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 Jury. Mary 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 Story. Alice 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 Roof. Gil 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 Man. Tichina Arnold, who is 46, has been a regular on Martin and Everybody Hates Chris, and is currently seen on Starz’s Survivor’s Remorse. Aileen 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 Guild. Jon 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 Contract. Luigi 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 Author. Eric 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 Alice Krige, Eric Ambler, gilda radner, Jessica Hecht, John Cusack, John Elway, Kathy Bates, Mary Stuart Masterson, Mel Brooks, Richard Rodgers. Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.