March 22: Happy Birthday Andrew Lloyd Webber and Stephen Sondheim
Our two headliners today are probably the two most influential figures in musical theater in the post-Rodgers and Hammerstein era.
Andrew Lloyd Webber (or Baron Lloyd-Webber, as he is known today) is turning 69 today. He is from a musical family—his parents were both musicians, and his younger brother Julian Lloyd Webber is a prominent cellist. He began writing music at a very young age, and was in his teens when he first began setting T. S. Eliot’s Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats to music. A couple of years later, he worked for the first time with lyricist Tim Rice; their first musical was not produced until 2005, but their second became the first hit of a successful partnership that lasted over a decade.
Lloyd Webber’s career is fairly well known and contains a lot of high points. You have not one but two super-sized monster hit musicals (Cats and The Phantom of the Opera). You have a good old fashioned big hit (Evita). You have the huge success in London/modest hit in the US (Starlight Express). You have the earlier hits with Rice (Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, Jesus Christ Superstar). You have the long-runner that never quite covered its big budget (Sunset Boulevard), and still other less renowned musicals. And you have a major parade of songs that are known all over the world.
If Lloyd Webber is the Cameron or Lucas (or maybe Spielberg, if you are a fan of his) of the musical theater world, Stephen Sondheim, who is celebrating his 87th, is probably the Woody Allen. Sondheim got his start on Broadway as a lyricist, working with Leonard Bernstein on West Side Story and then with Jule Styne on Gypsy. He then turned out his first musical as both lyricist and composer, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. He had a bit of a dry patch in the mid-to-late sixties, but then combined with producer/director Hal Prince for the most productive era of his career, a string of five highly-regarded musicals beginning with Company.
Sondheim’s career since his partnership with Prince ended has been uneven, but has included the Pulitzer Prize winning Sunday in the Park with George along with one of his most popular musicals, Into the Woods. Along with that Pulitzer, Sondheim has won eight Tonys, an equal number of Grammys, an Oscar for Best Song (for “Sooner or Later” from Dick Tracy), five Olivier Awards, and even an Edgar Award from the Mystery Writers of America (for the screenplay for the 1973 film The Last of Sheila).
Picking just one song to represent Sondheim is nearly impossible, but here’s one good one that I haven’t previously used in other birthday articles (as a bonus, it’s sung by a recent birthday headliner):
WTHH subject Reese Witherspoon is turning 41 today. She made a reputation in films like Election and Pleasantville, broke out as a star in Legally Blonde, and won Best Actress as June Carter in Walk the Line. She received a second Best Actress nomination for Wild and currently stars on HBO’s Big Little Lies. Matthew Modine, the star of films like Full Metal Jacket and Memphis Belle, is turning 58. Cole Hauser, who is 42 today, is known for his roles in films like Pitch Black and 2 Fast 2 Furious. Keegan-Michael Key, who celebrates his 46th birthday, co-created and starred in the Comedy Central sketch series Key & Peele and has had roles in Tomorrowland and Keanu.
William Shatner, who as all know played Captain James T. Kirk in both the small and big screen versions of Star Trek, turns 86 today. He also starred in the 1980s crime series T. J. Hooker, played the Big Giant Head on 3rd Rock from the Sun, and won two Emmys in the role of Denny Crane on The Practice and Boston Legal. That’s not to mention his writing career, which includes Star Trek fiction and the Tek War novels. Veteran character actor M. Emmet Walsh, who is 82 today, is known for his roles in films like Blade Runner and Blood Simple.
James Wolk, who is 32 today, stars as Jackson Oz on the CBS series Zoo. Nick Robinson, who turns 22, starred on the first three seasons of Melissa & Joey and has had major roles in Jurassic World and The 5th Wave.
Swiss actor Bruno Ganz, who turns 76 today, has worked in German cinema, especially with director Wim Wenders on films like The American Friend and Wings of Desire. He has also been in films like the 2004 version of The Manchurian Candidate and The Reader. Lena Olin, who turns 62, also appeared in The Reader and was an Oscar nominee for Enemies, a Love Story. French actress Fanny Ardant, who is 68, is a four-time Cesar nominee, winning Best Actress for Pédale douce; she also played Mary of Guise in Elizabeth. Marcel Marceau (1923-2007) was a French actor and mime, known for his “Bip the Clown” stage persona. Haing S. Ngor (1940-1996) was a Cambodian gynecologist who won Best Supporting Actor in the role of Dith Pran in The Killing Fields, and continued acting until his death in 1996.
Basketball Hall of Famer Easy Ed Macauley (1928-2011) was a star in the early years of the NBA. A seven-time All-Star in the 1950s, he helped the St. Louis Hawks win the franchise’s only NBA championship in 1958. Bob Costas, who is turning 65 today, has been one of the most recognizable faces to American sports fans for 30 years or more. He has covered baseball, football, basketball and much more, but is probably best known for hosting NBC’s primetime coverage of the Summer Olympics since 1992 and the Winter Olympics since 2002.
Louis L’Amour (1908-1988) wrote 89 novels and 14 collections of short stories, most of which was Western fiction. His books have sold well over 200 million copies. Nicholas Monsarrat (1910-1979) used his experiences as a sailor and a Royal Navy officer in World War 2 to write realistic novels such as The Cruel Sea. James Patterson, who turns 70 today, is an ad executive turned novelist who has sold somewhere between 150 million and 300 million books, most of them crime thrillers; they include the Alex Cross novels, the Women’s Murder Club series, and the novel Zoo, the basis for the TV series mentioned above starring James Wolk.
Leonard “Chico” Marx (1887-1961)—his name, by the way, was pronounced “Chick-oh”—was the eldest of the Marx Brothers. His performing trademarks were his dark, curly wig, his Tyrolean hat, and his faux-Italian accent and mangling of the English language. And his very real talent at the piano:
Before he became best known for reminding Americans not to leave home without American Express traveler’s checks, Karl Malden (1912-2009) was an Oscar winner for A Streetcar Named Desire. He was nominated for a second Oscar for On the Waterfront, played Gen. Omar Bradley in Patton, and starred on ABC’s The Streets of San Francisco. Werner Klemperer (1920-2000) and his family—his father was the great conductor Otto Klemperer—were Jewish refugees from Nazi Germany. He was a two-time Emmy winner as Col. Wilhelm Klink on Hogan’s Heroes, and was a Tony nominee for the 1987 revival of Cabaret. Joseph Schildkraut (1896-1964) won Best Supporting Actor as Alfred Dreyfuss in the 1937 film The Life of Emile Zola, and later starred in the role of Otto Frank in both the stage and film adaptations of The Diary of Anne Frank. Keith Relf (1943-1976) was best known as a co-founder and the lead vocalist of The Yardbirds; he died of an accidental electrocution at the age of only 33.
Braxton Bragg (1817-1876) was a prominent military leader during the American Civil War, on the Confederate side. He was a very difficult man to work with, as seen in an anecdote about his pre-war service. Bragg was a company commander at an Army post, and also served as the post’s quartermaster. At one point, Bragg, as company commander, requisitioned supplies for his company. Then, as quartermaster, he denied the request. He repeated the request and denial again and again, until the post’s commanding officer had to intervene: “My God, Mr. Bragg—you have quarreled with every officer in this Army, and now you are quarreling with yourself!”
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 March 22, 2017, in Celebrity Birthdays and tagged Andrew Lloyd Webber, Bob Costas, Bruno Ganz, Chico Marx, Fanny Ardant, Karl Malden, Louis L'Amour, Matthew Modine, Reese Witherspoon, Stephen Sondheim, Werner Klemperer, william shatner. Bookmark the permalink. 7 Comments.