December 20: Happy Birthday Dick Wolf and Irene Dunne


Emmy-winning television producer Dick Wolf turns 71 today.  After graduating from Penn, he worked for a decade as an advertising copywriter, before selling his first screenplay in 1978, for a film titled Skateboard.  He wrote several more screenplays in the eighties, and also wrote for series like Miami Vice and Hill Street Blues.  At the end of the decade, he had an idea for a series that would be a hybrid of a police procedural and a courtroom drama—the first half of a show would focus on the investigation of a crime, the second on the prosecution of the criminals.

Law & Order was not an instant success.  It wasn’t until its fifth season that it began to win a sizable audience.  But it went on to run for twenty seasons on NBC, tying Gunsmoke as the longest-running scripted primetime series ever.  As it became a bigger success in the late 1990s, it evolved into a franchise.  The first spinoff series: Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, has become a long-runner itself, currently in its nineteenth season.  It was followed by Law & Order: Criminal Intent (which lasted “only” ten seasons), two short-lived spinoffs, and the anthology series Law & Order True Crime.

Wolf has an Emmy for producing on Law & Order, and a second for the TV movie Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee.  In addition to continued involvement in Law & Order: SVU, Wolf has created another family of shows, the Chicago franchise (no prize for guessing where it’s set).  Chicago Fire was the first to air, beginning in 2012, and has been followed by Chicago P.D., Chicago Med, and the short-lived Chicago Justice.

Irene Dunne (1898-1990) grew up with a music teacher and concert pianist as a mother, so naturally she began developing her musical talents at an early age.  At the beginning of the 1920s, Dunne began a decade of regular work in musical theater.  One of her most famous roles was as Magnolia in the national touring company of Show Boat.  RKO signed her to a film contract in 1930, and a year later she received her first Best Actress nomination (of five) for Cimarron.  For the next several years, she worked regularly in dramas, such as The Age of Innocence, and musicals, like Roberta and the 1936 version of Show Boat (as Magnolia again).  In the mid-thirties, she discovered a gift for the sort of comedy that Hollywood was turning out at the time, receiving her second and third Best Actress nominations for Theodora Goes Wild and The Awful Truth.

Dunne remained a major star well into the 1940s.  She received further Best Actress nominations for Love Affair and I Remember Mama, and reunited with her Awful Truth costar Cary Grant for My Favorite Wife and Penny Serenade.  She also had starring roles in films like A Guy Named Joe and Anna and the King of Siam.  In the early 1950s, Dunne, in her own words, “drifted out” of film acting; her final feature film was It Grows on Trees in 1952, although she worked periodically on television into the early 1960s.

Nicole de Boer, who is 47 today, was a regular on USA Network’s The Dead Zone and currently appears on the Canadian series Private Eyes.  Colombian actress and model Taliana Vargas, who turns 30, has done several TV series in her home country and is a recurring character on season 3 of Netflix’s NarcosRamón Rodríguez, who is a regular on Iron Fist as Bakuto and starred with Kate Mara in Megan Leavey, is 38 today.  Jillian Rose Reed, who celebrates her 26th, was a regular on MTV’s Awkward for five seasons.  Nadia Farès, a Moroccan-born French actress who is known for films like The Crimson Rivers and The Nest (a reworking of Assault on Precinct 13), turns 44.

Birthdays from yesterday not covered in last year’s article include Marla Sokoloff, who turned 37.  Known for teen-oriented films like Whatever It Takes and Sugar & Spice, she was recently seen on Fuller House, returning to the role of Gia Mahan.  Ken Marino, who turned 49, directed the recent feature How to Be a Latin Lover, and is also known for regular TV roles, particularly on Childrens HospitalMike Lookinland, who played Bobby Brady on The Brady Bunch and several follow-up series and TV movies, celebrated his 57th.

Ronan Farrow, who turned 30 yesterday, has been much in the news lately for reporting on the sexual abuse allegations against Harvey Weinstein; he is an investigative reporter for NBC’s Today Show (and, as most readers probably known, the son of Woody Allen and Mia Farrow).

Last year’s December 20 headliners were Jonah Hill and Jenny Agutter.

Jonah Hill is celebrating his 34th.  This year he had a voice cameo in The Lego Batman Movie as the voice of Hal Jordan.  He will star on the upcoming Netflix series Maniac, and in Gus Van Sant’s Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on FootJenny Agutter turns 65; she remains a regular on the BBC’s Call the Midwife as Sister Julienne.

Korean director Kim Ki-duk, who turns 57, had two features come out this year, Fork Lane and The Time of HumansJoe Cornish, who is 49 today, wrote and directed the upcoming English film The Kid Who Would Be KingTodd Phillips is turning 47; he is a producer on the upcoming remake of A Star Is BornBob Morley, who continues as Bellamy Blake on The 100, turns 33.  Billy Bragg celebrates his 60th; the folk-punk musician’s latest album, Bridges Not Walls, came out last month.

Veteran character actor John Hillerman (1932-2017), an Emmy and Golden Globe winner, passed away last month at 84.

Our headliners last year on December 19 were Jake Gyllenhaal and Ralph Richardson.

Jake Gyllenhaal turned 37 yesterday.  He received a BAFTA Award nomination for last year’s Nocturnal Animals.  This year he has starred in three features, including Bong Joon-ho’s Okja and David Gordon Green’s Stronger, both critical successes.  He also starred in the title role of a Broadway revival of Stephen Sondheim’s Sunday in the Park with George.

German actor Til Schweiger, seen earlier this year as the Watchmaker in Atomic Blonde, turned 54 yesterday.  Also 54 is Jennifer Beals, who is a regular on NBC’s TakenAlyssa Milano, who is now 45, appeared on the series Wet Hot American Summer: 10 Years Later, on Netflix.  Producer Graham King celebrated his 56th; his latest projects are the 2018 films Tomb Raider and Bohemian Rhapsody.

As it’s the 72nd birthday of Irish folkie Tommy Sands, let’s have a song he wrote for the current season as our musical closer.

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 December 20, 2017, in Celebrity Birthdays and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. I’ve never personally gotten into the Law & Order or Chicago franchises, but there’s no doubt that Dick Wolf has been a pretty important figure in the last three decades of prime time TV.

    Irene Dunne was a delightful comic actress in films like The Awful Truth, but what’s really notable about her is her wide range of talents, from comedy to musicals to action (Cimarron) to romantic drama. A somewhat forgotten great of the Golden Age.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Dick Wolf, he wrote for one of my favorite shows of all-time, “Miami Vice”. Yes, I understand that the direction he took that show in wasn’t popular at the time (season 3 mostly), but what came of that was the “Law and Order” franchise, which in one form or fashion has has quite a run. He he, give me “Miami Vice” though: my Crockett, Tubbs, Castillio, Gina, Trudy, Switek…feels like home to me!


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