May 7: Happy Birthday Amy Heckerling and Gary Cooper


Amy Heckerling is turning 63 today.  She studied film at NYU and then at the American Film Institute in Los Angeles.  At AFI she made a short film, Getting it Over With, and then was given her first feature assignment by Universal.  Although her filmography is fairly short, she has directed a pair of films that have substantially influenced the teen/high school genre—that first assignment, which was Fast Times at Ridgemont High, and a 1995 film that inaugurated a trend of updating literary classics to modern high school settings.

Gary Cooper (1901-1961) began acting in the final years of the silent film era, but he emerged as a star with his first sound picture, The Virginian (adapted from Owen Wister’s novel).  Through the thirties he remained a major star, working in romantic dramas like Morocco, adventure classics like The Lives of a Bengal Lancer and Beau Geste, and in the film that brought him his first Oscar nomination, Mr. Deeds Goes to Town.

Maybe his best year as an actor was 1941, when he reunited with Mr. Deeds’ director, Frank Capra, for Meet John Doe, and worked with Howard Hawks on two films.  One was Ball of Fire, where Cooper showed an unexpected talent for comedy, while the other was a war movie that brought Cooper a Best Actor Oscar:

Cooper remained a major star until his death from cancer in 1961.  Often thought of as a Western star, he actually made only about ten Westerns in the sound era.  One of them, however, was High Noon, which brought him his second Best Actor honor.  Some of his other major films from 1940 on included The Pride of the Yankees, For Whom the Bell Tolls, The Fountainhead, Vera Cruz, and Friendly Persuasion.

Carrie Henn made only one movie appearance, but it was a famous one, as Rebecca “Newt” Jorden in Aliens.  Henn, who went on to become a schoolteacher, celebrates her 41st today.

Breckin Meyer, who is 43 today, had a supporting role as Travis Birkenstock in Clueless, and is also known for starring in films like Road Trip and Garfield: The MovieIvan Sergei, who is turning 46, has had regular roles on a number of short-lived series, including Once a Thief and Jack & Jill, and recurring roles on others, such as CharmedAlexander Ludwig, who turns 25, plays Bjorn Ironside on Vikings; in 2015, probably to many people’s confusion, he appearered in both Final Girl and The Final GirlsDylan Gelula celebrates her 23rd; she was a regular on the short-lived series Jennifer Falls and plays the recurring part of Xanthippe Lannister Vorhees on Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.

Christy Moore, who turns 72, has been a leading figure in Irish folk music for nearly fifty years, both as a solo performer and a member of the bands Planxty and Moving Hearts.  Drummer Bill Kreutzmann, best known for his thirty years with the Grateful Dead, is 71 today.

Gene Wolfe, who is 86 today, is a highly-regarded science fiction and fantasy author.  He is best known for the four-volume science fantasy series The Book of the New Sun; in his career he has been nominated for sixteen Nebula Awards and eight Hugo Awards.

Our big sports birthday today is NFL legend Johnny Unitas (1933-2002).  Unitas spend most of his career at quarterback with the Baltimore Colts and led them to three NFL championships and a Super Bowl victory.  Most famous was the first of those titles, when Unitas drove the Colts to victory in overtime against the New York Giants in the 1958 NFL Championship Game, one that has gone down as the “Greatest Game Ever Played” in football history.

John Epper (1906-1992) was the patriarch of a family of stunt performers who have worked in film for around eighty years.  Born in Switzerland, he moved to the US and began working in film in the thirties; fittingly, he was a frequent double for Gary Cooper.  His daughter Jeannie and son Tony have been featured in previous birthday articles.

Anne Baxter (1923-1985) won Best Supporting Actress for the 1946 film The Razor’s Edge; however, her most famous role was undoubtedly as Eve Harrington in All About Eve, for which she received a Best Actress nomination.  Darren McGavin (1922-2006) may be best remembered for playing Carl Kolchak in the TV movie The Night Stalker and a subsequent series, and for his Emmy-nominated guest appearance as Bill Brown on Murphy BrownGeorge “Gabby” Hayes (1885-1969) was one of the most famous “sidekick” actors in the history of Westerns, most notably alongside William Boyd in several Hopalong Cassidy films, and later as Roy Rogers’ sidekick.  David Tomlinson (1917-2000) is probably best known for several films he made with Disney, including Mary Poppins (as George Banks), The Love Bug, and Bedknobs and BroomsticksVal Lewton (1904-1951) was a producer and writer remembered for a number of modestly-budgeted horror films he made at RKO in the 1940s, such as Cat People and I Walked With a ZombieMarilyn Burns (1949-2014) appeared in only a few films, but one of them was as Sally Hardesty in The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, one of the first Final Girls of horror films.

Novelist and screenwriter Ruth Prawer Jhabvala (1927-2013) won a Booker Prize for the novel Heat and Dust, and was the longtime screenwriter for Merchant-Ivory Productions, winning Oscars for the screenplays for A Room with a View and Howards End.

Robert Browning (1812-1889) was one of England’s greatest poets of the 19th century.  His most famous poetry includes his dramatic monologues, such as Fra Lippo Lippi, Soliloquy of the Spanish Cloister, and My Last Duchess; he was also famous for his romance with fellow poet Elizabeth Barrett.

Eva Perón (1919-1952) was the First Lady of Argentina during her husband Juan’s first term as President, and since her death from cancer at 33 has become an almost legendary figure in South America.  She is the subject of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical Evita.

We’ll finish today’s article with a pair of giants of 19th century music.  Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840-1893) was one of Russia’s finest composers ever, and perennially one of the most popular classical composers of all time.  Among his best known works are the 1812 Overture, several symphonies, and his concertos for violin and piano.  But above all, he was one of the two or three greatest composers ever for ballet, the creator of Swan Lake, The Sleeping Beauty, and The Nutcracker.

Johannes Brahms (1833-1897) is sometimes grouped with Bach and Beethoven as the “three B’s” of classical music.  Virtually every major work he composed is of extremely high quality—this includes four symphonies, two piano concertos, a violin concerto, his choral work the German Requiem, and much more.

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 May 7, 2017, in Celebrity Birthdays and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. An interesting day in terms of who the big names are. Gary Cooper was an automatic choice. A genuine legend, and a more versatile actor than he’s often given credit for—partly, I think, because he wasn’t often asked to go beyond his normal range. But Ball of Fire and a couple of other films showed that he could.

    Beyond Coop, though… I went with Amy Heckerling because she did direct those two very influential teen films (and also wrote the screenplay for Clueless). Anne Baxter had a pretty good career, although her star status had burned out by the late fifties. In the sixties she had the distinction of playing two different guest villains on Batman—Zelda the Great, and Olga, Queen of the Cossacks.

    Beyond that, I would have been turning to literature or classical music for big names (and there were several).


  2. Amy Heckerling, I’ll leave the heavy lifting to this Breckin Meyer (two birds with one stone, Happy Birthday to him, I’ve enjoyed some of his work, saw “Franklin and Bash” a few times and liked it too) quote: “She was this beautiful sprite goth Japanimation-looking adorable raccoon-eyed beauty”. I just love that description, really sticks with me (though I just pulled it out of an old Entertainment Weekly mag I have, to get the word for word). I think the two obvious films are classics, but I also like European Vacation (Holiday Road returns!), and I thought 2000’s “Loser” (got that DVD at a Gamestop back in 2000) was decent, but no classic like Fast Times or “Clueless”.
    Gary Cooper I know he’s a legend and the strong, silent type, but I haven’t seen much of his work. Sorry, Coop.
    Johnny Unitas, some say he’s still the greatest QB of all time. No matter the case, his style evolved the position, and he set a standard modern day passers later followed.
    Anne Baxter, yeah, I know her from “The Razor’s Edge” & “All About Eve”; good action.
    Darren McGavin, it may sound crazy, but I remember him best from 1985’s “Turk 182!” (I’m a fan of that film, although I guess many others aren’t).
    Eva Peron, did Argentina cry for her or what? I know she made that hardcover of People Magazine’s 100 most influential people.
    Tchaikovsky, I like some of his compositions.


  3. Why Hollywood won’t cast Breckin Meyer anymore

    If you were alive in the general vicinity of the mid-to-late 1990s, there’s no way you missed Breckin Meyer’s memorable heyday in Hollywood. From Clueless, where he played a delightfully earnest skater boy, to Road Trip, where he played the sweetest guy ever to cheat on his girlfriend on video, Meyer was blessed with great comic timing and a totally winning brand of regular-dude charm that should have earned him a permanent place in the spotlight. Why, then, isn’t he in the movies anymore? We investigate.


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