February 8: Happy Birthday John Williams and James Dean


John Williams celebrates his 85th today.  The five-time Oscar winner studied at Juilliard and began working in film and television as an orchestrator and a studio pianist.  He began composing film and television music of his own in the late fifties, and received his first Oscar nominations (he has received fifty in total) in the late sixties, for Valley of the Dolls (for Best Adaptation Score) and The Reivers (for Best Original Score).  His first Oscar might surprise some—it was for Best Adapted Score for the film version of Fiddler on the Roof.

In the early seventies Williams was asked by Steven Spielberg to score his movie The Sugarland Express, beginning a collaboration that would see Williams score all but two of Spielberg’s films, including one about a shark.  A few years later, Spielberg recommended that his friend George Lucas have Williams score a science fiction adventure film.  It is pretty safe to say that the scores for Jaws and Star Wars, both of which won Williams Oscars for Best Original Score, made him as much of a household word as any film composer can ever be.

Williams has won two additional Oscars, for E.T. and Schindler’s List, as well as seven BAFTA Awards, four Golden Globes, three Emmys and an astonishing 22 Grammys.  In 1980 he replaced the legendary Arthur Fiedler as conductor of the Boston Pops, and he remains the ensemble’s Conductor Laureate.  Besides his film music, he is known for several Olympic Games themes and the “Mission” theme for the NBC Nightly News, and he has written a considerable body of orchestral and chamber music.    Picking a single piece of music to represent all of his work would be impossible, but I do have a pair of personal favorites: the “super-theme” from Superman: The Movie, and this:

We have had at least a few “shooting star” careers so far in the birthday articles—performers who we just barely had a chance to get to know before they were gone, like Buddy Holly or Janis Joplin.  But no career was as meteoric as that of James Dean (1931-1955).  Dean dropped out of UCLA to pursue an acting career, getting uncredited bit parts in a few films.  He moved to New York to study at Lee Strasberg’s Actor’s Studio, and found regular television work, largely on anthology series like General Electric Theater and Kraft Television Theatre.  When Elia Kazan was preparing to film John Steinbeck’s East of Eden, someone recommended Dean to him for the role of Cal Trask.

Dean’s first credited screen role brought him an Oscar nomination for Best Actor.  He picked up a second Best Actor nomination a year later for the role of Jett Rink in Giant.  In between those two films came one that was perhaps his most famous, as Jim Stark in Rebel Without a Cause, one of the prototypes for all teen movies.  But for Dean, the acting honors as well as even the premiers of the latter two movies were posthumous—he died in September 1955 in an auto accident.

Three time Oscar nominee Nick Nolte turns 76 today.  His big break came with the 1976 ABC miniseries Rich Man, Poor Man, which brought him Emmy and Golden Globe nominations.  A year later he starred in The Deep.  He received Best Actor nominations for The Prince of Tides and Affliction and a Best Supporting Actor nomination for WarriorMary Steenburgen won Best Supporting Actress for Melvin and Howard, only her third feature film.  While she never quite lived up to the promise of that early success, she had a good career in film in the eighties and nineties.  More recently, she was a John Sayles regular in the 2000s, and currently stars on Fox’s The Last Man on Earth.  Steenburgen is 64 today.

Brooke Adams, who turns 68, was prominent in the late seventies as a star of Terrence Malick’s Days of Heaven and the remake of Invasion of the Body SnatchersMary McCormack, who is 48 today, starred on Murder One and more recently on In Plain Sight, and was a regular on The West Wing for two seasons.  Sherie Rene Scott is a two-time Tony nominee for her work in musical theater, where she has starred in the original casts of musicals such as Aida, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, The Little Mermaid, and Everyday Rapture (which she also wrote the book for and which is somewhat autobiographical).  Scott turns 50 today.  Ethan Phillips, who played Neelix on Star Trek: Voyager, turns 62 today.  Henry Czerny, who is turning 58, starred on ABC’s Revenge as Conrad Grayson.

Buffy fans will remember Seth Green, who celebrates his 43rd, for playing Daniel “Oz” Osborne, while others will recognize him as the co-creator of Robot Chicken Liam McIntyre, who is 35 today, starred in the title role of Starz’s Spartacus for its second and third seasons after initial star Andy Whitfield was diagnosed with cancer, and also plays the recurring role of Mark Mardon/Weather Wizard on The FlashAnna Hutchison appeared on the third season of Spartacus as Laeta and starred on the New Zealand series Go Girls.  She turns 31.

Other music birthdays today include Vince Neil.  The lead vocalist for Mötley Crüe for many years, he turns 56.  Dan Seals (1948-2009) was half of the soft rock duo England Dan & John Ford Coley, who had a number of late seventies hits such as “I’d Really Love to See You Tonight.”  Seals later had a successful solo career as a country singer.  Soprano Elly Ameling, who turns 84, had a long career as a concert and lieder singer who had a repertoire extending from Bach to Mahler to Duke Ellington.

Basketball Hall of Famer Alonzo Mourning turns 47.  He starred for over a decade with the Charlotte Hornets and Miami Heat, winning the NBA’s Defensive Player of the Year award twice.  He temporarily retired in 2003 due to a kidney disease, but a transplant allowed him to return to the NBA and he helped Miami win the 2006 NBA title.  Bulgarian footballer Hristo Stoichkov, who turns 51, was one of the sports biggest stars in the 1990s.  He played for FC Barcelona’s “Dream Team” in the early nineties, and for Bulgaria at the 1994 World Cup, where he won the Golden Boot as the top scorer.

John Grisham, who turns 62, is an attorney turned novelist who has sold, at the most conservative of estimates, over 100 million books—possibly over 250 million.  Most of his output has been legal thrillers, such as The Firm, The Pelican Brief, and The Rainmaker.  During the mid-1990s, it seemed that every year brought one or more film adaptations of Grisham’s novels.  Jules Verne (1828-1905) was one of the most popular and influential novelists of the last half of the nineteenth century.  He wrote a series of adventure novels such as Journey to the Center of the Earth, From the Earth to the Moon, and Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, many of which were important as early works of science fiction.

Jack Lemmon (1925-2001) was an eight-time Oscar nominee, winning Best Supporting Actor as Ensign Pulver in Mister Roberts, and Best Actor as Harry Stoner in Save the Tiger.  He won Golden Globes and was Oscar-nominated for two classic films directed by Billy Wilder, Some Like it Hot and The Apartment.  Also notable were his films with Walter Matthau, such as The Odd Couple and the 1974 remake of The Front Page, and his roles in politically charged films like The China Syndrome and Missing.

One of Hollywood’s great legends was the discovery of Lana Turner (1921-1995), who was spotted by journalist William Wilkinson when she was sipping a Coke at a malt shop, and immediately referred to a talent agency run by none other than Zeppo Marx.  She would up being signed to a contract by MGM and went on to be a major star of the 1940s, with major roles in films like Johnny Eager and The Postman Always Rings Twice.  In the fifties, although she had successes with The Bad and the Beautiful and Peyton Place (receiving an Oscar nomination for the latter), she also had some big flops, on top of which came the furor when her daughter, Cheryl Crane, stabbed and killed her then-lover, gangster Johnny Stompanato, when the latter was assaulting Turner.

Gary Coleman (1968-2010) became famous as the star of Diff’rent Strokes, playing Arnold Jackson.  Millions of Americans could toss off his catchphrase, “What’chu talkin’ ’bout, Willis?”  But Coleman’s later life was not easy.  He had to sue his adoptive parents in 1989 for misappropriating his earnings, and in later years he had a variety of legal troubles and had to declare bankruptcy once, before dying at only 42.  King Vidor (1894-1982) was a leading director of the silent and early sound film eras.  His best known films include the silent classics The Big Parade and The Crowd, and sound films like The Champ, Stella Dallas, and Duel in the SunDame Edith Evans (1888-1976) had a long career on the English stage.  She gave the original performances of several roles in George Bernard Shaw’s plays, while her Shakespeare roles included Portia in The Merchant of Venice, Beatrice in Much Ado About Nothing, and the Nurse in Romeo and Juliet.  She received three Oscar nominations during the 1960s.

William T. Sherman (1820-1891) was one of the most important military leaders of the American Civil War.  He commanded the Union Army that captured Atlanta in the summer of 1864 and then made the famous “March to the Sea.”

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 8, 2017, in Celebrity Birthdays and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. I got to see John Williams in concert a few years ago. I highly recommend it if you get the chance. A friend of mine works for the symphony and got to meet Williams. He is apparently as warm and charming as you would hope. My friend told Williams that he wrote the soundtrack of his childhood. Williams responded by asking for a hug. On stage, he carried on a casual conversation with the audience as though we were all guests in his living room. I can think of a few movies that wouldn’t have worked without Williams contribution. His music created much of the sense of dread in Jaws and helped audiences believe a man could fly in Superman.

    James Dean gets name dropped in today’s bracket game which features his costar from Giant.

    I think I first became aware of Nick Nolte in 48 Hours. Currently he’s starring in a show on Starz which I have yet to watch. I’ve always liked Mary Steenburgen and Last Man on Earth is a favorite in our house. Her character is involved in a cliffhanger, so we’re waiting to see if she is still on the show!

    In the early days of WTHH when I had one regular reader, there was a request for an article on Brooke Adams. I think she is frequently confused with Karen Allen. This Buffy fan does remember Seth Green as Oz, but also as Scott Evil and several other supporting roles. He was part of the boy band in Josie and the Pussycats as well.

    I watched Liam McIntyre on Spartacus but I did not recognize him when he showed up on The Flash. Vince Neil was on The Celebrity Apprentice this year. He raised a ton of money for his charity in one task and then basically asked to be fired so he could go home.

    I have never been a John Grisham fan. I know plenty of people who are. While I haven’t read more than a couple books by Jules Verne, I certainly feel his influence.

    Jack Lemmon had a long career with some pretty impressive highlights. Lana Turner is one of those old Hollywood legends. Gary Coleman wasn’t, but he sure did have a moment in the spotlight.


  2. I could note that John Williams has been the film composer for a tremendous amount of films that I’ve enjoyed and even love, which would be true. But going a step further he has created some of the most beautiful music I have ever heard. The very first album I ever bought in my life was The Empire Strikes Back soundtrack on record when I was about 8 years old. I didn’t just love the film itself, I loved Williams’ indelible score too in and of itself as a piece of art, much with the rest of the Star Wars films. Later, I would discover Raiders of the Lost Ark. Not only would it become my favorite film ever, but so would the soundtrack. I’ve listened to it countless times over the years.

    Actually I was fortunate enough last summer to attend a screening of Raiders with the 80 piece Chicago Symphony Orchestra performing Williams’ score live throughout. It was a real highlight of last year for me, just an extraordinary experience.


  3. In my household as a kid, everybody was a Jack Lemmon fan. Anytime one of his films aired I was glued to the television. The Apartment, The Odd Couple and Some Like It Hot will always be stone cold classic comedies as far as I’m concerned. Lemmon later had a helluva second act in the 90’s. Glengarry Glen Ross had what I consider one of the great ensembles ever, and even among some great actors Lemmon still blew me away with his performance. How the hell did the Oscars overlook him here? And those Grumpy Old Men comedies, which were surprise hits, were actually pretty entertaining. Basically anytime you put Lemmon and Mattheau together you cannot lose.


  4. No doubt, John Williams has composed many noteworthy film scores; he’s just been so prolific and great in that area for so long.
    James Dean’s legend and mystry has far outlasted his life, but it really seems he showed a lot of promise as an actor. He’s been an influence and an idol to many.
    Nick Nolte, I like a lot of the films he’s been in, but “46 hrs.” and “Down and Out in Beverly Hills” really stick out for me.
    Mary Steenburgen has played many offbeat character in quite a few interesting films (for me, I really like “Melvin and Howard”, “Time After Time”, and “Dead of Winter”).
    Brooke Adams, I remember her the best from “The Dead Zone” and 1985’s “Key Exchange”, and she’s married to Tony Shalhoub.
    Mary McCormack, well, I mentioned “High Hells and Low Lifes” in one post, so I’ll mention “Private Parts” here (for a time, I thought she was Howard Stern’s real-life wife).
    Seth Green, he’s been around for a long time (“Radio Days”, “My Stepmother is an Alien”), but that Austin Powers gig really put him on the map publically.
    Vince Neil, I’ve like a few motley crue songs through the years.
    John Grisham, I’ve never read any of his books, but I’ve liked some of the film adaptations like “The Pelican Brief (fly pelican, fly!), and “The Client”. Like Judge Dredd, I guess he’s the law too.
    I’ve enjoyed a lot of Jack Lemmon’s work, but my favorite film is “Days of Wine and Roses” (Blake Edwards best film?).
    Lana Turner is another one of those golden era screen icons in which I’ve seen little of; I mostly know about the homicide of her boyfriend Johnny Stompanato (she was aces on the witness stand). I see that situation for what it is, and anyway, Stompanato probably would’ve gotten whacked down the road anyway.
    Gary Coleman, I thought he was fun on “Diff’rent Strokes”, and I thought it was nice when he popped up every once in awhile as a guest in other things.


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