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December 18: Happy Birthday Steven Spielberg and Brad Pitt

1218spielbergpitt

A few big names today.  I assume you all know which is which in the photo above. 🙂

Steven Spielberg is celebrating his 70th birthday today.  He began making 8 mm home movies when he was about 12.  In high school he made a feature-length film called Firelight, using fellow students as the cast and with the score performed by the high school band.  After finishing high school, he enrolled in the film program at California State University, Long Beach, and began working in the film and television industry.

While still in his early twenties, Spielberg began directing for television, making episodes of series like Night Gallery and Columbo, and a feature-length TV movie called Duel that was later released theatrically.  The Sugarland Express, released in 1974, is considered his feature film directing debut; when it was a reasonable success, producers Richard Zanuck and David Brown offered him a chance to direct a movie about a shark:

As I’m sure you all know, Jaws was a huge hit, the first of many for Spielberg.  He has two films in the top ten all time in inflation-adjusted box office receipts (E.T. as well as Jaws), and two more in the top 25 (Jurassic Park and Raiders of the Lost Ark).  He has been nominated for the Oscar for Best Director eight times, winning for Schindler’s List and Saving Private Ryan; the former film also won Best Picture, an honor Spielberg shared in as a producer.  In short, a man who belongs on any list of the most important directors in film history.

Actor and producer Brad Pitt turns 53 today.  Pitt dropped out of the University of Missouri in the mid-80s to try his fortune in acting.  After a few years of minor parts, he first attracted notice as J. D. in Thelma & Louise.  In the next few years, Pitt had major roles in A River Runs Through It, Kalifornia, and Interview with the Vampire, as well as a memorable minor part in True Romance, and then received his first major acting award nomination (for a Golden Globe for Best Actor) for Legends of the Fall:

Pitt has received three Oscar nominations for acting, and, through his Plan B Productions, four as a producer of Best Picture nominees, winning for 12 Years a Slave.  He won a Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actor for 12 Monkeys.  Over the years, he has proven adept at taking standard leading man roles, co-starring with another major actor (e.g., Harrison Ford in The Devil’s Own), fitting into an ensemble cast (the Ocean’s series of caper films, Babel), or taking smaller supporting roles (Guy Ritchie’s Snatch).  He currently is starring in the romantic thriller Allied, and is producing and starring in the comedy War Machine, out next year.

Some may find it fitting that one half of “Brangelina” shares a birthday with one half of “TomKat.”  Katie Holmes is turning 38 today.  The onetime Dawson’s Creek star has been keeping busy in the years since her divorce from Tom Cruise, appearing in about a half dozen feature films—all small-to-medium budget affairs—and a recurring role on Showtime’s Ray Donovan.  She has moved into both producing and directing, doing both as well as starring in this year’s All We Had, adapted from a novel by Annie Weatherwax.

Ray Liotta, who is best known for his roles in Field of Dreams and especially in Goodfellas, turns 62 today.  Rachel Griffiths, who is turning 48, was an Oscar nominee for Hilary and Jackie, and won a Golden Globe for playing Brenda Chenoweth on Six Feet UnderCasper Van Dien, who played Johnny Rico in Starship Troopers and Brom van Brunt in Tim Burton’s Sleepy Hollow, is 48 today.  Writer and director Alan Rudolph, who turns 73, is known for a variety of independent films that explore various genres in unorthodox ways—Trouble in Mind, The Moderns, Love at Large and Mortal Thoughts are a few examples.  Gillian Armstrong, who is 66 today, is an Australian director who makes both feature films and documentaries.  She is known for My Brilliant Career and the 1994 version of Little Women.

Cicely Tyson, who is 92 today, is a 12-time Emmy nominee with three wins, two for the 1974 TV movie The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman, the third for the miniseries Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All.  She is still working, appearing this year on the fourth season of House of CardsPeggy Cummins, who turns 91, worked mostly in English film, but in her short stint in Hollywood she starred in the film noir classic Gun Crazy, sometimes considered the best B-movie ever made.  Roger Smith, who is celebrating his 84th, was known to TV audiences of the 1960s for starring on 77 Sunset Strip and later on Mister Roberts; it’s also worth mentioning his marriage to singer-actress Ann-Margret—they have been together for nearly 50 years.

Josh Dallas, who celebrates his 38th, stars on Once Upon a Time as Prince Charming/David Nolan, and also played Fandral in ThorAshley Benson, who is finishing her final season as Hanna Marin on Pretty Little Liars, turns 27.  Kari Byron, the longtime host of Discovery Channel’s Mythbusters, is 42 today.  Disney channel star Bridgit Mendler, who was the lead on Good Luck Charlie and moved on to NBC’s Undateable, is celebrating her 24th.

Michael Moorcock, who turns 77 today, is a prolific author known for his science fiction, fantasy and also mainstream novels like Mother London.  He is probably best known for his Eternal Champion books, a huge set of interconnected heroic fantasy series, which is bound together by the fact that the protagonists—Elric of Melniboné, Dorian Hawkmoon, Jerry Cornelius, and many more—are all incarnations of a single entity, the Eternal Champion.

There are two big birthdays in the music world today.  Christina Aguilera, who Rolling Stone ranked as one of the 100 Greatest Singers of all time (and who was the youngest performer named to the list), turns 36 today.  She has won five Grammys and had eleven Top Ten singles (counting collaborations).  Keith Richards, who turns 73, made a Rolling Stone list, too, ranking 4th in their listing of the 100 Greatest Guitarists.  While The Rolling Stones, during their fifty-plus year history, have always had more than one talented guitarist in the lineup (including Brian Jones, Ian Taylor and Ronnie Wood at different times), it’s safe to say that Richards is who people think of as the Stones guitarist.

Our big sports birthday today is Ty Cobb (1886-1961).  The Baseball Hall-of-Famer was a longtime star with the Detroit Tigers, and during his career is said to have set 90 Major League Baseball records, several of which still stand today.  Known for his temperamental nature and ferocious playing style, Cobb was played by Tommy Lee Jones in a 1994 biopic.  Arantxa Sánchez Vicario, who celebrates her 45th today, was one of the top women’s tennis players in the world in the early-mid 1990s, winning four Grand Slam singles titles, six in women’s doubles, and four in mixed doubles.  “Stone Cold” Steve Austin turns 52.  The longtime pro wrestling star has also had a periodic film career, including appearing as villainous henchman Dan Paine in The Expendables.

Jules Dassin (1911-2008) began directing in the 1940s and became known for the film noir Brute Force and the noirish police procedural The Naked City; he also came to the attention of the House Un-American Activities Committee and was eventually blacklisted; the blacklisting kicked in during the filming of his last and best Hollywood film, Night and the City.  He eventually was able to get steady work in Europe, making films like the crime thriller Rififi and the caper film Topkapi.

George Stevens (1904-1975) won Best Director for A Place in the Sun and Giant.  His other notable films included Gunga Din, The Talk of the Town, The More the Merrier, Shane, and The Diary of Anne Frank.  Actress and singer Betty Grable (1916-1975) was the most popular pin-up girl of World War II.  She was one of Fox’s big stars in the 1940s, often in musicals featuring the likes of Victor Mature or Don Ameche.  Dame Celia Johnson (1908-1982) was a distinguished English stage actress who did periodic film work and was nominated for Best Actress for Brief Encounter.

A few figures from world history had birthdays today.  First, and most evil, Joseph Stalin (1879-1953) was the effective dictator of the Soviet Union from the mid-1920s until his death, during which times he was responsible for a lengthy list of some of the greatest atrocities in human history.  Archduke Franz Ferdinand (1863-1914)  of Austria-Hungary was the heir to that polyglot nation’s throne until his assassination became the spark that set off the First World War.  Willy Brandt (1913-1992) was one of the most prominent political leaders in post-World War 2 West Germany and the nation’s Chancellor from 1969-74.  Robert Moses (1888-1981) was a highly controversial urban planner and public works builder who did more than anyone else to create the modern landscape and infrastructure of New York City and the surrounding area.  Steve Biko (1946-1977) was a South African human rights and anti-apartheid activist.  His death while in police custody in 1977 was one of the events that galvanized worldwide opposition to the South African regime.

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 18, 2016, in Celebrity Birthdays and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 19 Comments.

  1. I could talk all day long about Steven Spielberg as he has directed some of my favorite movies of all time. Heck, I count Raiders of the Lost Ark as my favorite film of all time, one of the few movies I have ever seen that I would consider “flawless” in execution (I would put Goodfellas, It’s A Wonderful Life, Casablanca and The Empire Strikes Back in there too for what it’s worth).

    Spielberg is my favorite director of all time. Oh sure he’s had a few duds over the years (Always and Hook come to mind) but when he hits oh man does he ever hit it out of the park. I can’t believe he is now 70. Here’s to many more great years and great films from him.

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    • Spielberg has made three movies that I would consider to be absolute classics of popular entertainment. movies that you can watch repeatedly and never tire of. Those would be Jaws, Raiders and E.T. Jurassic Park isn’t on the level of those three—it lacks the human element that all of them have—but it is still entertaining after over 20 years, Then he’s made a worthy Best Picture winner, and a second film that many agree should have won (Saving Private Ryan). Throw in Close Encounters and a few others and you have a truly great directing career.

      And I would agree with your characterization of flawless execution regarding all of the movies you list there, and would add North by Northwest to that list as well.

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      • I agree that Jaws, Raiders and E.T. are iconic Spielberg. I do find it off that E.T. which was the most successful of them all is now kind of a forgotten blockbuster.

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        • I think that maybe the reason “E.T” has been a forgotten classic to a point is because the film was something of a pop culture event at the time (I didn’t even like E.T. the alien at the time, but my Aunt Stella bought me a plastic figure anyway). After all that died down, there were no sequels to hold on to, so everyone moved on to the next craze.

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    • The first paper I ever wrote in high school was about Steven Spielberg.

      I’ll take Jaws over Raiders, but only barely. I love both movies. There are a couple of “flaws” in Raiders, but I can look past them. Indy riding on the periscope of a German sub was a “WTF” moment.

      I’ll stop short of calling Spielberg one of my favorite directors. But as a director and producer he was responsible for some terrific movies from my childhood.

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  2. I find brad pitt to be a flat actor. He is better in supporting roles but is not that good in leads. The scene in seven where he goes crazy and finding the head in the box it was like a kid throwing tantrum. Spacey and morgan owned seven

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  3. Spielberg is such a legend, just looking at his filmography is staggering. And Brad Pitt is still looking good and acting in great movies.

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  4. Pitt may pick some great movie but hes upstaged by his costars. There great despite him not cause of him. Interview with vampire he seemed awkward and stiff cruise stole the show eric band and peter o toole acted circles around him in troy .In my opnion pitt is just a pretty face has not evovle into a great actor. UNlike say gosling who some wrote off as a pretty boy early in his career but proved he can act

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  5. Steven Spielberg is an absolute legend in his field for sure; I mean, forget the films that he directed, he’s had his name attached to many good and recognizable films either as a producer or executive producer, which means his clout has helped get a lot of other projects off the ground. I think that’s a pretty significant contribution as well, being open-minded to many idea and helping to create opportunities for others.
    I remember a bit of Brad Pitt’s early career, especially the 1989 slasher/teenage drama “Cutting Class”, which I owned on VHS for many years. I became really aware of him when I had a girlfriend who had a poster (from “Legends of the Fall”) of him on her bedroom wall. I’ve always really liked “Kalifornia”.
    My favorite Katie Holmes part is easily “Pieces of April”, and I viewed a little of “Dawson’s Creek” back in the day. She’s been discussed on this site here and there, especially why her film career got a little sidetracked for a time.
    Ray Liotta, I thought he would be huge after “Goodfellas”, but that film is probably his career peak (I did like his subdued and warm role in 2000’s “Blow”, but that film didn’t really leave a lasting impact on audiences). Other than his films, I know him as the voice of Tommy Vercetti in “Grand Theft Auto: Vice City” (Some clean Tommy lines: “I’m gonna rip him two!”, ” Tommy Vercetti doesn’t cut and run”).

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  6. Rachel Griffiths I first remember seeing in (not at) “Muriel’s Wedding”, and she played Ray Liotta’s wife in “Blow” (which was actually released in 2001, my mistake).
    Casper Van Dien, other than “Starship Troopers”, I remember this film he did in which he was a serial killer (called “Sanctimony”, which I caught on HBO) and another in which he was being chased down by a serial killer trucker who was played by Meatloaf (“Road Rage”, also on HBO). Isn’t his family like a big deal or something?

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    • Casper Van Dien was married for over 15 years to actress Catherine Oxenberg, the daughter of Princess Elizabeth of Yugoslavia, who is related in some degree to the royal families of England and Spain. I’m guessing that’s the big deal you were thinking of.

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      • Yeah, thanks for reminding me of that info, since I heard something about his marriage being associated with royalty. I also heard that when he was growing up he lived on a street named after his Great-Great Grandfather. I knew there was something about his history, but I couldn’t quite place it, and it was more than I thought, but it wasn’t like I thought (I thought he was connected in a way similar to Balthazar Getty; remember him?).

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  7. We have some mega-watt star power today. Spielberg is one of the few directors who could be considered a box office draw – though that is diminishing. Brad Pitt is unquestionably a movie star. Although something tells me he didn’t have the best birthday this year.

    I doubt Katie Holmes can ever openly discuss the details of her marriage to Tom Cruise without being sued into oblivion. And I’m sure she lives in fear of Scientologists to this day – and with good reason. I would love to hear what she has to say about that ordeal. I hope she is well these days.

    We all love Ray Liotta, don’t we. Terrific character actor. His career as a leading man is not so great, but Goodfellas makes up for that. My brother was Casper Van Dien’s biggest fan after Starship Troopers. Yes, I made fun of him for that. Always happy to see Cicely Tyson. I didn’t know she was doing House of Cards. That’s something to look forward to.

    Bridgit Mendler I recognize from Goodluck Charlie. It’s funny what having kids Disney-channel aged does to you. I think we can all agree Christina Aguilera is more relevant than her one time rival, right? 😉

    Keith Richards will outlive us all.

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  8. Crisscrossing the country on a tour bus isn’t necessarily a prerequisite for landing on our list. Four members of our top ten—Celine Dion, Britney Spears, Shania Twain and Jennifer Lopez—have seen their bottom lines boosted by standing gigs in Las Vegas. Others, like Katy Perry, are in between album cycles but still made the cut. http://www.forbes.com/sites/zackomalleygreenburg/2016/11/02/the-worlds-highest-paid-women-in-music-2016/ Relevant= I dont see Christina… However, her rival…

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    • I was trolling Britney fans with that comment. It was a bit of an injoke because every time I make a comment about Christina being more relevant than Britney someone shows up to argue the point. Kidding aside, I will admit that Britney raised her profile this year and probably overtook Christina in relevance. That is especially true in light of Aguilera’s reduced role on The Voice.

      However, it’s worth pointing out that the list you linked to ranks female performers according to salary. Vegas gigs pay well. That’s why Vegas acts who aren’t as culturally relevant as they once were are topping the list. Meanwhile, Aguilera has been more visible due to her presence on television which is not being accounted for in the Forbes list.

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  9. I knew you were trolling 😂 So you were talking about cultural relevance? Can we measure their cultural relevance with google? https://www.google.com/trends/explore?q=britney%20spears,christina%20aguilera

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    • I’d say that’s an indicator. Not necessarily the whole picture. It shows that searches were pretty close for a while but spiked for Spears once she made a televised performance. I’ll agree that doing so put her solidly back in the lead.

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