August 4: Happy Birthday Dennis Lehane and Louis Armstrong


Novelist and screenwriter Dennis Lehane is celebrating his 52nd birthday today.  He grew up in the working-class Dorchester neighborhood of Boston.  In 1994, he published the first in a series of novels about a pair of blue-collar private investigators, and Dorchester natives, Patrick Kenzie and Angie Gennaro, A Drink Before the War.  Over the next fifteen years or so, he returned to Patrick and Angie for five additional books.  The fourth in the series, Gone, Baby, Gone, was adapted into a 2007 film directed by Ben Affleck.

The Kenzie-Gennaro books were very good genre novels, but some of Lehane’s other works have been more ambitious.  Maybe his best known is Mystic River, adapted into the 2003 movie which was a Best Picture nominee and brought acting Oscars to Sean Penn and Tim Robbins.  He has also written the novel Shutter Island and a historical fiction trilogy centered around the character Joe Coughlin (the second of which was adapted into last year’s film Live by Night).  Lehane has written several TV scripts, for The Wire and Boardwalk Empire, and adapted his short story “Animal Control” into the screenplay for The Drop.

We have covered a number of jazz greats in this series, including some who have been headliners, but only Louis Armstrong (1901-1971) was ever called the “Father of Jazz.”  The man also known as “Satchmo” grew up in New Orleans and learned to play the cornet as a boy; as he got older he played in all sorts of brass bands around the city.  He moved to Chicago in the early 1920s to join Joe Oliver’s Creole Jazz Band.

Armstrong’s breakthrough came in 1925 when he was invited to make a series of studio recordings, backed by groups known as the Hot Five and the Hot Seven.  Throughout his career, his practice was to link up with an established ensemble as a frontman, rather than put together his own band.  Although eventually jazz music sort of moved beyond him, lead by later innovators like Charlie Parker and Miles Davis, he continued to perform and record all his life and left behind a long list of jazz standards.

Lauren Tom, who is 56, is known for her long voice acting resume, including a lot of work on King of the Hill and Futurama; she is also a regular on Disney’s Andi MackSam Underwood, who plays Jake Otto on Fear the Walking Dead and previously starred on Fox’s The Following, is 30 today.  Tom Parker, who is 29, is a member of the British boy band The Wanted and also stars in a major touring production of Grease as Danny Zuko.

Today was the birth date of two famous American middle distance runners.  Glenn Cunningham (1909-1988) survived severe burns on his legs to become one of the world’s best runners in the 1930s.  He was a silver medalist at the 1936 Olympics in the men’s 1500 meters, and held several world records.  Mary Decker (now Mary Slaney), who turns 59 today, emerged as a star in the middle distance races when she was only 14.  Like Cunningham, she battled injuries throughout her career, but when she was at her best she was one the finest in the world, as at the 1983 World Championships, when she won two gold medals.  The following summer, however, brought the 1984 Olympics and the biggest disappointment of her life.  Another sports birthday is Football Hall of Famer John Riggins, who turns 68.  Riggins is best remembered for his dominant performance in Super Bowl XVII, leading the Washington Redskins to victory and winning the MVP award.

We have a couple of sad notes today.  Andy Hallett (1975-2009) is remembered for playing the role of Lorne/The Host on Angel.  He began suffering from heart disease at around the time Angel ended its final season and died at 33.  Ron Lester (1970-2016) may be remembered for playing the severely overweight Michael “Sugar Daddy” Bernardino on Popular and Billy Bob in Varsity Blues.  He died of liver and kidney failure at 45.

In his short life, Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822) was one of the greats of English Romantic poetry.  He is famous for long works like Adonais as well as shorter works like Ozymandias and Ode to the West WindWilliam Schuman (1910-1982) was one of the leading American composers of the 20th Century.  He won the inaugural Pulitzer Prize in Music for his Cantata No. 2: A Free Song, a setting of poetry by Walt Whitman.  Helen Thomas (1920-2013) was a prominent American journalist for over six decades.  She was best known for her nearly 40 years as the White House correspondent for United Press International.

Raoul Wallenberg (1912-unknown) was a young Swedish diplomat who was sent as special envoy to Budapest in the summer of 1944.  Over the remainder of that year, he was able to use his diplomatic status to save the lives of a large number of Hungarian Jews from the Holocaust; some sources say as many as 30,000.  In January of 1945, he was arrested by the Soviets and disappeared into their prison system, never to emerge.  The most commonly reported year for his death is 1947, but it remains uncertain.

On this date last year, our headliners were Barack Obama and Billy Bob Thornton.

Since leaving the White House in January, Barack Obama has resided in Washington, DC, and continues to play a significant role in national affairs and in the Democratic Party.  He is 56 today.  Billy Bob Thornton is turning 62.  He starred in last year’s Bad Santa 2 and will appear in the upcoming Hunter Killer.

Dylan and Cole Sprouse, who turn 25, have both returned to acting after attending NYU.  Dylan will appear in the upcoming film Dismissed, while Cole plays Jughead Jones on RiverdaleDaniel Dae Kim, who is 49 today, departed Hawaii Five-0 after seven seasons; he is currently an executive producer of ABC’s new series The Good DoctorMeghan Markle and Abigail Spencer share a 36th birthday.  Markle continues to star on Suits and is also known for dating England’s Prince Harry, while Spencer stars on NBC’s Timeless; after initially canceling the series, NBC announced a second season to air in 2018.  Gerta Gerwig, who was seen last fall in Jackie and 20th Century Women, is 34; she is the writer and director of the upcoming release Lady BirdMoya Brennan, who is 65, released her ninth solo album, Canvas, earlier this year.

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 August 4, 2017, in Celebrity Birthdays and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. jeffthewildman

    LeHane’s one of my favorite writers. I’d love to adapt his novel Darkness Take My Hand into a film.


    • I also really like Dennis Lehane. I would love to see a good adaptation of any of the Kenzie-Gennaro books (except maybe Prayers for Rain), but only if the movie version does right by Angie! The severe chickification of her character in the adaptation of Gone, Baby, Gone was that film’s one real weakness.


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