May 18: Happy Birthday Tina Fey and Frank Capra


It’s Tina Fey’s 47th birthday today.  The nine-time Emmy winner began her career with The Second City, Chicago’s improv comedy troupe, and then was hired as a writer by Saturday Night Live.  She began performing in sketches in 2000, and soon was anchoring the “Weekend Update” segment, first with Jimmy Fallon, then with Amy Poehler.  She was also eventually promoted to head writer.

Three of Fey’s nine Emmys have been as a writer or guest performer on Saturday Night Live.  The other six are for the series she created, produced, starred in and frequently wrote for following her 2006 departure from SNL.  The show centered around the production staff and stars of a fictitious sketch comedy series.  The name of the series—the real one—was 30 Rock.

Fey has made a number of film appearances.  Her most notable film project has probably been Mean Girls, which she wrote and played a supporting character.  She has also been seen in Date Night, Baby Mama, Sisters, and Whiskey Tango Foxtrot (the latter two of which she also produced.  Since the end of 30 Rock’s run, she has gone on to create the Netflix series Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.

Three-time Oscar winner Frank Capra (1897-1991) was one of the most significant directors of the 1930s.  After working his way through college (at Cal Tech, no less) and serving in the Army in World War One, Capra drifted through several jobs before finding work with film producer Harry Cohn in the early 1920s.  By the late twenties he was working regularly as a director, and early in the sound era he began building a reputation with films like Platinum Blonde and Lady for a Day.  In 1934, he directed one of the first great screwball comedies, It Happened One Night, which became the first movie to win all of the “Big Five” Oscars—Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Screenplay, and Best Director.  Capra went on to win two more Best Director accolades in the thirties, for Mr. Deeds Goes to Town and You Can’t Take It With You.  He capped the decade with another of his most famous films.

Capra spent much of World War Two working on the Why We Fight documentary/propaganda series.  Many of his films from the 1940s on were not as well-regarded in their time as his 1930s films (although Arsenic and Old Lace was received very favorably).  One of them however, has been recognized in retrospect as a classic; that of course is It’s a Wonderful Life.

Chow Yun-fat turns 62 today.  He first became known in a number of Hong Kong crime and action films, including three with John Woo—A Better Tomorrow, The Killer, and Hard Boiled—and Ringo Lam’s City on Fire.  He had his first Hollywood starring role in The Replacement Killers, but may be better known as Li Mu-bai in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.

Robert Morse, who won a Tony for starring in the musical How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, and later starred in the film adaptation, turns 86.  He later won an Emmy on American Playhouse and was nominated five times as Bertram Cooper on Mad Men.  English character actress Miriam Margoyles, who is 76, won a BAFTA Award for The Age of Innocence and played Professor Pomona Sprout in two Harry Potter films.  Hugh Keays-Byrne, who turns 70, is best known for playing villains in two Mad Max films, Toecutter in Mad Max and Immortan Joe in Fury Road.

Allen Leech, who is turning 36, is best known for playing Marcus Agrippa on HBO’s Rome, and Tom Branson on Downton Abbey; he also appeared as John Cairncross in The Imitation GameLuke Kleintank, who stars as Joe Blake on Amazon Studios’ The Man in the High Castle, is turning 27 today.

Brooks Robinson, who turns 80 today, is our sports birthday.  “The Human Vacuum Cleaner” is a Baseball Hall of Famer who starred at third base for the Baltimore Orioles for over 20 years, making 18 All-Star Games, winning 16 Gold Glove Awards, and leading the O’s to a pair of World Series titles.

Yesterday we had a pair of big name sopranos born, today it is the turn of the basses.  Ezio Pinza (1892-1957) sang for over 20 seasons at the Met, where he was particularly known for his mastery of the bass roles of Mozart and Verdi.  After retiring from opera, he made some notable appearances on Broadway, such as originating the role of Emile de Becque in Rodgers and Hammerstein’s South Pacific.  Bulgarian bass Boris Christoff (1914-1993) spent nearly all of his operatic career in Europe.  Like Pinza, he was a noted Verdi bass, and he also was known for one of the greatest ever portrayals of Mussorgsky’s Boris Godunov.

Other music birthdays include country star George Strait, who is celebrating his 65th.  One of a number of artists through the years labeled the “King of Country,” Strait has had more #1 hits than any performer in any genre of music.  Singer-songwriter Jack Johnson is turning 42 today.  He has had five straight studio albums reach at least #3 on the Billboard 200, with his three most recent reaching #1.  Perry Como (1912-2001) was one of the most popular figures in American popular music for several decades, a singer and bandleader, and won five Emmys as the host of a variety and music show.

Dame Margot Fonteyn (1919-1991) was one of the most prominent figures in ballet during the 20th century.  She spent decades with the Royal Ballet and was best known for her brilliant partnership with Rudolf Nureyev.

Director and screenwriter Richard Brooks (1912-1992) made a number of notable films at MGM in the fifties, such as Blackboard Jungle and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.  As an independent filmmaker from 1960 on, he won an Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay for Elmer Gantry and made films like The Professionals and In Cold BloodPernell Roberts (1928-2010) is remembered for two major television roles; he played Adam Cartwright on the first six seasons of Bonanza and the title character of Trapper John, M.D.

Pope John Paul II (1920-2005, born Karol Wojtyła) was named Pope in 1978, the first non-Italian pontiff in over 450 years.  He became almost certainly the most influential Pope of modern times, and was canonised by the Catholic Church in 2014.  Nicholas II of Russia (1868-1918) was the last ruling Tsar of Russia.  He was forced to abdicate in 1917 after the February Revolution and was murdered by the Bolsheviks a little over a year later.  Bertrand Russell (1872-1970) was one of the most important philosophers and mathematicians of the 20th century; he helped found analytic philosophy and his work has influenced many areas of mathematics.  He also was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature.

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 18, 2017, in Celebrity Birthdays and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. Long day at work yesterday = shorter article today. Hopefully I have at least done justice to the headliners.

    I haven’t seen a whole lot of Tina Fey’s work but she’s clearly a pretty influential figure in TV comedy for the past decade or so.

    Frank Capra is not one of my very favorite studio era directors, but he’s an important one and I do like It Happened One Night and Mr. Deeds Goes to Town.

    I’ve enjoyed several of Chow Yun-fat’s films—Hard Boiled and Crouching Tiger are great and The Replacement Killers is, while not great, pretty watchable and tightly paced.

    I know Pernell Roberts mostly from reruns of the early seasons of Bonanza. He also was featured in Budd Boetticher’s Ride Lonesome, one of the “Ranown” westerns starring Randolph Scott. The Ranown westerns usually featured a “likable bad man” character cast as a foil to Scott; Roberts was probably the most likable and least bad of them.

    When Ezio Pinza was cast in South Pacific, Mary Martin, who was cast opposite him as Nellie Forbush, was worried about having to sing duets with him, as she thought his huge, opera-sized voice would overwhelm hers. Richard Rodgers promised to write their songs so that the two of them would never be singing at the same time.


  2. Tina Fey, I watched a fair amount of SNL when she was at the news desk with jimmy Fallon & Amy Poehler, and I think “Mean Girls” is excellent. I also enjoyed “Date Night”.
    Frank Capra, he’s another guy who’s name is thrown a lot in pop culture or daily life: this thing or that thing is very “Capraesque” (personally, I’m more Kafkaesque), but I like some of his films, especially “Arsenic and Old Lace”.
    Chow Yun-fat, yeah, I like “Hard Boiled”, and Max Payne name drops him in a comic book cutscene in “Max Payne”, a game that I love.
    Richard Brooks, I really like “In Cold blood”, “$”, and “Looking For Mr. Goodbar”.
    Nicholas II of Russia, I guess he’s looked at as the John Gotti of Russian leaders, in which his reign brought their country’s strength down, but I think it’s a shame what happened with his family. That deal with his daughter Anastasia, in which a women tried to pose as her for and fought it in the courts for many years was really something.


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