October 27: Happy Birthday Roberto Benigni and Teresa Wright
Each of today’s headliners has a unique accomplishment in the history of the Academy Awards.
Italian filmmaker and comedian Roberto Benigni turns 65 today. He became well known in his home country as a film and television actor in the 1970s, and directed his first feature film, You Upset Me, in 1983. Followers of the indie film scene in the US will probably be aware of Benigni’s films with Jim Jarmusch, beginning with Down By Law in 1986. He also starred in Son of the Pink Panther, Blake Edwards’s final feature as a director, an unsuccessful attempt to revive the series (although it was a hit in Italy). More recently, he appeared in Woody Allen’s To Rome with Love.
Benigni’s best known film is the 1997 comedy-drama Life is Beautiful, which he wrote and directed as well as starring in. One of the most highly-regarded films of the last three decades, it won a long list of awards—the Grand Prize at Cannes, nine Donatello Awards, BAFTA and European Film Award honors for Benigni for Best Actor along with Best Film at the latter ceremony, and four Oscars, including Best Foreign Language Film along with another Best Actor honor for Benigni, the first, and so far only, winner of Best Actor for a non-English-speaking role.
Very few film performers ever began their careers with as much of a bang as did Teresa Wright (1918-2005). After going from high school to working on Broadway in the casts of Our Town and Life With Father, she made her film debut in 1941 in an adaptation of Lillian Hellman’s The Little Foxes, and was nominated for Best Supporting Actress. A year later, she appeared in two films, Pride of the Yankees, for which she was nominated for Best Actress, and Mrs. Miniver, for which she won Best Supporting Actress. Her record of three acting Oscar nominations, with a win, in her first three roles, is unequaled. All three films also received Best Picture nominations.
Wright’s fourth film was “only” the film that director Alfred Hitchcock sometimes identified as his personal favorite of all the films he made in his career.
Wright continued to be a star into the late 1940s. She had a prominent role in The Best Years of Our Lives, another Best Picture nominee, and then starred with Robert Mitchum in Pursued, one of the first Westerns to be influenced by the style and themes of film noir. She had a falling out with producer Samuel Goldwyn (who had her under contract) in the late 1940s, which may have contributed to a decline in her film career thereafter. However, she went on to do quite a bit of television work beginning in the mid-fifties, and was a three-time Emmy nominee, while she also returned to Broadway, sharing in a Drama Desk Award as part of the cast of a revival of Paul Osborn’s Mornings at Seven.
Patrick Fugit, who turns 35, became well known when he starred in Almost Famous as his film debut. He went on to star in films like Saved! and Wristcutters: A Love Story. Joanna Scanlan is 56. She is well known to British TV audiences for her roles on The Thick of It, No Offence, and especially Getting On, for which she was a three-time BAFTA Award nominee. Danish actress Emilie Ullerup, who celebrates her 33rd, starred on seasons 1 and 2 of Sanctuary and is now a regular on Hallmark’s Chesapeake Shores. Brontis Jodorowsky, who is 55, has had a lengthy acting and directing career in Mexican theater, appeared in several films made by his father, Alejandro Jodorowsky, and has been cast in the upcoming Fantastic Beasts sequel.
Our birthday Hall of Infamy entrant for today is H. R. Haldeman (1926-1993), who served as Chief of Staff to President Richard Nixon, and in that capacity was one of the main conspirators in the Watergate cover-up that led to Nixon’s resignation and Haldeman’s eventual imprisonment.
On this date a year ago, our headliners were John Cleese and Ivan Reitman.
As he turns 78, John Cleese is doing mostly voice work. He voiced King Gristle, Sr., in last year’s Trolls and will voice the Fairy Godmother in the upcoming Charming. Ivan Reitman is 71; his latest projects have been as a producer on Baywatch and the upcoming Father Figures. His WTHH article is here.
Peter Firth, who is 64, has most recently been seen on the British drama series Victoria as the Duke of Cumberland. David Walton, who is 39, appeared in last year’s Bad Moms and returns for the sequel, which comes out next month. Troy Gentile, who turns 24, is currently starring in season 5 of The Goldbergs. Bryan Craig, who won his second Daytime Emmy earlier this year for his work on General Hospital, celebrates his 26th.
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.