August 17: Happy Birthday Martha Coolidge and Maureen O’Hara


Two red-haired ladies of Hollywood, born about a generation apart and known for their work on opposite sides of the camera, are our headliners today.

Director Martha Coolidge celebrates her 71st birthday today.  She was the first film major at the Rhode Island School of Design in the 1960s, and then earned an MFA from NYU.  She made a number of documentaries in the 1970s, along with a partly autobiographical first feature, Not a Pretty Picture.  In the 1980s she began to make a name for herself with two youth-oriented comedies, the high school rom-com Valley Girl, and a sci-fi oriented comedy set at a thinly disguised Cal Tech, Real Genius.

Coolidge went on to direct her most critically acclaimed feature, Rambling Rose, in 1991.  It brought Oscar nominations to the daughter/mother duo of Laura Dern (for Best Actress) and Diane Ladd (for Best Supporting Actress), while Coolidge won an Independent Spirit Award for directing.  Her next film, an adaptation of Neil Simon’s Lost in Yonkers, was also well-received, but over the course of the 1990s she shifted to working in television.  She received an Emmy nomination for directing the HBO movie Introducing Dorothy Dandridge, which also brought her the first of three DGA Award nominations.  She is currently working on a new feature titled Music, War, and Love.

Maureen O’Hara (1920-2015), probably Hollywood’s ultimate fiery Irish redhead, was, appropriately, born outside Dublin in the village of Ranelagh.  She began working in Dublin area theater as a girl, and in her late teens caught the eye of Charles Laughton.  He arranged for her to get her first big film role, in Hitchcock’s Jamaica Inn, and then to come to Hollywood and star as Esmeralda in The Hunchback of Notre Dame.  She then starred with another famous redhead, Lucille Ball, in Dance, Girl, Dance, before being cast in her big breakthrough role as Angharad in John Ford’s How Green Was My Valley.

O’Hara was one of the most prominent leading ladies in the 1940s, working many of the most prominent lead actors of the time—Tyrone Power (a favorite of hers) in The Black Swan, Henry Fonda in Immortal Sergeant, Joel McCrea in Buffalo Bill, and Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., in Sinbad the Sailor.  In 1950 John Ford cast her in a Western titled Rio Grande, her first screen pairing with John Wayne.  Two years later came the second of five Wayne/O’Hara pairings, and the most famous, Ford’s The Quiet Man.

O’Hara was something of a forerunner of female action stars of today.  She learned to fence for her role in the 1952 swashbuckler At Sword’s Point, which was a quasi-Three Musketeers sequel about the offspring of the original heroes (with O’Hara as Athos’s daughter).  In Against All Flags, from the same year, she played pirate girl Spitfire Stevens (reportedly, many of O’Hara’s action scenes were cut so she didn’t show up the star, an aging Errol Flynn).  She worked less frequently after the late 1950s, and retired from film after making Big Jake in 1971, her final film with John Wayne.  She came out of retirement in the 1990s to make Only the Lonely with John Candy and a few TV movies.

Julian Fellowes (or Baron Fellowes of West Stafford, if you wish) turns 68.  He is the author of several novels which have made the London Sunday Times bestseller lists.  He has written several screenplays, winning an Oscar for Gosford Park, as well as the book for the stage musical version of Mary Poppins.  He is most likely to be known, though, as the creator and executive producer of Downton Abbey.

Rachel Hurd-Wood made her debut as Wendy in 2003’s Peter Pan and has gone to be featured in films like Solomon Kane and Tomorrow When the War Began; she is 27 today.  Brady Corbet, who turns 29, was a teen actor in films like Thirteen and Thunderbirds and recently directed and wrote The Childhood of a LeaderMark Salling, best known as Noah “Puck” Puckerman on Glee, turns 35.  Ebon Moss-Bachrach, who is 39, will play David Lieberman/Micro on the upcoming Marvel’s The Punisher on Netflix.  Larry B. Scott, who is 56 today (although one or two sources give his year of birth as 1965), is known for his roles in 1980s films like Spacecamp and The Karate Kid, but most of all as Lamar Latrelle in the Revenge of the Nerds films.

Larry Ellison, the co-founder and longtime CEO of database software and technology giant Oracle, is 73 today.

Evelyn Ankers (1918-1985) was a leading lady who was very busy at Universal in the 1940s, appearing in a number of their horror films, notably The Wolf Man, as well as two Sherlock Holmes films with Basil Rathbone and an Abbott and Costello picture.  Director John Brahm (1893-1982) also did his best known work in the 1940s, including The Lodger, a horror film about Jack the Ripper, along with noirs like The Locket and Singapore.  Novelist Evan Connell (1924-2013) is known for his novels Mrs. Bridge and Mr. Bridge, adapted into the Merchant-Ivory film Mr. and Mrs. Bridge, and his biography of George A. Custer, Son of the Morning Star, adapted into a TV miniseries.

John III Sobieski, King of Poland (1629-1696) became famous all over Europe for his victory over a Turkish army that raised the siege of Vienna in 1683, but was not as successful at establishing effective rule in his own country.  Actress (and WTHH subject) Leelee Sobieski may be a descendant of his.  Davy Crockett (1786-1836) has his birthday one day after Fess Parker, the actor who played him on television.  Crockett, aside from being “the King of the Wild Frontier,” served his state of Tennessee in Congress for several years.  After losing a reelection bid in 1835, he headed west to take part in the Texas Revolution and died at the Alamo.

One-time costars Robert De Niro and Sean Penn were the headliners last year on this date.

Robert De Niro is 74.  He starred last year in the Roberto Duran biopic Hands of Stone and in The Comedian, and will appear in the upcoming The War with Grandpa.  He also starred as Bernie Madoff on the HBO movie The Wizard of LiesSean Penn, who turns 57, will star in the upcoming film The Professor and the Madman, based on the book of that title by Simon Winchester.

Donnie Wahlberg, who turns 48, is a producer and star of two reality series, Wahlburgers and Donnie Loves Jenny.  He also tours with the New Kids on the Block on their Total Package Tour.  Director Ken Kwapis works mostly in television lately; he has directed episodes of One Mississippi and Santa Clarita Diet in the past year.  He turns 60.  Karena Lam, who is 39, was nominated for the Hong Kong Film Award for Best Actress for last year’s Heaven in the DarkHelen McCrory, who is turning 49, continues to star on the British crime drama Peaky Blinders, and will be a voice actress in the upcoming animated biopic Loving VincentTaissa Farmiga, who is 23, will star in We Have Always Lived in the Castle, which also features recent headliner Sebastian Stan.  Austin Butler, who returns to the role of Wil Ohmsford for season 2 of The Shannara Chronicles, is 26.

Finally, as it’s Belinda Carlisle’s 59th birthday, let’s end with a little number from The Go-Go’s:

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 17, 2017, in Celebrity Birthdays and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Real Genius is one of my favorite comedies (note to self—watch that one again sometime soon), and I will always remember Martha Coolidge for it above all.

    Say, is someone here a Maureen O’Hara fan? A few fun Maureen O’Hara facts (and some The Quiet Man trivia):

    -O’Hara is famous for her glorious red hair; out of six FitzSimons siblings (her given name was Maureen FitSsimons), she was the only redhead.

    -Her mother was an operatic contralto and O’Hara inherited some of that singing talent; she made a couple of musicals and sings, briefly but very beautifully, in The Quiet Man.

    -When she made action films, she frequently would do her own stunts (as I noted, she even learned to fence for At Sword’s Point), up until the late 1950s when she had a couple of back injuries that limited her ability to do so.

    -O’Hara identified The Quiet Man as her personal favorite among all the films she appeared in.

    -The Quiet Man could truly be said to have been a family production. John Ford directed, and both his brother, Francis Ford (who plays Dan Tobin, the old man who gets out of his deathbed to see the big fistfight at the end) and his son-in-law, Ken Curtis (who played Dermot Fahy, the guy who plays the accordion in a few scenes) are in the film. Barry Fitzgerald (who was Michaeleen Flynn, the matchmaker) and Arthur Shields (who was Rev. Playfair, the Protestant minister) were brothers. O’Hara’s brothers, Charles and James FitzSimons, both had parts in the film—Charles was Hugh Forbes, the IRA leader, and James was Father Paul, the younger priest who is the assistant to Father Lonergan (Ward Bond). And John Wayne’s four children all appear among the spectators at the big horse race in the middle of the film.


  2. Ah, the Go-Go’s!
    Their scandalous early years home video only increased my love for them. Unfortunately, Belinda’s solo work had put them in a position where they needed to recover. I was always more of a Jane Wiedlin boy, myself.


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