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January 3: Happy Birthday Mel Gibson and J. R. R. Tolkien

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Mel Gibson celebrates his 61st birthday today.  He moved to Australia when he was 12 and began his film career there in the late 1970s.  He first became known through director George Miller’s Mad Max films, the first of which was released in 1979.  He also made a pair of notable films with Peter Weir, Gallipoli and The Year of Living Dangerously, and starred in the 1984 film The Bounty as Fletcher Christian, opposite Anthony Hopkins as William Bligh.

Gibson made his Hollywood debut starring opposite Sissy Spacek in the 1984 film The River.  However, his real breakthrough to stardom came in 1987, in a film that some people may have voted for in the new bracket game:

Gibson’s career for the next 25 years is covered in his WTHH article, and the extensive comments thread will bring you up to date on his most recent projects, including this year’s Hacksaw Ridge.

J. R. R. Tolkien (1892-1973) probably could never have imagined, in his days as a professor of English at Oxford, known for his translation of Beowulf, that he would have a huge impact on popular culture.  This came, of course, through his classics of high fantasy: The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, and eventually The Silmarillion.  Not only are they, especially The Lord of the Rings, immensely popular in themselves (to the point that over 200 million copies of Tolkien’s books have been sold worldwide), not only did they spawn highly successful film adaptations, but Tolkien had a huge influence on modern fantasy literature.  Terry Brooks, Stephen Donaldson, David Eddings, Robert Jordan, Guy Gavriel Kay, Dennis McKiernan, and Tad Williams are just a few of the better-known fantasy authors to work within what I like to call the “Tolkien template.”

For many people, Danica McKellar, who celebrates her 42nd today, will always be Winnie Cooper from The Wonder Years, a character described by Jimmy Fallon as “the coolest girl in any TV show ever.”  But she has done a few things since then, such as her TV roles in Lifetime’s Inspector Mom series, and Netflix’s Project Mc2, or graduating from UCLA with honors, earning a BS in Mathematics (and co-authoring an original mathematical theorem along the way).  And then there are her four bestselling books, aimed at adolescent readers (especially girls), trying get them to love math, or at least not hate or fear it. 🙂

Dabney Coleman has had starring roles on television, on Buffalo Bill and The Guardian, and been featured in films such as 9 to 5, Tootsie, WarGames, and many more.  He is 85 today.  Thelma Schoonmaker, who celebrates her 77th, is Martin Scorsese’s longtime editor, and has won the Oscar for Best Film Editing for three of Scorsese’s films: Raging Bull, The Aviator and The DepartedVictoria Principal, best known for playing Pamela Barnes Ewing for the first ten seasons of Dallas, for which she received a Golden Globe nomination, is turning 67 today.  Dan Harmon, the creator and producer of NBC’s Community and co-host of the podcast Harmontown, turns 44.  Jason Marsden (no relation to James), who is 42 today, had a number of film and TV roles in the 1990s but works mostly as a voice actor these days.  Actor and director Matt Ross, who is turning 46, received a lot of accolades earlier this year for his feature film Captain FantasticMatheus Nachtergaele, who is 48 today, has won a number of major acting awards in his native Brazil; American audiences may know him from City of God.

Music birthdays begin with Stephen Stills, who is 72 today.  He is known for his work with Buffalo Springfield in the 1960s, and since then as part of Crosby, Stills & Nash (aka CSN; CSNY when they are joined by Neil Young) and as a solo artist.  Stills became the first person inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame twice in the same night, for his work with CSN and Buffalo Springfield.

Other music birthdays include Victor Borge (1909-2000).  After a few years as a classical concert pianist, Borge found his niche in the music world, as a performer who blended piano and comedy so effectively that he became known as the “Clown Prince of Denmark” (his country of birth).  Maxene Andrews (1916-1995) was one of the Andrews Sisters, the close harmony trio who were hugely popular in the 1940s with songs like “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy.”  Sir George Martin (1926-2016) was an English record producer who worked with all sorts of performers, but was especially known for his work on the Beatles’ records, where he was so important that he was dubbed “the fifth Beatle.”  John Paul Jones (not to be confused with the American naval hero) turns 71 today.  He is best known for his years with Led Zeppelin, but has also had a solo career and done some producing.

Our sports birthdays begin with the “Golden Jet,” Bobby Hull, who turns 78 today.  The Hockey Hall of Famer starred for 15 seasons with the NHL’s Chicago Black Hawks, before moving to the rival World Hockey Association to play for the Winnipeg Jets for several years.  Eli Manning, who is turning 36, has been the New York Giants’ starting quarterback since midway through his rookie season, and has lead them to two Super Bowl victories (winning the Super Bowl MVP award both times).  Kohei Uchimura, who is turning 28, is one of the greatest competitive gymnasts ever.  He won the individual all-around titles at both the 2012 and 2016 Olympics, as well as six times at the world championships.

Director John Sturges (1910-1992) was a successful director of genre films for about 30 years.  He is remembered for the thriller Bad Day at Black Rock, the World War 2 film The Great Escape, and Westerns like Gunfight at the O.K. Corral and The Magnificent SevenDorothy Arzner (1897-1979) was the first woman to become a member of the Director’s Guild of America.  She directed films such as The Wild Party and Dance, Girl, Dance, and is credited with inventing the boom microphone.  Television producer Glen A. Larson (1937-2014) was the creator of series like the original Battlestar Galactica, B.J. and the Bear, Magnum, P.I., and Knight Rider.

Ray  Milland (1907-1986) won an Oscar for Best Actor for The Lost Weekend, and was a major leading man for nearly 20 years beginning in the mid-1930s.  He starred in films such as The Jungle Princess and some of Dorothy Lamour’s other early “sarong” films, Beau Geste, Reap the Wild Wind, The Big Clock, and Dial M for Murder.  Actress Marion Davies (1897-1961) is probably more remembered today as the longtime mistress of William Randolph Hearst; that may, ironically, be Hearst’s fault—he pushed her into making historical dramas rather than the light comedies she was suited for.  Kirsten Dunst played Davies in the 2001 film The Cat’s MeowRobert Loggia (1930-2015) paid his dues as a hard-working guest star on television during the 1960s and ’70s, and then emerged as a prominent character actor in the 1980s.  He was Oscar-nominated for Jagged Edge and had prominent roles in Scarface, Prizzi’s Honor, and many other films.  John Thaw (1942-2002) was a veteran of British television known for two signature roles, both in crime series.  He played Detective Inspector Jack Regan in The Sweeney, and Chief Inspector Morse in Inspector Morse, adapted from the novels by Colin Dexter.  Anna May Wong (1905-1961) is usually considered the first Chinese-American movie star; she had major roles in films like the silent version of The Thief of Bagdad and Shanghai ExpressPola Negri (1897-1987) worked for many years in Polish and German cinema before she became the first European star to be recruited to work in Hollywood, blazing a trail for the likes of Greta Garbo, Marlene Dietrich, Ingrid Bergman, and more.

Sir Henry Lytton (1865-1936) was an English stage actor, who is the only person ever knighted as a performer of Gilbert and Sullivan.  Lytton joined the D’Oyly Carte Opera Company (the Gilbert and Sullivan specialist) in 1884 and spent most of the next fifty years with them, eventually becoming the company’s principal “patter” baritone, singing roles such as Ko-Ko in The Mikado and Major General Stanley in The Pirates of Penzance.

We’ll end today with another big name.  Sergio Leone (1929-1989) directed gangster films, sword-and-sandal pictures, and more, but he will always be associated most with the “spaghetti western” genre that he more or less invented with his Dollars trilogy starring Clint Eastwood, and which he raised to epic proportions in Once Upon a Time in the West.  One of the many filmmakers influenced by Leone was George Miller, creator of the Mad Max films.

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 January 3, 2017, in Celebrity Birthdays and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. I’m going to be curious to hear what people think of Gibson today. I always try to separate an artist’s work from their personal life. But Gibson’s behavior really did turn my stomach. I saw him on several talk shows promoting Hacksaw Ridge and he still seems to me to be playing the victim more than showing true remorse for his slurs. Gibson doesn’t owe me any kind of apology, but I still don’t get the impression he owns his mistakes.

    I sometimes wonder what J. R. R. Tolkien would think if he saw the movies and merchandise built up around his books. I don’t get the impression those things interested him very much. I’m a casual fan. I read the books and saw the movies. Didn’t care for what Jackson did to The Hobbit, but the Lord of the Rings movies were pretty great.

    Danica McKellar is amazing.

    I’m one of the few people who watched Buffalo Bill. I even watched The Slap Maxwell Story. I guess I was a Dabney Coleman fan. He was great in Tootsie. Thelma Schoonmaker doesn’t get the credit she deserves, but what editor does?

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  2. Mel Gibson has to be one of the biggest cases of self-destruction in the history of film, but prior to that he had a terrific run as a leading man for about 15 years, and starred in some really outstanding films.

    Tolkien was still alive when the first big outburst of LotR fandom emerged in the 1960s, and he seems to have had very mixed feelings about the adulation he and his works were receiving. I sort of recall reading in Humphrey Carpenters biography that he was always reluctant to consider the possibility of film adaptations. Jackson’s original LortR trilogy was probably as faithful an adaptation as you could reasonably expect from a mainstream film intended to appeal to a broad audience; however, trying to expand The Hobbit, a single relatively short book, into three movies, was pretty hard to understand as motivated by anything other than monetary reasons.

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    • Agreed across the board as signified by a “thumbs up”.

      I know I have read that Tolkien hated Disney and stated that he never wanted his books to fall into Disney’s hands. I believe I read that he had reservations about any kind of film adaptation, but of course he was dealing with film technology at that time. Then again, given the themes of his books, maybe he wouldn’t feel any differently now that the technology has advanced to the point where goblins, orcs and hobbits can be rendered through CGI.

      Of course, it’s all a moot point since Tolkien isn’t around to weigh in on the subject. In Disney circles, I end up having the same cyclical conversation every time someone wonders what Walt would think.

      As for Gibson, well, it’s easy to forget just how beloved the man was at one time. Next to Tom Hanks and maybe Tom Cruise, he was probably our most cherished leading man. Few will ever have the opportunity to fall as far as he did. I still think if he’d have used his massive charisma and a bit of humility, he could have walked away from it all with very little damage to his career a la Hugh Grant. But pride is a tricky thing and I think it continues to get the better of Gibson.

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  3. Happy birthday to Mel Gibson, as I’ve enjoyed so much of his work (I thought his voice spot on “The Simpsons” was great too. “He’s just a dummy” “But he sells tickets”).
    Yeah, I’ll always remember Danica McKellar from “The Wonder Years”.
    I’ve liked Dabney Coleman in quite a few films, but I’m going to throw 1984’s “Cloak and Dagger” out there, since he plays two roles (also because the film involves video games and has an unrecognizable William Forsythe in a small role).
    Victoria Principal I know from “Dallas” (that whole Bobby shower deal for me really) and some TV movies.
    I love Robert Loggia: I named the film “Innocent Blood” yesterday; yeah, he’s in that. I thought he was great in “Jagged Edge” (loved his final line, which was the final line of the film), and he did the voice of Ray Machowski in “Grand Theft Auto III” (see you in Miami, Ray).
    I thought Eli Manning was an overhyped bozo at first, but he proved me wrong, He proved to be a clutch player, and Goliath slayer.

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  4. mel is amazing actor . but his personal life has taken a tool on his career and people forget he can act. Its same thing with sheen both actors became carnation of their off screen antics. Mel has amazing dramatic chops but choose the mostly action route then turned into action chop .it seems all the big box office stars of 90s lost their current bankablity. The only stars of the 90s that still has their bankability is cruise hanks and streep

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