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April 7: Happy Birthday Francis Ford Coppola and Jackie Chan

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Francis Ford Coppola turns 78 today.  One of the many filmmakers to get a start working for Roger Corman, he began to build a reputation in the late sixties with the Golden Globe nominated films You’re a Big Boy Now and Finian’s Rainbow.  He then co-wrote the screenplay for Patton, earning his first Oscar.  But there probably were not very many people who anticipated how big a mark on the history of American film Coppola’s next project would leave, a film that begins like this:

The Godfather, as most readers know, won Best Picture for 1972 while Coppola won a second Screenwriting Oscar.  The Godfather Part II, which followed two years later, also won Best Picture and several other Oscars, including a Best Director win for Coppola.  The film he made in between the two Godfather films, The Conversation, is held in nearly equal critical esteem, was itself a Best Picture nominee, and won the Palme d’Or at Cannes.  The director then spent several years working on Apocalypse Now, which came out in 1979 and won him a second Palme d’Or and received a Best Picture nomination.

Since the end of the seventies Coppola’s output has been much more uneven, both in terms of critical and popular success.  He has had some outright box office bombs, like One from the Heart, Rumble Fish, and Gardens of StoneThe Godfather Part III was reasonably successful but is generally held in much less regard than its predecessors.  Coppola’s last mainstream film as a director was The Rainmaker in 1997, although he has done a few small-budget and experimental films since then.

Jackie Chan is turning 63 today.  One of the greatest stars of Hong Kong’s film industry, he is known for action comedies that feature fast-paced fight sequences and amazing stunts (performed by Chan himself), along with end credit montages of outtakes of some of those scenes.  He worked as a child actor in the sixties and began starring in adult roles in the late seventies, but emerged as a star in the eighties in films such as The Young Master, Project A, and the first of the Police Story films.

Chan had attempted to break into the US market in the early eighties in films like Cannonball Run, but didn’t succeed until over a decade later.  He starred in the financially successful Rumble in the Bronx in 1995, and then had major hits with Rush Hour and Rush Hour 2.  He continues to work periodically in the US while also experimenting with more dramatic roles in his Asian films.

Russell Crowe is turning 53 today.  He emerged as a star as Bud White in L.A. Confidential, and was nominated for Best Actor three times in a row, from 1999-2001, for The Insider, Gladiator (he won), and A Beautiful Mind.  Some of his major roles since then have included Lucky Jack Aubrey in Master and Commander, Jim Braddock in Cinderella Man, Ben Wade in 3:10 to Yuma, Robin Longstride in Robin Hood, and Jackson Healy in The Nice Guys.

Jason Ralph, who stars on Syfy’s The Magicians, currently in its second season, is turning 31 today.  Ed Speleers, who turns 29, played Jimmy Kent on Downton Abbey and has starred in British thrillers like A Lonely Place to Die and Plastic.

Janis Ian, who is celebrating her 66th, began her career as a folksinger in her teens and had her first hit single, “Society’s Child,” when she was just sixteen.  Her biggest hit came in 1975, “At Seventeen,” which reached #3 on the Hot 100 and won Ian a Grammy for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance.  John Oates, who formed half of the soft rock duo Hall & Oates in the seventies and eighties, turns 69 today.  The duo had six #1 hits, including “Rich Girl” and “Private Eyes.”

James Garner (1928-2014) worked in film and television for nearly 60 years.  He first made a name as Bret Maverick on ABC’s Maverick in the late fifties, and had another big TV role as Jim Rockford on The Rockford Files in the seventies.  He emerged as a film star playing Lt. Bob “the Scrounger” Hendley in The Great Escape in 1963.  He went on to star in a diverse range of films.  He played Wyatt Earp in Hour of the Gun, and then did a comic take on the “town taming” Western lawman in Support Your Local Sheriff.  In the eighties he starred opposite Julie Andrews in Victor/Victoria and Sally Field in Murphy’s Romance, receiving an Oscar nomination for the latter.  In 2000 he joined fellow veteran actors like Clint Eastwood and Donald Sutherland in Space Cowboys.

Ian Richardson (1934-2007) was a noted Scottish stage actor who had a long tenure with the Royal Shakespeare Company and was a Tony nominee as Henry Higgins in a 1976 revival of My Fair Lady.  He also did a lot of British television work, playing Bill Haydon in the miniseries Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and winning a BAFTA award for the BBC series House of CardsWayne Rogers (1933-2015) had a long career in American television; high points were starring as Trapper John McIntyre on the first three seasons of M*A*S*H and then opposite Lynn Redgrave on House Calls (receiving a Golden Globe nomination).  Alan J. Pakula (1928-1998) was an Oscar nominee as a producer (for To Kill a Mockingbird), a director (All the President’s Men), and a writer (Sophie’s Choice).  His filmography as a director also included Klute, The Parallax View, Presumed Innocent, and The Pelican Brief.

Stan Winston (1946-2008) was a four-time Oscar-winner in the special effects and makeup areas.  He first became known for his work on The Terminator, and won his first Oscar for Best Visual Effects on Aliens.  His subsequent Oscars came on Terminator 2 (in both the visual effects and makeup categories) and Jurassic Park.  He also worked on films such as Predator, Edward Scissorhands, Galaxy Quest, and Iron Man.

William Wordsworth (1770-1850) was one of the leading British Romantic poets.  He and Samuel Taylor Coleridge are often considered to have launched the Romantic movement in English literature with their joint collection Lyrical Ballads in 1798.  His most famous poems include “Tintern Abbey,” “Ode: Intimations of Immortality,” the “Lucy poems,” and the long work The PreludeHenry Kuttner (1914-1958) was a leading mid-20th century author of fantasy and science fiction.  Much of his work was published in collaboration with his wife, Catherine Moore, who usually published her wrok under the name C. L. Moore.

Two Baseball Hall of Famers were born on this date.  Bobby Doerr, who was an 9-time All-Star second baseman for the Red Sox from 1937-51, is celebrating his 99th birthday today.  John McGraw (1873-1934) was a star player for the Baltimore Orioles in the 1890s, but was more famous for his long career as the manager of the New York Giants, who he guided to 10 National League pennants and 3 World Series titles.

Allen Dulles (1893-1969) was the first non-military director of the CIA and held the office for over eight years.  He was played by Peter McRobbie in the 2015 film Bridge of SpiesDaniel Ellsberg, who became famous for leaking the Pentagon Papers to the media in 1971, is turning 86 today.  The Oscar-nominated documentary The Most Dangerous Man in America is about Ellsberg and his decision to leak the Pentagon Papers.  British journalist Sir David Frost (1939-2014) was known for his television interviews with leading public figures, most famously with Richard Nixon in 1977.  The Oscar-nominated film Frost/Nixon recreates the backstory of those interviews.  Jerry Brown, who turns 79 today, is the current governor of California, having held that office for two separate periods totaling over 14 years, and was also a three-time gadfly Presidential candidate.

We’ll wrap today’s article with legendary jazz vocalist Billie Holiday (1915-1959).  She began singing in Harlem’s clubs and theaters in her teens and established her reputation with a series of recordings in the mid-1930s.  She was very successful as a performer and in the studio through the late forties, but developed drug and alcohol abuse problems, which led to at least one arrest and eventually took a toll on her voice.  Holiday was played by Diana Ross in the 1972 film Lady Sings the Blues, and by Audra McDonald on Broadway in Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill; McDonald won a Tony for the role.

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 7, 2017, in Celebrity Birthdays and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. I remember James Garner best as Jim Rockford on “The Rockford Files”. Jim was my favorite character on the show, and it was fun to watch his weekly interactions with Dennis and Beth. Garner’s “Maverick” co-star and TV twin (Bret and Bart Maverick were twins), Jack Kelly, guest starred on the show a few times (as different characters) as well. Garner also had one of the best smiles on TV. 🙂

    Wayne Rogers (along with Mike Farrell and Larry Linville) is one of my favorite “MAS*H” actors. Rogers had good chemistry with Alan Alda, and that’s part of what made Trapper John so beloved. Unfortunately, Alda was so self centered that he drove Rogers away after the third season (hence why Mike Farrell was brought in). It wasn’t all bad for Rogers, though, as he recurred on “Murder, She Wrote” as private eye Charlie Garrett.

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    • Yeah, I think “The Rockford Files” is good stuff; I really liked Jim Rockford’s style, and his interactions with Rocky, Beth, Angel, and Dennis.

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  2. Francis Ford Coppola, such a talented director. His movie will stand the test of time.

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