January 28: Happy Birthday Alan Alda and Sarah McLachlan


Alan Alda turns 81 today.  The son of Tony-winner Robert Alda, he began his acting career on the stage, making his Broadway debut in 1959.  In 1967 he received the first of three Tony nominations of his career for starring in the Jerry Bock-Sheldon Harnick musical The Apple Tree.  In the late sixties, he began working regularly in film, and received a Golden Globe nomination for starring in Paper Lion.

However, Alda’s greatest success came on television.  In 1972 he was cast as Hawkeye Pierce in the television series M*A*S*H (adapted from the 1970 film), and remained in the role for the show’s entire eleven season run.  Over the course of the series, Alda gradually became one of its leading creative influences, especially after the departure of creators Larry Gelbart and Gene Reynolds, and wrote and/or directed many episodes.  Alda received six Golden Globes and five Emmys for his work on M*A*S*H.

Alda maintained his film career during M*A*S*H‘s run, most notably receiving Golden Globe nominations for Best Screenplay and Best Actor for The Four Seasons (which he also directed).  In recent years, he received his sixth Emmy Award for playing Senator Arnold Vinick on The West Wing and his first Oscar nomination, Best Supporting Actor, for The Aviator.  In March of this year he and his wife, Arlene, will celebrate 60 years of marriage.

Grammy-winning singer-songwriter Sarah McLachlan celebrates her 49th birthday today.  She began performing in her late teens and her first album came out in 1988.  Her next two albums sold well in her native Canada and began to build her a reputation, but her big breakthrough internationally came with her fourth album, Surfacing, in 1997, which reached #1 in Canada and #2 in the US, and gave her her first major hit singles and her first two Grammys, including winning for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance:

Since 1997, McLachlan has released three more studio albums, not counting two Christmas albums, and a pair of live albums.  A resident of Vancouver, BC, she has engaged in a wide variety of music outreach and education activities in her community through the years.  She has been heard on the soundtracks of a wide variety of films and television programs in the last two decades-plus.

Elijah Wood turns 36 today.  He emerged as a prominent juvenile and teen actor in the nineties in films such as North, The Ice Storm, and The Faculty.  He was then cast as Frodo Baggins in The Lord of the Rings.  Since then he has worked largely in more low-profile films, although he did star on FX’s series Wilfred for four seasons.  Tom Hopper, who is 32, currently stars as Billy Bones on the Starz series Black SailsAngelique Cabral, who stars on CBS’s Life in Pieces, turns 38 today.  Ariel Winter, who stars as Alex Dunphy on Modern Family, is celebrating her 19th.  Will Poulter, who is turning 24, won a BAFTA Rising Star Award for We’re the Millers and has appeared in The Maze Runner and The Revenant.

Kathryn Morris, who played the lead role of Lily Rush on Cold Case, turns 48 today.  She currently has a recurring role on the USA Network’s ColonyHarley Jane Kozak, known for starring in the films Parenthood and Arachnophobia and on the soap opera Santa Barbara, turns 60.  She has written several mystery novels and won a number of Best First Novel awards for her debut, Dating Dead Men.  Writer and director Frank Darabont, who turns 58, is a three-time Oscar nominee best known for films like The Shawshank Redemption and The Green MileRoy Clarke, who turns 87, is best known as the creator and writer of several well-received British sitcoms, such as Last of the Summer Wine, Open All Hours, and Keeping Up Appearances.

It’s boy band day in the music world.  Joey Fatone, who spent seven years as a member of NSYNC, turns 40 today.  He has moved on to a career as a television host; his current activites include hosting the Food Channels RewrappedNick Carter, of the Backstreet Boys, said to be the bestselling boy band in the world, turns 37 today.  He has also had a moderately successful career as a solo artist.  Billy Bass Nelson, best known as the bass player for funk pioneers Funkadelic, turns 66 today.  Classical pianist Arthur Rubinstein (1887-1982) gave his first performance at the age of 7 and recorded and toured for over 80 years before retiring in 1976.  He was a four-time Grammy winner for recordings of Beethoven, Brahms and Schubert and was also noted for his interpretations of Chopin.

Dame Jessica Ennis-Hill, who turns 31, was a three-time world champion and 2012 Olympic gold medalist in the heptathlon.  Italian footballer Gianluigi Buffon, who is 39 today, has been named the IFFHS World’s Best Goalkeeper four times in his career and was in the nets when Italy won the 2006 World Cup.  Gregg Popovich, who celebrates his 68th, is the current dean of NBA coaches, having been head coach of the San Antonio Spurs since 1996.  In that time he has guided them to five NBA titles and 19 consecutive winning seasons.

Little-known actor Lewis Wilson (1920-2000) is the answer to the trivia question “Who was the first actor to play Batman onscreen?”, as he starred in the 1943 Columbia film serial The BatmanTom Neal (1914-1972) had a somewhat bigger film career than Wilson, including starring in the 1941 serial Jungle Girl and in the classic of low-budget film noir, Detour.  But Neal was better known for his off-screen activities, which included getting into a famous brawl with actor Franchot Tone over actress Barbara Payton, and later being convicted of manslaughter in the death of his wife.

John Banner (1910-1973) will be remembered for playing Sergeant Schultz, who inevitably knew, saw and heard nothing on Hogan’s Heroes for six seasons.  Like his costar Werner Klemperer, who played Col. Klink, the Austrian-born Banner was a Jewish refugee from Nazism.  Suzanne Flon (1918-2005) worked in French cinema for over sixty years and was a two-time Cesar Award winner for Best Supporting Actress.  Director Hiroshi Teshigahara (1927-2001) was best known for the Oscar-nominated film Suna no onna, or Woman in the Dunes.

American artist Jackson Pollock (1912-1956) was a major figure in the abstract impressionist movement and was known for his “drip painting” technique.  Jose Marti (1853-1895), the “Apostle of Cuban Independence,” was a poet and political activist who was one of the most important figures in nineteenth century Latin American literature.

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 January 28, 2017, in Celebrity Birthdays and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 7 Comments.

  1. I was never much into MASH as a kid, but I was always aware that it was a huge success, one of the biggest tv hits of the era. Matter of fact I think the MASH finale still holds as the most-watched scripted program of all time; the only television programs that have ever beat it in the ratings are the annual Superbowl football games.

    I’ve always thought of Alan Alda as strictly a television actor, but to my surprise he actually had a huge box office hit with The Four Seasons which interestingly finished as the 9th biggest movie of the year. To be honest I had never heard of this movie before until recently when I was looking over box office numbers from years past and saw it among the Top 10 films of 1981. Since I was just a kid back then it makes sense that it went over my head at the time, since it’s a mature film meant for adults and not some immature snot-nosed kid with his head buried in cartoons, comic books and Star Wars. But I give Alda credit for that success, sadly the days of adult dramas becoming blockbusters are long gone.


    • The agonizing dullness of Alan Alda’s The Four Seasons

      People tend to be surprised when a sleepy-looking, sleepily titled, and just plain sleepy little movie aimed at grown-ups makes a lot of money, like The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. Hell, people tend to be surprised when any film pitched to the AARP set does blockbuster numbers, whether it’s It’s Complicated grossing more than $200 million internationally despite dealing extensively with the gross subject of old people having sex, or Hope Springs grossing more than $100 million despite dealing with the even grosser subject of old people trying to fix their sexual problems.

      Movies, and pop culture as a whole, are supposed to be a young person’s game. (And, regrettably, even at this late date, they’re still generally considered a young man’s game.) Film audiences may skew older than, say, pop-music fans, but there’s still a widespread belief that to do blockbuster numbers, the industry has to appeal to the squeaky-voiced teens and twentysomethings who angrily demand an endless succession of superhero epics, horror films, and remakes of movies they were too young to see the first time around. Young people are expected to be furiously invested in pop culture, to see movies and go to concerts and have strong opinions that they share on social media. But after a certain age, adults are no longer expected to be active participants in the culture. They’re expected to retreat into the comforting cocoon of the familiar, to re-watch the movies of their youth and get out of the way of the young people Hollywood actually cares about.

      And yet the lively box-office of movies pitched to grown-ups shouldn’t be terribly surprising. Senior citizens may not see movies with the same passion or consistency as teenagers, but it’s not as if they’re all too busy worrying about their grandchildren’s Facebook posts, or trying to remember whether they’ve taken their medication, to see movies that reflect their own concerns and desires. I tend not to be surprised by the gaudy grosses of such movies, but even I was surprised to discover that Alan Alda’s The Four Seasons was the ninth top-grossing film of 1981, just behind For Your Eyes Only. The latter features dazzling underwater photography, and the thrilling continuing adventures of James Bond. The Four Seasons features a scene where middle-aged men prepare stir-fry. Yet they were neck-and neck-at the American box office.

      I didn’t think of The Four Seasons as wildly successful. (Though when considering the surprising nature of its box office, it’s worth noting that the second top-grossing film of 1981 was On Golden Pond, which skewed even older.) I didn’t think of it as a failure. I merely thought of it as a film that existed, just as Alan Alda’s career as a writer, director, and star of motion pictures existed, then ceased to exist.

      If you were to describe someone as an “Alan Alda type” throughout the 1970s, ’80s, or ’90s, odds are, people would know exactly what you meant: socially and politically liberal, feminist, quite possibly vegetarian, a bit of a blowhard, someone who flaunts their politics and righteousness in ways some find admirable, and others find insufferable. Throughout his heyday, Alan Alda reigned as arguably the preeminent Alan Alda type, but the problem with personifying your times so powerfully is that you’re bound to be an anachronism once those times past. History tends to reduce complicated figures to caricatures, and while MASH is still considered one of the best, most popular sitcoms of all time, a lot of people half-remember it as a show in which Alan Alda pontificated pretentiously about the injustice of war for 22 minutes at a time, sometimes with a laugh track, and sometimes without. MASH will probably run in syndication until time ceases to exist, but these days, Alda’s concurrent career as a writer and director isn’t all that well-known. Alda was once popular enough to be able to make an astonishingly boring movie like The Four Seasons, his feature-film writing and directing debut, and a handful of follow-ups.

      The Four Seasons’ characters are only in their 40s, but they behave with the geriatric, life’s-almost-over exhaustion of folks in their 70s or 80s. It’s not just that they have careers, grown children, and mortgages; they seem to have never been young, or cared about anything that wasn’t boring. Alda stars as Jack Burroughs, a wealthy, successful lawyer married to equally wealthy, successful editor Kate (Carol Burnett). Every year, Jack and Kate vacation with two other couples. Estate planner Nick (Len Cariou) is married to brittle, depressed Anne (Sandy Dennis). Cheap, hypochondriac dentist Danny (Jack Weston) comes with wife Claudia (Rita Moreno), a hothead who justifies every outburst of emotion with a defiant cry of, “I’m Italian!”

      The film opens with the couples in a state of middle-aged ecstasy. The ladies are doing whatever it is ladies do (drinking wine and talking about men, mostly), while the men occupy themselves with a stir-fry that has seemingly occupied their every waking thought for weeks. Once, these men dreamed of bedding beautiful women, fighting wars, winning fortunes, and building empires. By the time the film begins, they’ve sublimated all of their ambition, lust, and raging life force into making the best possible stir-fry, one involving two pounds of ginger (two pounds of ginger!) and an altogether excessive number of eggplants. The men have an overwhelmingly orgiastic reaction to devouring this stir-fry. Nick vows, “I’m not just going to eat it, I’m going to make love to it.”

      But The Four Seasons is not just about three men cooking, as it appears to be throughout its first act. At dinner that night, Jack raises his glass and offers a toast: “To the reason we are here tonight, not just to celebrate your anniversary, but to that deeper thing that brings us all closer together, to what bonds us and makes us huddle against the cold winds of divorce that have blown through the lives of our friends.” This is what’s known as both foreshadowing and terrible writing. For despite Jack’s grotesquely melodramatic rhetoric, the ominous specter of divorce has secretly already arrived. It takes the form of Nick’s affair with Ginny (Bess Armstrong), a much younger woman who worships Nick and says things like, “I never met anyone who knew so much about actuarial tables.” This is met by a chorus of suppressed groans and rolled eyes from longtime friends who know all too well that Nick is far from the world-conquering dynamo Ginny believes him to be.

      Nick’s affair with Ginny destroys his marriage to Anne, an easily flustered neurotic who’s devoted the past few years of her life to photographing fruit, to her husband’s dismay. (Dennis brings a heartbreaking vulnerability to the role, adding more pathos, humanity, and melancholy humor to a single line like “Last week I bought a snake” than Alda does to his entire performance.) Yet just when the film briefly threatens to become interesting, Ginny disappears, never to return. Alda perversely jettisons the film’s most/only interesting character, while diligently preserving the overwhelming resentment the group of friends feel toward Nick for dumping Anne and threatening to destroy their friendship’s fragile ecosystem.

      The problem is that The Four Seasons expects viewers to be emotionally invested in friendships and relationships not worth saving. The men in The Four Seasons are terrible. Nick is a horny egomaniac who fucks his much-younger lover on the same boat where his friends are bemoaning the ineffable middle-agedness of their existence. Danny is a paranoid cheapskate and hypochondriac who stews over perceived slights and broods to his wife that the people who profess to be his friends are vicious and ill. In what qualifies as one of the few out-and-out jokes in the screenplay, Jack calls Danny “the Muhammad Ali of mental illness.” But Jack is no prize himself.

      Jack embodies everything insufferable about Alan Alda types, and about Alan Alda. He lectures. He serves as a self-appointed moral arbiter. He angrily confronts Nick with stiffly worded statements like, “I happen to know you betrayed your wife dozens of times.” Upon learning that Nick and Ginny are having children, Jack, in his apparent role as everyone’s dad, asks Nick, “You’re 43 years old. You’re going to start having babies?” Because apparently in 1981, men who had exceeded the age of 40—if only by a few years—were considered on the precipice of death, and consequently unqualified to have children.

      As the film progresses, the wonderland of the first scenes—where the ostensibly happy couples laughed and laughed for no discernible reason, ate from the same loaf of bread without even slicing it first, and made that magical stir-fry—slips further away, and the couples are forced to confront the fact that they don’t really like each other anymore. However, it’s never entirely clear why they liked each other in the first place (beyond the stir-fry that brought them all so much joy), so the dissolution of their friendship doesn’t have the emotional resonance it should.

      Perhaps what audiences responded to at the time of The Four Seasons’ success was the film’s acknowledgment that friendships often deteriorate with time, to the point where they sometimes no longer seem worth salvaging. There are moments of painful truth scattered throughout, like a speech late in the film when Kate says she’s already seen so many friendships fall by the wayside for one reason or another, but that she can’t stand the idea of losing what’s left, because, “When I get old, I would like for you all to be there.”

      At the core of The Four Seasons lies the characters’ poignant desire to avoid alienating all their friends, or losing them by failing to fight against divorce, aging, geography, or a million other variables that separate people. The Four Seasons is tediously middle-aged without being particularly mature. It wants to comment on the way age and circumstance affect friendship, but it does so with only a fraction of the wit and intelligence of, say, The World’s End, which explored similar subject matter far more compellingly through the prism of a science-fiction allegory.

      The Four Seasons connected with audiences in 1981, but history hasn’t been kind to it. Ultimately, the film’s fatal sin is not being so middle-aged, or even being populated by unlikeable characters. Its fatal sin is being boring. The Four Seasons is the antithesis of what Quentin Tarantino called the “hangout movie”; it’s a film populated by characters so unbearable, viewers may desperately crave the the permanent vacation from them that the end credits provide.

      Despite The Four Seasons’ commercial success, Alda’s career as a cinematic auteur was short-lived, lasting through just three more films: 1986’s Sweet Liberty, 1988’s A New Life, and 1990’s Betsy’s Wedding. That’s the drawback to playing such an iconic role: With Alda, there was MAS*H and then there was everything else. Despite being the ninth top-grossing film of 1981, The Four Seasons falls unmistakably into the “everything else” pile.


    • When Good Shows Go Bad: MAS*H

      The more glaring problem however is the character of Hawkeye, and his actor Alan Alda. Hawkeye was basically the main character even early on, but it was stated more than once that a few of the actors who left the show did so as they felt the program should be more of an ensemble piece (which it was usually billed as). Unfortunately, as the show went on, Hawkeye got elevated more and more (it’s worth noting that the episode Hawkeye was in Season 4 as per what I’m about to go into), and Alan Alda got more control over the show. By Season 8 Alda was a producer and a more-frequent writer/director credits, primarily having directed early on as well as having acted. As the show went on it began to become a lot less subtle, with the anti-war message getting more preachy. Hawkeye was regularly approached more and more for advice from Mulcahy and Potter, the two people you’d think most likely to not need to talk with him. Still one could argue that since the war bad been going on for years at that point (MAS*H went on much longer than the Korean War itself) the tightness of the unit and the “War is Hell” reality would sink in more. Still, the constant hammering of the point home could be a bit draining.

      The Blame

      The unfortunate implications with gender, sexuality and race were all pretty much just the way the 70s were, and what we still view as racist, homophobic, and sexist now was actually for the most part kind of progressive back in the day. History can be a bitch like that, as can executives slow to embrace any kind of change. The show runners did want to end the show after 10 seasons but CBS pressured them for another one, which they did, and given the show’s popularity you can’t really blame them for going into spin-off fever. The preachy problems are however like I said already mostly on Alan Alda. As shows go on actors can gain influence over a show and while Alda’s wasn’t exactly destructive in my opinion it did lead to a tonal shift that could make the show more grating at points. Nowadays several main cast members of shows have the option of becoming producers if the show becomes a hit for several seasons written into their contract, and when that time comes a shift in the nature of the show they’re on is almost inevitable.


      • Shows That Overstayed Their Welcome.

        Regarding MASH, while there was always some ideological grinding, it was more subtle in the early years, beneath the surface of all the wackiness of Trapper/Blake/Burns/cross dressing Klinger/Hot Lips Houlihan.

        Once those characters left and were replaced by BJ/Potter/Winchester/straight laced Klinger/empowered divorcee Margret, it opened the door more for Saint Hawkeye the Righteous to stand on his soapbox and give the viewers the lecture of the week while the rest of the cast blended in to the scenery.

        It was almost like a conscious decision to replace the dynamic characters with drier, blander ones so Hawkeye would stand out even more (giving Alan Alda a bigger pulpit to preach out of the ’70s “sensitive male” handbook in early ’50s Korea).


  2. Alan Alda, I’ve always liked it when he’s stepped out of his nice guy persona to play more sinister guys in such films as 1992’s “Whispers in the Dark” and “Murder at 1600”, although the nice guy roles work for me too.
    Sarah McLachlan, my aunt likes her, and when I’ve listened to commercial radio or have gone shopping at supermarkets I heard some of her songs. I also remember those terribly depressing SPCA commercials from a few years back; I will remember them, indeed.
    Elijah Wood, yeah, I liked him in “The Ice Storm”, and as that creepy character in “Sin city”. Overall, he’s like a kinder, gentler Tobey Maguire to me.
    Kathryn Morris, I watched quite a few episodes of “Cold Case” (I liked how that show would always play a certain song that fit right in with the time period of the flashback being shown), and I remember her from the 2004 film “Mindhunters”, which I thought was alright.
    Harley Jane Kozak, I specifically remember her as the college professor that falls for Scott Bakula’s Paul Blake character in “Necessary Roughness”.
    Frank Darabont, I’m all about “The Shawshank Redemption”, but for me “The Green Mile” just goes on too long (fine, give him your hands, and let’s get this film moving).
    Joey Fatone, yeah, Trivia Today had him on their list for birthday *they usually have two or three each day). Age 40? Yeah, that adds up, considering the time period when *NSYNC (I learned from “American Greed” that their original manager was ripping them and other boy bands he signed off pretty bad. Bye bye bye to him).
    Jackson Pollock, I think he did interesting things with paint.


  3. I’m pulling a lot of overtime at work and haven’t kept up on everything here. So it was a little weird writing the weekly recap when I was actually behind myself. Let’s see if I can get caught up this morning.

    When I was growing up, everyone watched MAS*H. It was just a given. But Alda was bigger than the show. He was the prototype for “sensitive guys” in the 80’s. If you described someone as an Alan Alda type, people knew what you meant.

    I saw Sarah McLachlan in concert twice – both times at Lilith Fair. I’m not a concert-goer but that was a good show. I also had a copy of Surfacing which I played too much. Now I associate her with abused animals. When I hear “Arms of the Angel” I know to fast forward or turn the channel.

    Elijah Wood had a promising career as a child actor. Given his appearance, he was probably never going to make it as a traditional leading man. But The Lord of the Rings certainly helped him make the transition from kid roles to adult supporting parts.

    Modern Family is a favorite in our house. So we know Ariel Winter from that as well as being the voice of Sophia the First. In addition to being the director of Shawshank, Frank Darabont adapted The Walking Dead for TV. As thanks for his efforts, AMC canned him. I still haven’t completely forgiven Darabont for the ending of The Mist.


  4. The Real Reason You Never Hear from Elijah Wood Anymore


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