1912-2007) has over 100 movies on his filmography.  He worked with many of the leading European directors of his time, including Fellini, Antonioni and Melville, and also produced several films, both in Hollywood and Europe, starring his wife, actress Sophia Loren.  Mexican-born actor Gilbert Roland (1905-1994) was one of Hollywood’s go-to men for Spanish or South American characters for many years and starred as the Cisco Kid in several films.  Marie Windsor (1919-2000) was a regular leading lady in noirs and other B-movies in the forties and fifties, including the early Stanley Kubrick heist film The Killing.

Fiorello La Guardia (1882-1947) served several terms in the US Congress, and then became a three-term Mayor of New York City.  LaGuardia Airport is named for him, and his career was the subject of Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick’s Pulitzer Prize winning musical Fiorello! The late Tom Hayden (1939-2016) was one of the most influential political activists of the 20th century US; he was married to actress Jane Fonda for several years and actor Troy Garity is their son.  John Kerry, who turns 73 today, was elected to five US Senate terms, was the Democratic Party presidential candidate in 2004, and is currently the US Secretary of State.

Finally, a sort of potpourri of famous names.  Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn (1918-2008) was a Nobel Prize winner in Literature, best known for his works chronicling the evils of the Soviet prison system, the Gulag, such as the novels One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich and The First CircleMax Born (1882-1970) was also a Nobel Prize winner, in Physics, for his work in developing the theory of quantum mechanics.  He was also the grandfather of singer Olivia Newton-John.  Finally, our sports birthday today is Doc Blanchard (1924-2009), famous for his exploits as a football star at the US Military Academy, which won him the Heisman Trophy in his junior year.

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 December 11, 2016, in Celebrity Birthdays and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Yeah, Rita Moreno, I think “West Side Story” is the boss, and she’s done a lot of other fine work, and she also guest starred in an episode of “Miami Vice” titled ‘Miami Squeeze’ (since she is of the EGOT, it’s fitting she appearing that show, since I heard Philip Michael Thomas was the person who got this whole EGOT thing going).
    I’ll always remember Teri Garr’s role in “After Hours”; in a film full of fruitcakes, she may have been the nuttiest. I also recall when she was interviewed by Bob Costas when he had his late night interview show.
    Donna Mills, yeah, “Play Misty for Me” is what comes to the forefront of my mind when it comes to her work.
    Mos Def was Mos, now he’s Yasiin Bey, but I guess I’ll always think of him as Mos Def. I liked his turn as a guest star in Season 6 of “Dexter” (wish he was around longer), and I liked his role in 2003’s “The Woodsman”.

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  2. My first exposure to Rita Moreno was probably on The Muppet Show or maybe The Electric Company. I had no idea she was an EGOT. I have seen Hailee Steinfeld in True Grit and Ender’s Game, but I will admit despite the Oscar nomination she hasn’t been on my radar.

    I have always liked Teri Garr, but she never seemed to get the quality of work she deserved. I imagine a lot of people know her as Phoebe’s mom on Friends. The roles that come to mind for me are in Young Frankenstein and Mr. Mom.

    Mo’Nique has apparently been blacklisted. If so, that’s a shame. Mos Def showed up in a lot of supporting roles all at once but the one that stands out in my mind was the disappointing adaptation of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

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