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January 27: Happy Birthday James Cromwell and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

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Towering (he’s about 6-7) character actor James Cromwell is turning 77 today.  His father was stage and film director John Cromwell.  Cromwell began acting in the mid-seventies with guest appearances on The Rockford Files and All in the Family, and made his film debut in Murder by Death in 1976.  For roughly twenty years, his profile was that of a reliable supporting player—he got steady work on television and a variety of supporting roles in film, but not much that was really distinctive.

In the mid-nineties, Cromwell emerged as a major character actor.  His breakout performance came as Farmer Arthur Hoggett in Babe, for which he was nominated for Best Supporting Actor.  In the next few years he had roles in films such as Star Trek: First Contact (as Zefram Cochrane), Deep Impact, The Green Mile, and Snow Falling on Cedars.  And also one other film that deserves a bit of special mention due to its presence in the current bracket game, in which he plays a highly bent police captain:

Since the turn of the century, Cromwell has done some more notable film work, with well-received performances in The Queen, The Artist, and Still Mine, but has found the greatest success on television.  He has been nominated for four Emmys, two of them for guest appearances on ER and Six Feet Under, and the other two for miniseries; he won Outstanding Supporting Actor for his role on American Horror Story: Asylum, the second season of the anthology series.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791) was, quite simply, one of the greatest creative geniuses of all time, in any artistic medium.  As a child, he was a performing prodigy—he and his sister were taken on a tour all over Europe that began when Wolfgang was about seven.  He began composing at a very young age, but almost all of the music that his reputation rests on comes from the final decade of his life, when he lived, composed and performed in Vienna.

Exactly how many symphonies he wrote is not firmly established, but the final six rank among the greatest ever written.  He was the first great exponent of the modern concerto, and wrote concertos for violin, for wind instruments, and above all for the piano.  He wrote chamber music, solo piano works, and the famous Requiem (completed after his death by his pupil Franz Sussmayr).  But many would agree that his greatest achievements of all are his operas.

Two veterans of the James Bond films in the Pierce Brosnan era were born today.  Rosamund Pike, who is turning 38, was the Bad Bond Girl, Miranda Frost, in Die Another Day.  She played Jane Bennet in the 2005 film of Pride & Prejudice and received a Best Actress nomination and a long list of acting awards for starring in Gone GirlAlan Cumming played villainous computer whiz Boris Grishenko in Goldeneye.  He is an Olivier and Tony Award winner as a stage actor, and his film career includes playing Nightcrawler in X-Men United, Mr. Elton in the 1996 film of Jane Austen’s Emma, and Fegan Floop in the Spy Kids films.  On television, he played Eli Gold on The Good Wife.  Cumming is 52 today.

Like James Cromwell, WTHH subject Bridget Fonda, who turns 53, is seen in one of the films in our current bracket game, as Melanie in Jackie Brown.  Fonda is also known for her roles in films such as Scandal, Single White Female, and Point of No Return.  She is now retired from acting.  Comedian and actor Patton Oswalt, who is turning 48 today, starred on The King of Queens as Spencer Olchin, and won an Emmy last year for Outstanding Writing for his Netflix special Patton Oswalt: Talking for ClappingMimi Rogers, who celebrates her 61st, is known for her lead roles in films like Someone to Watch Over Me and The Rapture, and probably hopes people remember these more than her marriage to Tom Cruise.  Susanna Thompson, who is 59, starred on ABC’s Once and Again and more recently played Moira Queen on Arrow.

Mikhail Baryshnikov, who is turning 69, is one of the leading figures in ballet of the last 40 years or so.  A young star of the Kirov Ballet, he defected while on a tour in Canada in 1974.  He joined the New York City Ballet to work with George Balanchine, then became artistic director of the American Ballet Theatre.  He was an Oscar nominee for the 1977 film The Turning Point and starred with Gregory Hines in White Nights.

Frank Miller, who is celebrating his 60th, is a leading comic book and graphic novel writer.  He is known for work with DC Comics, notably on Batman (he wrote the famous The Dark Knight Returns storyline), and with Marvel, chiefly on Daredevil.  With independent publisher Dark Horse Comics he has created the Sin City series and 300.  He has also had significant involvement in some of the film adaptations of his works.

Among mere mortals from the world of music, the most notable birthday today is Jerome Kern (1885-1945), one of the great names of musical theater.  While most of the musicals he wrote songs for are virtually forgotten today—Show Boat being the one major exception—the songs themselves live on.  Kern also contributed quite a bit to film musicals in the 1930s, such as the Astaire-Rodgers films Roberta and Swing Time, and was a two time Oscar winner for Best Original Song.

Jeannie Epper, who turns 76, was once described by Entertainment Weekly as “the greatest stuntwoman who’s ever lived.”  She is almost certainly the hardest-working member of a family full of stunt performers, including her father, five siblings including her brother Tony, and many of Jeannie and her sibs’ children and grandchildren.  She began working in the sixties, but was busiest in the seventies and eighties.  Did Lynda Carter just do something daring and dangerous as Wonder Woman?  That was Jeannie.  Tanya Roberts gets into a scrap on Charlie’s Angels?  That’s Jeannie.  A mudslide sends Kathleen Turner down a mountainside in Romancing the Stone? That’s Jeannie as well.

Donna Reed (1921-1986) signed with MGM at the beginning of the 1940s.  Her early roles included appearing in Shadow of the Thin Man and The Courtship of Andy Hardy, installments two long-running MGM film series.  She played George Bailey’s wife in It’s a Wonderful Life and won Best Supporting Actress in From Here to Eternity, and then went on to a television career as the star of The Donna Reed Show, winning a Golden Globe and receiving four Emmy nominations.  Swedish actress Ingrid Thulin (1926-2004) made a few films in Hollywood, such as Foreign Intrigue and The Cassandra Crossing.  However, she was better known for her films with Ingmar Bergman, for whom she starred in several films, including Wild Strawberries and Cries and Whispers.

Troy Donahue (1936-2001) was a leading heartthrob of the late fifties and early sixties who is best known for starring with Sandra Dee in A Summer Place.  Sabu Dastagir, normally billed simply as Sabu (1924-1963), was an Indian actor who got a lot of roles when the industry needed a juvenile actor who looked somewhat Asian or Middle Eastern.  He appeared as Abu in the 1940 version of The Thief of Bagdad and as Mowgli in the 1942 film Jungle BookRoss Bagdasarian, Sr. (1919-1972) was best known for creating Alvin and the Chipmunks and voicing all three of the Chipmunks until his death in 1972; his son, Ross Jr., took over the franchise.  Gangster Frank Nitti (1886-1943) was Al Capone’s lieutenant, and later successor, as boss of the Chicago Outfit; he has been played many times in movies, including by Sylvester Stallone and Stanley Tucci.

Our literary birthday today is Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, better known by his pen name of Lewis Carroll (1832-1898).  Along with Edward Lear, Carroll was a leading author of so-called “literary nonsense,” including his novels Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass, and also poems like “Jabberwocky” and “The Hunting of the Snark.”

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 27, 2017, in Celebrity Birthdays and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. Wow, I had no idea James Cromwell was 6 foot 7. Is he really that tall? To put that in perspective, that’s the same height that David Prowse was when he played Darth Vader in Star Wars. I don’t recall Cromwell towering over his co-stars, but I guess that gives me a reason to watch some of his films again.

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    • I can definitely recall a scene or two in L.A. Confidential where Cromwell is side-by-side with Guy Pearce, who I think is a shade under six feet tall, and Cromwell clearly is much taller than the other man.

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  2. The first time I really took notice of James Cromwell was Babe. He was a really sought-after supporting actor for a while there with LA Confidential and Star Trek. He was a standout when he was on American Horror Story.

    Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart? Was he related to Falco?

    Rosamund Pike caught my eye during Die Another Die. She was one of the only things that movie had going for it. It seemed like she had succumbed to the Bond girl curse until Gone Girl. Then it seemed like that movie had revived her. Has it?

    Alan Cumming is always a delight. Even in a bad movie, I know I’m going to enjoy his performance.

    Bridget Fonda was, at one point, one of my favorite actresses. After decades of contemplation, I can see why she didn’t catch on with mass audiences. But I’m still fond of her. Check out A Simple Plan if you have never seen it. It’s an under-rated movie and her character will surprise you.

    Patton Oswalt is always good for a laugh. He’s been through a lot with the passing of his wife. His openness in talking about his grief and loss is courageous. And even when tackling these dark subjects, he’s still funnier than a lot of people.

    We were talking about Mimi Rogers and her affiliation with Scientology during the 1987 bracket game. For thirty years, people have wondered how on earth Michael Douglas’ character could cheat on such a beautiful woman. In 1997, Rogers looked very Emma Peel as Mrs. Kensington in Austin Powers.

    I remember Mikhail Baryshnikov being a big deal during the 80’s. He recently ruffled some feathers with some political comments he made. By the time I came to comic books in the 1990s, Frank Miller had become a hack. Since 9/11, he appears to have lost his ever-loving mind.

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  3. James Cromwell, I know him from mostly playing authority figures, but his turn as a mental patient in “Night Court” was pretty wild in comparison.
    Rock me Amadeus, again; I’m always up for some good classical music, and Mozart will do just fine.
    Alan Cumming I’ve seen in many film, but he stands out the most for me in “Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion” and “Josie and the Pussycats”.
    Bridget Fonda, too bad she essentially quit the business, because she’s probably my favorite Fonda.
    Patton Oswalt, I’ve known who he is for awhile, but I’m most familiar with him as the narrator of “The Goldbergs”.
    Mimi Rodgers, she seemed to have a couple good years back in the day. Later when viewing certain films like “The Rapture” (good song by Blondie too), “Full body Massage”, and “The Door in the Floor”, I discovered she was pretty well endowed.
    Mikhail Baryshnikov, I really like “White Knights”; maybe I should watch it with Mozart playing in the background (Sorry Lionel Ritchie and “Say You, Say Me”).
    Frank Miller, I really dig the “Sin city” series; I like that type of storytelling.
    Frank Nitti, I heard he was more of a tactician than a hand-on gangster.
    Troy Donahue, I think “A Summer Place” is alright (especially in the winter), but I actually prefer the Percy Faith instrumental over the film.
    Lewis Carroll, I have to say that Alice in Wonderland business has always creeped me out and made me uneasy; I like that.

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