March 12: Happy Birthday Liza Minnelli and James Taylor
Liza Minnelli, born to one of the most famous of all show business couples as the daughter of Vincente Minnelli and Judy Garland, has gone on to fame that may surpass either of her parents’. Minnelli, who turns 71 today, made her Broadway debut at 19 in the title role of John Kander and Fred Ebb’s musical Flora the Red Menace. She won the Tony for Best Actress in a Musical, the youngest-ever honoree in that category.
Minnelli went on to win three additional Tonys, including a second win as Best Actress in a Musical for another Kander-Ebb production, The Act. She won a Grammy Living Legend Award, an Emmy for her 1972 concert film Liza with a Z (aired by NBC), and won the Oscar for Best Actress as Sally Bowles in the 1972 film adaptation of Cabaret (yet another Kander-Ebb musical):
James Taylor, who is turning 69 today, was one of music’s biggest stars of the seventies, with a soft rock sound that helped him sell in the vicinity of 100 million records. After a few false starts to his music career, Taylor released his first album in 1968. It was modestly successful, but his second, Sweet Baby James, was extremely well-received and included his first major hit, “Fire and Rain.” In 1972, Taylor won his first Grammy (of five) for his cover of Carole King’s “You’ve Got a Friend,” which was also his first #1 single.
Taylor remained extremely successful for the remainder of the 1970s. He had a relatively dry period beginning in the early eighties, but beginning with his Grammy-winning 1997 album Hourglass, he has had a bit of a resurgence which has continued to this day; his most recent album, 2015’s Before This World, was, rather amazingly, his first album to reach #1 on the Billboard 200.
Courtney B. Vance, who is turning 57, has won an Emmy for playing Johnnie Cochran on American Crime Story and a Tony for Best Featured Actor in a Play for Nora Ephron’s Lucky Guy. Also turning 57 is Jason Beghe, who stars on NBC’s Chicago P.D. as Hank Voight. Titus Welliver, who is turning 56, plays Hieronymous “Harry” Bosch on the Amazon Studios series Bosch, and is also known for roles in films like Gone Baby Gone, and as Agent Felix Blake in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. English actress Lesley Manville is 61. A frequent collaborator with director Mike Leigh, she won the Olivier Award for Best Actress for a 2013 revival of Ibsen’s Ghosts. Chris Sanders is known for his work in animation, especially on the Lilo & Stitch franchise, as the co-creator, the director of the first feature, and the voice of Stitch. He is 55 today.
Jaimie Alexander, our second Marvel Cinematic Universe representative for today, turns 33. She has played Lady Sif in the two Thor movies and in episodes of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., and also stars as Jane Doe on NBC’s Blindspot. Aaron Eckhart, who was a Golden Globe nominee for Thank You For Smoking and played Harvey Dent in The Dark Knight, turns 49 today. Chinese actress Zhao Wei, who is 41 today, has stared in films like Shaolin Soccer, So Close, and Red Cliff.
Barbara Feldon, who is celebrating her 84th, is best known for playing Agent 99 on Get Smart and also has had a notable stage career. Voice actor Frank Welker, who is 71, was honored with a Daytime Emmy Lifetime Achievement Award last year; his most famous voice is that of Scooby-Doo. Producer and director Rob Cohen, who is turning 68, is best known for his direction of high-octane action films like The Fast and the Furious, XXX, and Stealth. Jim Sharman, who turns 72, is known for his distinguished directing career in Australian theater, and internationally as the director of the initial productions of The Rocky Horror Show and also the film adaptation.
Graham Coxon, who is 48, is best known as a founder of the English alt-rock band Blur, who have had several consecutive #1 albums in the UK; Coxon is the band’s lead guitarist. The late Al Jarreau (1940-2017), who passed just a few weeks ago, was a jazz and R&B singer who was a seven-time Grammy winner. One of his best known recordings was the theme song to the 1980s mystery-comedy series Moonlighting:
Matt Millen, who is 59 today, played for 12 seasons in the NFL, winning four Super Bowls with three different teams (the Raiders, 49ers and Redskins), and then went on to a lengthy career covering college and pro football on television and radio. He is also known for his strikingly unsuccessful career as the CEO and general manager of the Detroit Lions. Johnny Rutherford, who is turning 79, was a successful auto racer who is one of only ten drivers to win the Indianapolis 500 three or more times.
Harry Harrison (1925-2012) was a science fiction author best know for his books and stories about con man James Bolivar diGriz, nicknamed The Stainless Steel Rat; he also wrote the novel Make Room! Make Room!, which was adapted into the film Soylent Green. Novelist and poet Jack Kerouac (1922-1969), one of the leaders of the Beat Generation of writers, was best known for his novel On the Road. Edward Albee (1928-2016) was one of the leading American dramatists of the 20th Century. He won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama three times, for A Delicate Balance, Seascape, and Three Tall Women, but his best known play may be Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, which “only” won a Tony for Best Play but was also adapted into a feature film starring Elizabeth Taylor. Dave Eggers, who turns 47, is best known for his best-selling memoir A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius. He has also written several novels and a few screenplays, including Where the Wild Things Are.
Gordon MacRae (1921-1986) was one of Hollywood’s go-to men in the 1950s if they wanted a singing (as opposed to dancing) leading man for a musical; he starred in The Desert Song, Oklahoma!, and Carousel. Takashi Shimura (1905-1982) had more than 200 films on his resume, including 21 directed by Akira Kurosawa. He played the woodcutter in Rashoman and the veteran warrior Kambei in Seven Samurai. Billie Thomas (1931-1980) played the character of Buckwheat in the Our Gang shorts from 1934 until the series came to an end a decade later. French composer Georges Delerue (1925-1992) wrote over 300 film and television scores. He won three Cesar awards and was nominated for five Oscars, winning for Best Original Score for A Little Romance, Diane Lane’s film debut.
Wally Schirra (1923-2007) was one of the original Mercury Seven astronauts, and piloted the fifth of the six manned Mercury flights. He later was the first American to fly in space three times, participating in the Gemini 6A and Apollo 7 missions. He was played by Lance Henriksen in the film The Right Stuff. Mitt Romney, the Republican presidential nominee in 2012, turns 70 today. Mustafa Kemal Atatürk (1881-1938) was the founder and first president of the Republic of Turkey.
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.