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April 4: Happy Birthday Robert Downey, Jr., and Heath Ledger

0404DowneyLedger

Robert Downey, Jr., turns 52 today.  As a child he made some brief appearances in films directed by his father, underground filmmaker Robert Downey, Sr.  Those aside, his first credited film role was in John Sayles’ Baby It’s You in 1983.  He emerged as a star in the late eighties in films like Less Than Zero, was a Best Actor nominee as Charlie Chaplin in Chaplin, and starred in films like Natural Born Killers and Only You.

But in the mid-nineties, he began having severe substance abuse issues, leading to multiple arrests between 1996 and 2001, which led to a period of imprisonment, as well as a hiatus in his career since no one would insure a project involving him.  After several unsuccessful ties, he was able to get free of his drug problems.  Mel Gibson reportedly intervened to get the production of The Singing Detective insured and facilitate Downey’s return to the big screen.  Since then he has received a second Oscar nomination for Tropic Thunder, made two Sherlock Holmes films with Guy Ritchie, but is almost certainly best known for a character able to make high-tech weapon systems…in a cave…with a box of scraps.

Downey has appeared in six films as Tony Stark/Iron Man (not counting cameos), with three more to come.

Heath Ledger (1979-2008) began working in television and film in his native Australia while in his teens; he appeared on the long-running Australian soap opera Home and Away and starred in the crime comedy Two Hands.  He received favorable notice for his first Hollywood feature, 10 Things I Hate About You.  He had supporting parts in films like The Patriot and Monster’s Ball, but transitioned to being a leading man while still in his early twenties, and receiving a Best Actor nomination for Brokeback Mountain.  He starred in the biopic Casanova and in Todd Haynes’ I’m Not There, and people were awaiting his performance as the Joker in The Dark Knight, when one day, out of the blue, he was gone, dead at 28 of a prescription drug overdose.

Ledger made a posthumous sweep of the major Best Actor awards for The Dark Knight.

Christine Lahti, who turns 67, won an Emmy and a Golden Globe as Kathryn Austin on Chicago Hope, and was a Best Supporting Actress nominee for Swing Shift.  She also starred in and directed the Oscar-winning short Lieberman in LoveCraig T. Nelson, an Emmy-winner as Hayden Fox on Coach and the voice of Mr. Incredible in The Incredibles, turns 73 today.  Gene Reynolds, who is turning 94, is a six-time Emmy winner, primarily for his work on Lou Grant and M*A*S*H (he was the co-creator of both series).  Ten-time Emmy winner David E. Kelley, who is 61 today, began as a writer and later producer on L.A. Law, and went on to create a number of series including Chicago Hope, The Practice, and Ally McBeal.

Hugo Weaving, who is celebrating his 57th, is best known for playing Agent Smith in the Matrix trilogy and Elrond in the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit trilogies.  Nancy McKeon, who played Jo Polniaczek on The Facts of Life and later starred on Lifetime’s The Division, is 51 today.  Barry Pepper, who turns 47, was a Golden Globe and Emmy nominee as Roger Maris on HBO’s 61*, and won an Emmy as Robert Kennedy on The KennedysDavid Cross, who is turning 53, starred as Tobias Funke on Arrested DevelopmentAnthony Clark, born the same day as Cross, starred as Greg Warner on CBS’s Yes, Dear.

Amanda Righetti, a regular on The Mentalist for six seasons and currently starring on USA Network’s Colony, is 34 today.  Natasha Lyonne, who is 38, has been an Emmy nominee as Nicky Nichols on Orange is the New Black and is known for her film roles in But I’m A Cheerleader and the American Pie series.  Jamie Lynn Spears, who is 26 today, starred as Zoey Brooks on Nickelodeon’s Zoey 101 and is also known for the media frenzy when she became pregnant at 16 years old.  Alexa Nikolas, who is 25, was one of Spears’ costars on Zoey 101, and has appeared in a few episodes of The Walking DeadSarah Gadon, who is celebrating her 30th, starred in A Royal Night Out as the future Queen Elizabeth II and will star in the upcoming miniseries Alias Grace (being written and produced by Sarah Polley).  Daniela Bobadilla, who played Sam Goodson on Anger Management, turns 24 today.

Anthony Perkins (1932-1992) is best remembered for playing Norman Bates in Psycho (and three non-Hitchcock sequels).  He was also a two-time Tony nominee and starred in films like Pretty Poison and Murder on the Orient ExpressAndrei Tarkovsky (1932-1986) was a Russian director famous for films like Andrei Rublev, Solaris, and Mirror.  French actor Pierre Fresnay (1897-1975) starred in Renoir’s Grand Illusion and had a key role in the 1934 version of Hitchcock’s The Man Who Knew Too MuchRosemary Lane (1913-1974), one of a trio of acting sisters, starred in films like Four Daughters and The Oklahoma KidBea Benadaret (1906-1968) starred as Kate Bradley on the first five seasons of Petticoat Junction; she also was a voice actor who did Granny in the Looney Tunes cartoons for a few years and Betty Rubble for the first four seasons of The Flintstones.

Music birthdays include Muddy Waters (1913-1983, given name McKinley Morganfield).  The “father of the Chicago blues” was an important influence on the development of rock and jazz as well as blues and R&B music, and a six-time Grammy winner (in of all things the Traditional Folk category).  Elmer Bernstein (1922-2004) wrote some of the best-known film music of his time.  A fourteen-time Oscar nominee, his only win was for the musical Thoroughly Modern Millie, but his scores for films like The Magnificent Seven, The Great Escape, To Kill a Mockingbird, and many more are worthy of notice (and often instantly recognizable).  Our sports birthday is Gil Hodges (1924-1972), remembered as one of the stars of the Boys of Summer, the great Brooklyn Dodgers teams of the early 1950s, and for managing the Miracle Mets to their World Series title in 1969.

Robert Sherwood (1896-1955) was a four-time winner of a Pulitzer Prize, three for Drama (for Idiot’s Delight, Abe Lincoln in Illinois, and There Shall Be No Night) and once for Biography (for his book Roosevelt and Hopkins: An Intimate History), and was also a screenwriter (winning an Oscar for The Best Years of Our Lives) and a speechwriter for FDR.  Maya Angelou, who turns 75 today, is known for her seven volumes of autobiography that begin with I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, and for her Pulitzer-nominated poetry collection Just Give Me a Cool Drink of water ‘fore I DiiieDan Simmons, who is 69, is an award-winning author of science fiction, fantasy and horror, best known for his Hyperion Cantos series, beginning with the Hugo Award winning Hyperion.

Historical figures born today include Thaddeus Stevens (1792-1868).  Stevens was a prominent US Congressman during the Civil War era, chairing the House Ways and Means Committee during the war, and taking a hard line against the South during the Reconstruction period.  The character of Austin Stoneman in D. W. Griffith’s The Birth of a Nation is loosely based on Stevens.  His contemporary Dorothea Dix (1802-1887) served as Superintendent of Army Nurses during the war and was also known for her advocacy of humane treatment of the mentally ill.  Yamamoto Isoroku (1884-1943) was a Japanese admiral who served as Commander-in-Chief of the Combined Fleet from the outbreak World War 2 until his death.  He was the architect of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor; in film he has been played by Toshiro Mifune in Midway and in several Japanese productions and by So Yamamura in Tora! Tora! Tora!

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 4, 2017, in Celebrity Birthdays and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. My favorite Heath Ledger movie is “Brokeback Mountain”. The scenery and the score were great to look at and to listen to, but the actor’s performances were absolutely incredible. Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal definitely deserved their Oscar nominations because they were so incredible. That movie was also the first movie I saw Ledger play a fragile character.

    If you haven’t seen “Brokeback Mountain” yet, I recommend you do.

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  2. Tony Perkins is one of my favorite actors. “Psycho” was my first introduction to Perkins, and I just fell in love with him. If you want to spend time viewing any of his other movies, I recommend “Desire Under The Elms” and “On The Beach”.

    I mentioned this on Jane Fonda’s birthday article back in December, but Jane Fonda tried to seduce Perkins in her trailer while filming “Tall Story”. Perkins refused because he was dating Tab Hunter at the time. (Tab Hunter was probably the one who confirmed the story). It’s crazy when you dig up these stories of Old Hollywood, and some of them (like the one mentioned above) are worth reading.

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  3. In a little over a decade, Robert Downey, Jr., went from being essentially unemployable to being the highest paid actor in the industry—that is some comeback.

    If you’ve never seen Heath Ledger’s early film Two Hands, it’s worth checking out; it also features a then-unknown actress by the name of Rose Byrne.

    Barry Pepper has had sizable roles in a number of good films—Saving Private Ryan, We Were Soldiers, True Grit, just to name a few.

    Aside from Anthony Perkins’ acting performances, he co-wrote, with Stephen Sondheim, the script for the early seventies mystery-comedy The Last of Sheila, which I’ve enjoyed for years.

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