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March 23: Happy Birthday Keri Russell and Joan Crawford

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For today, I had a choice among a number of well-known but not superstar faces from the present, and a pair of big names from the past, so I decided to go with one of each.

Keri Russell is celebrating her 41st birthday today.  She made her performing debut on the All-New Mickey Mouse Club in 1991.  A role in the film Honey, I Blew Up the Kid followed, along with a number of TV movies and guest roles.  In 1998, she was cast in the lead role of the WB network’s new drama Felicity.  Russell won a Golden Globe as Felicity Porter for the first of the show’s four seasons.

In the mid-2000s, there were times when it seemed that Russell might emerge as a major film star.  A fairly important supporting role in Mission: Impossible III offered her a chance to be a part of a big hit; however, the film would up with the weakest box office numbers in the series.  She received very good critical notice for starring in Waitress, but was not able to follow it up with further successes.  However, she is once again finding success on the small screen.  She stars on The Americans as Elizabeth Jennings, one half of a Cold War era couple who are Soviet moles.  Currently in its fifth season, the show has brought Russell nominations for an Emmy and a Golden Globe.

Joan Crawford (1904-1977; her year of birth is uncertain) was working in a chorus line on Broadway in 1924 when she did a screen test for MGM and was signed to a contract.  Within a year she was getting starring roles, and made an easy transition to sound films at the end of the twenties.  She starred in three films with Clark Gable in the early 1930s, but her most famous film in the early sound era was Grand Hotel.  In the late thirties, her career slumped and she was one of several stars labeled “box office poison.”

A move to Warner Brothers in the early forties helped Crawford turn her career around.  Although she and director Michael Curtiz butted heads throughout the filming of one of her first Warners’ movies, Mildred Pierce, the end result proved very successful for both the studio and Crawford, who won Best Actress in the title role.

In the late forties Crawford starred in films like Humoresque, Possessed, and Daisy Kenyon.  Her star faded again in the fifties, although the Western Johnny Guitar is of interest, and she had one last hurrah as a star in 1962, alongside her former Warner Brothers rival Bette Davis in What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?  After her death, her reputation took a hit with the publication, and film adaptation, of her adopted daughter Christina’s tell-all memoir, Mommie Dearest.

Amanda Plummer, the daughter of Christopher Plummer and the late Tammy Grimes, turns 60 today.  She won a Tony for the play Agnes of God and also has three Primetime Emmys on her mantle; in film she is known for roles in The Fisher King and Pulp FictionCatherine Keener, who is turning 58, is a two-time nominee for Best Supporting Actress, for Being John Malkovich and CapoteHope Davis, who is 53, was a Tony nominee for Yasmina Reza’s God of Carnage, received an Emmy nomination for playing Hillary Clinton, has starred in films like Next Stop Wonderland and Arlington Road, and played Maria Stark in Captain America: Civil WarRandall Park, who stars as Louis Huang on ABC’s Fresh Off the Boat, turns 43 today.  Steven Strait, who is 31 today, stars on Syfy’s The Expanse.

Michelle Monaghan has three things in common with today’s headliner Keri Russell.  They were born on the same day, they both appeared in Mission: Impossible III, and they both have provided the voice of Wonder Woman in an animated feature (Russell in the 2009 film Wonder Woman, Monaghan in 2014’s Justice League: War).  Monaghan has also starred in Gone Baby Gone (as Angie Gennaro), Source Code, and Patriots Day, among other films.

Two French actresses have birthdays today.  Corinne Cléry, who is 67, played the title role in the 1970s erotic drama The Story of O, and is known to James Bond fans for playing Corinne Dufour in MoonrakerJudith Godrèche celebrates her 45th.  She is a three-time Cesar nominee who American audiences might recognize from her roles in The Man in the Iron Mask and Stoker.

A number of film directors and television producers share a birthday today.  Mark Rydell, who is turning 88, was nominated for Best Director for On Golden Pond.  He also directed films such as The Cowboys and The Rose and made a memorable acting appearance in Robert Altman’s The Long Goodbye.  Austrian director Michael Haneke, who is 75, made a big impression with his 1997 psychological thriller Funny Games (which he remade for Hollywood a decade later).  He went on to make two films which won the Palme d’Or at Cannes, The White Ribbon and Amour, the latter of which also won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language film and was nominated for Best Picture.  Jaume Collet-Serra is turning 43.  He has made a number of action thrillers starring Liam Neeson, such as Unknown and Run All Night, and also directed last year’s The Shallows, featuring Blake Lively and a shark.  Swedish director Daniel Espinosa, who is 40 today, had a big success in his home country with the crime film Easy Money, and then came to Hollywood to make the espionage thriller Safe HouseDavid Milch, who is 72 today, began his career writing for Hill Street Blues and went on to be the co-creator of NYPD Blue and the creator of Deadwood.  He is a six-time Emmy winner.  Marc Cherry, the creator of the series Desperate Housewives and Devious Maids, turns 55 today.

Kim Stanley Robinson, who is celebrating his 65th, is one of the most-respected living science fiction authors.  He is best known for the “Mars” trilogy, consisting of Red Mars, Green Mars, and Blue Mars, the first of which won a Nebula Award while the other two both won Hugos.  Elizabeth Ann Scarborough, who turns 70 today, is also a Nebula Award winner, for her novel The Healer’s War, and is also known for her collaborations with the late Anne McCaffrey on the Acorna series.

In the sports world, Jason Kidd turns 44.  Kidd was a ten-time NBA All-Star, one of the best point guards and defenders in the league’s history.  He started for Dallas when they won the 2011 NBA title and currently coaches the Milwaukee Bucks.  Basketball Hall-of-Famer Moses Malone (1955-2015) went straight from high school to the Utah Stars of the ABA in 1974, and after the NBA-ABA merger two years later became a star for the Houston Rockets and later the Philadelphia 76ers.  He was a three-time NBA MVP and led the 76ers to the 1983 title.  Sir Roger Bannister, who turns 88 today, made track and field history in 1954 as the first man to run the mile in under 4 minutes.  He went on to a distinguished medical career as a neurologist.

Music birthdays today include the Queen of Funk, Chaka Khan, who turns 64.  Known as the frontwoman of Rufus as well as a solo artist, she has won ten Grammys, almost all in R&B categories, and sold an estimated 70 million records.  Ric Ocasek, who is 68, is best known as a vocalist and songwriter for the new wave band The Cars; he wrote almost all of the band’s hits such as “Shake It Up” and “Drive.”  David Grisman, a leading progressive bluegrass musician known as a mandolinist and composer, is turning 72 today.  Brett Eldredge, who is celebrating his 31st, is a rising country star who has had six Top Ten country hits in the last five years.

Cedric Gibbons (1893-1960) was nominated for an astonishing 38 Oscars in the area of art direction and production design, and won eleven times, for films such as The Merry Widow, The Yearling, and Julius Caesar (to name just a few).

Akira Kurosawa (1910-1998) may not have been the greatest Japanese director ever—many would give precedence to Kenji Mizoguchi and/or Yasujiro Ozu—but is likely the best known in the English-speaking world.  His most important films include Rashoman, Seven Samurai, The Hidden Fortress, and Yojimbo.

Historical figures born today include Sidney Hillman (1887-1946).  Hillman, an immigrant from Lithuania, was the first president of the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America, holding the office for 30 years, and a key figure in the creation of the CIO.  Wernher von Braun (1912-1977) was a leading aerospace engineer of the mid-20th century, known for designing the Saturn V rocket that launched the Apollo spacecraft on their voyages to the Moon.  His more dubious political activities are touched on in one of Tom Lehrer’s best songs:

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 23, 2017, in Celebrity Birthdays and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 9 Comments.

  1. My wife liked Felicity a lot and so I caught several episodes through second-hand viewing. It was actually a really solid coming-of age show. Later, I saw Keri Russell in both Waitress and MI3. The latter had the distinction of being the biggest box office disappointment in the franchise despite being better than the previous two entries. It set the tone for the rest of the series. I am not up on The Americans but I have heard good things.

    I am less familiar with Joan Crawford than I am with Mommy Dearest and Feud. Feud has been especially riveting television. One of my favorite shows currently on.

    I did not realize Amanda Plummer was Christopher Plummer’s daughter. Light-bulb moment. Catherine Keener is an actress I always enjoy. As is Hope Davis who camped it up on Wayward Pines for two seasons. I first remember seeing Randall Park in The Interview. He was by far the best thing in it. Hope he never goes to Korea.

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  2. MIldred Pierce is a stone-cold cinematic classic. Much of my appreciation of Joan Crawford comes from that film.

    Catherine Keener first caught my attention in the superb Being John Malkovich, and I was glad to see her become more successful in the surprise hit 40 Year Old Virgin, which helped display more of her versatility.

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  3. I have never seen a haircut affect an actor’s career the way Keri Russell’s did while on Felicity. While I never watched the show I was aware of its growing pop culture popularity, and once Russell cut her beautiful curly locks, BAM! fans went crazy and the show’s ratings plummeted and was soon cancelled. It too Russell years to get steady work again. Anybody else remember that?

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    • Well, there was more than Keri Russell’s haircut to the show’s second season ratings decline. It was moved to a new timeslot, on Sunday nights where it was up against CBS’s hit Touched by an Angel, not to mention The Simpsons. Also, it wasn’t “soon cancelled.” Russell cut her hair at the start of season 2 and the show remained on the air for four seasons.

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    • I remember the uproar. As jestak pointed out, the show did soldier on and Russell did grow her locks back for later seasons. The ratings dropped before the Russell changed her hairstyle as a result of the show’s new time slot, but people were talking about the haircut so they assumed that was the reason for the decline in ratings.

      Perception is reality. It’s like the infamous McDonald’s coffee lawsuit. At the time, everyone held that up as the epitome of a frivolous lawsuit. It was mocked enough to become a joke on Seinfeld. But in reality, that woman was horribly burned by scalding coffee that was far hotter than it should have been. But most people still remember it as a joke.

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  4. I haven’t seen much of Keri Russell’s work, but I heard that “The Americans” is a solid show.
    Joan Crawford, her reputation was dragged through the mud and ran through the ringer after she passed, but I think her Hollywood career holds up. Also, she was a single mother in an era in which that was uncommon, so there’s two sides to every story.
    Amanda Plummer, like Lebeau, I didn’t know for a long time that she was Christopher Plummer’s daughter. I especially liked her in the “Miami Vice” episode ‘Fruit of the Poison Tree’ and that film with Robert Forster, “American Perfekt”.
    Catherine Keener, yeah, I always liked her and man films she’s done (Walking and Talking”, “Living in Oblivion”, “American Crime”, heck, even that goofy film with Brad Pitt when he plays a James Dean sort of knockoff, “Johnny Suede”).
    Hope Davis, you know, I’ve always kind of liked 1999’s “Mumford”. As a bonus, the film has a faux “Unsolved Mysteries” segment in it. I really liked Davis in “Next Stop Wonderland”.
    Jason Kidd, I believe he played the Point Guard position the right way, and finally got a title as a pretty critical piece on that Dallas Mavericks 2011 team.
    Moses Malone, he’s one of my all-time favorite players, although most of what I’ve seen from him was from the archives (I do have “Tecmo Super Basketball” for the SNES, and he’s a backup for the Bucks, so I can get my video game Moses on that way). Man, he tore through the Lakers in the 1983 Finals (cue up the Andy Clark, “World Beater” instrumental!!!). I can’r believe a rugged guy like him, who never missed many basketball minutes and he played pro for over 20 years, passed at age 60. Maybe all those years of basketball drained his lifeforce?

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  5. Ric Ocasek, I like The Cars and a lot of their songs, and my favorite is probably “Tonight She Comes” or “You might Think”, depending on the day (“Drive” gets to me too much, and I’m already gotten).

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  6. I was a fan of Keri Russell’s going back to even before her Felicity days (it must have been those famous long curls), so while I wish that she had become a bigger film star, it is very nice to see her having a second round of major success on television, with the possibility of her picking up a shiny trophy or two over the final seasons of The Americans.

    I am less familiar with Joan Crawford’s work than I am with most of her Golden Age contemporaries’, but there’s no denying she was one of the era’s biggest stars.

    I am a big fan of Dennis Lehane’s Kenzie-Gennaro series, and Angie Gennaro is one of my favorite fictional characters in any genre or medium, but I was disappointed in how she came across in Gone Baby Gone. That had nothing at all to do with Michelle Monaghan’s performance—I thought she was just fine. It had everything to do with how the script marginalized and “chickified” Angie as a character—they made her seem almost like Patrick Kenzie’s secretary, rather than his partner (his partner, I might add, who is far more dangerous than he in a gunfight, whereas in the movie Angie doesn’t even appear to carry).

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    • I didn’t know that about the Angie Gennaro character, since I never read any of the Dennis Lehane books. I would’ve been slightly disappointed in “Gone Baby Gone” then, because as I can accept certain details to be omitted from a book to screen adaptation, I don’t like a character to be rewritten or declawed.

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