December 28: Happy Birthday Denzel Washington and Maggie Smith
Two-time Oscar winner Denzel Washington celebrates his 62nd birthday today. After studying drama at Fordham University, Washington began working in television and theater in the late 1970s and made his feature film debut in 1981. His six seasons as a regular on St. Elsewhere gave him his first widespread exposure. He received a Best Supporting Actor nomination for playing Steve Biko in Cry Freedom, and then won his first Oscar, in the same category, as escaped slave turned soldier Silas Trip in Glory:
Washington’s distinguished subsequent career can only be concisely summarized here. He received the first of four Best Actor nominations for the title role in Spike Lee’s Malcolm X; his other nominations were for The Hurricane, Training Day (which resulted in his second Oscar) and Flight. A few of his other notable films included Philadelphia, Devil in a Blue Dress, Antwone Fisher (which was also his directing debut) and American Gangster. This year he starred in the remake of The Magnificent Seven, and directed and starred in Fences, which was adapted from August Wilson’s play and is currently in theaters.
Dame Maggie Smith, who turns 82 today, is also a six-time Oscar nominee and two-time winner. Like many English actors, she began her career with Shakespeare, playing Viola in a 1954 production of Twelfth Night, and she has always maintained an active stage career. She began working in film in 1956 and in 1965 was nominated for an Oscar for playing Desdemona opposite Laurence Olivier in the title role in Othello. In 1969, she won the Oscar for Best Actress in the title role of The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie.
Even more than was the case with Washington, Smith’s subsequent career is so full that there’s only space to hit a handful of high points. She won her second Oscar, for Best Supporting Actress, for the 1978 film adaptation of Neil Simon’s California Suite. She has received three Tony nominations, winning Best Actress in a Play for playing the lead role of Lettice Douffet in Peter Shaffer’s Lettice and Lovage (a role Shaffer wrote specifically for her). Younger viewers are likely to know her as Professor McGonagall from the Harry Potter films, while more recently she has won three Emmys for playing Violet Crawley on Downton Abbey.
Swedish actress Noomi Rapace, who celebrates her 37th today, first became known for playing Lisbeth Salander in the Swedish film adaptations of the Millennium trilogy (The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, etc.). Guy Ritchie then cast her in the main female role in Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, and she has become a fairly prominent leading lady; she played Dr. Elizabeth Shaw in Prometheus and will reprise the role in next year’s Alien: Covenant.
Sienna Miller first drew some notice in Layer Cake, was a Golden Globe nominee for playing Tippi Hedren in the TV movie The Girl, and starred opposite Bradley Cooper in American Sniper. She is 35 today. Vanessa Ferlito, who turns 39, played Aiden Burn on CSI: New York and Charlie DeMarco on Graceland, and as of this fall is a regular on NCIS: New Orleans. Thomas Dekker, who is 29 today, played John Connor on Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles and more recently was a regular on the short-lived Fox series Backstrom. John Legend, who is turning 38, is a ten-time Grammy winner who is one of the best-known R&B singers in the world right now. Seth Meyers, formerly the head writer for Saturday Night Live, currently hosts Late Night with Seth Meyers, the latest incarnation of that franchise. He turns 43 today. Joe Manganiello, who is turning 40, starred as the werewolf Alcide Herveaux on True Blood and will be joining the DC Extended Universe as the villainous Deathstroke. James Foley, who is 63 today, is the director of the upcoming Fifty Shades Darker and is known for films like At Close Range and Glengarry Glen Ross.
Nichelle Nichols, who turns 84 today, did have a life before Star Trek, which included touring and singing with Duke Ellington and Lionel Hampton. But of course, she is best known as Lieutenant (eventually Commander) Uhura of the Enterprise. Today, when multiracial casts are common, if not quite the norm, we may tend to forget how big a deal it was back in the 1960s to have a black female character on television who was not some kind of a servant.
I imagine that most readers here are familiar with Stan Lee, who turns 94 today—he, of course, is that oldtimer who keeps making cameos in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. 🙂
The late Martin Milner (1931-2015) was a regular face during prime time for over a decade, starring first on Route 66 and then on Adam-12; prior to that he had a significant role as Steve Dallas in Sweet Smell of Success. Johnny Otis (1921-2012) is in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame; he was most important as a record producer and discoverer of talent like Etta James and Big Mama Thornton. Lew Ayres (1908-1996) worked in film and television for over sixty years. He starred in the antiwar classic All Quiet on the Western Front and played Dr. James Kildare in a series of nine MGM films. German actress and singer Hildegard Knef (1925-2002) made a few American films, such as Decision Before Dawn and The Snows of Kilimanjaro, and starred on Broadway in Cole Porter’s Silk Stockings. Jazz pianist and bandleader Earl “Fatha” Hines (1903-1983) was called “the greatest piano player in the world” by none other than Count Basie, and was known for both his performances leading a band and as a solo pianist.
Director F. W. Murnau (1888-1931) made only about twenty films before his death from injuries in an auto accident. Three of those, however, are classics: Nosferatu, The Last Laugh (both of which were made in Germany), and the first of his American films, Sunrise, which makes many lists of the greatest films ever produced.
Finally, today was the birth date of Woodrow Wilson (1856-1924), the 28th President of the US. He briefly stepped into film history when he had the first screening of a movie at the White House, The Birth of a Nation, and responded with enthusiastic praise that never fails to be quoted in articles about the film. Wilson was played by actor Alexander Knox in a 1944 biopic.
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 28, 2016, in Celebrity Birthdays and tagged Denzel Washington, Earl Hines, F W Murnau, Hildegard Knef, John Legend, Maggie Smith, Nichelle Nichols, Noomi Rapace, Sienna Miller, Stan Lee. Bookmark the permalink. 8 Comments.