December 22: Happy Birthday Ralph Fiennes and Peggy Ashcroft


Both of our headliners today have reputations as notable Shakespeareans.

Ralph Fiennes is turning 54 today.  He began his acting career in the 1980s with the Royal Shakespeare Company, playing roles such as Romeo in Romeo and Juliet and Edmund in King Lear.  In 1995, he won a Tony Award for Best Actor in a Play for starring in a Broadway revival of Hamlet.  In 2011, Fiennes directed and starred in a film adaptation of Coriolanus, and won a BAFTA Award for Outstanding Debut.

Most people know Fiennes for his distinguished film career.  During the 1990s, he became known for a pair of Oscar-nominated roles (both in films which won Best Picture), for Best Supporting Actor as Amon Goeth in Schindler’s List, and for Best Actor as Count László de Almássy in The English Patient:

Highlights of the last two decades of Fiennes’ career include roles in a pair of franchises, as Lord Voldemort in the Harry Potter films, and Gareth Mallory, the new M, in the two most recent James Bond films.  He has also had major roles in The Constant Gardener, The Duchess, and The Grand Budapest Hotel, to name just a few.

When people talk of the great English Shakespeareans of the mid-20th Century, one woman’s name is frequently mentioned alongside the great triumvirate of Gielgud, Olivier and Richardson—Dame Peggy Ashcroft (1907-1991).  In a stage career lasting roughly 50 years, she played Juliet opposite both Gielgud and Olivier as Romeo, Beatrice to Gielgud’s Benedict in Much Ado About Nothing, Desdemona opposite Paul Robeson’s Othello, Portia in The Merchant of Venice, and many more.  She also, of course, assumed plenty of other roles, in Ibsen, Chekov, etc.

Her screen career was limited but not trivial.  She had a small but rather memorable role in Hitchcock’s The 39 Steps in 1935, and had two great roles in the 1980s, one in film, the other on television.  She won an Oscar and several other Best Supporting Actress honors for David Lean’s A Passage to India, and won a BAFTA Television Award for the Granada Television miniseries The Jewel in the Crown.

Vanessa Paradis, who turns 44, may be best known to many in the US for her 14-year relationship with Johnny Depp, but she is an accomplished musician and actress in her own right.  Her hit single “Joe le taxi,” recorded when she was 14, reached the top 10 in France, Germany and the UK, as did “Be My Baby” from the early 1990s.  She won a Cesar Award for Most Promising Newcomer for her film debut in Noce Blanche, and was nominated for the Cesar for Best Actress for La fille sur le pont.

Dina Meyer, who turns 48, is known for her role as Barbara Gordon/Oracle on the short-lived Birds of Prey series and for her roles in Starship Troopers and some of the Saw films.  Chris Carmack, who celebrates his 36th, stars on Nashville as Will Lexington and is also known for his role on The O.C.  Canadian actress Brooke Nevin, who is 34 today, has had regular roles on Animorphs, The 4400, and most recently on A&E’s Breakout Kings.  Disney Channel star Genevieve “G” Hannelius was the star of Dog with a Blog after having recurring roles on other Disney series; she turns 18 today.

Screenwriter David Goyer, who turns 51, wrote the screenplay for Batman Begins and the stories for the other two films in the Dark Knight trilogy.  His other writing credits include Man of Steel, Batman v. Superman, and the Blade trilogy (he also directed Blade: Trinity).  Hector Elizondo, who is 80 today, was an Emmy winner for Chicago Hope and currently is a regular on Last Man Standing.  He has also appeared in several of Garry Marshall’s films, including Pretty Woman (for which he was a Golden Globe nominee), Runaway Bride and the Princess Diaries films.

Our music birthdays include Maurice (1949-2003) and Robin Gibb (1949-2012), who along with their elder brother Barry made up the Bee Gees, superstars of 1970s pop and disco.  Robin normally shared lead vocals with Barry, while Maurice supplied harmony vocals and played multiple instruments.  Meghan Trainor, who turns 23, won a Grammy earlier this year for Best New Artist, and was nominated for Record of the Year and Song of the Year for her hit “All About That Bass.”  Jordin Sparks, who is 27 today, is one of the few American Idol winners to have a successful recording career.  Her first five singles all reached the top 20 in the Billboard Hot 100.  Giacomo Puccini (1858-1924) was one of the most popular opera composers ever.  His operas La bohème, Tosca and Madama Butterfly are all consistently among the 6 to 8 most frequently performed in the world, and Turandot along with several others remains in the repertoire as well.

Our sports birthdays are a pair of baseball Hall of Fame members.  Connie Mack (1862-1956), born Cornelius McGillicuddy, was the manager of the Philadelphia Athletics for their first 50 years of existence, as well as the team’s owner.  He holds all sorts of longevity-related managing records and during his time with the A’s put together three different powerhouse teams: 1) the A’s of the early 1900s who were led by Rube Waddell and Eddie Plank, 2) the 1910-14 A’s who won three World Series titles led by Eddie Collins, Home Run Baker along an older Eddie Plank, and 3) the A’s of 1928-32 who won two World Series led by Mickey Cochrane, Jimmie Foxx and Lefty Grove.  Steve Carlton, who turns 72 today, was a star pitcher who spent most of his career with the St. Louis Cardinals and the Philadelphia Phillies, winning one World Series with each.  His 329 career wins have been exceeded by only one player (Roger Clemens) since he retired, and he was the first pitcher to win four Cy Young Awards as the outstanding pitcher for a season.

Jean Racine (1639-1699) heads our literary birthdays list for today.  One of France’s greatest playwrights, he is best known for tragedies like Phèdre and Andromaque.  If you don’t study French you aren’t likely to read Racine since a lot of his work is considered very hard to accurately translate into other languages.  American poet Edwin Arlington Robinson (1869-1935) won three Pulitzer Prizes for his work.  I can recall reading poems of his, such as “Richard Cory” and “Miniver Cheevy” in high school English.  Charles de Lint, who turns 65 today, is one of the leading fantasy novelists of our time, a pioneer in the subgenre of urban fantasy.

Barbara Billingsley (1915-2010) is known for two things.  First, she was one of the great TV moms, June Cleaver of Leave It to Beaver.  Second, she had a memorable cameo in one of the most absolutely side-splitting comedies of all time:

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 22, 2016, in Celebrity Birthdays and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 7 Comments.

  1. Ralph Fiennes has had a great career; I’d say my two favorite films in which he was featured are “Quiz Show” and “Strange Days”.
    I think Dina Meyer is a babe, a tough babe; I first noticed her in this innocent-looking 2002 TV movie “federal Protection” that also starred Armand Assante and Angela Featherstone. Later, I viewed “Starship Troopers” (good stuff) and “Birds of Prey” (again, her being in that series is a bonus, but I purchased the DVD for the animated shorts of “Gotham Girls”).
    Jordin Sparks, I remember when her father Phillippi played cornerback for the New York Giants in the 1990’s, so her name has always had instant recognition for me.
    Hector Elizondo, you know, even though I didn’t view “Chicago Hope” very often, in all the projects I’ve seen him in, that’s where he left the biggest impression on me.I find his presence in something always welcome though (I love 1991’s “Necessary Roughness”;I think Robert Loggia & him make a fun pair there).


  2. does anyone remember how big ralph was in the 90s . I know he was a huge heartthrob. Although he never drew a crowd he had a huge fanbase.


  3. There was a time when I would have considered Ralph Fiennes for WTHH. Fortunately for him, that was pre-Le Blog. After Schindler and The English Patient, it seemed like Fiennes was going to be a massive star, then he stepped out of the spotlight for a while. Now, with supporting parts in the Harry Potter and James Bond franchises, Fiennes is very much in the public eye – just not as a leading man.

    I was a big fan of the Birds of Prey comic book. I read the first special that eventually spawned a couple of miniseries that finally lead to an ongoing series. So I was really excited to get a TV show based on the comic. Dina Meyer (the one talented actress in Starship Troopers) seemed perfect for Barbara Gordon. But Black Canary, who was the action heroine of the book, was nowhere to be found. She was replaced by The Huntress who was a supporting player in the book. For some reason, the show was set in the “near future” with The Huntress as the daughter of Batman and Catwoman. It was weird.

    Despite the wonky reimagining of the premise, I gave the show a shot. It was really bad.

    Speaking of Dina Meyer and Starship Troopers, I remember seeing an interview with director Paul Verhoeven in which he talked about how he tried to subvert audience expectations. His example was that he included a nude scene, but it wasn’t with the girl you actually wanted to see naked. Poor Dina Meyer went topless while Denise Richards (presumably the one Verhoeven felt audiences wanted to see naked) had to wait until Wild Things.

    Way back when David Goyer was the writer of Dark City and Blade, I was a fan. I even participated in an online screenwriting class he ran in the 90’s. My appreciation of Goyer has tanked ever since he took on Superman. Blade: Trinity should have been a tipoff. Alos, don’t ask Goyer for his thoughts on She-Hulk. They aren’t PC.

    Hector Elizondo was usually the best thing about most Gary Marshall movies.

    There are times when the only music that will suffice is from the Bee Gees. The younger Gibb brothers are missed.

    My kids are all about Meghan Trainor. I love that you included the Airplane! clip for Barbara Billingsley.


    • Well, Paul Verhoeven did me a favor then, as I’ve always been pretty indifferent to Denise Richards (she’s just never been a draw for me), but I’m all for Dina Meyer.


  4. Ralph did not wanted to become a box office draw . he choose alot of films that are not box office friendly merchant ivory type films which probably explains why he never became a bigger star. He pops up in some huge films. But it seems like he will never get a chance to become a huge leading man


    • I think he’s known to film buffs or people who remember his career early (looking back, “Strange Days” was an unusual choice for him, like Daniel Day-Lewis doing Science Fiction), but yeah, the everyday moviegoer probably doesn’t pay him much mind nowadays. Some performers have a period when they get promoted as someone the industry is selling to the public, and Fiennes had that time.


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