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 OrleansThomas 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 BackstromJohn 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 , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 8 Comments.

  1. Denzel Washington has had an interesting career. It could be argued he has had two parallel careers. On the one hand, he’s an Oscar winner who has starred in dramas like Philadelphia and is now directing and starring in Fences. You could also throw in a few crowd-pleasers like The Pelican Brief. But Washington has also been a very reliable action hero. He has collaborated several times with Tony Scott and Antoine Fuqua and the results have been amazingly consistent at the box office. His action movies are almost always profitable, but not necessarily smash hits.

    I imagine most people know Maggie Smith from Harry Potter. I don’t honestly remember when I first became aware of her. I remember seeing her in Hook but already knowing who she was.

    The Millennium trilogy probably should have made Noomi Rapace a star. It seems she has rebounded with the Alien franchise although the jury is still out on Ridley Scott’s reimagining of the sci-fi series. Hopefully Covenant can make up for some of the shortcomings of Prometheus.

    Sienna Miller is another one of those actresses who draws a lot of ire. As best I can tell, it has to do with her time as tabloid fodder while she was involved with Jude Law. I don’t personally get it.

    I did watch Thomas Dekker on The Sarah Connor Chronicles, but his take on John Connor had little to do with that. The show wasn’t great, but it was better than it should have been. Despite the limitations of television both in content and budget, the series was better than recent Terminator movies.

    I don’t watch Seth Meyers show, but any time I see a clip or an interview with him, he seems like a smart,funny guy. He’s also involved in the IFC series, Documentary Now! Joe Manganiello, I know from True Blood. I guess he will be fine as Deathstroke. It’s not like you need a great thespian to put on the mask.

    Not much to say about Nichelle Nichols and Stan Lee. You guys know who they are. They could just as easily have been today’s headliners if you felt like geeking out.



      The keys to Denzel’s long-term success were ED LIMATO and a good publicist. Considering some of his personal antics, I’d say that publicist is money well spent to sanitize his image. Just like Denzel, Ed was from Mount Vernon and he hustled his way to being one of the top five talent agents in Hollywood. He positioned Denzel in a way where he only took on scripts where he is THE IT GUY. Just like someone else said, no one can eclipse him. I wouldn’t be surprised if he has that written in his contract.

      Some actors will never get access to certain scripts or opportunities because they don’t have the right agent. Hollywood works by top actors with well- connected agents getting first dibs; and if they pass on it, the others next in line are then sought out. Denzel’s way of being only the star is a survival tactic and helps build the mystique and longevity.

      He may be in a film with other black people, but people are cast to support his personal agenda. He worked with Morgan Freeman on Glory in 1988, but he turned down working with him in 1995 on Seven. It’s not that he won’t work with other blacks, but he’s selective about who; and it rarely is ever someone of an equal or greater status to him globally—via box office receipts or worldwide publicity. He chooses people who are junior to him who don’t pose a threat to him in the leading man category or don’t kill his publicity when it comes to promotion time.


  2. I have seen a lot of denzel interivew it seems like he is always grumpy. He snaps at the smallest things. Lebeu would u agree that he was a box office draw in 2000s not 90s


    • Actually, Washington’s box office drawing power was just as solid in the 1990s as in the 2000s. When you look at the inflation-adjusted numbers (data at Box Office Mojo), 3 of his top 5 hits, and 5 of the top 10, are from the 1990s.


  3. Denzel Washington I first saw in 1986’s “Power”, as it was played on HBO constantly (It isn’t highly regarded, but I actually like “Power”; it must be because I’m evil). It’s Like Lebeau said here (and he’s said it before), Denzel is a performer who can shift from an action flick (I love “Ricochet”) to serious drama (he’s awesome in “Philadelphia”). But my favorite all-time Denzel film is “Training Day” though, probably because his character sucks me into his fix and the line “It’s not what you know, it’s what you can prove”, which I repeat often in daily life.
    ‘CBS This Morning” did a really nice piece on Dame Maggie Smith a month or so ago, but I haven’t really seen too many of her film myself.
    I’ve only heard of Noomi Rapace, but I’d like to check out her Lisbeth Salander (I think the video game series that involves hacking, “Watch Dogs”, has a nod to the character somewhere) series someday.
    Sienna Miller, I think she’s alright; I especially liked her in 2008’s “Mysteries of Pittsburgh” (on another note, I think Pittsburgh’s a cool city).
    When I realized that James Foley was the director of the Fifty Shades films, it made me think of the film he’s directed that interested me such as “At Close Range” and “Glengarry Glen Ross” (heck, I kind of like “Fear”, and not just because I like being terrified). Actually, I liked 2003’s “Confidence” too (it has that Coldplay song that I like, “Clocks”, played towards the end, and I think it’s a pretty decent caper film).
    Stan Lee, I liked him in “Mallrats”, but I thought he was pretty weird on “The Simpsons” (I mean, LEAVE the comic book store already!). So I think his film career has been inconsistent so far, but maybe there’s more in store for him.


  4. But in denzel box office hits most of them where not cause of his name. Pelican brief roberts had more clout hence her name being first. Much ado bout nothing was a hit but it was ensemble role. Phildehia hanks had more box office clout .The only box office hit in 90s denzel could take credit for was crimson tide. .EVen lebeau mentioned at one point denzel was more respected actor in the verge on a list on 90s but not yet there. does anyone who ever met him in person know if he is a jerk. his interviews he seems like a prick


  5. Not a huge number of birthdays today, but some pretty big names. Both Denzel Washington and Maggie Smith are major screen actors with substantial stage careers as well. F. W. Murnau is a very big figure in early film history. Noomi Rapace has become a pretty major actress—maybe not A-list, but well up on the B-list—and could well have been a headliner on some days. Earl Hines is a very prominent figure in jazz. And Stan Lee has definitely had a huge pop cultural impact and could also have easily been a headliner.


  6. I love both Denzel and Maggie. Neither has given a bad performance in my opinion.


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