April 16: Happy Birthday Charlie Chaplin and Peter Ustinov


Our two headliners today were photographed together in 1965 when Chaplin was honored with the Erasmus Prize.

Sir Charles Chaplin (1889-1977) was one of the most influential filmmakers ever.  He grew up in poverty in England and with a father who died when he was about eleven, and a mother who had to be committed to an insane asylum, he had to largely support himself beginning in his early teens.  Fortunately, his natural talent for acting quickly became apparent and he was able to find work with a variety of theater groups.  In 1910, theater impresario Fred Karno selected Chaplin as part of a troupe that went on an American tour that lasted nearly 2 years.  By 1913, Chaplin had been invited to join an American film company, and relocated to the US.

Chaplin soon developed his most famous screen persona, the Little Tramp, a somewhat bumbling but good-hearted man, frequently a vagrant, who struggles against adversity with varying degrees of success.  The Tramp featured in dozens of short films beginning in 1914.  In 1919, Chaplin was one of the co-founders of United Artists, and soon began making the string of silent features that are his biggest claim to fame.  The Little Tramp was featured in most of them—The Kid, The Gold Rush, City Lights, Modern Times, etc.

Chaplin made his first sound picture, The Great Dictator, in 1940.  However, his openly left-wing political views and some elements of his personal life had Americans of a certain (witch-hunting) sort out to get him.  He emigrated to Switzerland in the early 1950s.  Other than a pair of honorary awards, Chaplin won only a single Oscar in his career, that for Best Original Score for his last American film, Limelight.  That is probably much more of a commentary on the Oscars than on Chaplin.

The multi-talented Sir Peter Ustinov (1921-2004) was considered a modern “Renaissance man” by many who knew him.  He is most likely to be recognized for his career as an actor in film and on television.  He made his feature film debut in the Powell-Pressburger film One of Our Aircraft is Missing in 1942.  He won two Oscars for Best Supporting Actor, for Spartacus and Topkapi, and a Golden Globe in the same category, for Quo Vadis (as the Roman emperor Nero).  He was also known for roles in films such as Billy Budd and Logan’s Run, and played Agatha Christie’s famous detective Hercule Poirot six times (in three feature films and three TV movies).  His television career included three Emmy-winning performances in TV movies or episodes of anthology series.

Ustinov was a man of many additional talents.  He was an accomplished playwright and stage director; he was nominated for Tonys for both starring in and writing Romanoff and Juliet, a Cold War satire.  He was a Grammy winner for narrating Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf and his stage directing credits included several operas, such as Mozart’s The Magic Flute.  He spent much of his time during the last 30-plus years of his life in humanitarian activities as a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador.

Our WTHH birthday today, the first of several during the last half of April, is Martin Lawrence, who is turning 52.  The star of the sitcom Martin and films like Bad Boys I and II, Big Momma’s House and Wild Hogs, Lawrence has been relatively inactive lately, although talk of a third Bad Boys film circulates regularly.  Jon Cryer was born the same day as Lawrence.  He first became known from Pretty in Pink and was a seven-time Emmy nominee, with two wins, for Two and a Half MenEllen Barkin, who turns 63, had major roles in eighties films like Diner, Tender Mercies, and The Big Easy.  She won an Emmy for the TV movie Before Women Had Wings and a Tony in her Broadway debut in Larry Kramer’s The Normal HeartBilly West, who is 65 today, is a voice actor best known for playing multiple characters on Futurama as well as both title characters on Ren & Stimpy.

Two famous child actors of the eighties have birthdays today.  Peter Billingsley, who played Ralphie Parker in A Christmas Story, is turning 46 today.  These days he works as a producer; Iron Man is one of his credits.  Lukas Haas, who is 41, played the Amish child Samuel Lapp in Witness; his adult film credits include “the Pin” in Brick.

Taiwanese actress Shu Qi, who is 41 today, is a major star in Chinese-language cinema, with a number of award nominations on her resume.  She has done a few English-language films, including the first Transporter movie.  Sean Maher, who turns 42, is best known for playing Dr. Simon Tam on Firefly and Serenity.  MMA star turned actress Gina Carano, who has made supporting appearances in films like Fast & Furious 6 and Deadpool and starred in Steven Soderbergh’s Haywire, turns 35 today.  Claire Foy, who celebrates her 33rd, is best known for her work in British television, where she starred on the revival of Upstairs, Downstairs and plays the young Queen Elizabeth II on The CrownAnya Taylor-Joy, the star of the recent horror films The Witch, Morgan, and Split, turns 21 today.

Six-time Tony nominee Kelli O’Hara, one of the biggest stars on the musical theater scene these days, turns 41.  She has become one of Broadway’s go-to girls for lead roles in classic musicals, starring in revivals of South Pacific and The Pajama Game and concert performances of Carousel and My Fair Lady.  But she also does plenty of modern musicals like The Light in the Piazza and The Bridges of Madison County.  She has done some screen work, appearing in Sex and the City 2 and playing Mrs. Darling on NBC’s Peter Pan Live!, which starred recent headliner Allison Williams.  In 2015 she won her first Tony for starring as Anna Leonowens in a highly-regarded revival of The King and I.

We have a large variety of music birthdays today.  Traditional pop crooner Bobby Vinton is turning 82 today.  He is known for hits like “Roses are Red (My Love)” and “Blue Velvet,” which gave David Lynch a title for a movie.  Jimmy Osmond, the youngest of seven musical siblings, is turning 54.  Senagalese-American rapper and producer Akon, who is 44 today, is a five-time Grammy nominee and has produced records for performers like Gwen Stefani and Wyclef Jean.  Singer-songwriter Gerry Rafferty (1947-2011) had a number of hits in the 1970s, the most successful of them being “Baker Street.”  Dusty Springfield (1939-1999) may have been the most popular female performer in the British Invasion of the sixties.  She is remembered for hits like “Wishin’ and Hopin'” and “Son of a Preacher Man.”  Selena Quintanilla, usually known simply as Selena (1971-1995), was known as the “Queen of Tejano music.”  Although she was tragically short-lived (she was murdered by a former employee shortly before her 24th birthday), she was one of the most influential Latina performers of all time.  Henry Mancini (1924-1994) won four Oscars and twenty Grammys in his career, mostly for his film and television music.  His best known compositions include “Moon River,” from the soundtrack to Breakfast at Tiffany’s, and the “Pink Panther” theme.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is turning 70 today.  During his NBA career, he was a six-time MVP and a 19-time All Star, both records, and won six championships as a player, one with the Milwaukee Bucks and five with the Los Angeles Lakers.  The Basketball Hall-of-Famer is sometimes said to resemble an Airplane! co-pilot named Roger Murdock.  Bill Belichick, one of the most successful coaches ever in professional football, turns 65 today.  He has led the New England Patriots to seven appearances in the Super Bowl, winning five times.

Edie Adams (1927-2008) made her Broadway debut as Eileen Sherwood in the musical Wonderful Town, and won a Tony for playing Daisy Mae in the musical adaptation of Li’l Abner.  She was a three-time Emmy nominee, once for her work on The Ernie Kovacs Show (Kovacs was her husband as well as her costar), and twice for Here’s Edie, the show she headlined after Kovacs’ death.  Barry Nelson (1917-2007) appeared in a number of major films in the 1940s and became the first actor to play James Bond when the anthology series Climax! turned Ian Fleming’s Casino Royale into an episode in 1954.  Spike Milligan (1918-2002) was a British comedian who created, wrote, and co-starred on the radio series The Goon Show and made a number of film appearances.  Alfonso Bedoya (1904-1957) was a Mexican actor who appeared in a number of Hollywood films, most famously as the bandit Gold Hat in The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, who didn’t have to show Humphrey Bogart any stinking badges.

Anatole France (1844-1924), a winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature, was one of France’s leading late 19th and early 20th century writers, known for novels such as The Crime of Sylvester Bonnard, Thais, and Penguin Island.  Playwright John Millington Synge (1871-1909), a leader of the so-called “Celtic Revival” in Ireland, is remembered as the author of Playboy of the Western World and for co-founding Dublin’s Abbey Theatre.  John Christopher (1922-2012) was the best known pen name of Sam Youd, who was known for post-apocalyptic science fiction novels such as The Death of Grass, The World in Winter, and the young adult Tripods novels.  Kingsley Amis (1922-1995) is remembered for novels such as Lucky Jim and The Old Devils.  James Bond fans may be aware of his critical study of Ian Fleming’s novels, The James Bond Dossier, or his continuation novel Colonel Sun.

Wilbur Wright (1867-1912) and his brother Orville designed and built the world’s first successful heavier-than-air aircraft, and made the first flights on December 17, 1903 outside Kitty Hawk, North Carolina.

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 April 16, 2017, in Celebrity Birthdays and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. I have only seen clips of Charlie Chaplin’s work, but I respect his legend.
    Peter Ustinov I’m much more familiar with, due to his Poirot portrayals.
    Martin Lawrence, Mar-in! Good “What The Hell Happened To…” on him here, and I noticed that “National Security” was on cable the other day; I kinda like it.
    Jon Cryer, I probably like 1987’s “Hiding Out” more than one reasonably should. I was thinking about a song from that film’s soundtrack the other day, Pretty Poison’s “Catch Me I’m Falling” (love the ting ting ting instrumental in that tune).
    Ellen Barkin, she’s someone I’d also consider as unconventionally attractive (love that crooked smile). I think she’s done some interesting things in her career, although it’s been a while. There was a daring to her (similar to Theresa Russell I think) that I liked.
    Gerry Rafferty, “Grand Theft Auto V” has made me love “Baker Street”.
    Dusty Springfield, how about her appearance in the Pet Shop Boys video “What Have I Done to Deserve This” (she also sang the “Since you’ve been away, I’ve been hanging around…” lyrics in the song)? Good action.
    Bill Belichick, I always liked him, and never cared if he had the warmest disposition or not. The man has a vision for his team, and damn does he see it through to the letter. Talk about single-minded focus, which is sometimes necessary for any endeavor out there in life.


  2. While the term genius ought to be used sparingly, both of today’s headliners could definitely be called geniuses. In the short profiles I gave them I was barely able to scratch the surface of either Chaplin’s or Ustinov’s accomplishments. For example, I was only able to allude to Chaplin’s musical talents (he normally composed the scores for his films), and completely unable to note Ustinov’s ability to speak several languages fluently (enough so to often loop his own dialogue for the foreign language dubs of many of his films).

    Kelli O’Hara is another member of an amazing generation of musical theater actresses. There have been plenty of days in this series where someone of her accomplishments would have merited being a headliner.

    Edie Adams was a leading light of Broadway in the fifties, although overshadowed by contemporaries like Julie Andrews, Barbara Cook or Gwen Verdon. She scaled back her acting career after the death of Ernie Kovacs, but went on to become a successful businesswoman.

    As a long-time LA Lakers fan, I can remember the big day in the mid-seventies when we heard that the Lakers had traded for Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. It took a few years for the team management to surround him with enough talent to win championships, but the eighties were great days to be a Lakers fan.


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