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August 23: Happy Birthday Andrew Rannells and Gene Kelly

0823RannellsKelly

Andrew Rannells is turning 38 today.  He began his screen career as a voice actor; while still in his teens he was the voice of Streex on Street Sharks.  He has continued to do voice work throughout his career.  In 2012 he was cast as one of the leads on NBC’s The New Normal, which, however, was canceled after one season.  That same year, though, he also landed a recurring part on HBO’s Girls; he remained in the role of Elijah Krantz for the series’ entire run and became a regular for the final three seasons.  He has also made a few film appearances, with his most significant role probably being in The Intern.

In the world of musical theater, Rannells has become a pretty big name.  He did a lot of regional theater work in the early 2000s, and made his Broadway debut in 2005 as a replacement in the cast of Hairspray.  He also appeared both on Broadway and in the national touring company of Jersey Boys, before winning his first starring role on Broadway in 2011.  Rannells was nominated for a Tony, for Best Leading Actor in a Musical, in the role of Elder Price in The Book of Mormon.  He also shared in the Grammy won by the show’s original cast album.  Rannells was nominated for a second Tony for last year’s revival of William Finn’s Falsettos.

Gene Kelly (1912-1996) became an accomplished dancer in his teens.  He taught at a dance studio while studying at the University of Pittsburgh.  In the late thirties he began working on Broadway, and had his first major role in William Saroyan’s play The Time of Your Life.  He then starred in Rodgers & Hart’s Pal Joey as Joey Evans.

In 1942 Kelly began working in Hollywood, starring opposite Judy Garland in For Me and My Gal.  For the next fifteen years his life centered on the film musical.  He did not just star in musicals, he choreographed his own dance routines, and eventually directed several film musicals himself (in partnership, usually, with Stanley Donen).  Kelly became famous for incorporating ballet and modern dance into his musicals; the most famous examples are An American in Paris and Singin’ in the Rain, but before those came On the Town, which featured the “Miss Turnstiles Ballet,” followed later in the film by “A Day in New York,” a ballet number featuring Kelly and Vera-Ellen.

In the late fifties, as film musicals declined, Kelly’s acting career also faded.  He concentrated more on directing, notably helming the film adaptation of Hello, Dolly!, which was a Best Picture nominee.

Anglo-Lithuanian actress Ruta Gedmintas is celebrating her 34th.  She has starred on the British drama series Lip Service as Frankie Alan and more recently as hacker Dutch Velders on FX’s The StrainRay Park, who turns 43, first became known as Darth Maul from Star Wars: The Phantom Menace and Toad in X-Men, and more recently was Snake Eyes in two G. I. Joe films.  Also 43 today is Lexi Alexander, a former World Karate Association world champion who wrote and directed the English film Green Street (also known as Green Street Hooligans).  Roger Avary shared the Best Original Screenplay Oscar for Pulp Fiction with Quentin Tarantino and later directed Killing Zoe and The Rules of Attraction; he is 52 today.  Tony Bill, who is 77, shared an Oscar as well, for Best Picture as a producer of The Sting.  He has co-starred in films like Shampoo and Less Than Zero, while his directing credits include My Bodyguard and Flyboys.

Roger Greenaway, who is 79 today, is best known as a record producer and songwriter.  He and his main writing partner, Roger Cook, wrote hits such as “You’ve Got Your Troubles” and “I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing.”  Greenaway late wrote Crystal Gayle’s #1 Country Hit “It’s Like We Never Said Goodbye” with Geoff Stephens.

We have a very eclectic mix of historical birthdays of all sorts.  King Louis XVI of France (1754-1793) was famous for losing his head during the French Revolution.  Literally.  Jason Schwartzman played Louis in the 2006 film Marie AntoinetteOliver Hazard Perry (1785-1819) was one of the outstanding leaders of the US Navy during the War of 1812.  After his victory over a British squadron on Lake Erie, he coined one of the Navy’s famous fighting slogans—“We have met the enemy and they are ours.”  Edgar Lee Masters (1868-1950) was an American poet who was famous for his Spoon River Anthology.  He also practiced law with Clarence Darrow and wrote biographies of prominent Americans like Abraham Lincoln and Mark Twain.  Finally, economists have a couple of celebrities within their profession born today, Nobel Prize winners Kenneth Arrow (1921-2017) and Robert Solow, who turns 94 today.

Political satirist Mark Russell turns 85 today.  Many PBS viewers will remember his regular comedy specials, which he normally did about four times a year beginning in 1975, and continuing until 2004.  The core of his shows were the parody songs he would perform while accompanying himself on the piano.

Our headline on this day one year ago featured Shelley Long and Rick Springfield.

Shelley Long is 68 today.  She makes occasional appearances on Modern Family in the role of DeDe Pritchett, and appeared earlier this year in the indie film Different Flowers, which she also co-produced.  Rick Springfield is also 68.  He appeared on Supernatural during the latest season as Vince Vincente/Lucifer.

Alexandre Desplat continues to be one of the busiest film composers around as he turns 56.  Among the recent or upcoming films he has scored are American Pastoral, Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, and SuburbiconScott Caan, who is 41 today, continues to star as Danno Williams on the revived Hawaii Five-0Joanne Froggatt starred on the British miniseries Dark Angel and has a supporting role in the upcoming Mary Shelley; she turns 37 today.  Park Chan-wook is 54; his latest directing effort, The Handmaiden, came out last summer.

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 August 23, 2017, in Celebrity Birthdays and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. Last year, I never commented on Gene Kelly. I remember Kelly primarily from “An American in Paris” and “Brigadoon”. The latter he co-starred with Van Johnson ,who was a spoiled brat the whole movie. It’s also nice to see an MGM musical star success story. Not many MGM musical stars (with the exception of Kelly, Howard Keel, and Debbie Reynolds) have moved on to bigger and better things since that era ended.

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    • The film version of Brigadoon has always been problematic for me because of how they cut Lerner & Loewe’s score for the film. Several of the musical numbers were cut or shortened because the leads, Kelly and Cyd Charisse, were not really singers of the caliber needed. The two numbers for Meg Brockie were cut because the Breen office objected to the lyrics. You’re left with a badly watered-down version of a great musical.

      You’re right about how many careers were impacted by the decline of musicals. A case in point (or a few of them) come from Kelly’s costars in On the Town. Frank Sinatra always had more to his career than musicals, and he did just fine. And Betty Garrett found some good stage work in the sixties, then made a nice resurgence on television in the seventies, winning a Golden Globe on All in the Family and then being a regular on Laverne & Shirley. But as for the others—Vera-Ellen and Jules Munshin largely disappeared after the mid-fifties, while the wonderful Ann Miller fared little better.

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      • I had forgotten about Frank Sinatra. As a fan of “From Here To Eternity”, it’s easy to forget Sinatra did a lot of musicals before then. I think the ones who were able to prove there’s more to them than being a musical star – Kelly, Sinatra, Betty Garrett, Debbie Reynolds, Howard Keel, Peter Lawford – fared much better after that era ended.

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        • Some of the former musical stars were able to find a lot of theater work. Jane Powell and Ann Miller come to mind—neither of them did a lot of work on Broadway, but they worked regularly with touring productions and regional theater for a long time.

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  2. It’s too bad River Phoenix didn’t make the article this year, but as a devoted fan, I will remember him anyway.

    River was one of the few actors who always gave an outstanding performance no matter what movie he was in. My favorite River movie is “Stand By Me”, (still a classic after 31 years) but I also enjoy “My Own Private Idaho” (which River should have won and Oscar for), and “Running on Empty.” He was also extremely good looking.

    RIP River. In the words of Alphaville, you’re forever young.

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    • I included River Phoenix in last year’s article. 🙂 My basic rule this second time around is that I only revisit those who were in the previous year’s article if either I move them up to the headline, or if they have new activity or projects to report on. Otherwise I’d just be rehashing last year’s article.

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