March 31: Happy Birthday Richard Chamberlain and William Daniels


Our two headliners today have done notable film and stage work, but are best known for their television roles.

Richard Chamberlain turns 83 today.  He began acting in the late fifties in Southern California theater and TV guest roles.  In 1961 he landed a plum lead role, as the title character on NBC’s Dr. Kildare.  He won a Golden Globe during the series’ five year run.  In 1966 he was to make his Broadway debut in a musical adaptation of Breakfast at Tiffany’s, but it closed before its formal opening (i.e., during previews).

In the seventies Chamberlain seemed to have the market cornered when it came to Alexandre Dumas adaptations, as he appeared in Richard Lester’s feature films The Three Musketeers and The Four Musketeers (as Aramis), and in TV movie adaptations of The Count of Monte Cristo (as the title character) and The Man in the Iron Mask (again in the title role).  Starting in the late seventies he became known as the “King of the Miniseries” for starring in productions like an NBC adaptation of a James Clavell novel:

Chamberlain won Golden Globes for starring in Shōgun and then in the 1983 miniseries The Thorn Birds.  Somehow his mid-80s films as Allan Quatermain, King Solomon’s Mines and Allan Quatermain and the Lost City of Gold, managed to receive only two Razzie nominations between them (neither for Chamberlain himself).  In 1988 he starred as Jason Bourne in a TV movie version of The Bourne Identity.  He is still at least somewhat active and is scheduled to appear later this year in the Twin Peaks revival.

Actor William Daniels (not to be confused with the Oscar-winning cinematographer of the same name) is turning 90 today.  He made his Broadway debut in 1945 in the role of Clarence in Life With Father, and began working in television in the early fifties; interestingly, in light of Daniels’ future, one of his roles was as John Quincy Adams in a TV movie.  During the sixties he began to get some significant supporting roles in film, such as playing Benjamin Braddock’s father in The Graduate.  But it was with a 1969 Broadway musical, and the subsequent 1972 film adaptation, that he got his first starring role:

After he played John Adams in 1776, Daniels did periodic feature films, but concentrated on television.  He had regular roles on several series through the years—some might recognize him as the voice of KITT from Knight Rider—but is particularly known for two.  For much of the 1980s he starred as Dr. Mark Craig on St. Elsewhere, winning two Emmys for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series.  Beginning in 1993, he played George Feeny on Boy Meets World for seven seasons; he has returned to the role a few times on Girl Meets World.

Christopher Walken celebrates his 74th birthday.  An Oscar-winner for The Deer Hunter and a nominee for Catch Me if You Can, he has one of the most diverse filmographies of any actor of his generation.  He has played a Bond villain and a Batman villain, and has received two Tony nominations during his stage career.  Ewan McGregor is turning 46.  He first became known for several films directed by Danny Boyle—Shallow Grave, Trainspotting, and A Life Less Ordinary.  He played the young Obi-Wan Kenobi in the Star Wars prequels, and has received Golden Globe nominations for his roles in Moulin Rouge! and Salmon Fishing in the Yemen.

Shirley Jones, who turns 83 today, was largely known for playing wholesome characters in musicals like Oklahoma! or The Music Man, a characterization that carried over to her TV role on The Partridge Family.  But she was also an Oscar-winner as the vengeance-seeking prostitute Lulu Baines in Elmer GantryGabe Kaplan, who is turning 72, was a successful stand-up comedian of the seventies who starred as Gabe Kotter on ABC’s Welcome Back, KotterRhea Perlman, a four-time Emmy winner as Carla Tortelli on Cheers, is 69 today.  She and Danny DeVito have been married for 35 years.  Ed Marinaro, who is 67, was a football star at Cornell and played several seasons in the NFL before going into acting; he played the regular character of Joe Coffey on Hill Street Blues for six seasons.  Kate Micucci, who turns 37, is half of the comedy/music duo Garfunkel and Oates with Riki Lindhome and has had recurring roles on Scrubs, Raising Hope, and The Big Bang TheoryJessica Szohr, who played Vanessa Abrams on Gossip Girl and will appear in the Twin Peaks revival, turns 32.

Alejandro Amenábar, who celebrates his 45th, won an Oscar for Best Foreign Language film for The Sea Inside, which he directed, co-wrote and co-produced.  A nine-time Goya Award winner, the Chilean-Spanish filmmaker is also known for Open Your Eyes and The Others.  German director Volker Schlöndorff, who is 78 today, was a leading figure in the New German Cinema of the seventies.  He won an Oscar and the Palme d’Or at Cannes for his 1979 adaptation of Günter Grass’s The Tin Drum.

Nine-time Grammy winner Herb Alpert, who is turning 82 today, is always going to be associated with the Tijuana Brass, the jazz/Latin group he led for most of the sixties, but he went on to a long career as a solo performer as well.  He is the only performer to ever have both vocal and instrumental #1 hits on the Billboard Hot 100.  Anita Carter (1933-1999) was the youngest of the three Carter Sisters, the daughters of Maybelle and Ezra Carter.  Anita was the “one with the pipes,” the best singer in the family ensemble.  Although best known for her work with her family, she also had hits recording duets with Hank Snow and Waylon Jennings.  Lefty Frizzell (1928-1975) was a leading country singer in the fifties and early sixties who had six #1 Country singles and influenced later country vocalists like Merle Haggard, George Jones and Willie Nelson.

Gordie Howe (1928-2016), known as “Mr. Hockey,” played most of his over 30 seasons of professional hockey with the Detroit Red Wings, leading them to four Stanley Cups, and winning the Hart Memorial Trophy as the NHL’s MVP six times.  In Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Alan Ruck as Cameron is wearing a Gordie Howe jersey for most of the movie.  Jack Johnson (1878-1946) won the world’s heavyweight boxing title in 1908 and held it for over six years, becoming the first African-American to hold the title.  The play and movie The Great White Hope, both of which starred James Earl Jones, are about Johnson (renamed Jack Jefferson by playwright Howard Sackler).

Richard Kiley (1922-1999) was a major figure in musical theater, winning Best Actor in a Musical for Redhead and for Man of La Mancha; he also starred in the original production of Kismet.  He also had a notable television career, including appearing with Richard Chamberlain in The Thorn Birds, for which he won an Emmy (one of three) and a Golden Globe (one of two).  Irish actor Patrick Magee (1922-1988) had a distinguished stage career and appeared in two of Stanley Kubrick’s films, A Clockwork Orange and Barry Lyndon.  American director Ted Post (1918-2013) did a lot of television work and directed feature films such as Hang ‘Em High, Magnum Force, and Go Tell the SpartansSergei Diaghilev (1872-1929) was an important figure in modern ballet as the founder of the Ballets Russes, and for his role in promoting the ballets of Igor Stravinsky, such as The Firebird and The Rite of Spring.

We have some major names in world literature with birthdays today.  Nikolai Gogol (1809-1852) was one of the giants of 19th century Russian literature.  His best known works include his novel Dead Souls and his play The Inspector GeneralEdward FitzGerald (1809-1883) was a poet and playwright in 19th century England, but he is best known as the translator of work by a Persian poet, which he published under the title of The Rubaiyat of Omar KhayyamOctavio Paz (1914-1990) was a Nobel Prize winner in Literature, known for his poetry such as Piedra de Sol and for his long essay The Labyrinth of SolitudeRene Descartes (1596-1650) isn’t really a literary figure, but I’ll slip the philosopher and mathematician in here.  He developed the Cartesian coordinate system, an essential element of modern mathematics, and made equally important contributions to philosophy, beginning, but not ending, with his maxim “Cogito ergo sum,” or “I think, therefore I am.”

Albert Gore, Jr., the former Vice President of the US, turns 69 today.  He is a Nobel Peace Prize winner and also has won Emmy and Grammy awards, and wrote and narrated the Oscar-winning documentary An Inconvenient TruthPatrick Leahy, who turns 77, has been a US Senator from Vermont for over 40 years and is currently the most senior member of the Senate.  He has made cameo appearances in several Batman movies and in Batman v. Superman.

I’ve saved two of the biggest names in the history of music for the end.

Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750) is often considered the greatest composer ever.  He left behind an enormous volume of music, most of it of extremely high quality.  A partial summary would include a wide variety of orchestral music, including the famous Brandenburg Concertos, hundreds of compositions for keyboard—organ, harpsichord and clavichord—and an enormous amount of choral music, largely religious, including brilliant compositions like the St. Matthew Passion and the Mass in B minor.

Had he been born on almost any other day of the year, Joseph Haydn (1732-1809) would be the big music name; today he must yield preeminence to Bach.  But his own shadow is a formidable one.  He is known as the “father” of the symphony and the string quartet—he did not invent either musical form from scratch, but he was the first to do great things with them.  His most notable works are his choral oratorio The Creation, along with dozens of string quartets and over 100 symphonies.

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 31, 2017, in Celebrity Birthdays and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. We had a lot of big names today. I had about half a dozen contenders for headliner status—people who were or are not quite superstars of film/television, but had very good careers. I ended up choosing two who have given performances I will always treasure, Richard Chamberlain for his Aramis and William Daniels for his John Adams. But I could easily have gone with Walken or McGregor or Jones or Kiley. There were also a couple of international directors who have done some very interesting work.

    Then you have two giant names in music, one a little more giant than the other. But Haydn was used to that—during his lifetime, he got to see another composer more talented than he come along not once but twice, first Mozart then Beethoven. Descartes is huge in math and philosophy, you have a major figure in Russian lit in Gogol, and a pair of Nobel Prize winners.

    Then you have the personal favorites—today, as a fan of all things Carter Family, I was delighted to include Anita Carter.


  2. Richard Chamberlain, I thought “The Thorn Birds” was a cool miniseries.
    William Daniels, well, we just talked about him, but I love him in pretty much everything (how about “Boy Meets World”?).
    Christopher Walken, okay, where do we start? The haunting voice, the general greatness (he he he Saturday Night Live?) Okay, my favorite Walken film: “At Close Range” (dark Walken).
    Evan McGergor, I loved his indie films; I think he’s pretty awesome.
    Put on your skates, because we have Gordie Howe! Wow, I ordered this 1980 Sports IIustrated just for his story when he played for the Hartford Whalers. Wow, he really knew how to compete, no matter the decade.


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