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July 12: Happy Birthday Lee Byung-hun and Oscar Hammerstein II

0712LeeHammerstein

South Korean actor Byung-hun Lee, who is turning 47 today, is one of the biggest stars in his native country.  Lee began working in South Korea film and television in the early 1990s, and has been nominated eight times for the Blue Dragon award for Best Actor, and five times for the Grand Bell for Best Actor—these are the two Korean equivalents of the Oscars.  He won the Grand Bell for his 2012 film Masquerade, and both awards three years later for Inside Men; both these movies also won the Best Film honor at the Grand Bell Awards.

Starting in 2009 Lee began working periodically in Hollywood.  His debut was as Storm Shadow in G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra, a role he returned to in G.I. Joe: Retaliation.  He appeared in RED 2 as the assassin Han Cho-Bai, in Terminator: Genisys as the T-1000, and most recently as the gunfighter and knife whiz Billy Rocks in last year’s remake of The Magnificent Seven.

Oscar Hammerstein II (1895-1960) was one of the great names in musical theater.  The son and grandson of prominent figures in American theater, Hammerstein graduated from Columbia, started law school, but then dropped out to work on Broadway, quickly displaying enormous talent as a lyricist.  During the 1920s and ’30s, Hammerstein worked with a number of major composers.  He wrote the lyrics for Rose Marie (music by Rudolf Friml), The Desert Song and The New Moon (both with music by Sigmund Romberg), and most significantly, for Show Boat and several other musicals where he collaborated with composer Jerome Kern.

Hammerstein’s most durable and productive Broadway partnership began in the early 1940s, when he and composer Richard Rodgers adapted a play titled Green Grow the Lilacs into a musical that ended up being titled Oklahoma!  The Rodgers and Hammerstein partnership created nine stage musicals, five of them considered classics.  Three of their musicals won the Tony for Best Musical, while South Pacific won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama; Hammerstein also won two Oscars for Best Original Song.  That’s not to mention all the Tonys won by performers in the Rodgers and Hammerstein musicals, such as this recent headliner:

Cheyenne Jackson, who turns 42, was one of the stars of Paul Greengrass’s United 93, has made a variety of indie films, and has been a regular on seasons 5 and 6 of American Horror Story.  He also does a lot of musical theater work.  He has starred in All Shook Up (a jukebox musical using Elvis Presley’s songs) and in a revival of Finian’s Rainbow, as well as in City Center Encores! performances of Damn Yankees and The Most Happy Fella.

Mel Harris, who turns 61 today, was a Golden Globe nominee as Hope Steadman on thirtysomething.  Late 1990s TV audiences would have known Lisa Nicole Carson, who is 48 today, for her roles on Ally McBeal and ER.  Her behavior got her fired from both shows; she was subsequently found to suffer from bipolar disorder.

Anna Friel, who celebrates her 41st, currently stars on the British crime drama Marcella.  She was a Golden Globe nominee on ABC’s Pushing Daisies and won a Drama Desk Award for the original Broadway production of Patrick Marber’s Closer.  Also 41 today is Alison Wright, best known for playing Martha Hanson on The AmericansSteve Howey, a regular on Showtime’s Shameless and previously on Reba, is 40.

Kristen Connolly, who currently stars on CBS’s Zoo, is celebrating her 37th.  She was also a regular on season 1 of House of CardsNatalie Martinez, who is 33 today, has had regular roles on a number of series, all of them—Detroit 1-8-7, APB, etc.—short-lived.  Phoebe Tonkin, who is celebrating her 28th, has starred on the Australian series H2O: Just Add Water and is a regular on The Originals as Hayley Marshall-Kenner.

Independent filmmaker Monte Hellman, who turns 85, is on the long list of people who got their start in film working with Roger Corman.  He is known for the mid-sixties Westerns The Shooting and Ride in the Whirlwind, and the road movie Two-Lane Blacktop.  In 2010, his first feature in over two decades, Road to Nowhere, was released to a generally favorable reception.  Delia Ephron is 73 today.  She is most known for the screenplays she wrote in collaboration with her older sister Nora, such as Michael and You’ve Got Mail.  She has also written a number of novels for both adults and teens.

Christine McVie, who turns 74, is known for her long association with Fleetwood Mac, as their keyboardist and one of the band’s lead singers and songwriters.  She wrote and sang lead vocals on hits like “Say You Love Me” and “You Make Loving Fun,” and recently returned to touring with the Mac after a lengthy semi-retirement.  Butch Hancock, a country-folk singer-songwriter from Texas, turns 72.  He has done a dozen albums as a solo artist as well as recording with The Flatlanders, which he founded along with Jimmy Dale Gilmore and Joe Ely.  Norwegian soprano Kirsten Flagstad (1895-1962) was one of the greatest singers of the 20th century, and one of the best of all time in the demanding Wagner soprano roles like Isolde, Brunhilde in the Ring operas, and Kundry in Parsifal.  Pianist Van Cliburn (1934-2013) became one of America’s most famous classical musicians when he won the piano competition at the first International Tchaikovsky Competition in 1958.

Julio César Chávez, one of the greatest boxers of his time, turns 55 today.  He had an incredible 87-fight win streak from 1980-1993 and held world titles in the superflyweight, lightweight, and light welterweight divisions.  Figure skater Kristi Yamaguchi, who turns 46, was a two-time world champion and the Olympic gold medalist in 1992.  She later won season 6 of Dancing with the Stars.

Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862) is best remembered for his memoir Walden, important for its influence on modern environmentalism as well as philosophy, and his essay “Civil Disobedience.”  Pablo Neruda (1904-1973, given name Ricardo Reyes) was a Chilean poet and diplomat.  Considered one of the greatest poets of the 20th century in any language, he won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1971.  Buckminster Fuller (1895-1983) was an architect and social theorist known for his espousal of concepts like the geodesic dome.  Andrew Wyeth (1917-2009), one of America’s leading painters of the 20th century, is best known for his tempera painting Christina’s WorldDonald Westlake (1933-2008) was a prolific author of crime fiction, notably two long-running series, the Dortmunder series of comic caper novels, and the much more hard-boiled Parker books (written under the pen name Richard Stark).

Director Tod Browning (1880-1962) is particularly known for his early horror classics, the 1931 version of Dracula and FreaksJoe DeRita (1909-1993) made some comedy shorts for Columbia in the forties but was better known as “Curly Joe” of The Three StoogesJean Hersholt (1886-1956) starred on radio for nearly 20 years as Dr. Christian, appeared in films like Dinner at Eight and Heidi (as Heidi’s grandfather), but is most likely recognized because of the special Academy Award named for him.  Milton Berle (1908-2002) was known as “Mr. Television,” the first big TV star as the host of the Texaco Star Theatre from 1948-1955, and had a long career thereafter in television, in Las Vegas, and giving charity performances.

A year ago on this date we had Michelle Rodriguez and Topher Grace as headliners.

Michelle Rodriguez, who is 39, returned to the role of Letty Ortiz in The Fate of the Furious earlier this year, and next year will be featured in Robert Rodriguez’s Alita: Battle Angel and Steve McQueen’s WidowsTopher Grace, also 39, is scheduled to appear in four films this year, including the already-released War MachineCheryl Ladd, who is 66 today, appeared earlier this year in Unforgettable, which audiences and critics found rather, um, forgettable.

Bill Cosby is still facing legal battles as he turns 80.  A criminal trial recently ended in a hung jury and will be retried later this year, while he also faces a barrage of civil lawsuits.

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.

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Posted on July 12, 2017, in Celebrity Birthdays and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. A lot of interesting names today. Oscar Hammerstein II, of course, is an automatic choice as a headliner (for me, anyway). And Lee Byung-Hun is not only a big star in South Korea but starting to become a presence in Hollywood, albeit mostly in supporting roles. He did a nice job as, more or less, the James Coburn equivalent in the Magnificent Seven remake.

    Monte Hellman has come up in the comment threads a few times, most recently, as I recall, on Warren Oates’s birthday.

    I’ve read quite a few of Donald Westlake’s Parker books and enjoyed them. At least a few of them have been adapted into films. The first in the series, The Hunter, has been adapted twice, into the classic Point Blank (with Lee Marvin in the Parker role, renamed Walker for the film), and the not-so-classic Payback (with Mel Gibson as the lead, renamed Porter). I have also seen the film adaptation of Flashfire, which was adapted into the 2013 movie Parker, with Jason Statham; as far as I know this was the first time that Parker was not renamed for the movie.

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  2. This is one of the rare days on which I didn’t recognize either headliner by name. I remember Byung-hun Lee from Terminator: Genisys to the extent that I remember anything at all about that movie. I don’t remember him being in it very much. Once I saw Oscar Hammerstein II described as “one of the great names in musical theater” I figured out that he was one half of Rodgers and Hammerstein.

    Cheyenne Jackson I know from American Horror Story. I watched Anna Friel all too briefly on Pushing Daisies. I am a fan of Christine McVie’s songwriting in for Fleetwood Mac. Michelle Rodriguez has enjoyed renewed success thanks to the F&F movies. Topher Grace, I assume, will not be involved in the new Venom movie. But it would be hysterical if he was. And Cheryl Ladd I remember from her stint as an Angel despite never being allowed to watch the show.

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  3. Mel Harris, I think I mentioned her last year (“K-9” I believe); I believe I’ve seen the 1996 television movie “What Kind of Mother Are You?” (in Mel Harris’ case, clearly a cougar).
    Lisa Nicole Carson, I didn’t know she got axed from two shows; I definitely know her from “Ally McBeal”.
    Christine McVie, she wrote & performed my favorite Fleetwood Mac song ever, which is “Everywhere”. I love that song so much I literally have it everywhere (VHS tape, disc, computer, game console). I especially love the beginning instrumental to the song, which I think has that (practically) patented 1980’s crystalline effect.
    Henry David Thoreau, I think I quoted him here last year, so here’s another one: “Not until we are lost do we begin to understand ourselves”.

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