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February 1: Happy Birthday Michael C Hall and John Ford

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Michael C. Hall is turning 46 today.  Hall began acting in school productions as a boy and began working professionally in theater after graduating from Earlham College.  He appeared in several productions with the New York Shakespeare Festival and made his Broadway debut as the Emcee in the 1999 revival of Cabaret.  In 2001, Hall was cast in the role of David Fisher on HBO’s Six Feet Under, which he played for the show’s entire run and for which he received a Primetime Emmy nomination.

Hall was next cast in the title role of Dexter Morgan on Showtime’s Dexter.  The series was a popular and critical success, running for eight seasons.  Hall was nominated for the Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama for five consecutive years, while in 2010 he won the Golden Globe for Best Actor in a Drama Series.

Since the end of Dexter’s run, Hall has returned to Broadway.  In 2014, he took over the title role in the musical Hedwig and the Angry Inch, starring opposite Lena Hall (no relation).  A year later, he originated the lead role of Thomas Jerome Newton in David Bowie’s musical Lazarus, receiving a Drama Desk Award for his work.

“I prefer the old masters; by which I mean: John Ford, John Ford and John Ford.”

~Orson Welles

John Ford (1894-1973) was born in Maine to Irish immigrant parents.  He moved to California at 20 to work in the film industry, where his older brother Francis, a prominent silent film actor, helped open doors for him.  By 1917 he was directing silent films, many of which have been lost.  One which survives, the epic 1924 Western The Iron Horse, established him as a major director.

It was in the sound era, however, that Ford really made his reputation.  During his career, he won the Oscar for Best Director a record four times: for The Informer (discussed in this article on Ireland in film), for The Grapes of Wrath (adapted from Steinbeck’s novel), for How Green Was My Valley (which also won Best Picture), and for The Quiet Man.  In addition, Ford produced and directed The Battle of Midway, which won the first ever Oscar for Best Documentary.

What is striking is that while Ford is remembered today as being a director of Westerns, none of his Oscars were for a Western.  Westerns were not often thought of as “prestige” pictures during Ford’s career.  But today, to fully appreciate his contributions to film, you have to watch at least a few of his classic Westerns, such as Stagecoach, My Darling Clementine, the “cavalry trilogy,” or The Searchers.  Although we often think of Westerns as an action genre, many of Ford’s Westerns feature relatively little action, they are more about characters and themes like community building.  My Darling Clementine is about Wyatt Earp and the OK Corral gunfight, but the gunfight itself takes less than a minute of screen time.  The most memorable scene in the movie is a social gathering:

Sherilyn Fenn, who turns 52, was an Emmy and Golden Globe nominee as Audrey Horne in Twin Peaks, and followed that up with a short career as an indie film leading lady.  Comedian Pauly Shore, who is 49 today, had a short run as a comic leading man in the early 1990s in films like Encino Man and Son-in-Law.  English actor Linus Roache, who is turning 53, was a Golden Globe nominee for playing Robert Kennedy  in an American television movie, and currently stars as Egbert of Wessex on the History Channel’s Vikings.

Ronda Rousey, the Olympic judo medalist and MMA star turned actress, is 30 today.  Her film career includes roles in The Expendables 3 and Furious 7Rachelle Lefevre turns 38; she appeared in the first two Twilight films and more recently starred on CBS’s Under the DomeHeather Morris, who played Brittany Pierce on Glee, celebrates her 30th.  Rutina Wesley, who is 38 today, played Tara Thornton on True Blood, and currently stars on Queen Sugar on the Oprah Winfrey Network.  Abbi Jacobson, the co-creator and co-star of the Comedy Central series Broad City, is turning 33.

Terry Jones, who celebrates his 75th, was one of the members of the Monty Python troupe, and directed or co-directed three of their feature films; his onscreen characters included Sir Bedevere the Wise in Monty Python and the Holy GrailStuart Whitman, who had a brief run as a leading man in the early 1960s but never really became a major star, turns 89 today.  Bill Mumy is 63 today.  He was a bit of a child star of the sixties, playing Will Robinson on Lost in Space, and then returned to television sci-fi in the nineties on Babylon 5.

A lengthy list of music birthdays begins with Don Everly, who turns 80.  He was one half of the Everly Brothers, who I covered recently on Phil Everly’s birthday.  Bob Shane, a founding member of one of the most successful acts of the folk boom of the late fifties, The Kingston Trio, turns 83.  Bluegrass legend Del McCoury, a two-time Grammy winner, is celebrating his 78th.  Harry Styles, of the British boy band One Direction, turns 23; he makes his feature film debut this year in Dunkirk.  Dennis Brown (1957-1999) was a reggae star dubbed the “Crown Prince of Reggae” by no less an authority than Bob Marley himself.  Funk and soul star Rick James (1948-2004) had quite a bit of crossover success in the early eighties with hits like “Give It to Me Baby” and especially his signature tune “Super Freak.”  Victor Herbert (1859-1924) was a successful cellist and conductor, but is best remembered for composing operettas like Babes in Toyland, The Red Mill, and Naughty Marietta.  Renata Tebaldi (1922-2004) was one of the leading operatic sopranos of the fifties and sixties, famous for her work in the operas of Verdi and Puccini and for her perceived rivalry (at least partly media-manufactured) with Maria Callas.

In sports, along with the already mentioned Ronda Rousey, we have the birthdays of a pair of famous footballers.  Michelle Akers celebrates her 51st.  She scored 107 goals for the US in international competition and was a leader of the US sides that won the 1991 and 1999 Women’s World Cups and the Olympic gold medal in 1996.  Sir Stanley Matthews (1915-2000) was one of the all-time greats of English football, and was the only player ever knighted while still an active competitor.

An interesting lineup of writers begins with Langston Hughes (1902-1967), the poet, playwright and novelist who was one of the leaders of the Harlem Renaissance.  S. J. Perelman (1904-1979) was known for his humorous short pieces published in The New Yorker and other magazines, and as a screenwriter and playwright who co-wrote two of the Marx Brothers’ films and the 1956 Best Picture winner, Around the World in 80 Days (the screenplay also won an Oscar).  Scottish author Dame Muriel Spark (1918-2006), the author of novels such as The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, is ranked among the greatest British writers of the post-World War 2 era.  Austrian poet and playwright Hugo von Hofmannsthal (1874-1929) is best known for his librettos for several of Richard Strauss’s operas, including Elektra and Der RosenkavalierH. Richard Hornberger (1924-1997) was an American surgeon who served in the Korean War, and later published a novel based on his experiences titled MASH, under the pen name Richard Hooker.  Meg Cabot, who turns 50 today, has written over 50 books, primarily young adult fiction, of which the Princess Diaries novels are the best known.

Doctor Who fans will surely be aware that Elisabeth Sladen (1946-2011) was born on February 1.  She played Sarah Jane Smith, Companion to the Third and Fourth Doctors, for over three years in the 1970s.  She later reprised the role in several episodes of the revived series in the 2000s, beginning with “School Reunion,” and also in a spinoff series, The Sarah Jane Adventures.  Her character was quite possibly the most popular of all the Companions to the different incarnations of the Doctor.

Sherman Hemsley (1938-2012) was best known for playing George Jefferson on All in the Family and then on The Jeffersons, for which he was an Emmy and Golden Globe nominee, and then starring on NBC’s AmenBibi Besch (1942-1996) played Dr. Carol Marcus in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, and was a two-time Emmy nominee in the early 1990s.  George Pal (1908-1980) directed animated shorts for Paramount in the 1940s and was a seven-time Oscar nominee; in the 1950s he produced a number of science fiction films such as Destination: Moon and When Worlds Collide.

Our sad note for today comes from two performers who did not make it to their 30th birthdays.  Brandon Lee (1965-1993), the son of martial arts legend Bruce Lee, was killed in an accident involving a prop gun during the filming of The CrowLee Thompson Young (1984-2013), who played Barry Frost on Rizzoli & Isles, suffered from bipolar disorder, and committed suicide during the filming of the show’s fourth season.

We’ll wrap up today with the “King of Hollywood.”  Clark Gable (1901-1960) began working in film in the silent era, but did not emerge as a star until the early sound years.  By the time he starred in Red Dust he was clearly in the front rank of leading men, and he never really lost that status for the rest of his life.  He was nominated for Best Actor three times; everyone remembers Gone With the Wind, but his only win was for It Happened One Night.  He was married five times, but it’s often said that Carole Lombard was the love of his life, and that he was never the same after her death.

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 February 1, 2017, in Celebrity Birthdays and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. When I was a kid I was a big fan of The Jeffersons. Every once in a blue moon I still catch an episode here or there and I’m still able to get a few laughs out of the show. Sherman Hemsley was just great as George Jefferson, and he had such terrific chemistry with Isabel Sanford. Interestingly there was a huge age difference between Hemsley and Sanford, when The Jeffersons premiered Hemsley was 37 and Sanford was 57.. Amazing, huh?

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  2. I’m not overly familiar with our headliners. I never watched Dexter and I know Ford more by reputation that having actually sat down and watched his movies from start to finish. I was never a big fan of old fashioned Westerns.

    I was a fan of Twin Peaks and Sherilyn Fenn was part of that show’s appeal. Any chance she had at a movie career pretty much died with Boxing Helena. On the other hand, Pauly Shore’s movie career defied explanation.

    Oh man, Rachelle Lefevre’s birthday reminded me how terrible Under the Dome was. The pilot episode had so much promise. But that sucker went downhill fast! I had suppressed me memory of its existence.

    Apparently Terry Jones is suffering from dementia. That’s a shame. As part of Monty Python, he brought me a lot of laughs. Sherman Hemsley was a fixture on TV growing up despite the fact my dad loathed The Jeffersons and didn’t want us to watch it. Bibi Besch, I know from Star Trek II. Oh and Brandon Lee. Boy, that was a shame.

    Clark Gable, obviously a Hollywood legend. I recognized him from caricatures in cartoons before I actually knew who he was.

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  3. I always thought Michael C. Hall was extremely talented. Even though I miss seeing him on screen, it’s great he found his calling on the stage.

    I have to agree Pauly Shore’s movie career defied expectations. I always teased my dad about never finishing “Bio-Dome”.

    Unlike Cary Grant, I was never a Clark Gable fan.

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  4. Michael C. Hall, oh how I love “Dexter”; when I first heard about the show, I liked the premise, then it escaped my mind for a time (as television stuff tends to happen with me). But I had DirecTV at the time, and happened to catch a rerun of the episode ‘Shrink Wrap’, and I was hooked big time. It’s really the only show in my adulthood that was ever appointment television for me, and even for a time I blew off Sunday Night Football for it (eventually I worked around that by just record six episodes of the show at a time, and watch the series that way. I just couldn’t handle the anticipation every week). I had it bad for this show, and still re-watch it every year, as I do “Miami Vice” and “Batman: The Animated Series”. Speaking of Hall though, I also liked him in that 2012 film “The Trouble With bliss”.
    Sherilyn Fenn, speaking of TV shows, I need to get that “Twin Peaks” entire series on amazon someday; that’s another show I could watch every year. As for Fenn overall, I first saw her as the horny girl (who bought kissing fishes) in “Just One of the Guys” (love it) and after almost 29 years I still have “The Wraith” on tape (heck, Fenn is practically the only cast member in that film not to be related to somebody big from Hollywood). In general, I think she’s delightful,, and it was a full moon for her in “Two Moon Junction”. I think 1991’s “Desire and Hell at Sunset motel” is interesting too, and I liked her character in “Fatal Instinct”.
    Pauly Shore, I just never got him, budddyyy.
    Ronda Rousey, she did a lot for her sport (although she isn’t popular amongst her contemporaries due to her them not liking her athletic personality), but maybe she can still do some film. I think she’s alright.
    Rick James, I like “Ghetto Life” the best, and his guest turn on “The A-Team”. He also produced Eddie murphy’s “Party All The Time”!!!
    Sherman Hemsley, hey, I kind of like “Amen”; maybe it’s isn’t quite as good as “The Jeffersons”, but I think it’s solid.
    Brandon Lee, his death was completely avoidable; what a waste. That’s why film sets shouldn’t cut corners when it comes to guns.

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  5. I just learned about the 2016 film “Christine”, which Michael C. Hall costars in. When I heard about this film, I thought it was remake of 1983’s “Christine”, but actually, wow, I’ve read up on the story of Christine Chubbuck, and I had no idea there was a newscaster who once committed suicide on the air. On one hand, I feel for Christine in her feeling that was what she was reduced to doing, that she was at the end of her rope, but in another, I also think it was an awful act because it could’ve (or did) traumatized anybody watching live. So my feelings are pretty mixed here. Rebecca Hall plays Christine, and I’ve liked her since “The Town”, so I’d like to check out that film someday.

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