June 28: Happy Birthday Mel Brooks and Richard Rodgers


Today we have two birthdays of people who have “won” the unofficial honor called an EGOT—winning an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony in individual, competitive categories.

Mel Brooks is turning 91 today.  In the late forties Sid Caesar hired Brooks as a writer for Admiral Broadway Revue, and retained him for Your Show of Shows and Caesar’s Hour.  In the late fifties Brooks began to build a reputation as a comedian with his “2000 Year Old Man” routine, and in 1965 he worked with Buck Henry in creating Get Smart (Brooks was only involved in the show’s first season).  In the late sixties Brooks put himself on the map with his musical satire film The Producers.  Although studios didn’t want to touch it because of its subject matter, it became an underground hit and Brooks won the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay.

In the wake of The Producers, Brooks was very successful in the seventies.  Blazing Saddles and Young Frankenstein were the two biggest hits of his career, and the #1 and #4 films at the box office for 1974, respectively.  Silent Movie and High Anxiety were not as big but both were financially successful.  His subsequent features, such as Spaceballs and Robin Hood: Men in Tights, have not been as successful but have their fans.  In addition to his Oscar, Brooks has won several Emmys as a writer and a guest actor on Mad About You, multiple Grammys, including one for a comedy album featuring his 2000 Year Old Man character, and a trio of Tonys for the musical adaptation of The Producers.

Richard Rodgers (1902-1979) studied at Columbia and later at what is now the Juilliard School.  When still in his teens he was introduced to lyricist Lorenz Hart, and by 1920 the two were contributing songs to the musical Poor Little Ritz Girl.  Their breakthrough as a songwriting duo came with the 1925 revue The Garrick Gaieties.  Rodgers and Hart wrote the music and lyrics for over two dozen musicals; a few of the best included On Your Toes, Babes in Arms (also famous as a Judy Garland-Mickey Rooney film musical), The Boys from Syracuse, and Pal Joey; they also did the music for the film musical Love Me Tonight.  By the early 1940s, however, Hart’s alcoholism was making it harder for Rodgers to work with him.  Even before Hart’s decline and death in 1943, Rodgers was looking for a new lyricist.

He found him in Oscar Hammerstein II, who in twenty-odd years on Broadway had worked with composers like Jerome Kern, Sigmund Romberg, and many more.  The Rodgers and Hammerstein partnership was an instant success; their first musical, Oklahoma!, ran for over 2200 performances on Broadway, setting a record that lasted for over a decade.  Rodgers and Hammerstein did not invent the “integrated” musical, with the songs advancing the plot, dance sequences that did likewise, and so forth, but their success did make it the norm for musical theater.

Rodgers and Hammerstein collaborated on nine stage musicals, as well as the film musical State Fair, and the television musical Cinderella.  Of those, South Pacific, The King and I, and The Sound of Music were big hits, while Carousel, somewhat less successful, is still considered a classic.  During his career Rodgers won six Tonys, including three for Best Musical, an Oscar for Best Original Song, a pair of Grammys, one for the cast album of The Sound of Music, and an Emmy for his music for Winston Churchill: The Valiant Years.  In addition, he shared the Pulitzer Prize for Drama for South Pacific.

Two fairly well-known performers are both turning 51 today; the two also have in common that neither has had a major success for quite some time.  John Cusack began starring in films like The Sure Thing and One Crazy Summer in the mid-80s, but his breakthrough was in the teen romance Say Anything.  He was a Golden Globe nominee for High Fidelity (and also received some acclaim for co-writing the screenplay), and has starred in films such as Grosse Point Blank, Con Air, Being John Malkovich, and Runaway JuryMary Stuart Masterson first became known for her roles in At Close Range and in John Hughes’s Some Kind of Wonderful.  Her most famous role was likely as Idgie Threadgoode in Fried Green Tomatoes; she also starred in Benny & Joon and Bad Girls.  In 2003 she was a Tony nominee for the musical Nine.

This post from our Movieline series reports on an interview with Masterson.

Kathy Bates, who also starred in Fried Green Tomatoes, turns 69 today.  She won an Oscar for Best Actress for Misery, was a Tony nominee, but her greatest acclaim has come on television—she is a 14-time Emmy nominee with wins for Two and a Half Men and American Horror StoryAlice Krige, who is 63, has worked in film and television for 40 years, with her highlight probably being playing the Borg Queen in Star Trek: First Contact.

Jessica Hecht, who is 52 today, is known to some TV viewers for her recurring roles on Friends and Breaking Bad, and to stage followers for her Broadway performances in roles like Beatrice in A View from the Bridge (Tony nominated) and Golde in Fiddler on the RoofGil Bellows was a regular on Ally McBeal for three seasons, starred on CBS’s The Agency, and more recently on USA Network’s recently-cancelled Eyewitness.  He is turning 50.  Mike White, a writer and producer on Freaks and Geeks and Dawson’s Creek and the co-creator and writer of HBO’s Enlightened, is turning 47.  Alessandro Nivola, who celebrates his 45th, made his debut as Pollux Troy in Face/Off and has had major roles in films like Junebug and Selma (as John Doar).  He was a Tony nominee for the 2014 revival of The Elephant ManTichina Arnold, who is 46, has been a regular on Martin and Everybody Hates Chris, and is currently seen on Starz’s Survivor’s RemorseAileen Quinn, who played the title role in the film version of Annie, is also 46 today.  Israeli actress Ayelet Zurer is 48 today.  She is a major actress in her home country and   as appeared in major Hollywood films such as Munich, Angels & Demons (in a lead role) and Man of Steel, and on season 1 of Daredevil.

Felicia Day, who is 38, might be recognized by fans of Buffy, Eureka, or Supernatural for her stints on those series, but she is best known for creating, writing, producing, and starring in the web series The GuildJon Watts, who turns 36, has written and directed the indie films Clown and Cop Car, and will soon be better known as the director of Spider-Man: Homecoming.  South Korean actress and singer Seohyun, who appears to be making a name for herself in her home country both on screen and as part of the girl group Girls’ Generation, is 26 today.

Swedish actor and director Hans Alfredson, who is 86, is a three time winner of the Guldbagge Award (Swedish Oscars) for Best Director; American viewers may be more familiar with his director-sons Daniel and Tomas.  Bruce Davison, who is turning 71, was an Oscar nominee for Longtime Companion and played Sen. Robert Kelly in the first two X-Men films.

NFL Hall of Famer John Elway, one of the greatest quarterbacks ever to pick up a pigskin, is celebrating his 57th.  In his fifteen seasons with the Denver Broncos, Elway made nine Pro Bowls and led the Broncos to five Super Bowls, winning twice.  His most famous exploit was probably “The Drive,” when he took the Broncos 98 yards in the waning moments of the 1987 AFC championship game to score a game-tying touchdown.  Ron Luciano (1937-1995) was a Major League Baseball umpire for over a decade.  He was known for his hammy mannerisms on the field, his long-running feud with Baltimore Orioles manager Earl Weaver, and for several books he wrote such as The Umpire Strikes Back.

Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778) is known for his philosophical novel Emile, his autobiographical works such as Confessions, and his works of social and political philosophy, such as The Social ContractLuigi Pirandello (18677-1936) was an Italian playwright and poet and a winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature.  He is know for his absurdist play Six Characters in Search of an AuthorEric Ambler (1909-1998) was one of the leading authors of thrillers, especially espionage thrillers, of the mid-20th century.  Some of his most popular books, many adapted into film, included The Mask of Dimitrios, Journey Into Fear, and Passage of Arms.  Ambler was also a screenwriter who wrote the screenplays for films such as The Cruel Sea and A Night to Remember.

American comedian Gilda Radner (1946-1989) was one of the “original seven” cast members of Saturday Night Live, and won a Primetime Emmy during her five seasons on the show.  In the early 1980s she married Gene Wilder (a longtime Mel Brooks collaborator), and they remained together until her death from ovarian cancer in 1989.  Noriyuki “Pat” Morita (1932-2005) is known for starring on ABC’s short-lived Mr. T and Tina, for playing Arnold on Happy Days, and for starring as Mr. Miyagi in the Karate Kid films; he was an Oscar nominee for the first in the series.

Henry VIII of England (1491-1547) is best remembered today, probably, for having six wives (and executing two of them), but he was very important as the monarch who supported the English Reformation and broke with the Catholic Church, and as one of England’s most autocratic rulers ever.  In film he has been played by Eric Bana, Richard Burton, Charlton Heston, Charles Laughton and Robert Shaw, just to name a few.

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 June 28, 2017, in Celebrity Birthdays and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. So since we had a Rodgers and Hammerstein sample in the article, here to make things complete is a Rodgers and Hart tune, sung by Kristin Chenoweth:


  2. Why Hollywood Won’t Cast John Cusack Anymore


  3. Some very big names to headline today’s article. Mel Brooks gave us, in The Producers, Young Frankenstein, and Blazing Saddles, three works of comic genius. He didn’t sustain that level of inspiration, but many of his later works do have their moments.

    When I was young, musicals meant Rodgers and Hammerstein. I think I was 9 or 10 when I saw the film version of The Sound of Music for the first time, and a year or two older when I saw The King and I at the LA Music Center. My parents had the film soundtracks of Oklahoma! and South Pacific so I got to know those as well. Over the years I’ve branched out to sample many of the other treasures that the musical theater world has to offer. There are some which can match classic Rodgers and Hammerstein, but no one who really surpasses them.

    Mary Stuart Masterson never became as big a star as I once expected her to be, but I’ve enjoyed some of her films quite a lot through the years.

    Aileen Quinn, rather unfairly, became a Razzie target for the film adaptation of Annie. It wasn’t the greatest movie, but she certainly did everything anyone could reasonably have expected of her in the title role.


  4. Mel Brooks, well, I suppose if I was born a little earlier my favorite film of his would probably be either “Young Frankenstein” or “Blazing Saddles”, but since “Spaceballs” arrived at the time when I REALLY got into films and had a VCR, I have to go with that one. Oh, and i like “Silent movie” too.
    John Cusack, Roger Ebert once said he (Cusack) was never in a bad movie, but nowadays I’m not so sure that statement can be confidently said. However, he played so many fine roles in various films (some of my favorites are “The sure thing”, “Better Off Dead”, “Eight men Out”, “The Grifters”, “Pushing Tin”, “High Fidelity”, and “War, Inc.”) I don’t think that matters much either.
    Mary Stuart Masterson, “At Close Range” has been airing a lot on the charge! channel this month (I have it on DVD) and what happens to her character in that film still gets to me. I think “Some kind of Wonderful” is fantastic, and her Watts character there contributes mightily to my feelings about it. I also liked her in “Benny and Joon”.
    Kathy Bates, how about her brief roles as the neighbor with a cat in “The morning After”? But wow, I really do like “Misery” (it has company). I think she’s an outstanding performer overall.
    Gil Bellows, I’ve always kind of liked the guy; I don’t know, something about him. Maybe because he’s made me feel for the character he’s played, such as in the 199 film “Black Day Blue Night” and “The Shawkshank Redemption”. I put off renting “Love and a .45” the entire summer of 1996 (talked out of it a few time too) and then didn’t get a chance to watch it until 2005, and I ended up liking that film as well. Plus I like his work in “Ally McBeal” as well.
    Alice Krige, I liked her best in “Barfly”, but I didn’t mind 1981’s “Ghost Story” and I’m one of those people that thought 1992’s “Sleepwalkers” was watchable.
    Bruce Davison, I think he’s done some fine work, but I remember him best from the 1977 film “Short Eyes”.
    John Elway, I was a fan; I had a John Elway clock and a t-shirt which had his stats (up to 1990), trading card style, on them. I was picked on for the shirt, with sayings like “Elway sucks” and “All he does is lose Super Bowls”. That’s funny now, since I live in Western New York (back then and now), and the NFL’s Buffalo Bills just lost their first SB by a point, and were about to lose three more in a row. Eventually, Elway’s 1997 Broncos team not only snapped his and the team’s SB streak, but also the AFC’s. Today he also seems to be doing a great job in the Broncos front office.
    Gilda Radner, I thought she was really talented, and i remember when she passed away; she was gone much too soon.
    Pat Morita, well, “The Karate Kid” and its sequels (including the one with Hilary Swank), plus I’d like to mention the 1989 film he did with Jay Leno, “Collision Course”; I think it’s worth watching just for the novelty of it all.


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