October 17: Jean Arthur and Rita Hayworth


Our two headliners today appeared together in Only Angels Have Wings, a 1939 film directed by Howard Hawks.  That’s Hayworth to the left, Arthur at the right, and one Cary Grant in between them.

Jean Arthur (1900-1991) worked as a stenographer and then a model in New York before being signed to a contract by Fox in the early 1920s.  For her, stardom did not come at once—she worked hard but found success difficult to come by.  An early 1930s stint on Broadway boosted her confidence, and when she returned to Hollywood in 1932 she began to get better roles.  However, she only really emerged as a star when Frank Capra cast her as reporter Babe Bennett in Mr. Deeds Goes to Town in 1936.  The director, who later said Arthur was his favorite actress, reunited with her later in the decade for two more comedy classics, You Can’t Take It With You and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.

Arthur’s other starring roles in the late 1930s included playing Calamity Jane in The Plainsman, the screwball comedy Easy Living, and the aforementioned Only Angels Have Wings.  In the early 1940s, she worked with director George Stevens on a pair of great romantic comedies, The Talk of the Town and The More the Merrier.  She received her only Oscar nomination, for Best Actress, as Connie Milligan in the latter film.

When her contract with Columbia expired in 1944, Arthur, who was never comfortable with the Hollywood social scene or with the media, largely retired from film.  She made only two more features, Billy Wilder’s A Foreign Affair, and the classic Western Shane, which reunited her with director George Stevens.  She also made a few returns to Broadway and had a brief television career in the 1960s.

Rita Hayworth (1918-1987; billed as Rita Cansino early in her career) studied dance as a girl, and both her parents had dance backgrounds.  She was signed to a contract with Fox in her mid-teens and had small parts in a number of films, often as “exotic foreigner” characters.  In 1937 she moved to Columbia, and began being billed as Rita Hayworth.  Studio head Harry Cohn began building Hayworth up as a star; her prominent role in Only Angels Have Wings was part of the build-up.  In 1941 she made a pair of successful films on loan to other studios.  She played the title character of The Strawberry Blonde at Warner’s—although James Cagney and Olivia de Havilland were the film’s leads—and then starred with Tyrone Power and Linda Darnell in Blood and Sand for Fox.

In the mid-1940s Hayworth made a number of musicals, such as You Were Never Lovlier (with Fred Astaire) and Cover Girl (with Gene Kelly).  She also starred in a pair of film noir classics at this time.  The second, the 1947 film The Lady From Shanghai, paired her with Orson Welles (who also directed) shortly after their tempestuous marriage had come apart.  A year before that, she played the title character in what is probably her most famous film of all.

After Jean Arthur retired, Hayworth was Columbia’s biggest star for several years, but she had stormy relations with Harry Cohn and took a couple of extended sabbaticals from film work; the first was when she married Prince Aly Khan in 1948.  She had a lengthy battle with alcoholism, and in the 1980s she became one of the first high-profile victims of Alzheimer’s Disease.

Character actor and comedian Michael McKean celebrates his 70th birthday.  Late 1970s TV fans will remember him as Lenny Koznowski from Laverne  & Shirley, while others may recall his mid-1990s stint on Saturday Night Live.  He is also known for appearing in This Is Spinal Tap (as David St. Hubbins) and in several of Christopher Guest’s mockumentaries (e.g., as Jerry Palter of The Folksmen in A Mighty Wind), and more recently as a regular on Better Call Saul.

Another SNL veteran of the mid-1990s celebrating today is Norm Macdonald, who turns 58.  Macdonald also wrote and starred in the comedy Dirty Work, and these days hosts the podcast Norm Macdonald Live.  Macdonald shares a birthday with film critic Richard Roeper of the Chicago Sun-Times.  Roeper is most likely to be known for cohosting At the Movies with Roger Ebert for several years in the 2000s.

Chris Lowell is turning 33 today.  His best known roles include Stosh Piznarksi on Veronica Mars and Dell Parker on Private Practice, and he is currently a regular on Graves.  Lowell shares his birthday with Randall Munroe, the former NASA programmer who is best known as the creator and writer of the webcomic xkcd.

Marsha Hunt was a fairly prominent actress of the 1940s, appearing in major roles in films like Cry “Havoc,” A Letter for Evie, and Raw Deal.  However, her career was derailed when she was blacklisted at the start of the 1950s.  She celebrates her 100th birthday today.  English actor Paxton Whitehead, who is “only” 80 today, is best known for a stage career that has lasted over sixty years.  He was a Tony nominee for a 1980 revival of the musical Camelot.

Elinor Glyn (1864-1943) was an English romance novelist who also worked as a screenwriter in the silent film era.  Her most notable work was the novel It and the screenplay for the film adaptation starring Clara Bow, which between them created the cultural meme of the “It girl.”  Tom Poston (1921-2007) had a long television career that included regular roles on Mork & Mindy and Newhart.  The late Jimmy Breslin (1928-2017) was a fixture in New York journalism for over fifty years as a columnist for one or another of the city’s newspapers.

Felicity Jones and Eminem were headliners on this date last year.

Felicity Jones is celebrating her 34th.  In addition to starring as Jyn Erso in Rogue One, which only made over $1 billion in worldwide box office, she won the BAFTA Britannia Award for British Artist of the Year.  She will be starring as Ruth Bader Ginsburg in the upcoming biopic On the Basis of SexMarshall “Eminem” Mathers, who is 45, released his single “Campaign Speech” last fall and is working on a new album.

Susan Stroman, who turns 63, is the co-director and choreographer of the musical revue Prince of Broadway, which opened on Broadway in August of this year.  She also directed and choreographed a concert performance of the Gershwins’ Crazy for You at Lincoln Center earlier this year.  Rob Marshall, who is 57 today, is directing and producing next year’s Mary Poppins Returns, which is in post-production and scheduled for release at Christmas in 2018.  Sir Cameron Mackintosh celebrates his 71st.  His latest theatrical productions include a revival of Miss Saigon on Broadway, which opened in March of this year with Eva Noblezada, who received a Tony nomination, in the title role.  He is also producing an upcoming West End production of Hamilton.

Max Irons, who turns 32, starred in Bitter Harvest with recent headliner Samantha BarksMike Judge’s Silicon Valley was renewed for a fifth season and Cinemax is currently airing his new animated series Mike Judge Presents: Tales From the Tour Bus.  Judge turns 55 today.  Sherlock co-creator Mark Gatiss is turning 51; whether his signature series will return for a fifth season is not yet determined.  Sharon Leal, who is 45 today, has been cast as a regular on the upcoming CBS series InstinctMatthew Macfadyen, who is 43, played J. P. Morgan in The Current War, which screened at Toronto last month; he also stars in an upcoming BBC/Starz miniseries adapted from E. M. Forster’s Howard’s End.  Rapper Wyclef Jean, who is turning 48, released his eighth studio album, Carnival III: The Fall and Rise of a Refugee, last month.  Country singer Alan Jackson, who will be inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame later this month, is celebrating his 59th birthday.

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 October 17, 2017, in Celebrity Birthdays and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. When you have two headliners who were both in one of your favorite films from your favorite director, you really have to go with the still from the film with both of them in it as your headline photo. 🙂

    Anyway, Jean Arthur was a great leading lady, particularly for comedy, for about a decade or so. Because she largely walked away from Hollywood after about 1944, she doesn’t have quite as high a profile today as some of her contemporaries, but she made a lot of films that are worth checking out. Rita Hayworth isn’t as big a favorite of mine, but she definitely had some great moments as well.

    I think of Michael McKean largely in terms of his films with Christopher Guest, but he actually has a nice range of work on his resume. I had completely forgotten, if I had ever known, that he was Lenny on Laverne & Shirley.


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