May 29: Happy Birthday Annette Bening and Bob Hope


Four-time Oscar nominee Annette Bening turns 59 today.  She spent much of the first decade of her career on the stage, making a number of appearances with theater groups in California and Colorado.  She made her Broadway debut in 1987, in the original production of Tina Howe’s Coastal Disturbances, and received a Tony nomination.  Her film debut in 1998 was in The Great Outdoors.  Two years later she made her film breakthrough as Myra Langtry in The Grifters, receiving her first Oscar nomination, for Best Supporting Actress.

Bening’s three subsequent Oscar nominations, all for Best Actress, were for American Beauty, Being Julia, and The Kids Are All Right.  She received Golden Globes for the latter two films and was a Golden Globe nominee for Bugsy, The American President, Running With Scissors, and last year’s 20th Century Women.  Her other film roles have included Queen Elizabeth in Richard III and Sue Barlow in Open Range; she also appeared with her husband, Warren Beatty, in Rules Don’t Apply.  She will star as actress Gloria Grahame in the upcoming Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool.

Bob Hope (1903-2003) had one of the longest careers of anyone in any part of the entertainment industry.  He began busking while in his teens in Cleveland, and by the mid-twenties was a full-time performer on the vaudeville circuit.  In the thirties he began working in both radio and film.  His film career began to take off with Big Broadcast of 1938; among his best known films were The Cat and the Canary, The Princess and the Pirate, The Paleface, and The Seven Little Foys.  The most famous of all, however, were surely the seven “Road to…” pictures he made with Bing Crosby and Dorothy Lamour.

At the start of the fifties, Hope began a television career of over 40 years, primarily consisting of an incredibly long list of “Bob Hope Specials” tailored to a variety of occasions.  His first USO show took place in 1941, his last fifty years later during the first Gulf War; a special 1997 act of Congress named him an “honorary veteran” of the armed services.  He also hosted the Oscars a record 19 times.

Rupert Everett, who is 58 today, was a Golden Globe nominee for My Best Friend’s Wedding and An Ideal Husband.  He is starring in and directing the upcoming Oscar Wilde biopic The Happy PrinceLaverne Cox, who plays Sophia Burset on Orange Is the New Black, is the first openly transgender nominee for an Emmy in an acting nominee.  She is celebrating a birthday today, but which I’m not sure as I’ve seen conflicting info about her year of birth.

Ted Levine, who turns 60, is best known for his long run on Monk as Captain Leland Stottlemeyer.  Lisa Welchel, who starred as Blair Warner on The Facts of Life for nearly a decade, is celebrating her 54th.  Adrian Paul is 58 today; he starred as Duncan MacLeod on Highlander: The Series.

Alessandra Torresani, who is 30 today, starred on the short-lived Syfy series Caprica and plays the recurring role of Claire on The Big Bang TheoryRiley Keough, who is 28, played Capable in Mad Max: Fury Road and starred on the first season of The Girlfriend Experience, receiving a Golden Globe nomination.  Maika Monroe, who is 24, has appeared in horror films like It Follows and apocalyptic sci-fi movies like The Fifth Wave and Independence Day: Resurgence.

Carmelo Anthony, who turns 32, led Syracuse to the NCAA Men’s Basketball title in his one year of college, and has been a ten-time All-Star in his NBA career.

Our music birthdays begin with Danny Elfman, who is 64 today.  He’s known as both a rocker, the lead singer and songwriter of the new wave band Oingo Boingo, and for his film scores, which include Batman, Edward Scissorhands, Good Will Hunting, Men in Black, Big Fish, and Milk, the last four of which brought him Oscar nominations.  Melissa Etheridge, who is 56, has won Grammys in the Best Rock Vocal Performance, Female category for “Ain’t It Heavy” and “Come to My Window,” and an Oscar for Best Original Song for “I Need to Wake Up” from An Inconvenient Truth.  Two members of the musical Jackson family celebrate birthdays today.  Rebbie, who is 67, the eldest of the ten siblings, is known for her Top Ten R&B hits like “Centipede” and “Plaything.”  La Toya, who is six years younger, has had several charted R&B and Dance singles over the years.  Melanie Brown, who is 42 today, is best known as Mel B, aka Scary Spice, of the Spice Girls.

Erich Wolfgang Korngold (1897-1957) is known in classical circles for his opera Die tote Stadt and his Violin Concerto, but better known for his film scores.  He won an Oscar for his score for The Adventures of Robin Hood and wrote the Oscar-winning Score for Anthony Adverse (although the Oscar in that case was actually presented to Leo Forbstein, who headed Warner Brothers’ Music Department.  Korngold’s other famous scores include Captain Blood, The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex, The Sea Hawk, and King’s Row.

English novelist T. H. White (1906-1964) was best known for his sequence of novels titled collectively The Once and Future King.  The first of the novels, The Sword in the Stone, was adapted (rather loosely) into the Disney feature of the same title, while the sequence as a whole was, again rather loosely, the basis for Lerner and Loewe’s musical Camelot.

The late Clifton James (1920-2017) is known to James Bond fans as Sheriff J. W. Pepper in Live and Let Die and The Man With the Golden Gun, but notice should also be taken of his films with John Sayles, like Eight Men Out and Lone StarSebastian Shaw (1905-1994) had a long acting career, especially on the English stage, but is almost surely best known for his brief appearance in Return of the Jedi as the unmasked Anakin Skywalker.

Josef von Sternberg (1894-1969) is best remembered for directing the German picture that made Marlene Dietrich a star, The Blue Angel, and for bringing Dietrich to Hollywood to star in films like Morocco and Shanghai Express, each of which he was nominated for Best Director for.  Gregg Toland (1904-1948) was a six-time Oscar nominee for cinematography.  He won for Wuthering Heights, but is probably most famous for The Long Voyage Home and Citizen Kane, where he made his famous innovations in deep focus cinematography.

The big birthday in history today is John F. Kennedy (1917-1963).  Readers presumably need little introduction to “JFK,” the 35th President of the US.  As for theories about his assassination, there are plenty of places to learn about and discuss those.  Patrick Henry (1736-1799) was one of the most important leaders in the American colonies in the years leading up to the American Revolution, famous for his “give me liberty, or give me death” speech at the Second Virginia Convention of 1775.

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 29, 2017, in Celebrity Birthdays and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. The Rise And Fall Of Comedian Bob Hope

    For his first book, Comedy at the Edge, about standup comedy in the 1970s, Richard Zoglin interviewed comedians like Steve Martin and Jerry Seinfeld about who influenced their careers. He says he was surprised that none of them mentioned Bob Hope.

    “It was very strange,” Zoglin tells Fresh Air’s Terry Gross. “It made me realize how off the radar he was.”

    The comedians instead mentioned people like Lenny Bruce, Groucho Marx and Jack Benny. Zoglin says he thought that it was “unjust” and that Hope wasn’t getting the credit he deserved.

    “I was always wondering who kind of started standup comedy,” Zoglin says. “And I really think you have to say it was Bob Hope.”

    Hope is Zoglin’s new biography of the comedian. In it, Zoglin explains how Hope came on the radio in 1938 and built his shows out of jokes.

    “He told his writers to read the papers — come up with lines about what’s happening in the world or what’s happening in Bob Hope’s life — his golf game or his friendship with [Bing] Crosby or something,” Zoglin says. “This whole idea of having standup comedy week after week that actually drew on the outside world was, believe it or not, something new. That, of course, is what every standup comedian does today, pretty much.”

    When Hope died in 2003, two months after he turned 100 years old, his “reputation was already fading, tarnished or being actively disparaged,” Zoglin writes. “He had, unfortunately, stuck around too long.” Hope was considered sexist and homophobic.

    But if you examine the entirety of Hope’s career, Zoglin argues, and view his achievements from a distance, it’s clear that Hope was the most popular entertainer of the 20th century, having achieved success in every major genre of entertainment.

    On how Hope alienated younger audiences

    Bob Hope was the establishment. Bob Hope was friends with Nixon. Bob Hope was speaking in favor of the [Vietnam] War. Bob Hope was expressing that kind of backward, suburban, WASP view of minorities, homosexuals, the women’s movement. Even his comments on the women’s movement were very condescending. He did a special in the ’70s on the women’s movement and it was so silly, so backward. And [in his act] the woman who had some big political office was dusting the chairs in between her meetings. It was just awful. He got mail … from feminists.

    He was clueless at that time. That was why that generation of comedians turned off to him. … It’s hard to be [a] comedian and be part of the establishment because comedians, their job is to satirize and to poke fun at the powerful people. And this is something that Bob was — one of the powerful people. So just as a comedian, he became less and less relevant.


    • Timing is Everything: The Comedy of Bob Hope

      For over half a century, Bob Hope was arguably the most famous and beloved comedian in America. Like most comics from his era, he started as a song and dance man in Vaudeville and slowly made his way up the ranks through radio, stage, and ultimately into the movies, where his brand of acerbic humor won him accolades as well as fame. Hope also became famous for his variety specials that aired on NBC as well as his unwavering commitment to entertaining American troops overseas through the USO. So what the hell is he doing in this series?

      Just days after Hope’s death, Christopher Hitchens wrote what might be called an anti-obituary titled “Hopeless: Did Bob Hope ever say anything funny?” in which Hitchens wrote of Hope’s brand of humor, “This is comedy for people who have no sense of humor and who come determined to be entertained and laugh to show that they ‘get it.’” Never one for nuance, Hitchens’ attack on Hope seems as short sighted and ignorant as his infamous Vanity Fair piece about women in comedy (he was not a fan). Bizarrely, Hitchens praises both Mitlon Berle and Benny Hill in his tirade against Hope, so one should grab a fistful of salt when reading his article. Perhaps the most dishonest part of an article in which Hitchens asks if Hope was ever funny is the fact that he limits his target to the Hope of the late 1980s and 90s, when it could be argued that the great comedian did indeed lose his way. But for a career than spans three quarters of the 20th Century, it is a bit like saying Ben Stiller isn’t funny because you didn’t like The Watch.

      In his prime Bob Hope was at the very top of his game. In fact, Woody Allen has confessed on several occasions that he outright stole Hope’s character when performing in his early comedies.

      And what a character it was. Vain but self deprecating, bold yet cowardly, and always quick with a well-timed one liner, there is a lot to like in Hope’s character and it’s proven to be quite enduring. We see bits of Hope not just in Woody Allen, but Albert Brooks (Defending Your Life), Bill Murray (Stripes), and even Seth Rogen (Pineapple Express). Anytime we see a witty, urbane hero stuck in a position that requires courage but has only wisecracks to fall back on, we are seeing a little bit of Bob Hope. Hope is a kind of Tigris and Euphrates of comedy that proves to be just as relevant today.

      Granted, not all of the humor holds up, but dear Lord, what timing! It has become something of a cliche to praise Bob Hope for his razor sharp timing, but his talent absolutely cannot be discounted. Within the first couple of minutes of the above clip from his 1948 vehicle, The Paleface, Hope tosses off one liners like they are used Kleenex, moving from joke to joke with anarchic glee.

      Bob Hope starred in several movies through the 40s, 50s, and 60s on his own as well as in the hugely popular “road” movies with Bing Crosby. The movies are so popular, they are a recurring motif on Family Guy in episodes centered on Stewie and Brian, complete with song and dance numbers!

      Once Hope left behind film-making for good, he primarily showed up in the yearly variety specials he did for NBC and touring with the USO overseas to entertain American servicemen (a duty he began performing soon after the USO formed in 1941). It was during this time his reputation as a comedian began to tarnish. During the tumultuous Vietnam era, the world was changing. Young people were fighting to address civil rights issues and to put an end to an unjust war (luckily today, we don’t have to worry about that anymore!). However, Hope served as a comedic standard bearer for the establishment. He palled around with presidents and ridiculed the anti-war movement as hopelessly naive at best and borderline communist at worst. Hell, he even rang up none other than Richard Nixon to give birthday wishes.

      While it is tempting to dismiss Hope’s allegiance to the establishment of that era as a mere symptom of his age, it must be said that during this time older acts such as The Marx Brothers had something of a resurgence, partly due to their 1933 film Duck Soup, which remains one of the finest anti-war films ever made. Indeed, Groucho was embraced by the counterculture of that era because he continued to thumb his nose toward authority right up until the very end.

      So, we can see why an intellectual and political firebrand like Christopher Hitchens may not like or appreciate Hope’s humor, but to say he is not funny? Well, that’s just wrong. While Hope certainly became complacent in his later years and showed no interest in upsetting the status quo, he was a consummate joke teller, wringing laugh from even the worst jokes with a self-possessed, laid back style that showed a man in complete control of his powers despite his age.

      One thing that we can learn from Hope is the economy of words he uses to set up a joke and hit with the punchline. Shortly after Albert Brooks took to Twitter to promote his novel 2030: The Real Story of What Happens to America he tweeted “Spent my life deconstructing jokes now Twitter turns us all into Bob Hope.”

      There is something to that. With Twitter, one only has 140 characters to get a joke across and nothing works better in this form than the classic set up and punchline format. There is little room for playfulness or meta commentary so the joke has to hit. It’s no wonder that so many comics have taken to this technology as it proves to be a great exercise in crafting jokes. It’s a format that seems tailor made for a comedian like Bob Hope (though he rarely ever wrote his own material).

      To say Bob Hope had an enviable career is an understatement. Right up until his death in 2003, Hope was invited into living rooms throughout the country. While his later years lacked the bite that his early comedies had, there was something reassuring about seeing him pop up on television screens throughout the years. The kind of near-universal appeal that Hope enjoyed may have died with him due to the fractured nature of media and society today. And despite the criticism Hope received as he fell into self-parody during his later years, that criticism was only leveled because he was so good. Like Leno today, those who are the most vocal about his milquetoast brand of comedy are those who know how great he can be. Of course, even Leno does not have the pure comedic chops to make a throwaway gag like this from the Chevy Chase/Dan Aykroyd movie Spies Like Us funnier than it has any right to be:

      So judge Hope all you want, but remember this man set the table for a lot of modern comedy today. If that doesn’t deserve respect, then we’re all doomed.


  2. Annette Bening, I really like “Bugsy” (“Were you under the impression that I was a virgin?”), “The Grifters”, and “American Beauty”. She tamed Warren Beatty to, so props to her on that as well.
    Bob Hope, he’s another one of those guy I know is a legend, but don’t know much about his work, other than entertaining the troops, his road films with Bing Crosby, and the gaudy number of appearances he had on johnny Carson’s show.
    Rupert Everett, he’s been around longer than I realized; I liked him in the films “B. Monkey” and 2005’s “Separate Lies”.
    Ted Levine, when I watched a few episodes of “Monk”, at the time I didn’t realize he was the same actor who played Buffalo Bill in “Silence of the Lambs”.
    It’s Danny Elfman’s birthday, who could ask for more? Oh, maybe another musical composition?
    Melissa Etheridge, i think she’s pretty alright.
    La Toya Jackson, I kind of like her; like many of the Jacksons, I think she’s interesting.
    John F. Kennedy, well, the invasion of Cuba was a failure, but I don’t believe he wasn’t President long enough to say if he was any good or not. I heard that he was on death’s doorstep a few times before he was cut down ever so early.
    Patrick Henry, I like that “Give me liberty or give me death!” line.


  3. I haven’t seen an enormous amount of Annette Bening’s work, but I liked her a lot in The Grifters and as the parvenu Queen Elizabeth in Richard III.

    When I hear Bob Hope’s name, I can’t help but think of the exchange between Mickey and Rocky in Rocky III:

    Mickey: You’re wearin’ your anatomy out for charity. Nobody else does this much for charity.
    Rocky: Bob Hope would.
    Mickey: [pauses] That’s true.

    Erich Wolfgang Korngold is one of my favorites when it comes to film scores. He was the ideal choice to score those classic Errol Flynn swashbucklers.

    It’s kind of fitting that T. H. White, the author of the source novel for Camelot, had the same birthday as the President who gave us the “Camelot” White House.


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