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April 1: Happy Birthday Jane Powell and Debbie Reynolds

0401PowellReynolds

Our April Fool’s Day headliners were both actresses who had some talent for musicals, and they were both under contract to MGM for several years, so it’s not too surprising that they appeared together in a movie or two.  One of them was a 1954 musical titled Athena, from which the above picture comes (Powell is the blonde with the phone, Reynolds is next to her in the checked shirt).

Jane Powell celebrates her 88th birthday today.  She displayed a talent for dance from an early age, and when she was 15 she won a talent competition while on a vacation in Hollywood, and was promptly signed up by MGM.  She remained with the studio through about 1955 (although she was loaned out to other studios once or twice).  Virtually every feature she made was a musical; she had a nice singing voice but was best known as a dancer—one of the great tap dancers of the Hollywood musical, along with Ann Miller, Eleanor Powell and Ginger Rogers.

The best-known of her films today is almost certainly the 1954 musical Seven Brides for Seven Brothers:

When her MGM contract ended in about 1955, film musicals were slowly on their way out.  Powell made a few more features in the late fifties, but most of her work since then has been on stage.  While she only made it to Broadway once, in a mid-seventies revival of the old musical Irene (as a replacement for none other than Debbie Reynolds, who was part of the original cast), she did a lot of work with touring productions and regional theater.  She also made periodic TV guest appearances, most notably in a recurring role on Growing Pains.  Her given name, by the way, was Suzanne Burce; she took the screen name of Jane Powell from the name of her character in her film debut.

The late Debbie Reynolds (1932-2016) was pursued in the late 1940s by both Warner Brothers and MGM; she initially signed with Warner’s but they soon stopped making musicals and she moved over to MGM.  She was a regular in the studio’s musicals throughout the 1950s, but there’s one she’ll always be remembered for—it is often considered the finest movie musical ever produced:

Although Singin’ in the Rain was not a huge success at the time, it has risen in stature over the years.  Over the remainder of her career, Reynolds was nominated for an Oscar for starring in the 1964 musical The Unsinkable Molly Brown and received five Golden Globe nominations.  In the early seventies, she moved away from film work for many years, focusing on musical theater; she received a Tony nomination for starring in the aforementioned revival of Irene.  Her daughter, the late Carrie Fisher, made her own Broadway debut in Irene as well.  As we can all remember, both mother and daughter passed away in late December of last year.

Barry Sonnenfeld, who turns 64 today, began his career as a cinematographer, notably on the Coen Brothers’ first three films.  He went into directing starting in the early nineties; Men in Black and Get Shorty are among his most notable films as a director.  Swedish filmmaker Tomas Alfredson is turning 52.  He made a reputation with the dark vampire film Let the Right One In and then directed the 2011 remake of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.  Twin brothers Albert and Allen Hughes, who celebrate their 45th, are the directors of films such as Menace II Society, Dead Presidents, and The Book of Eli.

Ali MacGraw is turning 78.  She was an Oscar nominee for the huge 1970 hit Love Story and then starred with Steve McQueen in The Getaway.  The two married in 1973 and MacGraw took a few years off from acting, but she returned to the screen in the late seventies.  Annette O’Toole, who is turning 65, is best known for her associations with the Superman franchise—she played Lana Lang in Superman 3 and Martha Kent on SmallvilleJane Adams, a Tony winner for a 1994 revival of An Inspector Calls and a Golden Globe nominee for HBO’s Hung, turns 52 today.

David Oyelowo, who starred as Martin Luther King, Jr., in Selma, turns 41.  He has also had prominent roles in The Paperboy, Middle of Nowhere, The Butler, and NightingaleKris Marshall, who is turning 44, has had major roles on British television on My Family and Death in Paradise, and supporting parts in films such as Love Actually and The Merchant of Venice.

Asa Butterfield, known for his starring roles in Hugo, Ender’s Game, and Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, is turning 20 today.  Mackenzie Davis, who celebrates her 30th, is the star of the Canadian series Halt and Catch Fire and will appear in Blade Runner 2049Anamaria Marinca, who starred in the acclaimed Romanian film 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days, is 39 today.  Sam Huntington, who is 35, is known for his regular roles on Being Human and RosewoodMatt Lanter, who is one of the stars of NBC’s Timeless, is turning 34.

Jamaican musician Jimmy Cliff, who turns 69, is a reggae and ska singer who has had successful singles like “Many Rivers to Cross,” “Reggae Night,” and “I Can See Clearly Now,” the latter from the soundtrack of Cool RunningsSusan Boyle, who turns 56, has been able to parlay her 2nd place finish on Britain’s Got Talent in 2009 into several successful albums with worldwide sales of a little under 20 million, along with a pair of Grammy nominations.  Sergei Rachmaninoff (1873-1943) was probably the last true Romantic composer, known for his piano concertos and solo piano compositions, and for his own talents as a pianist.

Baseball Hall of Famer Phil Niekro is turning 78 today.  He was able to pitch in the major leagues until he was 48 because of his mastery of the knuckleball, and won 318 games in his career.  He and his brother Joe, another knuckleballer, hold the major league record for combined pitching wins by two brothers, with 539.

Anne McCaffrey (1926-2011) was one of the leading science fiction authors of the last fifty years.  The first woman to win a Hugo Award for fiction and the first to win a Nebula Award, she is best known for the long-running Dragonriders of Pern series.  Samuel Delany, who is 75 today, is another Hugo and Nebula winning science fiction novelist.  His best-known books include Babel-17 and The Einstein IntersectionBrad Meltzer, who turns 47, is the author of a series of political thrillers beginning with The Tenth Justice, and also the co-creator of the TV series Jack & Bobby.  French poet and playwright Edmond Rostand (1868-1918) is known for his plays Cyrano de Bergerac (adapted into film several times) and Les Romanesques, adapted into the musical The Fantasticks.  William Manchester (1922-2004) was a journalist and popular historian known for books such as The Last Lion, his multi-volume biography of Winston Churchill, and American Caesar, a biography of Douglas MacArthur.

Toshiro Mifune (1920-1997) was one of the most famous Japanese actors of the 20th century.  His best known work consists of his sixteen films with director Akira Kurosawa, such as Rashomon, Seven Samurai, Throne of Blood, and Yojimbo.  He also co-starred in Shōgun with yesterday’s headliner Richard Chamberlain, and played Admiral Yamamoto in MidwayLon Chaney (1883-1930) earned the nickname of “The Man of a Thousand Faces” for his pioneering skills in using makeup to transform his appearance, allowing him to star in silent films such as The Hunchback of Notre Dame and The Phantom of the Opera, and become one of the biggest stars of the 1920s.  Wallace Beery (1885-1949) also starred in a number of silent films, but achieved his greatest success in the early sound era, receiving two Best Actor nominations and winning for 1932’s The Champ, and also starring in early classics like Grand Hotel and Dinner at Eight.

Grace Lee Whitney (1930-2015) will be remembered by Star Trek fans as Yeoman Janice Rand from the first season of the Original Series; she later appeared in several of the feature films.  George Grizzard (1928-2007) worked in theater, film and television for over 50 years.  He won a Tony for a 1996 revival of Edward Albee’s A Delicate Balance and an Emmy for a television adaptation of Preston Jones’s The Oldest Living Graduate.  English actor George Baker (1931-2011) was known for his television portrayals of two famous fictional detectives, Ruth Rendell’s Inspector Wexford and Ngaio Marsh’s Roderick Alleyn.  He also appeared in two James Bond films, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (as Sir Hilary Bray) and The Spy Who Loved Me.

Our historical birthday today is Otto von Bismarck (1815-1898), one of the dominant figures in late 19th century European politics.  While his titles varied, he was effective head of government of first Prussia, then of a unified Germany, for nearly thirty years.  He masterminded the political strategy that brought the patchwork of German nations together as a unified entity under the Prussian monarchy and was a central figure in European diplomacy.

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 April 1, 2017, in Celebrity Birthdays and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Debbie Reynolds, my father told me this story when she had an engagement at the Buffalo Philharmonic when he an usher. They had a very flirting moment. Wow, if things went further, I could’ve been related to Carrie Fisher:-)
    Annette O’Toole, I’ve always liked her. What a great Lana Lane (more than that, of course).
    Susan Boyle, I think she has a lovely voice.

    Like

  2. Oops, I meant Lana Lang. I hope Annette O’Toole forgives me!

    Like

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