February 5: Happy Birthday Michael Mann and Christopher Guest


On a day with many distinguished names, our headliners are a pair of prominent writer-directors.

Michael Mann turns 74 today.  He began working on directing commercials while attending graduate film school in London, and also made a short film called Jaunpuri.  He returned to the US in the 1970s and worked as a writer on crime series like Starsky and Hutch and Police Story, before making a TV movie called The Jericho Mile in 1979.  He followed with his first feature film, Thief, starring James Caan as a master burglar, in 1981.

Thief set the pattern for much of Mann’s career—the core of his filmography has been realistic, intense urban crime dramas of various sorts.  His specific subjects have varied: he has made films about heist artists or crews (Thief, Heat), serial killers and the Feds hunting them (Manhunter, adapted from Thomas Harris’s Red Dragon), urban cops battling drug trafficking (the film and TV series Miami Vice), hit men (Collateral), Depression-era bank robbers (Public Enemies), and hackers (Blackhats).  Most of these films have plenty of potent action, but also quieter drama and character development.

Mann has at times ventured beyond crime films, with considerable success.  The Last of the Mohicans is a surprisingly romantic costume drama/adventure film.  The Insider is essentially a docudrama about a 60 Minutes investigation of the tobacco industry.  Mann has also made a biopic about Muhammad Ali (Ali), and produced one about Howard Hughes (The Aviator, directed by Martin Scorsese).  He received three Oscar nominations for The Insider—for Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Adapted Screenplay—and a fourth as producer of The Aviator.

Christopher Guest (or more completely, Christopher Haden-Guest, the 5th Baron Haden-Guest) is celebrating his 69th.  Although his father is English, he received much of his education in the US, graduating from New York University and pursuing a career in theater.  He made his Broadway debut in Michael Weller’s Moonchildren in 1972.  During the 1980s he was well known for a pair of film roles.  He played Count Rugen, the six-fingered man, in The Princess Bride, quite likely the role mainstream audiences would recognize him for most readily.  But more representative of his later career was his role as Nigel Tufnel in Rob Reiner’s mock-documentary, or “mockumentary,” This is Spinal Tap.

While Michael Mann’s name conjures up crime dramas, Guest’s is associated with mockumentaries.  Beginning in 1997, he has been the central member of a production posse that has made several films that take gentle aim at different facets of the entertainment world: community theater companies (Waiting for Guffman), dog shows (Best in Show), folk music (A Mighty Wind), indie film production (For Your Consideration), and most recently sports mascots (Mascots, released last year by Netflix).  Guest directs, and he and Eugene Levy are credited as writers—although they apparently are mostly responsible for outlining the basic plot and creating backgrounds for the characters, with much of the dialogue itself being improvised.  The rest of the cast will include most if not all of Michael McKean and Harry Shearer (Guest’s fellow “members” of Spinal Tap), Bob Balaban, Jennifer Coolidge, John Michael Higgins, Jane Lynch, Catherine O’Hara, Parker Posey, and Fred Willard.

Charlotte Rampling will probably be recognized as a Best Actress nominee last year for 45 Years.  She has been working in film and television since the mid-sixties, and had worked extensively in French and Italian cinema (she is a four-time Cesar Award nominee), and is known in the US for films such as Farewell, My Lovely and The Verdict.  She turns 71 today.  Tom Wilkinson, who celebrates his 69th, is a two-time Oscar nominee, for In the Bedroom and Michael Clayton.  He won an Emmy and a Golden Globe for playing Ben Franklin on HBO’s John Adams and a BAFTA Award for The Full MontyBarbara Hershey, born the same day as Wilkinson, won an Emmy and a Golden Globe for the TV movie A Killing in a Small Town, and was an Oscar nominee for The Portrait of a Lady.  She also received BAFTA Award nominations for Hannah and Her Sisters and Black Swan.

Laura Linney, who is turning 53, was also honored with an Emmy and a Golden Globe for John Adams; she portrayed Abigail Adams.  She has won three other Emmys, most recently for the miniseries The Big C: Hereafter, and is a three time nominee for both an Oscar and a Tony.  Jennifer Jason Leigh is today’s WTHH subject birthday; she is 55 today.  Most recently she was an Oscar and Golden Globe nominee as Daisy Domergue in The Hateful EightMichael Sheen, who turns 48, has had a distinguished career on the English stage, highlighted by four Olivier Award nominations.  He has received Emmy and BAFTA nominations for his television work and critical praise for his roles in films like The Queen and Frost/Nixon.  Despite all of which, he is likely best known to many people for his roles in the Underworld and Twilight films.

Tim Meadows, who was a cast member of Saturday Night Live for ten years and currently stars on Fox’s Son of Zorn, turns 56.  Jonathan Freeman, who turns 67, was a Tony nominee for a revival of She Loves Me in 1994, provided the voice of Jafar in Aladdin, and played the part in the Broadway musical adaptation.  Tony Jaa, who turns 41, is a Thai actor and martial artist known for the Ong-Bak and Tom-Yum-Gong films, as well as for appearances in Furious 7 and XXX: The Return of Xander Cage.  Director Steven Shainberg, who is 54, is best known for the indie film Secretary, which showcased Maggie Gyllenhaal.  Chris Parnell, who turns 50, was another long-term cast member of Saturday Night Live and is a voice actor on Archer and the revived Mr. Peabody & Sherman.

Alex Brightman, who is 30 today, is a rising star on Broadway who recently was nominated for a Tony and a lot of other acting honors for starring as Dewey Finn in the musical adaptation of School of RockDarren Criss also is turning 30; he was a founding memberof StarKid Productions and starred on Glee as Blaine Anderson, and has also had success as a singer-songwriter.  Indie film actress Nora Zehetner, who starred as teenage femme fatale Laura Dannon in Brick, is celebrating her 36th.

Documentary filmmaker Errol Morris is turning 69 today.  He won the Oscar for Best Documentary Feature for The Fog of War; however, his most influential film was likely The Thin Blue Line, which played a part in exonerating Randall Dale Adams, an innocent man wrongly convicted of murder and sentenced to death in Texas.

Bobby Brown turns 48.  The R&B and hip-hop singer won a Grammy for his 1989 single “Every Little Step,” but his talents were often overshadowed by his personal problems and his often-troubled marriage with Whitney Houston.  Sara Evans, who is turning 46, has been had a number of country pop hits in the last 20 years, including five that reached #1 on the Country charts and several that charted on the Hot 100.  Swedish tenor Jussi Björling (1911-1960) was one of the stars of the Met in the forties and fifties, and was known for the exceptional beauty of his voice.

Our sports birthdays include greats from both American football and rest-of-the-world football, but we begin with a baseball legend.  Henry Aaron turns 83 today.  “Hammerin’ Hank” is the man who broke Babe Ruth’s record for career home runs, retiring with the total of 755.  He still holds several major league records and made a record 25 All-Star teams in his career.  In 1957 he was the National League MVP and led the Milwaukee Braves to a World Series victory.  Like Aaron, Roberto Alomar is in Baseball’s Hall of Fame.  Alomar, who turns 49, was a 12-time All Star who led the Toronto Blue Jays to back-to-back World Series wins in 1992 and 1993.  Roger Staubach, who is 75 today, and Craig Morton, who is turning 74, were both quarterbacks with the Dallas Cowboys in the early 1970s.  Staubach, who won the Heisman Trophy in 1963 while quarterbacking the Naval Academy, served four years on active Navy duty before joining the Cowboys in 1969.  He backed up Morton for two seasons, but became the starter a few games into the 1971 season and led the Cowboys to a Super Bowl victory.  A year later, Staubach missed most of the season with an injury, and Morton resumed his starting role, but after that season ended, the Cowboys committed to Staubach and traded Morton.  Several years later, Staubach led the Cowboys back to the Super Bowl and to a victory over the Denver Broncos, quarterbacked by Morton.  Although Staubach is in the NFL Hall of Fame and Morton is not, both had fine careers.  Cristiano Ronaldo, who is celebrating his 32nd, is a star for Spanish football club Real Madrid and for the Portuguese men’s national team.  He has been one of the world’s best footballers for over a decade, and many would consider him the best player in the world at the moment.  Brazillian footballer Neymar is 25 today.  He stars for FC Barcelona in Spain and for his national side.  His 2014 World Cup ended in disappointment—he was sidelined by an injury as his side was destroyed by Germany in the semifinals.  However, he led Brazil to an Olympic gold medal last summer.  Gheorghe Hagi, who is 52, was quite possibly Romania’s finest football player ever.  He starred for Romania’s national team in three World Cups while playing on club teams all over Europe.

John Carradine (1906-1988), who appeared in over 200 theatrical films, was the patriarch of the Carradine acting family, which includes his sons David, Keith and Robert and several grandchildren, notably Martha Plimpton.  Carradine was one of John Ford’s regulars, known for roles such as the gambler Hatfield in Stagecoach and Preacher Casy in The Grapes of WrathTim Holt (1919-1973) appeared with Carradine in Stagecoach, played Virgil Earp in Ford’s My Darling Clementine, and made a long list of B-Westerns for RKO, but his best known role was as Bob Curtin in The Treasure of the Sierra MadreStephen J. Cannell (1941-2010) was a television writer and producer known as the co-creator of series such as The Rockford Files, The A-Team, and 21 Jump Street.  Comedian and actor Red Buttons (1919-2006) won Best Supporting Actor for the 1957 film Sayonara.  One of his other films, curiously, was a 1966 remake of StagecoachKen Adam (1921-2016) was a five-time Oscar nominee for Best Art Direction (the award was renamed Best Production Design a few years ago).  He won for Barry Lyndon and The Madness of King George; readers of this blog may also be aware that one of his nominations was for The Spy Who Loved Me, one of seven Bond films he worked on.

John Witherspoon (1723-1794) was a Presbyterian minster, the President of the College of New Jersey (now Princeton University) for over 25 years, and a signer of the Declaration of Independence.  He was played by James Noble in the movie 1776James Otis (1725-1783) was a Massachusetts lawyer and Colonial activist in the years leading up to the American Revolution, the author of the slogan “Taxation without representation is tyranny.”  Belle Starr (1848-1889) was an outlaw of the American West known for her association with the James-Younger gang.  She has been played in films by actresses such as Gene Tierney, Jane Russell, and Pamela Reed.

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

  1. Favorite Michael Mann movie? I don’t know. I think I have seen Heat more than any of the others. But I really remember enjoying The Insider.

    Favorite Christopher Guest? Probably Waiting for Guffman. But Best in Show and Spinal Tap are great too. While he didn’t direct it, The Princess Bride is terrific. I’ll also always remember the synchronized swimming sketch from Guests’s single season on SNL. How lucky is Guest? He’s been married to Jamie Lee Curtis since 1984!

    Daffy talked about Tom Wilkinson during the Full Monty write-ups in the recent bracket game. He has done quite well for himself since then. Is it just me or does it seem like Barbara Hershey should have had a bigger career than she did?

    I am glad to see Laura Linney still doing well. She’s a talented actress. Jennifer Jason Leigh is a bit of an oddity in WTHH as she clearly made a choice not to pursue a career on the A-list. But she flirted with it a bit. I recently watched Anomalisa in which she was one of three voice actors. If you like Charlie Kaufman, check it out.

    Michael Sheen can always be counted on to deliver an entertaining performance even when he’s stuck in something like Underworld or Twilight. I’m usually pleasantly surprised when Tim Meadows shows up in something. My kids know him as the principal in Mean Girls. I have largely lost track of Chris Parnell, but when I see him he usually makes me laugh.


  2. I love a lot of the television & films Michael Mann has done: “Miami Vice” (I believe “Crime Story” is really good too), “Manhunter”, “Thief”, “Public Enemies”, “Drug Wars: the Camarena Story”, and “The Insider”.
    Christopher guest, I really dig “This is Spinal Tap” and ” A mighty Wind”, while also enjoying his acting work.
    Charlotte Rampling I last saw on Season 8 of “Dexter”, but I remember her from films like “The Verdict”, “Angel heart” and “Swimming Pool” too.
    Tom Wilkinson, I remember him from a tons of stuff, like 2003’s “Girl with a pearl Earring”, “Separate Lies”, “The Exorcism of Emily Rose” (alongside Laura Linney) and he voices the character of Superintendent Pendrew in the viseo game “Sleeping Dogs”.
    Barbara Hershey, I mentioned in a post about the IMDB message boards that I looked up her comment page a few weeks ago. He’s had an interesting career, especially being in a lot of good films in the 1980’s (“Tin Men” would probably be my favorite of that time). She last left an impression on me in 1996’s “The Pallbearer”, but I do recall her in 2003’s “11:14” too.
    Laura Linney has always struck me as a complete professional who really understands her craft (not saying other performers don’t, but with her, it’s just the first thing that comes to mind for me). Big films, small films, hosting Masterpiece Theater, I just think she’s damn good. I especially like “The Savages”, “You Can Count on Me”, “Primal Fear”, and “The Squid and the Whale”.
    Jennifer Jason Leigh, I just getting to her? Man, this day is jam packed! Well, her merits are discussed on that page, and she’s enjoying something of a renaissance, one which is on her own terms, of course.
    Chris Parnell, I thought he was an underrated guy on SNL, and I enjoyed Tim Meadows on that show back in the day too (not necessarily The Ladies Man character though).
    Stephen J. Cannell, I liked how he threw that paper out of the typewriter at the end of his shows; I liked many of the shows he was a part of in general.
    I was thinking of Bobby Brown yesterday, his early solo career mostly: songs like “Roni”, “Don’t Be Cruel”, “My Perogative” and “Every Little step”.


  3. This was a very full article to write. Michael Mann has done some of the best crime films of the last 40 years, especially Heat; however, The Last of the Mohicans is my favorite of all his films (partly because Madeleine Stowe).

    I grew up on the style of folk music—“whitebread” is a term used at times—that A Mighty Wind is playing around with, so that is my favorite of Christopher Guest’s films, but I’ve enjoyed most of the others as well.

    Tom Wilkinson is someone I always like to see in a film’s cast; he seldom gives a routine performance.

    Nora Zehetner is a favorite of mine who never really got the break she needed to become a big success.

    Ken Adam’s big sets—the volcano base in You Only Live Twice, the supertanker in The Spy Who Loved Me, etc.—were one of the signature elements of the first two decades of Bond films.


    • I have all of the Bond DVDs that were released in the early aughts and they all have these fantastic in depth documentaries. The Ken Adams sets were indeed a signature element of the series for a long time.


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