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March 20: Happy Birthday William Hurt and Spike Lee

0320HurtLee

William Hurt is turning 67 today.  After studying at Tufts and Juilliard, he spent several years with the Circle Repertory Company.  He was a Tony nominee for his Broadway debut in David Rabe’s Hurlyburly.  He made his film debut in Altered States in 1980 and received a Golden Globe nomination.  His next film roles were in the romantic thriller Eyewitness with Sigourney Weaver, as a classic film noir sap in Body Heat, with yesterday’s headliner Glenn Close, among others, in The Big Chill, and in the lead role in Gorky Park.  And then he starred in an adaptation of a novel by Manuel Puig:

Hurt won the Oscar for Best Actor for Kiss of the Spider Woman, and was nominated for Best Actor in the two following years, for Children of a Lesser God and Broadcast News.  While he has never reached the same level of success since, he has continued working in major films for the last 30 years.  He received a fourth Oscar nomination, for Best Supporting Actor, for A History of Violence, and plays Gen. Thaddeus “Thunderbolt” Ross in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.  On television, he reunited with Glenn Close during the second season of Damages and received the first Emmy nomination of his career.

Spike Lee is celebrating his 60th today.  He studied at Morehouse College and then at NYU, where he made the film Joe’s Bed-Stuy Barbershop as his master’s thesis.  His first feature She’s Gotta Have It, was made on a budget of $175,000 and was released in 1985.  Both it and his next film, School Daze, were well-received, but it was Lee’s third feature, a chronicle of racial tensions in Brooklyn, that is his signature film:

Do the Right Thing brought Lee his first Oscar nomination, for Best Original Screenplay.  His only other Oscar nomination was for the 1997 documentary 4 Little Girls, about the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing in Birmingham in 1963 (Lee did receive an honorary award at the 2015 Oscars).  His films of the early nineties, while not quite on the level of Do the Right Thing, were still notable—Mo’ Better Blues, Jungle Fever, Malcolm X, Clockers, etc.  His more recent films have been much lower in profile, but he continues to work regularly; his most recent feature was 2015’s Chi-Raq.

Holly Hunter, who is 59 today, starred with William Hurt in Broadcast News and was a Best Actress nominee.  She swept virtually every major Best Actress award when she starred in The Piano in 1993, and was nominated for Best Supporting Actress for The Firm in the same year (losing to her Piano co-star Anna Paquin).  She picked up a fourth Oscar nomination for Thirteen in 2003, and is a six-time Emmy nominee, with two wins in the Outstanding Lead Actress in a Miniseries or Movie category.  And this doesn’t even get to her stage career, or her films with the Coen brothers, or her voicing Elastigirl in The Incredibles.  And so on.

Hal Linden, who won a Tony for Best Actor in a Musical for The Rothschilds and was a seven-time Emmy nominee as the title character on Barney Miller, turns 86 today.  Carl Reiner, who is celebrating his 95th, is a 12-time Emmy winner, with wins in acting, writing and producing categories—several of them are for The Dick Van Dyke Show, on which he also co-starred as Alan Brady.  Television producer Paul Junger Witt, who is turning 74, is known for his long-standing partnership with Susan Harris (his wife) and Tony Thomas.  They have created series such as Soap, Benson, The Golden Girls, Beauty and the Beast, and Blossom.  Actor and comedian John de Lancie, who is turning 69, is most likely known for playing Q on three different Star Trek series.  Pat Riley, who is 72 today, is our big sports birthday.  He has won NBA championships as a player (with the 1972 LA Lakers), as a coach (four with the Lakers in the 1980s, one with the Miami Heat), and as a team executive (three with the Heat).

Theresa Russell, who turns 60, is known for her roles in films like Black Widow, Physical Evidence, and Wild Things, as well as for her films with director Nicolas Roeg, who she was married to for several years.  Stephen Sommers, who is 55 today, is known for directing action films like the 1994 Jungle Book, The Mummy and The Mummy Returns, and Van HelsingDavid Thewlis, who is known for playing Remus Lupin in the Harry Potter films and will appear as Ares in this year’s Wonder Woman, turns 54.  Liza Snyder, who turns 49, was a regular on CBS’s Yes Dear, and now stars on Man With a Plan with Matt LeBlanc.  Michael Rapaport, who is 47 today, is a character actor known for his roles in films like True Romance, Beautiful Girls, Deep Blue Sea, Triggermen, and The HeatPaula Garces, known for playing Maria Perez (later Perez-Lee) in the Harold & Kumar films and for creating the Latina comic book superhero Aluna, turns 43 today.

Xavier Dolan, who is celebrating his 28th, is a French-Canadian director who has made films like Heartbeats, Laurence Anyways, and It’s Only the End of the World.  He is currently making his first English-language film, The Death and Life of John F. DonovanChristy Carlson Romano, who starred as Ren Stevens on Disney Channel’s Even Stevens and was the voice of Kim Possible, turns 33 or 34 depending on what source you believe about her year of birth.  Freema Agyeman, who is 38, is known to Doctor Who fans as the Tenth Doctor’s Companion Martha Jones and is a regular on Netflix’s Sense8.  Also 38 today is Bianca Lawson, who played the Slayer Kendra on Buffy’s second season and is a regular on Queen Sugar, airing on the Oprah Winfrey Network.  Australian actress Ruby Rose, who is celebrating her 31st, has been on a lot of theater screens lately, appearing in John Wick: Chapter 2, Resident Evil: Final Chapter, and xXx: The Return of Xander CageRJ Cyler, who is turning 22, starred in the well-received Me and Earl and the Dying Girl in 2015 (as Earl) and will appear later this year in the new Power Rangers movie.

Our music birthdays today begin with Dame Vera Lynn, who celebrates her 99th birthday.  She was an enormously popular traditional pop singer, who reached the height of her fame during World War 2, thanks to her renditions of songs like “We’ll Meet Again” and “The White Cliffs of Dover.”  Jerry Reed (1937-2008) was a country singer who was popular in the sixties and seventies; his best know hits included “When You’re Hot, You’re Hot” and “East Bound and Down,” the later of which was the theme to Smokey and the Bandit, which Reed also co-starred in.  Sviatoslav Richter (1915-1997) was one of the most brilliant pianists of the 20th century.  Along with violinist David Oistrakh (with whom he frequently performed), he was one of the first artists from the Soviet Union allowed to tour in the West after World War 2.  His repertoire ranged from Bach and Handel to 20th Century composers; one of his most famous recordings was of Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition.  Finally, a pair of great 20th century tenors were both born on this date in 1890. The Italian Beniamino Gigli (1890-1957) had one of the most beautiful tenor voices of his time, and excelled in Puccini, Donizetti and the more lyric Verdi roles.  Danish-born Lauritz Melchior (1890-1973) was the greatest Wagner tenor of his day—some would say of all time.  Very few tenors are up to the challenge of Wagner roles like Siegfried or Tristan, but Melchior was more than equal to them.  Both Gigli and Melchior spent many years at the Metropolitan Opera.

Sir Michael Redgrave (1908-1985), father of Vanessa and Lynn, was another of England’s famous “theatrical knights,” with a 40 year career on the stage that included both acting and directing.  He also worked regularly in film, where his first major role was in Hitchcock’s The Lady VanishesOzzie Nelson (1906-1975) became a successful band leader in the 1930s, married his band’s star singer, Harriet Hilliard, and starred with his wife and their two sons, David and Ricky, on the longrunning sitcom The Adventures of Ozzie and HarrietEdgar Buchanan (1903-1979) worked as a supporting player in film and guest star on television for over 20 years before he was cast as Uncle Joe Carson on Petticoat Junction; he was the only cast member to appear in every episode of the series, and also made crossover appearances on Green Acres and The Beverly HillbilliesTed Bessell (1935-1996) was yet another regular on mid-to-late sixties television, as Donald Hollinger on That GirlFred Rogers (1928-2003) is surely remembered by most people who were children during the thirty-plus years that Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood was airing on public television.

Henrik Ibsen (1828-1906) is frequently identified as the second most-performed playwright in the world (after Shakespeare, of course).  Called the “father of realism,” he is probably the single most important figure in modern drama.  His most important plays include A Doll’s House (the best known), Peer Gynt, Ghosts, The Wild Duck, and Hedda Gabler.

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 March 20, 2017, in Celebrity Birthdays and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. William Hurt, Hurts so good? Well, some think so, while others are probably a little underwhelmed by him. For myself, I love his 1980’s work (“Altered States”, “Eyewitness”, “Body Heat”, “Broadcast News”, and so on…) but since then he’s only caught my eye in “Dark City” (awesome awesome awesome!!!) and “A History of Violence” (pretty awesome).
    Spike Lee, I could spend an entire week watching his films,; I even like the less acclaimed films such as “Clockers” and “Girl 6”. “Summer of Sam” though, I never really warmed up to that (Adrien Brody’s character especially bothers me), although I did own it on VHS for a few years.
    Holly Hunter, I think she’d make a good “What The Hell Happened” subject, mostly because I think her film career has been rather quiet in the last 14 years after she was blowing up all over for the previous 15. I thought she did her usually fine work in that “Saving Grace” television series.
    Hal Linden, yep, “Barney miller” for sure, that has to be his signature part.
    Carl Reiner , I know him mostly from the Steve Martin pictures he directed (“The Jerk”, “The Man with Two Brains”, “Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid”, which I really like) and his role in the 2001 “Ocean’s Eleven”.
    Pat Riley, he won coaching two different basketball styles, and I think he’s had great success in his executive post too.
    Theresa Russell, she’s played a lot of roles not everyone would be comfortable with (1980’s “Bad Timing”, 1983’s “Eureka”, 1991’s “Whore” and “Kafka”) and did that on quite a regular basis. I’ve watched “Black Widow” over and over, and like Debra Winger’s character in the film, I always thought she had really great hair.
    David Thewlis, I thought he was fantastic in the 1993 film “Naked”, and I think it’s one of the best films I’ve ever seen (No joking, I think it’s a film Theresa Russell would be interested in).
    Michael Rapaport, oh yeah, I’ve seen him in a ton of films: “Higher Learning”, the 1995 “Kiss of Death”, “Metro”, 2000’s “Bamboozled”, etc.
    Jerry Reed, I actually remember him best from the 1983 film “The Survivors”; I didn’t think it was a particularly good film, but I did watch it.

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  2. Three major film figures today, all best known for their work in the eighties and/or nineties. Picking which to to go with as headliners was not easy; Holly Hunter could have easily been one of my choices.

    I am just old enough to remember when The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet was still on television; I have vague memories that my grandmother may have been fond of the show or something like that.

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  3. Next time I get going on the Hurt, it’s going to have to be “Gorky Park”. I need to get that film on DVD someday, but for now, I guess I can watch it on YouTube.

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