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January 26: Happy Birthday Wayne Gretzky and Paul Newman

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Wayne Gretzky celebrates his 56th birthday today.  “The Great One” is the all-time leading scorer in NHL history and would be many hockey fans’ choice for the greatest ever in the sport.  At 17 he was signed by the Indianapolis Racers of the World Hockey Association, but after only a few games he was traded to the Edmonton Oilers.  When the WHA folded following that season, the Oilers joined the NHL.  Gretzky, still in his teens, had little trouble adapting to the NHL; he was voted the league’s MVP in his first season, the first of nine times he was honored.

Although Gretzky was far from the biggest, fastest or most athletic player on the ice, his intelligence and game awareness, passing skills, and commitment to involving his entire team were unparalleled.  In the mid-eighties, he led the Oilers to four Stanley Cup victories in a five-season span.  After he was traded to the Los Angeles Kings in 1988, he sparked a surge of interest in hockey in Southern California and led the Kings to their first trip to the Stanley Cup finals in 1993.  When he retired in 1999, he held over sixty NHL records, most of which he still holds today.

Paul Newman (1925-2008) began working in theater and film in the early 1950s.  His breakthrough role was as Brick Pollitt in the 1958 film version of Tennessee Williams’ Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, which brought him the first of his eight Oscar nominations for Best Actor (he also had one as a producer for Best Picture and one for Best Supporting Actor).

Newman emerged as a big star over the course of the 1960s.  He was nominated for Best Actor for The Hustler in 1961 (as Fast Eddie Felson) and for Hud in 1963, and had an especially good 1967, when he got two outstanding roles.  One was as the white man raised by Apaches in Hombre (an Elmore Leonard adaptation), the other was as a convict in a Florida prison (for which he received another Best Actor nomination):

Newman had huge hits with his two teamings with Robert Redford, in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, followed by The Sting.  He was nominated for Best Actor three additional times in the eighties, for Absence of Malice and The Verdict, and then finally taking the statue home when he returned to the role of Fast Eddie Felson in The Color of Money.  He continued working in film and television until shortly before his death in 2008.

Scott Glenn, who turns 76, did not really emerge as a major actor until the beginning of the eighties, but he’s been a versatile and hard-working performer since then.  He’s normally a character actor, but occasionally has had lead roles, as in Lawrence Kasdan’s Silverado.  Glenn has appeared in two films in the Bourne series, as has David Strathairn, who is turning 68.  Strathairn was nominated for Best Actor for playing journalist Edward R. Murrow in Good Night, and Good Luck, and won an Emmy for his role on Temple GrandinEllen DeGeneres is turning 59.  She has starred in two primetime sitcoms, but her calling card is the 28 Daytime Emmys she has won as a talk show host, producer and writer, for The Ellen DeGeneres Show.

Sara Rue, who is 38 today, is known for regular roles on a number of TV series, often short-lived ones, including Popular, Less Than Perfect, and ImpastorColin O’Donoghue, who is celebrating his 36th, portrays Killian “Hook” Jones on Once Upon a TimeRachel DiPillo, who plays Sarah Reese on Chicago Med, turns 26 today.  Cameron Bright, who is turning 24, is known for his roles in Thank You For Smoking, X-Men: The Last Stand (as Jimmy the Leech), and in several installments of The Twilight Saga.

Mimi Leder, who turns 65, directed some prominent features in the late nineties, such as The Peacemaker and Deep Impact, and currently does a lot of television directing on series such as Shameless and The Leftovers.  Producer and director George Tillman, Jr., who is celebrating his 48th, directed films such as Soul Food and the biopic Notorious, and is the producer of the Barber Shop series.  Turkish director Nuri Bilge Ceylan, who is 58 today, directed and co-wrote the film Winter Sleep, which won the Palme d’Or at Cannes in 2014.

Jacqueline du Pré (1945-1987) was one of the most gifted cellists of the 20th century.  Her career was very short, as she had to stop performing in the early seventies after she developed multiple sclerosis, but she made a powerful impression in a little over a decade of performing and recording.  She was played by Emily Watson in the controversial 1998 movie Hilary and Jackie.  While du Pré recorded most of the standard cello repertoire, throughout her career she had a very close association with Edward Elgar’s Cello Concerto:

Other music birthdays include Eddie Van Halen, the co-founder and lead guitarist of Van Halen, who Rolling Stone ranked in the top 10 of their 100 Greatest Guitarists of all time; he is turning 62.  Singer-songwriter Lucinda Williams, a three-time Grammy winner best known for her album Car Wheels on a Gravel Road, is 64 today.  Anita Baker, who is 59 today, is an eight-time Grammy winner known for R&B hits like “Sweet Love” and “I Apologize.”  Maria von Trapp (1905-1987) was the organizer of the Trapp Family Singers and author of a memoir which became the basis for The Sound of MusicGustavo Dudamel, who is turning 36, is a rising star among conductors and the current Music Director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic.

Vince Carter, who turns 40, is one of our “other” sports birthdays today.  An eight time NBA All-Star, Carter is still active, currently playing for the Memphis Grizzlies.  Football Hall of Famer Henry Jordan (1935-1977) starred for the Green Bay Packers in the 1960s as they won five NFL championships and triumphed in the first two Super Bowls.

Philip José Farmer (1918-2009) was a Hugo-winning science fiction novelist, known for his Riverworld novels, five books beginning with Hugo winner To Your Scattered Bodies Go, and for the World of Tiers sequence of six books.  British playwright and screenwriter Christopher Hampton turns 71.  He co-wrote the book and lyrics for Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical Sunset Boulevard, and wrote the stage play adaptation of the novel Les liaisons dangereuses, as well as the screenplay for the 1988 film version, titled Dangerous LiaisonsJules Feiffer, who turns 88, is a prolific author in several different media, but is best known for the cartoons he wrote for the Village Voice for over 40 years (they were also syndicated nationwide), which brought him a Pulitzer Prize in 1986.  He also wrote the Oscar-winning animated short MunroGene Siskel (1946-1999) was the longtime film critic for the Chicago Tribune, and also for the television show he co-hosted with Roger Ebert (under various titles) for almost 25 years.

Douglas MacArthur (1880-1964) was one of the most controversial military figures in American history; his career is much too complex to adequately summarize here.  He has been played on screen by actors such as Gregory Peck, Tommy Lee Jones, and Liam Neeson.  Admiral Marc Mitscher (1887-1947) was another important military leader in World War Two’s Pacific theater; he commanded the US Navy’s Fast Carrier Task Force for much of the latter part of the war.

French director and writer Roger Vadim (1928-2000) directed a 1959 film adaptation of Les liaisons dangereuses, and also was known for the films And God Created Woman (both the 1956 French original and a 1988 Hollywood remake) and BarbarellaJoan Leslie (1925-2015) had a relatively short feature film career, but was notable for being able, as a teenager, to convincingly play leading ladies opposite Gary Cooper (in Sergeant York) and James Cagney (in Yankee Doodle Dandy), both of whom were around a quarter century older than her.

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 26, 2017, in Celebrity Birthdays and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. Paul Newman was an excellent actor. He had good chemistry with Robert Redford in the movies they did together. Newman also appeared in “The Towering Inferno” with his rival, Steve McQueen, and they fought over who got top billing. One of Newman’s last roles was the voice of Doc Hudson in the Pixar movie “Cars”.

    I remember Sarah Rue from when she was Leonard’s girlfriend on “The Big Bang Theory”. It’s a mystery why they didn’t keep her on the show longer.

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  2. When I think of Wayne Gretzky, what comes to mind is the scene in Swingers where they are playing a hockey video game and Vince Vauhgn’s character delights in making Gretzky bleed. No, I’m not the biggest hockey fan in the world.

    The first thing I remember seeing Paul Newman in was Slap Shot – an edited for TV version. Around the same time, I saw Cool Hand Luke. I remember watching All the President’s Men in high school. I caught up with Butch and Sundance a few years ago. There are countless others.

    Silverado was likely my first Scott Glenn movie, but the role that first comes to mind is from Silence of the Lambs. David Strathairn, like most character actors, has a long list of credits. He very nearly graduated to lead roles but not quite. I don’t watch her daytime show, but I do find Ellen DeGeneres to be very funny. Her career is pretty amazing. Coming out gave her a big boost then nearly took her down. Finding Nemo brought her back and she’s been beloved ever since.

    Mimi Leder was one of very few female directors back in the day. Deep Impact was the highest-grossing movie directed by a woman from 1998-2008 when Twilight broke the record.

    I still miss Gene Siskel. Roger too.

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  3. I think this is the first time an athlete is a headline. Wayne Gretzky, wow, when I first looked at his numbers (92 goals in a season, 163 assists in a season, 215 points in a season, 8 straight MVP’s) I was dumbfounded. He truly was The Great One, no hyperbole there.
    Paul Newman, I think the first film I saw him in was “The color of Money” (which I still like it, I think it lacks some punch. Maybe Newman’s character should’ve wore a shirt with his name on it too), but I’m all about “The Verdict”, which has really stuck with me. The guy’s a legend.
    I think because of “Silverado”, I thought Scott Glenn was one of the big time guys (heck of a cast in that film, as it goes with L. Kasden films) and also related to the astronaut John Glenn (yeah, that was the era when I thought certain people were related to others due to the last name), but still a fine actor (hey, I’ve seen the original “Man on Fire”).
    David Strathairn, I first remember him as the idealistic and forward-thinking baseball general manager from “A League of Their Own” and that mean suck from that crime “family” in “At Close Range”. When I caught up to “Miami Vice”, he also was in the episode with Bruce McGill titled ‘Out Where the buses don’t Run’ (which I can relate to). I think he did excellent work in “Good night and Good Luck”, along with a bevvy of other projects.
    Ellen DeGeneres, I read that one book of hers when I was a high school senior, since a friend loaned me her copy; I thought it was a good read. I don’t often catch her daytime show, though that has nothing to do with her, it just that I don’t normally watch talk shows much.
    Sara Rue, yeah I remember that show “Less than Perfect”; later I discovered she played a young Rosanne in a flashback episode of the show “Roseanne”. I think she’s solid.
    Eddie Van Halen is highly regarded guitarist, and there’s a very good reason for that.
    Vince Carter was touted as the NBA’s next Michael Jordan (too many were saddled with that lame label) and new league standard bear; he hasn’t quite been that, but he’s still in the league and has had an all-star career.
    Gene Siskel, I was sad to see him go; glad that siskelandebert.org exists though. Hey, I kind of like that early 1980’s opening instrumental to “At The Movies”: da-da-dunt-da (the thing gets stuck in my head…like as in right now).

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    • LeBron James was actually a headliner just a few weeks back, so Gretzky is not quite the first athlete headliner.

      Interesting you mention that bit about Scott Glenn and John Glenn—Scott Glenn appeared as Alan Shepard in The Right Stuff, in which John Glenn was a character, played by Ed Harris.

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      • Oh, I forgot about LeBron James; this is one of those times I’m glad I use the term “I think”:-).
        Wow, I wasn’t even thinking about “The Right Stuff”, but yeah, that all adds up!

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