July 29: Happy Birthday Ken Burns and William Powell


Documentary filmmaker Ken Burns turns 64 today.  A history buff as a child, he made his first documentary at 17.  After graduating from college in the mid-seventies, he made a few short films and then adapted a book by David McCullough into Brooklyn Bridge, which was nominated for the Best Documentary Feature of 1981.  He received a second Oscar nomination for The Statue of Liberty four years later.  Starting about 1990, he began focusing on creating documentary miniseries for PBS.  That was the year that approximately 40 million viewers saw his The Civil War.  Four years later, he won an Emmy for a series about Baseball.

Burns has since won a second Emmy for his 2009 series The National Parks: America’s Best Idea.  Regular PBS viewers over the past two decades may recall some of his other series as well, such as The West, the somewhat controversial Jazz, Unforgivable Blackness: The Rise and Fall of Jack Johnson, and The Roosevelts: An Intimate History.

While some actors of the silent era found it hard to switch to sound, William Powell (1892-1984) found it a blessing.  Roger Ebert once wrote that “William Powell is to dialogue as Fred Astaire is to dance.”  When sound came in he quickly found success at Warner’s, starring in a series of films about S. S. Van Dine’s fictional detective Philo Vance.  However, in 1934 he moved on to MGM and even bigger stardom.

Powell was once married to Carole Lombard, was engaged to Jean Harlow at the time of her death, and later married the lesser-known actress Diana Lewis.  But the actress he will always be most associated with is his fourteen-time costar, Myrna Loy.  The two starred together in 14 movies, almost always as a couple who either were in love, or fell in love over the course of the film.  Their first pairing was in Manhattan Melodrama, but it was the second Powell-Loy pairing that sealed their onscreen partnership.

Powell was nominated for Best Actor for The Thin Man, for My Man Godfrey (starring opposite Lombard), and for Life With Father.  A very hard worker through most of the 1930s, he took a year or so off late in the decade, both to deal with Harlow’s death and his own health issues, and he slowed his pace down thereafter, finally retiring after playing Doc in Mister Roberts in 1955.

Leslie Easterbrook, best known as the ass-kicking Debbie Callahan in the Police Academy movies, turns 68.  Easterbrook once guest-starred on Baywatch, which for several seasons starred Alexandra Paul as Stephanie Holden.  Paul, who is turning 54, is also known for starring in the 1987 film of Dragnet as The Virgin Connie Swale.

Diane Keen, who is 71, is best known to British TV audiences, who known her for her long run as Julia Parsons on the BBC’s DoctorsStephen Dorff, who celebrates his 44th, has been in films like Space Truckers, I Shot Andy Warhol, World Trade Center, and Public EnemiesTimothy Omundson, known for his recurring role on Judging Amy and as a regular on Psych, is 48.  Génesis Rodríguez, who is 30, was a regular on ABC’s short-lived Time After Time earlier this year and has been in films like Man on a Ledge and The Last StandMunro Chambers, who celebrates his 27th, is known for his Canadian television work, appearing on The Latest Buzz, Degrassi: The Next Generation, and Second Jen.

Jean-Hugues Anglade, a major star of French film, is 62 today.  He is a seven-time Cesar Award nominee, winning Best Supporting Actor as King Charles IX in Queen Margot.  American audiences might remember him from Roger Avary’s Killing Zoe or Luc Besson’s Nikita.

Fans of Bruce Springsteen will probably know that today is Patty Scialfa’s 64th birthday.  She has been a backup vocalist and guitarist with the E Street Band since 1984 and she and Springsteen married in 1991.

Silent film stars Clara Bow (1905-1965) and Theda Bara (1885-1955) were both born today.  They had several things in common.  Both were known by short, catchy nicknames—Bow was “the It Girl,” while Bara was “the Vamp.”  Both chose to retire at relatively early ages, Bow before she turned 30, and Bara at about 40.  And both of them, as is the case with many silent film stars, have filmographies that consist largely of “lost” pictures—in Bara’s case, nearly 100% of hers are lost.

The short-lived Thelma Todd (1906-1935) is best known for co-starring with the Marx Brothers in Monkey Business and Horse FeathersGale Page (1910-1983) was known for starring in several films with the three Lane Sisters; they appeared together in Four Daughters as the title characters, and in two sequels to that film as well as Daughters CourageousMaria Ouspenskaya (1876-1949), a onetime stage star in Russia, was an Oscar nominee for the 1936 film Dodsworth, and played a mysterious fortune teller in The Wolf Man.

Director Budd Boetticher (1916-2001) left a varied filmography behind—his personal passion was a documentary about a friend, bullfighter Carlos Arruza.  But his reputation largely rests on the “Ranown” Westerns, a series of late fifties, modestly budgeted films which starred Randolph Scott and were produced by Scott and his producing partner Harry Joe Brown, and normally written by Burt Kennedy.

19th century American business giant Daniel Drew (1797-1879) made a huge fortune in the steamship and railroad industries and in the financial markets, engaged in a decades-long rivalry with Cornelius Vanderbilt, and lost his fortune late in his life when his partners Jay Gould and Jim Fisk sold him out.  Booth Tarkington (1869-1946) is remembered for his Pulitzer Prize winning novels The Magnificent Ambersons (adapted into film by Orson Welles) and Alice Adams (made into a film starring Katharine Hepburn).  Sigmund Romberg (1887-1951) was a composer of popular operettas and musicals in the 1910s and ’20s.  He is best known for The Student Prince, The Desert Song, and The New Moon; the latter two featured lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II.

On this date last year, Martina McBride and Wil Wheaton were the headliners.

Martina McBride began her Love Unleashed tour last August.  Today she turns 51.  As he turns 45, Wil Wheaton continues to host the web series TableTop, which he created with Felicia Day.  Joshua Radnor, who is 43, appeared on PBS’s Mercy Street until its cancellation, and will star on NBC’s new fall series RiseAllison Mack of Smallville fame, who turns 35, has not been active since her 2015 guest appearances on American Odyssey and The FollowingDavid Warner, who is 76 today, will appear as Admiral Boom in next year’s Mary Poppins Returns.

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 July 29, 2017, in Celebrity Birthdays and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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